Women In Wine

Interview with Rita Soares

– At what stage are you involved in the process of wine making?

All the family and I are involved fully with the winemaking process from the first harvest, and we always share our  decisions with the team, the winemaker consultant and the resident winemaker.

I can share that from the very first harvest and first tasting to decide wines in 2003 we have always, until today, made the tastings together with the team and never has a blend of wine been made without our presence, mine, my husband Joao’s and my brother and sister in law Paulo and Margaret.

– What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

We are always looking for improvement and improvement for us means respect for nature.  We bought an abandoned property in one of the less populated regions in Europe with no water, electricity or vines.  We have been developing a life project based on strong values of preservation meaning that today all 450 hectares of the property are under organic production .

Our main objectives are to preserve this peace of nature and to leave a legacy for future generations.

– Even though ‘grapes, vines and wines are gender blind’, there is still work to be done in terms of diversity in our wine industry; do you believe women have equal opportunities as men in the Portuguese wine industry?

I am very positive about that.  In my opinion there are more and more women working in the winemaking process industry and that diversity is very important, so we promote it a lot.

– Portugal’s wine tourism is developing,  looking at your example in Herdade da Malhadinha, do you believe it will have the same importance as the wine production in the future, or is it just a complementary value to your main activity, the wine production?

Today our annual turn over relies on 50% wine distribution and 50% tourism so with no modesty I believe we are an example of that development .

– How do you believe climate change affects your property in the future?

Climate changes affect all properties of course, we have to be aware of that big problem and at Malhadinha we work hard in order to preserve our ecosystem.  We are one of the first wine producers with the sustainability certification of wines of Alentejo, we are a certified organic producer and viticulturist, and we are in the process of certifying tourism by B Corp certification, one of the most relevant tourism world wide certifications.  All these processes certify our commitment with preservation and contributing to reverse climate changes . We are always given as an example of regeneration among 580 members of Relais & Chateaux.

– Do you believe climate change has an impact on the profile of your wines?

I strongly believe that promoting biodiversity has a big impact on the personality and individuality of the wines. We take measures in order to adapt to climate changes.

– What has surprised you about being a winemaker?

I am not a winemaker, I am a wine producer, although I am very active and interested in all the processes of wine making.  I taste a lot so I am very aware of all the processes and steps.  We believe that being involved with the creation of the wines, the style, and following all the steps, allows us to have the deepest knowledge of all the processes and to create wines with a strong personality.

– Congratulations on your recent achievement in becoming part of the prestigious “Relais & Chateau” How will this impact your business?

Thank you.  It has a big impact, first because it’s a very strong values affiliation and those values are very aligned with ours, being a family project, independent, inspired by the local traditions and culture.  Relais & Chateaux are very strong commercially and we are a very active member.  So we are very very happy with all the results, for the project, for our staff who feel also proud to belong to such an exclusive affiliation.  They are also very honoured to have a member so focused on sustainability which is a very important goal for Relais & Chateaux.

– Do you think women have a different sensibility for wine production?

I think so, yes, women are very sensible for the details, and also for creation, and that’s very important to build a very special combination and blend of wine with the different characteristics of the grapes.

– What’s your favourite month in the year as a wine producer and why?

The harvest month of course and in our specific  case it’s August.  It’s the time of the final result of the annual efforts of all the team, working in the vineyard and it’s the happiness of that result.   It’s also the adrenaline of the decisions of the best moment to pick by hand the different  varieties, the smell of the wines fermenting in the open fermenters, the daily tasting.  It’s a very happy month at Malhadinha as the process is very natural and manual. We involve the guests in the daily activities. Picking grapes by hand only during the night, crushing the grapes by feet in the open fermenters and teaching them how we make  blends.

– Do you believe there’s a new generation of young winemakers in Portugal that will guarantee the future of wine making?

There is already, for a few years.  There was a big change in the last few years, not only with an amazing range of new winemakers with a lot of knowledge and harvests made all over the world but also many wineries with amazing technology and architecture.

– What are your favourite food and wine pairings?

I normally love to complement food and wine. If I am having a more complex and intense dish, I complement with a wine with a lot of freshness and acidity.  On the contrary, if it’s a dish with a lot of acidity I will complement with a wine with more volume and complexity.  Balance is my word.

– What does it take for a Portuguese woman winemaker to be recognised internationally?

In Portugal we have the luck of having the opportunity to be able to work with around 300 native grapes that allows us to produce wines with a lot of personality and of course so different from many other countries in the world.  In addition the capacity of blending together different grapes in order to achieve the perfect balance allows us to have super special wines, the magic of Portuguese wines rely on the blending.

– Do you think for a young winemaker to succeed in Portugal, they need to go abroad and learn with others? Or do we have quality enologist teaching in this country?

We already have very good teachers and courses but to travel is in my opinion a very important experience .

– From your perspective, will Alentejo wines be successful internationally, like wines from the Douro?

They are.  There are a few producers from Alentejo that for many years have already been producing amazing wines.  There lies some of the best kept secrets, emerging regions to come that will make a lot of buzz, such as Portalegre.