What do two winemakers talk about when they meet in the laboratory during harvest and taste the year's whites and reds? Glasses full, laptop open, data charts to read and update, wine glasses to the nose and mouth, and the first decisions are made. We can now have wines that stand on their own and blends that are born or others that remain just like they were because it is too early to decide. The moment is more or less sacred. The conversation can not be interrupted or even deciphered. We are in a technical and sensory realm. That's why it's better to break the ice in another way. What if they interviewed each other? For example, what if winemaker Susete Melo interviewed her colleague Diogo Lopes, who is the Winemaker of the Year 2022 in Portugal? "Five questions," she says:
- So, do you like what you're tasting? What do you think of this 2023 harvest?
- It could be a much better year for the Whites than the Reds, don't you think? People always say that the harvest was spectacular, or they use the cliché that it was a "challenging" harvest. But the rain that fell while the red harvest began made everything a little more complicated. At that time, the whites were already in the winery. The year was indeed hot, and the harvest started early, but here, with this Távora Valley altitude, with these exposures to the north and northwest, we are always well-defended. Let's wait and see... you know how I always get excited with the White wines...
- Of all the harvests in your career, which one have you enjoyed the most?
- Difficult answer... I love the harvest and the stress in the winery, but what I really like is getting to the end of the harvest festivities. For some reason, the harvest has a closing celebration. But perhaps also those harvests from our youth, in which we party almost every day, have a special place in my memories...
- I miss those as well. During harvest, we make and taste wine all the time. What tastes better than a beer at the end of a wine tasting day or after so many days of harvest? Do you also enjoy a cold one after a long day?
- Yes, and I am not afraid to admit that! What would the life of a winemaker be without beer, especially after a day like this when dozens of wines pass through our mouths? We really have to clean our palate, and beer is a moment of salvation.
- I agree entirely. There are few things better than that moment! An excellent chilled "fino". Where I am from, we call it a Fino*!
- Mandatory! For our comfort and to free our brains from so many wine notes.
- And what about that thing of being Winemaker of the Year? What are you going to do next year? The status is almost over!
- It's true... I'm trying to make the most of this award. I have the trophy in the car and sometimes grab it to take photos with my teams. It makes sense, right? To share it with them. But, perhaps the best thing about annual prizes is that they end quickly and make us start again. Who knows, maybe we'll already be here making a wine that will win us another award.
- We always have so many cool wines at this stage, but there is one that always stands out, right?
You've seen it! How incredible that this Vinha do Feliciano plot stands out every year! We have arrived at the first tasting, and it is always this one that we know and love the most! The perfume that comes from that glass... These "Old Vines" express themselves. Here, we just do nothing and try hard not to ruin this.
- About that issue of doing nothing... and to be a little more provocative: natural or conventional wines? Please tell me what you think!
Please don't bring up that issue to me. I return the question to you: can a 100% natural wine faithfully express terroir in depth if it has several defects, that is, if it is not balanced with good enological practices, even if it is minimal intervention oenology?
- Well, not necessarily, especially if there are severe wine faults. I agree with you. Natural wines may exist for a particular product type and specific consumption, but oenology must always be attentive. The question is whether there can be great wines, 100% natural.
- That's it! Now let's drink a beer? After all, there were 8 questions...
*A "Fino" is a northern Portuguese word for a draft beer. The rest of the Country calls something else.
The idea for this blog post came to me when I realized that we hadn´t written yet about Diogo's Winemaker of the Year prize. It is always during harvest that I admire his work the most. So, we did this interview to acknowledge it with some humour. But I would also like to leave my congratulations to Diogo in a more serious, personal and public way. I have known and worked with him for some time now. I see every day the capacity he has to know what is going on in the tanks of each project, the dedication he shows to all the projects he is involved with, and the breathtaking passion he has for the wines, producing them and tasting them (or, between you and me, drink them). Over the years, I had the chance to meet many winemakers, some of them extraordinary people and professionals. Diogo will, at least, stand side by side with them. So, congratulations, Diogo! You more than deserve it.
(Maria Susete Melo)