Alves de Sousa seems to be always one of the first… Alphabetically it’s the first Port Wine producer on our web-page. Then , when you drive into the Douro Valley, they are of the first wineries that you will see, as they are one of the most north-western Port producers. Finally, they were one of the first wine makers that decided to invest time, money and nerves into making still table wine in the Douro Valley. When all the good grapes in the Douro Valley were used to make Port, Domingos Alves de Sousa thought it would be possible to make also fantastic still wines. He left his job as civil engineer in Porto in 1987 and moved back into the Douro Valley, where his family grew already grapes grapes for several generations. His grand-father had started to grow wines – and the grapes were sold to large, established firms like Ferreira and Borges. In 1986 Portugal joined the European Union – and that brought a lot of changes with it. Suddenly it was possible to produce Port Wine in the Douro and ship it directly from the Douro – while in the 60 years before, all Port Wine had to be shipped from Gaia.
Domingos Alves de Sousa saw the opportunity to become a wine producer now than just a wine grower – but he also understood that he needed to learn more about wine making and started his second career as a wine maker with a visit to Bordeaux to learn how to make still wines. In 1991 he produced the first white wine, in the following year two different red wines. The first production was just 6 barrels. Over the next years the production and the quality of the wine increased dramatically – and in 1999 the reputable Portuguese wine magazine “Revista de Vinhos” crowned him as “Producer of the Year”. And as if that wasn’t enough, they crowned him again in 2006 as “Producer of the Year” – making Domingos Alves de Sousa the first person ever to receive this award twice.
Alves de Sousa consists today of 6 properties: Quinta da Gaivosa in Santa Marta de Penagiao; Quinta da Alveleira (Domingos was born at this Quinta in 1949); Quinta das Caldas, Quinta da Estação, Quinta da Vale da Raposa and the latest addition Quinta da Oliveirinha (which is maybe the most visible and doing the best marketing for Alves de Sousa, as the vineyard is on the other riverside of the very busy street between Reguan and Pinhao and the signs “Alves de Sousa” are very, very visible to the tourists).
Domingos admits that he wasn’t very happy when his family wanted him to become the third generation wine-maker and he “escaped” to Coimbra to study engineering – however, when his father got seriously ill he came back to the Douro and helped with the wine business. He was just in his early twenties – and discovered his love for the wine and the region. However, he still continued to be working as a civil engineer until shortly before his 40th birthday.
Luckily his son Tiago Alves de Sousa knew from very early on that he wanted to be the forth generation wine-maker of the family and focused his studies on viticulture. He didn’t only study – in 2010 he finished his doctorate; his dissertation was on irrigation impacts in the vineyards. Tiago brings scientific knowledge, good understanding of nature and an excellent palate to the wine making. He is taking a holistic approach to making wine: It’s all about nature. It’s how the plant is treated, how the grapes are processed, the soil, the wind, the sun – every little vineyard in the Douro has it’s own characteristics.
It’s difficult for a small family company to be traveling through the world and presenting the wines, while they should be home making wines. Tiago believes that a good wine maker shouldn’t be traveling a lot – it’s better to keep close to the vines and wines.
The company makes Port and still wines – whereby most of the international attention is currently on their still wines.
Alves de Sousa has a massive offering of wines – which is again a nuance of their terroir-belief. If different vineyards have so different characteristics – why not show that to the world? They have single vineyard wines, for example – but also single grape variety wines. Having so many properties in the Douro means that there are a lot of different vineyards with many unique micro-climates. Lets’s focus on on two of the most interesting vineyards: “Abandonado” and “Lordelo”.
“Abandonado” means “abandoned” – and that already tells the whole story. Close to the summit of a hill one of their neighbors had a very old, very neglected vineyard. Alves de Sousa bought it and hoped to replace some of the old, dead vines with new ones – but the vineyard was so exposed to the wind and sun that it turned out to be too difficult – instead the family focused on maintaining the existing, grape-bearing old wines. There are about 20 different grape-varieties in this vineyard, and the age of the vines is 80+ years. It’s a greeting from the past, when vineyards were not yet mono-grape-style – it’s a perfect field blend. The age of the vines gives a very low yield, but with fantastic quality. It was decided to launch a single-vineyard wine with the logic name “Abandonado” – and this wine has turned out to be a major success and has become quickly a cult-wine. Small production and great quality – a very sought-after wine that can cost around $100 per bottle.
The second interesting vineyard is “Lordelo” – also here we find very old vines, around 80-100 years old. The number of different grapes is even higher – around 30. The amazing thing about this vineyard is that it is formed like a natural amphitheater – a beautiful sight, and of course a totally different micro-climate than Abandonado. Lordelo is the oldest vineyard of the Quinta do Gaivosa. Also the price for these single-vineyard wines are a little bit higher than most wines – but it’s worth it. It’s a very strong expression of the terroir – a very interesting experience.
I must confess that I like everything about Port Wine. Other than the marvelous wine it’s the history, the stories, the traditions that amaze me every single time I visit the Douro. Many places look like time stood still. I like the old manor houses. So beautiful. Well, I understand that they were mainly built in the 18th century, and we now have the 21st century… so times have changed. When I look at the new winery of Alves de Sousa, then I see something so modern that I have problems to put this into context with anything else that I have seen in the Douro over the last years. Quinta do Portal was already looking too modern to me, even Quinta de Napoles looks like something that I wouldn’t put in “my” Douro-Valley… and then came Alves der Sousa and put something in the valley that looks like straight out of a Star Wars movie… a black brick building. It has a certain Apple-iPad-aesthetic, it looks elegant – but it makes me realize that I’m much more a traditionalist than I ever knew… I love their wines… and I can imagine that this building is considered by many the pinnacle of architecture and efficiency… but I just love old little adegas with tiny stone lagars and spider-webs in the corners… However, I’m more than happy to forgive them to be more modern than I am… because they produce so fantastic wines. It’s interesting that most of their wines go into the export – approx. three quarters of their production goes to consumers outside of Portugal in 28 countries, whereby Canada turns surprisingly out to be the biggest importer.
Alves de Sousa is so busy making great wines that there is not much time left to take care of the web-page. But at least there is some hope – visitors to their web-page www.alvesdesousa.com are greeted with the message “new site, coming soon”. I’m looking forward to that – because of their unique, so wide offering of interesting wines it’s very imprtant to get an good overview about their wine portfolio.
On YOUTUBE I found two nice videos, posted by João Sousa.
Here is a link to a beautiful video of the property: Alves de Sousa – From Above
If you want to sneak around the new winery, then please see this video: The Adega of Alves de Sousa.