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Sandra Alves

Day zero for every Monte Velho starts at the beginning of the vegetative cycle. The first days of spring bring excitement and hope as we watch the vineyard blossom. From now on, we must monitor it closely until the time comes to harvest – the most important and special time of the year for Sandra Alves, chief winemaker at Esporão, in Alentejo. She has been with Esporão for 20 years, and each vintage is unique and truly challenging. Especially to produce Monte Velho. “I was still at university studying oenology and Monte Velho was already a leading wine. I could never have imagined that one day I would be one of those in charge of its production. As a winemaker, it’s a major challenge to maintain the quality standard year after year”.

The days before the harvest are set the vintage’s pace. Every day, the winemaking and agricultural teams get together to finetune details. In the case of Monte Velho, aside from managing the vines at Herdade do Esporão, we must also monitor the ripening of grapes from various partners Esporão works with all over Alentejo. “Some winegrowers have worked with us for as long as Monte Velho has existed. They grew with us, sharing our philosophy and farming methods – today they all have integrated or organic production certification. We are in daily contact with all of them. The vine potential and grape ripening must be monitored closely to determine the right time to harvest”.

And when that time comes, the frenzy begins at Herdade do Esporão. Every morning, the day’s agenda is decided. The ladies go in pairs, filling each row of the field that is ready to be harvested. At the winery reception everyone’s hands are full – the quality of the grapes is rechecked and consolidated. More than ever, the winery is where it all happens. “From receiving the grapes, to the fermentation process, pressing, pre-ageing and ageing, we must pay attention to every detail until the wine reaches the consumer”.

As the days go by, in the tasting toom, the glasses on the counter multiply. This is the rough cut of each day’s work. Wines from different vineyards and varieties, in various stages of fermentation. “At this tasting we start to identify and define the different characters of the vintage. For us, in winemaking, this is a daily moment of great concentration, when the most important decisions are made, which determine the future of each wine”. We can look at these glasses like a puzzle. Over time, the pieces start coming together. Somewhere, inside the winemaker’s head, Monte Velho is starting to take shape.

The morning tasting leads to the to-do list for work in the Monte Velho winery. Renovated in 2018, it was conceived specifically for this wine. The experience and know-how accumulated over three decades resulted in a winery equipped with cutting-edge technology and adapted exclusively to produce Monte Velho. “The creation of this winery was an investment in production flexibility and efficiency – it enables us to harvest the grapes at the ideal degree of ripeness and increase the detail with which we monitor fermentation, in order to respond to the current and future growth while always maintaining the wine’s quality and authenticity as our primary goal.”

Once the harvest is over, the hustle gives way to a certain silence, which makes room for the wine to grow and develop. “We still have a great deal of work ahead, but we must let time play its part in the wine’s development. Then, we resume the necessary tastings until we reach the final product. The moment when the puzzle is complete”.

Monte Velho is a wine crafted with great detail to guarantee the consistency, quality and confidence it has earned over the years. Respecting the unique characteristics that each vintage brings, it is still crucial to maintain the wine’s profile and fulfil the expectations of those who have savoured it for almost 30 years. “I cannot quantify how many hours, days or weeks go into creating Monte Velho. The number of people, hands and thoughts that are dedicated to producing this wine, it’s impossible to measure. A large part of our year is allocated to thinking, experimenting, working and executing these details that lead to the production of Monte Velho”.

Its success is the result of a long journey that brought this wine to the place it currently occupies – the market leader and one of Portuguese consumers’ favourite wines. The wine’s growth occurred alongside the evolution of Esporão itself, which has always embraced a challenge. And Monte Velho will always be one of our greatest challenges. “This is 30 years of history. Time has given us experience to make the process easier, but it doesn’t remove or diminish the responsibility. This wine is crafted seriously and in the best possible conditions. For the red, white or rosé, we strive to achieve a profile that is intense and fresh but, above all, expresses the best of Alentejo”.

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