- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

Two owners have watched over the Quinta da Pacheca since 1551. The first proprietors kept it in the family until 1903, when the present owner’s grandfather purchased it.

“The Pacheca name comes because, in 1759, a woman called Pachec lived here,” says burly owner Jose Vanzeller Serpa Pimentel, 62. “Pacheca is feminine, so they changed it. Then people used to say, ‘Let’s go to Quinta Pacheca for good wines.’ ”

At a muscular 6-foot-2 with a gray beard, friendly smile and deep voice, Mr. Pacheca looks as solid as his wines’ reputation ([email protected])

“We do red and white wines and port wine, first press by foot,” Mr. Pacheca says as he points to a large lagar, a granite vat where men still tramp the grapes.

“There are few vats like that today,” he says. “When my grandfather built all this 90 years ago, there were no presses.” This is the quinta’s centennial year.

Now at harvest time the men set out at 8 a.m. for the slopes. Women cut bunches of grapes from vines; men carry them in plastic or wicker baskets to the lagar. From 8 p.m. to midnight, the men crush the grapes in the lagar.

Singing and accordions traditionally have encouraged the exhausting work. Human treading is important to extract the grape’s color, tannin and aroma. This is particularly important with port wine because it will ferment just four days before grape brandy is added, stopping fermentation.

Modern steel presses are used for young white wines.

Pacheca’s wooden lodge houses rows of racked bottles to keep their corks humid and lines of large wine-filled casks. The smell of must, the juice pressed from grapes, hangs in the air.

Often groups of 120 visitors sit at tables to enjoy the best of Portuguese food and Pacheca wines. About 7,000 persons visited last year.

The quinta, closed in January and February, produces 200,000 liters of wine, 80,000 for port, the rest for red and white wines. About 90 percent is sold to a local company; the rest, a fine tawny, a 2000 vintage port and red and white wines, remain at the quinta.

Mr. Pacheca and his wife, Teresa, have three children; one son teaches oenology and helps at the quinta. As we relax in the tasting room, Mr. Pacheca says, “I love the Douro in all seasons. Each day I see something new. In winter I go hunting for rabbit, partridge and wild pig.

“I hope we can celebrate my father’s birthday this year. He says he will live past his grandmother. She died at 105. Four generations live on the quinta today.”

Mr. Pacheca has witnessed dramatic improvements since Portugal joined the European Community in 1966.

“When I was young, it was a difficult life. Fresh milk once a week during the 40 years of [Antonio de Oliveira] Salazar rule [from 1928 to 1968]. When my wife had a child, it took me seven hours to drive to a hospital in Lisbon. Today the drive takes three.”

Now that the Douro is a World Heritage Site, there is money to invest, and the area’s young people can study at nearby universities, he says.

We adjourn to an elegant dinner with the family. Historic maps, books, paintings, wine vessels and farming implements surround us. Fine conversation, succulent Portuguese food and, of course, great wine make it a memorable evening.

A look at various ports

White port. Porto blanco enjoys popularity in Portugal as a chilled aperitif. Produced by the same process as red port, it is aged in chestnut, not oak, barrels. It can be dry, medium or sweet.

Ruby port. These are full-bodied, fruity wines bottled young to retain freshness and color and matured in wood until ready to drink. Younger ones are about 3 years old.

Tawny port. It is lighter in color and has a drier, more delicate flavor. These wood-aged blended ports cost about $25 a bottle and account for most U.S. sales. The cheapest are aged for two or three years. The great tawnies are aged 20 or more years in the barrel.

LBV. Late bottled vintage port is the wine of a single year that has matured in wood for four to six years before bottling, when it is ready to drink. Labels give year of vintage and when bottled.

Vintage port. When a port of a certain year is considered of exceptional quality — perhaps two or three years in a decade — it remains unblended and is called “vintage.” Shippers put aside about 10 percent of the crop to age. The wine, always in short supply, is bottled after two years in the barrel. It accounts for about 2 percent of production.

Vintage ports are ready to drink in 10 years and easily last 30 to 40 years. Great vintage years include 1991, 1994 and 1996. The 1997 vintage, with a much-praised aromatic vigor, was called the best of the century.

Web tourist

The Douro wine festivals, Festas das Vindimas, take place in the last week in September and the first week in October.

For the festivals, Lamego and surrounding villages erupt in music, dancing, parades and wine drinking, with the Portuguese wearing traditional costumes. Portuguese from all over Europe return for the festivities.

For more information on Oporto, the Douro Valley and port wine, visit www.portoturismo.pt or www.portugalvirtual.pt.

For information on the grand Hotel Infante Sagres, Oporto, visit www.hotelinfantesagres.pt. The Web site for the Quinta do Terreiro in Lalim, Portugal (www.quintadoterreiro.com) is in Portuguese. For information on Portugal’s national hotels, Pousadas de Portugal, visit www.pousadasofportugal.com or call 800/223-1356. For the Quinta da Pacheca, visit [email protected]

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