Driving out on in the direction of O Porto, the skies are overcast and we are disappointed. It hasn’t been a real summer for Portugal and the sun has been playing hide and seek with the sun-worshippers who have taken to the beach. But ours is not a day for getting beached – we are heading deeper into the wine country, trying to reach the Quinta de Lagoalva de Cima where we have a visit arranged through ‘Around Lisbon’ and the promise of some really good wine.
We pass by Santarem and through the town of Almeirim, better known for its ‘sopa da pedra’, our eyes glued to the little location map in our hands. As we enter Alpiarça, we are all alert – we cannot afford to miss the turn off from one of the side streets as we are already running behind schedule. We miss it nevertheless and it’s a long way to the next u-turn, but thankfully we are soon back on the bumpy road that takes us into the farm country. The narrow unkept road is an assurance that we are at least getting close.
As we drive into the Quinta de Lagoalva (Lagoalva means ‘white pond’), we are welcomed by Felipa – professional wine maker otherwise, but today our guide. Without much ado, we hop on board a horse carriage with Jose – an old hand at the farm, and as we drive through the fields and the vineyards, Felipa fills us up on the history of the farm and the wine making industry.
Formerly owned by the Order of Santiago de Espada, Quinta da Lagoalva is today owned by Isabel Juliana Campilho and managed by her grandson Diogo, who is also the winemaker. A sprawling 18th century house dominates the estate which is also home to some of Portugal’s finest Lusitano competition horses and a collection of antique carriages.
Quinta da Lagoalva is located in the heart of the Tejo region. The farm stretches along the south bank of the Tagus river and is planted with vines, olive and cork and walnut trees as well as fields of grains, beans and corn, while open spaces in between provide pasture for cows, sheep and horses.
The long tradition of Quinta da Lagoalva as wine producer is obvious as we walk through the property. The vineyards are a combination of the best Portuguese and international vines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Alvarinho, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Verdelho, Chardonnay, and reds such as Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta-Roriz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shyrah, Tannat and Castelão. And later, when we taste the wines, we know why the Quinta da Lagoalva has carved for itself a niche as a wine maker of international standards.
The farm also produces and markets its own olive oil and produces cork for its own consumption. The farm’s stud raises champion Lusitano horses for carriages, leisure, bull fighting and dressage.
We cannot get into the old house, but the little chapel is beautiful, with old paintings chronicling Biblical narratives lining the walls and old statues of saints placed strategically around. The winery is as interesting and Felipa walks us through the process (that begins late evenings and lasts all night) and surprises us by offering to squeeze through the tiny doorway of the old vats which have to be scrubbed down every time a new batch of wine is ready.
And then comes the tasting – not surprisingly, they have left the best wine for the last. As we sample the wines we realize why the cellars of Quinta da Lagoalva are so much in demand amongst wine connoisseurs around the world. As is their olive oil – perfect for the dipping!