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ALENTEJO WINES UNIQUE BY NATURE


Text and coordination: Luís Ramos Lopes / Photographic credits: Nuno Luis (all pictures except 14, 16 Tiago Caravana and 19 Telmo Ribeiro) / Graphic design: Duas Folhas / Copyright CVRA – Comissão Vitivinícola Regional Alentejana.

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WINES OF ALENTEJO AND SUSTAINABILITY

The first Portuguese wine I fell in love with came from the Alentejo, and it’s a region that I have a lot of affection for. Each time I have visited, I have experienced a land that seems to be a land at ease with itself. Broad vistas, sunshine, and a variety of agricultural enterprises, with cereals, olives, cork oaks and wine. A landscape that supports a rich variety of wildlife, and allows the local population to make a sustainable living from the land. Protecting the interests of people and nature by tying in the preservation of the latter to the economic welfare of the former is a wise strategy, and has to be the future for this region. The wine industry in the Alentejo has experienced growing success, and with this the area of land dedicated to vineyards has grown. This itself has brought with it ecological challenges: vines need spraying with various chemicals to protect them from disease and pests, and in this sunny climate some irrigation is needed. For this reason, the topic of sustainability is an important one, and farmers here must ensure they are working sensitively, in harmony with nature, to preserve this special harmony between the Alentejo’s nature and human activity. Jamie Goode

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Land is a vital element of the Alentejo. Land generates life and supports it. Consequently, land in the Alentejo is cherished, and nurtured by those who know that it will sustain their own livelihood, and that of future generations.

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REGION OF CONTRASTS THE ALENTEJO IS FAR FROM UNIFORM

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SOIL TYPES DIVERSITY – AN ADVANTAGE

The varied Alentejo landscape; where plains intermingle with mountains, hills and valleys, also hosts an assortment of soil types. Almost all soil types that can be found in Portugal are represented in the Alentejo; derived from clay, limestone, quartz, granite, schist, sandstone, and others. The soils are relatively poor, and the approach to cultivation therefore typically Mediterranean - dominated by cereal crops, grazing land, cork oak and holm oak forests, olive groves and vineyards.

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WATER WATER IS ESSENTIAL FOR THE SURVIVAL OF ALL PLANTS AND ANIMALS. IN A REGION LIKE THE ALENTEJO, WHERE PRECIPITATION IS LIMITED, RAINWATER, RIVERS AND STREAMS ARE CRITICAL RESOURCES THAT MUST BE DRAWN FROM IN MODERATION, AS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF WATER CONSERVATION. ALL SOURCES OF WATER, WHETHER LARGE RESERVOIRS OR SMALL PONDS, CONTRIBUTE TO THE PRESERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY IN THE ALENTEJO.

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Drip irrigation in the vineyards allows the vines to be monitored constantly. In times of water stress, drip irrigation restores the water content of the plant, enhancing the quality of the grape yields.

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The first drops of rain are enough to revitalise in the parched and cracked earth. Water gradually fills brooks and streams, their flow carrying nutrients to rivers and reservoirs; supporting a food chain that includes insects, amphibians, reptiles, fish and waterfowl. Native species of fish, such as barbo, boga, bordalo, caboz, pardelha and saramugo proliferate in the Guadiana river basin, amongst more recently introduced - perch, common carp, pike and largemouth bass.

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A MAGNIFICENT FULL MOON DOMINATES THE NIGHT SKY. AT DUSK IT APPEARS ON THE HORIZON, AND AS IT RISES IT LIGHTS UP THE ALENTEJO LANDSCAPE; FROM THE HUMBLE GUM CISTUS TO THE TOWERING CANOPIES OF THE CORK OAKS. WHEN THE FIRST RAYS OF SUN EMERGE AT DAWN, THE MOON TAKES COVER BEHIND THE HILLS.

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NIGHT AND DAY


DAILY CYCLE

Solar and lunar cycles define the rhythm of life in the Alentejo. Plants and animals have followed celestial clocks since the beginning of time. NIGHT TIME IN THE ALENTEJO IS BUSY; NOISY AND ACTIVE. FROGS CROAK IN PUDDLES; HARES SNEAK INTO THE VINEYARDS TO EAT THE SWEET GRAPES; BOARS EMERGE FROM THEIR REFUGE IN THE BRAMBLES TO FORAGE FOR ACORNS AMONGST THE CORK OAKS; OWLS AND FOXES SET OUT ON THEIR NOCTURNAL HUNTS. AS DAWN BREAKS, THE SETTING IS AGAIN TRANSFORMED, AS DIURNAL CREATURES ARRIVE ON THE SCENE.

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The Alentejo enjoys over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year; a figure well above the national average - already the highest in Europe.

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TWO BEAUTIFUL AND EXOTIC BIRDS OFTEN SEEN IN THE ALENTEJO ARE THE EURASIAN SPOONBILL, A YEAR-ROUND RESIDENT, AND THE RED KITE, A MIGRATORY VISITOR.

HUNDREDS OF SPECIES OF BIRDS, OF ALL SHAPES, SIZES AND COLOURS, MAKE THEIR HOME IN THE ALENTEJO – NESTING AND FEEDING IN THE WETLANDS, FORESTS AND CEREAL FIELDS.

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MANY FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO THE ALENTEJO BEING THE REGION WITH THE RICHEST WILDLIFE IN PORTUGAL. THE LOW POPULATION DENSITY AND DIVERSE LANDSCAPE ARE KEY CONTRIBUTING ELEMENTS. THE EXTENSIVE USE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES, AND LIMITED HUMAN INTERVENTION ACROSS THE REGION, HAVE ALSO HELPED WILDLIFE FLOURISH IN THE VINEYARDS, CORK OAK FORESTS, CEREAL FIELDS AND GRASSLANDS OF THE ALENTEJO.

WILDLIFE NATURAL HERITAGE

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The Alentejo has dozens of areas classified under Natura 2000, a network of nature protection areas in the European Union. The aim of this network is to guarantee the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

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Alentejo landscape, with many rocky outcrops, ravines, streams and poor, stony soils, means that many areas are left uncultivated. As a result, the natural and indigenous wildlife and flora have been allowed to flourish.

PROTECTED HABITAT AN ABUNDANCE OF UNCULTIVATED AREAS PROVIDE SHELTER FOR LARGER MAMMALS, SUCH AS WILD BOAR AND DEER. FEEDING GROUNDS OF CORK OAK FORESTS, CEREAL FIELDS AND NATURAL PASTURES, HAVE ENSURED THAT THESE POPULATIONS ARE THRIVING, AND STEADILY INCREASING.

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The otter population in Europe is dwindling. However the unpolluted waterways and lakes of this region have contributed to an abundant and stable otter community in the Alentejo.

Bees play a very important role in the pollination and conservation of a diverse flora. They feed on the pollen of plants such as gum cistus, Montpelier cistus, rosemary, purple viper’s bugloss, eucalyptus, thistle, thyme and orange blossom - producing Honey of Alentejo, a product with Protected Designation of Origin status.

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THE CHANGING SEASONS ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A CONTINUALLY CHANGING PALETTE OF COLOURS ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE. THE DUSTY BROWN OF THE PLOUGHED LAND AND THE BRIGHT ORANGE OF THE VINES LEAVES PREDOMINATE IN AUTUMN. THE FIRST WINTER RAINS LAY OUT EXTENSIVE GREEN CARPETS, WHICH ARE COVERED BY A COLOURFUL BURST OF WILD FLOWERS IN SPRING. SUMMER DISPLAYS THE GOLDEN SHADES OF THE CEREAL FIELDS, AND THE STUBBLE AFTER HARVEST.

PLANTS COLOUR, SHAPE, TEXTURE, AROMA

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SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY

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PLANTS CAN BE BEAUTIFUL, USEFUL, OR BOTH. THE USE OF WILD PLANTS AND FUNGI IN COOKING IS ENGRAINED IN THE CULTURE OF THE ALENTEJO.

MANY OF OUR MOST COMMON WILD HERBS ARE VERY SENSITIVE TO AGROCHEMICALS. THE FACT THAT OREGANO, WILD MINT, PENNYROYAL, YELLOW DOCK, PURSLANE, THISTLE, ASPARAGUS AND WILD RADISH ALL ABOUND IN THE ALENTEJO IS A SIGN OF RESPONSIBLE AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE.

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CORK IS CAREFULLY HARVESTED BY HAND EVERY NINE YEARS. IT IS A NATURAL PRODUCT; RENEWABLE, REUSABLE AND RECYCLABLE, AND WITH MANY UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS AND USES.

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CORK OAKS, HOLM OAKS AND OLIVE TREES FORM THE BACKBONE OF THE ALENTEJO FOREST. THEY REPRESENT A UNIQUE AND DELICATELY BALANCED ECOSYSTEM, WHICH ACCOUNTS FOR MUCH OF THE DIVERSITY OF THE FAUNA AND FLORA OF THE REGION. THE ALENTEJO FOREST IS TESTIMONY TO A HEALTHY AND HARMONIOUS ENVIRONMENT.

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In common with all trees, the cork oak produces oxygen. Remarkably, its bark has a unique and complex cellular structure, allowing it to reabsorb and reuse carbon dioxide. As a result, it can be considered doubly beneficial to the environment, contributing towards a reduction of the greenhouse effect, and on a larger scale, global warming.

NATURAL DEFENCE A REMARKABLE TREE

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The traditional olive grove is an integral part of the landscape of the Alentejo. The trees in the groves are able to produce a regular crop for more than a hundred years, and live for over a thousand.

Protected Designation of Origin olive oil - Moura, Norte Alentejano or Alentejo Interior – is produced using the olive varieties Redondil, Carrasquenha, Cordovil and Verdeal.

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VINEYARDS ARE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE ALENTEJO. THEY ARE ONE OF THE MAIN FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO HUMAN SETTLEMENT IN A REGION WHICH IS AT RISK OF DESERTIFICATION. A VINEYARD THAT IS MANAGED OBSERVING GOOD ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICE IS A VINEYARD THAT HELPS TO MAINTAIN AND PROMOTE THE DIVERSITY OF THE ECOSYSTEM. INTEGRATED PRODUCTION (IP) AND INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT (IPM) PRIORITISE NATURAL CONTROL MECHANISMS TO PROMOTE SOIL REGENERATION, BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY AND TO REDUCE POLLUTION, ENSURING A LONG-TERM, SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE.

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The prehistoric wild vine (vitis silvestris), of which several archetypes still grow in the Alentejo, has naturally evolved to produce the vine varieties we know today - perfectly adapted to the soils and climate of the region. The climate, which is relatively hot and dry throughout the ripening season, discourages pests and diseases of the vines. With proper preventative care, the use of agrochemicals in the vineyard can be drastically reduced. The modern Alentejo vineyard is both economically viable and environmentally sustainable. Vineyards using Integrated Pest Management, and even organic vineyards, are now a reality throughout the Alentejo.

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AN OLD VINE, TWISTED BY TIME, CONTINUES TO CLING TO LIFE AND PRODUCE FRUIT EVERY YEAR. IT IS SYMBOLIC OF THE REGIONAL TRADITION OF GRAPE GROWING; NOT ONLY AN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY, BUT ALSO A SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ONE.

LIVING SYMBOL

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The vine lives in symbiosis with many other organisms. Biological diversity, which includes many secondary species of fauna and flora, is of vital importance in the practise of high quality viticulture - resulting in exceptional grapes, producing intense wines, with more character and the smell and taste of the Alentejo.

AN ECOLOGICAL ALLIANCE

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COMISSÃO VITIVINÍCOLA REGIONAL ALENTEJANA Rua Fernanda Seno n.º 12 Apartado 498 7006-806 Évora - Portugal T: (+351) 266 748 870 F:(+351) 266 748 879 www.vinhosdoalentejo.pt cvralentejo@vinhosdoalentejo.pt ALENTEJO WINE ROUTE TASTING ROOM Praça Joaquim António de Aguiar, nº 20-21 Apartado 2146 7001-901 Évora - Portugal T: (+351) 266 746 498 ou 266 746 609 F: (+351) 266 746 602 rota@vinhosdoalentejo.pt

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