When we met Sergio at Adega Cartuxa (adega means winery in Portuguese), one of the largest wine producers in Alentejo, he immediately launched into a riveting history lesson. The first thing he said: “Cartuxa is a non-profit company.” What? Yes! It was started in 1963 by the Eugenio de Almeida Foundation. Señor Almeida was a Christian philanthropist who famously said, “We have to do more, and we have to do it for more people.” So he created Cartuxa – named for the Cartuxian Order of monks (also spelled Carthusian).
Sidebar: The Carthusian Monks are a fascinating piece of history. This order is one of the most challenging in the world, requiring members to swear an oath of silence and poverty. They are only allowed to speak with each other for short periods on Sundays. They live in service to the Order and to God, and basically live like hermits. (I would not make it five minutes as a monk). There was a monastery o the property where Adega Cartuxa is located.
Señor Almeida decided to create a thriving non-profit enterprise around the Carthusian Monastery just outside the town of Évora and you’ll see homages to the monks and other religious figures throughout the winery. The monks left in 2019, as there needed to be at least eight to qualify as an Order, and they were down to six. The youngest was 84 years old, so the six were relocated to other Carthusian monasteries in France, Brazil and the U.S. For more on the spiritual side of Cartuxa, click here.
Okay, back to the Cartuxa Winery!
In addition to wine, the estate produces almonds, olives and olive oil, livestock and cork. All the profits go to the Almeida Foundation, which, in turn, supports arts, education and other social causes in the community. I’m already in love with this whole place and we haven’t tasted anything yet!
Cartuxa has six wine brands ranging in price from a few euros to hundreds of euros per bottle.
- Vinea Cartuxa
- EA (initials of Eugenio Almeida)
- Foral d’ Évora
- Cartuxa – the hallmark brand and Cartuxa Vinho de Talha
- Scala Coehli (pronounced “scala-chelly”)
- Pêra-Manca – One of the top, top, top wines in all of Portugal, it sells for upwards of $250 per bottle
During our tour, we also got to see the old Algerian amphorae system (which Cartuxa last used in 1998). This is kind of complicated to explain, but Sergio saw my interest and took us “behind the scenes” to see where the whole clusters were put for foot-tredding, and explained how these were “self-wine-vinifiers.” There was very little control, but somehow, excellent wine was made! Cartuxa may bring them back to life with a visitor experience where people can get into the vats and do their own foot-stomping!
Winemaker Pedro Baptista oversees the production of 7 million bottles of wine each year at Cartuxa. Their top export market is Brazil (because: Portuguese), followed by France, Canada and the U.S. I was happy to find out that the Cartuxa brand is widely available here, so I can restock .
Like many wineries in Alentejo do, Cartuxa makes Talha wines in clay amphora. Theirs date back to 1875. Wines that are made like this – pronounced tall-ya – can only be labeled as such if produced within the Alentejo DOC. And the rules are that the grapes – usually whole cluster, stems, seeds, skins and all – go into the Talha in September and they cannot come out until at least Nov. 11 – St. Martin’s Day. They are meant to be fresh, everyday wines – but the wines can be left in the Talha as long as a winemaker chooses, for added complexity.
We tasted three Cartuxa brand wines.
First: Cartuxa white blend of Arinto and Antaõ Vaz (pronounced ando-vaj), with zerooak, but aged on its lees. I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again: if you like Chardonnay, you need to discover Arinto. This wine was deeeeelicious – plenty of green apple, Meyer lemon and pineapple, with a nice, creamy texture from those lees that makes it feel all roly-poly in the mouth. I loved it! About $20 U.S.
Cartuxa Red Blend 2017– A blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, and Trincadeira. It’s fantastic, showing rich red and black fruit, some leather / pencil shavings things going on, and a hit of spice. I defy any red wine lover not to find this wine delicious! About $25 U.S.
Cartuxa Red Blend 2016 – A blend of Alicante Bouschet and Aragonez from 35-year-old vines, this wine was a little more powerful, with muscly tannins. Moer dark fruit, some cola, coffee, cocoa notes. About $50 U.S.
If You Visit
Cartuxa offers guided tours four times a day in four languages (Portuguese, French, English and Spanish). Prices range from 5 – 45 euros per person, depending on your tasting choices. Book in advance online to pick your tour in the language of your choice!
I want to thank Tiago Caravana, head of marketing for Vinho do Aletenjo, for escorting us to Cartuxa, and Sergio, our wonderful tour guide. There’s nothing like “being there” to get to know a winery – and I love the history of Cartuxa. I also love that their wines are so widely available in the U.S.!