Change is Good at This Earth-Friendly Portuguese Winery: Herdade do Esporão

Ever since visiting Portugal in Fall 2021 – specifically the Alentejo region east of Lisbon – I’ve become kind of obsessed with the wines and wineries in this small country in the southwestern corner of Europe. So when I was invited to a Zoom tasting with Esporão owner João Roquette and winemaker Sandra Alves, I said “sim!” (That’s “yes!” in Portuguese.)

I received four wines, which are the same four wines that are poured for visitors to the winery (which I know because a friend living in Portugal visited Herdade do Esporão recently and I saw her photos!). I tasted them all alongside João and Sandra, while learning how they’ve adapted to climate change and consumer preferences while maintaining a strong commitment to the environment.

João Roquette, Chairman of Herdade do Esporão, represents the second generation of family leadership.

The winery, started in 1973, is the largest family-owned winery and vineyard in Alentejo and is among the largest organic wineries in the world. Organic is good for everyone and everything, but Esporão doesn’t stop there. They’ve adopted a 360-degree philosophy of sustainability that not only lightens their impact on the planet, but also has a positive influence on their employees, their visitors, their community and the local culture. As Roquette said during the tasting, “We have a slow-forward lifestyle – we like everyone to have a balanced life.” Amen to that!

Esporão makes 40 million bottles of wine each year, or about 3.3 million cases. Of that, 80 percent is red wine, and 20 percent is white wine. They export 65 percent of their wines, globally, and happily the U.S. is one of their tip-top markets, meaning you can find these wines pretty easily!

I asked about their willingness to increase prices, to reflect the quality, and while I sensed some reluctance, Roquette did say he hoped so. “It happened in the Douro,” he said, “And now it’s starting to happen with Vinho Verde wines.” I mean, while no one wants to pay more, I think people often equate low price with lower quality and that is so not the case with Portuguese wines!

Keeping Up with What the People Want at Esporão Winemaker Sandra Alves cited a number of interesting changes she has overseen at Esporão over her 20 years of winemaking.

  • Organic farming, alongside the use of compost to fertilize vineyards, letting animals grape to control cover crops and ensuring a healthy ecosystem for beneficial insects.
  • Dialing back the oak influence
  • Focusing on native grapes (more so than international varietals)
  • Increasing the output of white wines. In 1985, Esporão made no white wineS. Now, 30 percent of their total output is white wine!
  • Small-batch ferments, to create more diversity in the wines

Let’s Taste!

Esporão Colhita Branco (white) 2020 ($18) The word “Colheita,” in English, means “harvest,” and all of Esporão’s Colheita wines are aged in concrete (there is zero oak on these wines). This white is Antão Vaz, Viosinho and Alvarinho (aka Albariño). It is bright and rich at the same time – like, it has great, zesty acidity and a nice weight to it. You’re gonna get citrus notes, like Meyer lemon and lime zest plus pear, and a little almond. If you like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, find this wine! (Sorry for wonky bottle shot – the wine was so delicious, I forgot to snap my own picture!)

Esporão Reserva Branco (white) 2020 ($20) This glorious white – which does see some time in oak (but not too much!) – is a wonder of a white wine. It’s got a roly-poly, creamy texture, and is dripping with peach nectar citrus, spice and lemon curd. It was first aged in stainless, and then spent some time in second-use oak. If you like Chardonnay – here’s your new favorite white from Esporão!

Esporão Colheita Tinto (red) 2018 ($18) Well. I mean: this is every red wine lover’s dream. Fresh strawberry, backed up with a bit of licorice and baking spice, all wrapped up in a medium body wine. It is dangerously drinkable. If you like Pinot Noir, even Malbec or Merlot – try this. I think you’ll like it.

Esporão Reserva Tinto (red) 2018 ($25) This wine – which, again, sees some time in new and used American and French oak — has a thicker, jammier texture. It actually drinks like a fresh, bold California Merlot (I luuuuuv Merlot). There are roasted red berries and smoky twigs, but the wine is lithe and light. And ooh, yeah, here come some raspberries and blueberries to the party. It’s a bigger, more impactful red than the Colheita red and if you like Merlot, Cab, Malbec or other fuller bodied reds, here’s your next wine to try!

For more information, visit the Esporão website – or think about booking a ticket to Lisbon! Herdade do Esporão (herdade means “large farm” in Portuguese) is only two hours east of Lisbon! Or…. check with your nearest wine shop. Once you taste, you may be tempted to hit “purchase” on that plane ticket!

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