Colares, Where the Vineyards Snake Through the Sand

It was not always that way. Back in the late 19th century, the vineyards of Europe were devastated by the phylloxera aphid, which preyed on their roots. The vines of Colares were unaffected because phylloxera cannot live in sand, and the wines came to be in great demand.

Eventually, phylloxera was stopped by grafting European vines onto American rootstocks, which are immune to the bug, and vineyards could be replanted. Virtually all European vines are now grafted, but Colares vines remain on their own roots.

In the early 20th century, this was an indication of purity and quality for Colares. Fraud abounded as unscrupulous producers and merchants in other regions used the Colares name for their wines. In 1934, the authorities decided that, to prevent fraud, only wine made by the co-op could be called Colares. This was the law until 1994.

Now, Mr. Figueiredo said, just two other producers make Colares. Adega Viúva Gomes, which is the only other Colares label I have seen sold in the United States besides the wines of the co-op, does not make wine. Instead, Viúva Gomes buys wine from the co-op and then ages it in its own cellar before bottling. That apparently makes a difference. Viúva Gomes wines are subtly distinct, particularly the white, which emerges in the bottle even more briny than the co-op’s.

Everything about growing the ramisco and malvasia grapes is hard work. To plant the vines, growers must dig trenches in the sand, which can be roughly 3 to 15 feet deep, to the chalky clay below. The roots need to grow in the clay to survive. As the vines get taller, the growers gradually fill in the sand, aided no doubt by the ceaseless wind, which blows back its share.

The wind is the enemy of the vine, Mr. Figueiredo said. The salt it carries can burn the leaves. So in addition to keeping the vines low, growers also plant apple trees among the vines, and erect fences made of stone along with maintaining barriers of wild-growing cane.

Photo

Francisco Figueiredo runs the Adega Regional de Colares co-op, which ferments virtually all the wine in the region.

Credit
Joao Pedro Marnoto for The New York Times

Once the grape bunches fill out, growers must raise the vines off the sand to facilitate air circulation. They achieve this by painstakingly placing wooden splints under the vines, which elevate them like trestles…

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