Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we continue interviewing Portuguese winemakers like Hugo Chaves and Pedro Tamagnini by featuring Sandra Tavares da Silva, the winemaker at Wine & Soul.
Sandra is a real pioneer among Portuguese winemakers — one of the very first female winemakers in the Duoro valley. While Sandra received a Master of Enology from Italy in 1999, she promptly returned to Portugal to work at Quinta Vale D. Maria in Duoro, around which her projects center to this day. Wine & Soul is but one of those projects. She spearheads it with her husband, Jorge Serodio Borges, who is also a winemaker. Sandra is also a very passionate and eloquent winemaker, as her words below show abundantly.
Check out the interview below the fold!
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in São Miguel, Azores, on April 26th, 1972. My father was a naval officer and was working there. I was raised in Lisbon and my childhood was divided between the city and our grandfather’s estate in Ribatejo.
When and how did you get into wine?
At my grandfather’s estate, we produced wine, and from when we were very young, my sisters and I loved to help during harvest and at the winery. Later, in 1987, my father acquired the estate Quinta de Chocapalha in the Lisbon wine region and that convinced me to study agronomy and later in 1999, I earned a Master of Enology degree in Italy.
What has been your career path to where you are?
When I finished my studies, I went to the Douro for an internship at Quinta Vale D. Maria with Cristiano Van Zeller, and after the harvest I was hired as winemaker. In 2000, my father and I started to make wines at Quinta de Chocapalha. It was a very small winery, but today, the project has really developed and grown with my entire family involved. In 2001, together with my husband Jorge Serôdio Borges who is also a winemaker, we decided to make wine together. We were always passionate about old vines, so we started out buying 2.5 hectares of an old vineyard and we produced the first Pintas. Now we have 30 hectares of vineyards. In 2010, a friend who has a very beautiful property in Douro, Abílio Tavares da Silva, asked me if I wanted to make wines there. We started making Foz Torto wines, a very small production. And finally in 2011, I asked my friend Susana Esteban, who is also a winemaker (we were the first girls making wines in Douro back in 1999 when I was at Vale D. Maria and Susana was at Quinta do Crasto) if she wanted to come back to Douro again and make wine with me. We started Crochet Douro Red and finally Tricot Alentejo Red.
In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
Every vineyard is a special treasure. I consider our old Douro vines special because they are very authentic and have a lot of personality. They have enormous diversity in terms of grape varieties – we can have 30 to 40 different ones in one plot – different exposures, altitudes, and also variations of soils. This is why we love to produce wines from single vineyards in order to produce wines that express the terroir, the land from which it comes. In Lisbon, I love to work with a great number of grape varieties, expressing all the freshness and minerality that the clay soil provides in combination with the Atlantic. And in Alentejo, we work with a beautiful small old vineyard at 600 meters altitude in granitic soil with also a mixture of indigenous grapes that produces a cool and elegant Alentejo wine.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
I love to produce wines that express their origin in a very elegant and balanced style. I believe that wines are made in the vineyards, so for us, the most important achievement is that our wines are transparent regarding the land where they are coming from.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
To make consistent quality of our wines, improving always.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
The winemakers that inspired me in different ways and at different times in my life are:
- Angelo Gaja: Since I was studying in Italy, I was fascinated with his story and his wines and after I met him some years ago, I was even more fascinated. He is a visionary and a great man.
- Giacomo Conterno: I visited him in 1999 and he personally guided us through the entire winery showing us every corner. I was impressed with his passion and attention to the smallest detail.
- Peter Sisseck: In my opinion, he belongs to a great generation of winemakers that changed winemaking and especially respect for old vines.
- Àlvaro Palacios: He also belongs to this great generation of winemakers who search for new terroirs and produce amazing wines.
- Telmo Rodriguez: A very passionate man regarding all details. I love his wines.
- Denis Dubordieu: He is an encyclopedia regarding white wines, always studying. I once had the privilege to taste with him while he was blending.
- João Nicolau de Almeida: A gentlemen and a great friend. He makes amazing ports and Douro wines.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
- Sebastien Zuccardi: I admire his search for the perfect terroir in Argentina, as well as his winemaking, wineries, and how he experiments with different techniques.
- Ricardo Palacios: I love his philosophy, pure winemaking style, and how he explores old vines.
- Francisco Olazabal: A great winemaker from Douro.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
For Jorge and me, the wine that changed our vision and was decisive was Chateau Latour 1996.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
It’s 5G, Five Generations Port, a century old tawny port that was produced by Jorge´s great grandfather. We bottled 1,000 personalized bottles. A unique wine.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Many wines: Clos Ste Hune 2006, Trimbach Alsace, Joseph Drouhin Montrachet 1990, Buçaco White 2014, Passadouro Reserva Douro Red 2014, Tres Sabores Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, and Pintas Vintage Port 2014.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
Guru Douro White and for red Chocapalha Vinha Mãe. They are my wines. I am sorry, but I love these wines!
Is beer ever better than wine?
Never. I really don’t like beer.
How do you spend your days off?
Playing with my three kids.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I was a volleyball player with the Portuguese national team. I love sports.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I would be a gardener because I love gardening. And for me, our vineyards are our most beautiful gardens.
How do you define success?
Never giving up, following dreams with passion, paying attention to all the details and respecting everybody.