Quinta de la Rosa is a beautiful vineyard sitting on the banks of the River Douro in Northern Portugal. It was given to my grandmother, Claire Feuerheerd, as a christening present. Traditionally you used to be given a pipe of port (55 dozen bottles) as a christening present but she got a whole vineyard! My father, Tim, and I started producing and bottling port, and later wine, under our own label in 1988 - before that we used to sell our grapes to Sandeman.
Port can only be made in the demarcated region along the Douro valley. The vineyards are carved into the steeply sloping hills which makes it hard to mechanise and costly to work. We still have some traditional terraces left held up with dry stone walls - some are 10 metres or more high. Vale do Inferno is the most impressive, built by my great grandfather before the First World War when labour was cheap. Now we need to mechanise and in many places it is too steep to plant vertically so bulldozers have dug out flat areas along the contour of the hills - patamares - enabling tractors to work the land.
All our vineyards are graded as A quality - the port region is classified from A to F. We plantthe traditional port varieties - namely Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. Being a small independent producer offering wines and ports at the best quality to price ratio is fundamentally important.
We still tread all our port by foot in granite lagares just as the Romans did centuries ago. Experiments show that this is still the best way to make quality port. After the 'corte' where we line up arm in arm and tread in time, we turn on the music and dance in the lagares. We can get quite a party going and last year a team from The Oxford Wine Company came and helped us tread the 2007 vintage. Half way through, we stop the fermentation with the addition of brandy or 'eau de vie'. This makes port sweeter and more alcoholic than normal table wines.
Port, like champagne, is a branded product and it is hard to break into the domination of the larger names. So we try and offer something different - a more elegant port, still sweet but with a slightly drier finish. It has not been easy to establish ourselves in such a traditional market place but we are succeeding and now are listed in many of the leading London and Oxford restaurants.
Keen to diversify, we were one of the pioneers in making dry red wine from port grape varieties. Our wines are full bodied with a good balance of oak and tannins. We have had great success with our wines which now accounts for over two thirds of our production. Last year, our La Rosa Reserve was voted by a panel of international journalists as the best wine of Portugal and the Wine Spectator decided that our straight Douro Tinto Aguia red wine was the second best value to quality red wine in the world!
We have come a long way since 1991, our first year of production. In those days, my mother and I had to stick the photocopied labels on by hand with glue. The glue got everywhere and we concentrated so hard to keep the labels straight that I had not realised that my mother's labels were a few centimetres higher than mine! Nowadays we have an integrated bottling and labelling machine and smart self adhesive labels!
We make a variety of different wines in all colours. Our pink Vale da Clara rosé is particularly popular in both the summer and winter months. Made from the free run juice of vintage port (that means we open the tap before treading and take the juice off), the rosé has a deeply pretty pink colour and a greater structure than many others on the market. Jasper Morris calls it a 'food rosé' as you can drink it happily as an aperitif and continue drinking it with your meal. Most people think of rosé as a summer drink but ours is popular in the winter as well. We sell three pallets a year to the Tate Gallery in September where they list it over the colder months. The colour alone would cheer you up on a grey, miserable day.
Our white wines are also interesting as they are made out of the same grapes as white port such as Viosinho, Codega, Malvasia Fina and Rabigato to name just a few. The La Rosa white has more oak and structure, whilst the Vale da Clara is lighter offering refreshing, mineral undertones. Rick Stein liked the Vale da Clara white so much that he had it as a recommended wine on his list for a couple of years.
But without a doubt, the red wines are the mainstay of our success. We sell over 100,000 bottles of just La Rosa Aguia wine alone every year. At just over £10 a bottle it is a very elegant wine with a good balance of fruit, tannins, acidity and a touch of oak. Jorge Moreira, La Rosa's winemaker since 2002, is regarded as one of the best in Portugal and I leave him to make all the wine making and blending decisions. He always wants to make the best wine possible and believes in blending up to improve a wine rather than being tempted to blend to increase quantity and hence, sometimes, short term financial gain.
The Reserve red wine is our flagship wine and we make limited quantities that sell out immediately. Made from older vines which produce lower yields, often foot trodden in lagares and matured in new oak for up to 18 months, the wine has much more concentration and power than the Aguia Douro Tinto. Ideally the Reserve should be laid down for a couple of years.
For those who want a fruitier, simpler wine, but still with good structure and under £10 then they should try douROSA Red 2005. Newly imported into UK, it has proved a great success elsewhere.
Finally, we welcome visitors, treaders and people who are keen to explore different wine regions of the world. We have rooms and houses to rent and offer daily tours and treading at vintage time. Come and see for yourself!