Less than an hour from the city of Lisbon lies the Setúbal wine region, renowned for its sweet dessert wine, Moscatel de Setúbal. A visit to one of its most famous producers, Quinta da Bacalhoa, is not only a reason to learn about wine, but also an opportunity to walk through a piece of Portuguese history. The estate features a palace dating back to the 15th Century that houses an eclectic art collection including Portugal’s first painted tile, gardens fit for royalty, and vineyards with a most unusual trellis system.
The Quinta was initially owned by the Portuguese royal family but has had several proprietors, both royalty and wealthy private citizens, over the course of past 5 centuries. With each owner, changes or additions were made to the palace, most noticeably with its interior design and diverse collection of art from virtually every corner of the globe.
The winery itself was established in 1922 by João Pires & Sons who initially only grew grapes to sell to to other estates. In 1936, one of the most influential owners of the modern-day Palace was American Orlena Scoville. She is credited for restoring the building and surrounding gardens to its former glory and setting the foundation for its current success.
It was her grandson who spearheaded the move to not only produce their own wines but also to develop into one of the largest wine producers in the country. In 1998, José Berardo became the main shareholder and under his ownership new vineyards were planted, new properties acquired, and a partnership was formed with the Lafite Rothschild Group in Quinta do Carmo until 2007. When that partnership ended, he established Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal, becoming one of the largest wine companies in Portugal.
Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal works with over 40 different grape varieties but initially built their reputation on their Moscatel, a fortified sweet wine that the Setúbal region is most famous for. The process used to produce Moscatel is the same as making Port wine with one main difference, only one grape variety is used: Moscatel Galego Roxo (aka Muscat à petits grains rouges in France).
The company has invested heavily in this variety and currently have the largest vineyard in the world with 5 hectares planted. It’s a variety that consists of small, highly concentrated grapes that mature very rapidly. The winery stops fermentation after 3 to 4 days by adding high quality wine spirits, then lets it rest throughout winter. After opening the tanks in March/April, they then transfer the juice to old oak barrels where it is aged for 10 years.
Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal’s presence in Setúbal is comprised of 741 acres of vines planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Chardonnay, Merlot and Moscatel.
Quinta da Bacalhôa is 1 of 3 wineries in the company which altogether produce over 2 million cases of wine annually from approximately 3,000 acres of vineyards throughout 7 different wine regions.
The vineyards at Quinta da Bacalhôa encompass 5 hectares that were planted in 2001 to 3 grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. These 3 grapes produce 2 different wines both with their own distinction. The Quinta da Bacalhôa is the first Cabernet Sauvignon ever produced in Portugal (technically made up of 90% Cabernet plus 10% Merlot). The Palacio da Bacalhôa is a tribute to the palace itself and one of the winery’s top wines. A blend of all 3 grapes, it is produced only in the very best vintages which has been just 9 times in the past 20 years.
As we explored the opulent property and surveyed the Quinta da Bacalhôa vineyards, it was the first time we had seen the ring trellis system used. With this method, the vines are head-pruned goblets with a metal ring in middle to force the leaves to grow outside of the ring in such a way as to limit the hot Portugal sun beating down on the grapes potentially causing sunburn.
From the vineyards we ventured over to the Renaissance Garden which Orlena Scoville had restored to its original layout highlighted by an impressive hedge maze. After successfully navigating our way through the maze, we wandered over to the pool house where the inside was covered in traditional glazed mosaic tiles known as azulejos. Looking back at the pool and structure you can see where the label from the Palacio da Bacalhôa wine got its inspiration.
We returned to the palace in time for a most memorable lunch in the museum itself that will rank among one of our best wine meal experiences to date. It’s truly difficult to beat sipping excellent wines paired with delicious food surrounded by priceless works of art in the company of new friends.
We’ve heard many wineries promote themselves as destination wineries. Not all are justified but without question, Quinta da Bacalhôa fits into that category. The quality of wine will undoubtedly draw oenophiles, and the history, architecture, art collection and garden enhance the experience for any visitor whether a fan of wine or otherwise.
Estrada Nacional 10,
T: +351 212 198 060