We’ve always loved Márcio’s benchmark Pequenos Rebentos wines from the Vinho Verde, they have incredible brightness and energy while still retaining a sense of character. So, when Márcio told us about his Proibido project, based in the Douro Superior, we were excited to find out more.
Vignerons seem to revel in making their life more difficult, and in Márcio’s case, he’s always been determined to make his life as busy as possible. He grew up in Porto and after university, decided to head to Australia, determined to enhance his burgeoning love of wine. He worked back-to-back vintages in Rutherglen and Tasmania, two regions that are a literal ocean apart in their terroirs and the style of wines they’re known for. In Rutherglen, Márcio connected to his Porto roots in learning the art of fortified wines and warm climate, full-bodied reds, while in Tasmania he grew to love the leaner elegance of their Chardonnays and Pinots. After two years in Australia, he headed back to Portugal, refreshed, invigorated and swirling with ideas.
Beginnings of a vigneron
“When I came back to Portugal, I wanted to get straight in. So, I started working in Vinho Verde, mainly Alvarinho, with Anselmo Mendes. At the same time, I was travelling to the Douro to make Port wines.
“Then I met my wife, and we now have two children, and I realised this life (the life of a vigneron) could happen, and I realised I could do this on my own”.
“I’m from Porto, I love Port wines, I grew up drinking them at my grandparents parties! Vino Fino is what we call it, the fortified styles that were just made and sold locally, not from the big houses“.
“I loved these wines growing up, so I decided if I can start one project, why not start two, one that is more personal to me”?
Douro Superior sits far inland from Porto, and is barely accessible through its snaking roads and towering, terraced vineyards. It’s the driest, warmest section of the valley.
“It’s a very dry region, it rains around 300 ml per year. We went straight into working organically, some plots are biodynamic – without the rain it’s easy and instinctive to work like that because the vines are exposed to fewer diseases”.
Trusting in nature
Márcio owns a 5-hectare vineyard that was planted in 1932 in the capital of the sub region, Vila Nova de Foz Côa, but also buys grapes from a trusted network of growers across the region.
“We use small growers, people farming half a hectare, farming at 1,000 metres above sea level, people I found whilst travelling.
“Vines are different ages – from 8 to 102 years old – this contributes different elements to the wines, old vine intensity, and more immediate tannins and phenolics from the young vines. I help manage the plots with the vineyard owners so we can all work with a common vision”.
“I’m proud to say I work with 50 viticulturists across the Douro and Vinho Verde and none use herbicides or pesticides.
They’re part of the family. When I started working with them, they understood the right way to work, that natural treatments are enough”.
Soils here vary, beginning with schist in the vineyards on the banks of the river Douro and encompassing granite and quartz higher up the hills. With many of the vineyards planted at steep angles, work is done by hand, the vineyards are planted at very high density.
“We farm with horses and by hand because we don’t have space for machinery in the field, it’s a little bit like Champagne, we have 10,000 vines per hectare”.
“We work like this because it’s the only way that makes sense in these vineyards. I’m not poetic, but you can see these wines as our commitment to the land and the region.”
Márcio’s more classical bottling is the Anel Reserva, a rich but balanced blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca and 10% of old-vine indigenous varieties that are co-planted as a field-blend. The grapes come from schist-soil vineyards which are north-facing, and a little cooler than other vineyards in the region, allowing for more natural acidity. The grapes are destemmed and foot-trodden in granite lagars where they ferment for 10 days with wild yeasts, the wine then ages for 6 months before bottling.
It’s a powerful wine that represents this dry valley region, concentrated and powerful but with some herbaceous freshness that keeps it drinkable, a wine that Marcio describes as a “crowd pleaser”, not in the flashy sense, but that it “tastes like the Douro”.
Marufo Tinto, sometimes called Mourisco Tinto, is less typical. A native variety to the Douro, used in Port-production, but often discarded by growers due to its lack of colour. Initially Marcio did this too, relegating it to blends where he used it to bolster their acidity.
“One day one of the growers told me that he was really proud of the fruit and that we should try it as a single-varietal wine. They are old, deep-rooted vines with a lot of character.
“It’s very light in colour, not typical for the table wines of the area, it’s a bit like Bastardo (Merenzao or Trousseau), perfumed and with very good acidity and freshness, very drinkable and juicy.”
It’s a low tannin variety, so they maximise extraction, keeping the grapes on skins in lagars for around two months. Fermentation is whole bunch, some years they include stems, if they’re ripe.
“People say that this is our out of the box wine, not particularly traditional for the area, but for me this is the type of wine I like to drink. I’m a Pinot lover and a Gamay lover. I like to make wines like that, but in our own style, the Douro style”.
The Climate Question
Already a warm region, climate change has inevitably changed the way that they farm in Douro Superior. 2022 has been a challenging vintage with warm and very dry conditions that meant that bunches did not form as they hoped. Once ripening had begun, though, they had to act fast.
“The Douro can be a difficult region to work in and it’s just getting hotter and hotter. One day the potential alcohol is13% and the next day it’s 15-16%. You can see a difference between old and young vineyards. In the old vineyards, if you have 11% alcohol, the acidity is very high and the tannin isn’t ready. Then you get to 12% and the acidity has dropped to a steady level and the phenolics are ready and mature. In the new vineyards you need to get to 15% alcohol to get the tannins and phenolics right. But if you ask me, this means that the acidity level is nothing, so people correct and add acidity”.
So how does he navigate this issue?
“The most important thing is the fruit quality. If you use old vineyards with deep-rooted vines then they’re more resistant. Old vineyards, quality fruit and making sensible decisions – that’s the only way to manage it”.
If you’d like to taste Márcio’s Douro wines, please contact your sales rep.