What led you to create the Herdade da Rocha project?
It was my passion for the Alentejo and also for the wines. In 2007, I was looking for a property here (in Crato). If not in the Serra de São Mamede, at least in the Alto Alentejo, because I knew that this region was blessed when it came to producing wines. I ended up finding this magnificent property and fell in love the first day I visited it.
In what state did you find the property?
It was brush land, with lots of broom. There was a good section of olive groves, I would even say century-old, and then there were other areas. These areas are where we now have the planted vineyard. What I loved about this property, and what is very different from what you usually find in the Alentejo, is the way in which you enter it. As you move forward, you see the entire property right away, every 200 metres. And then, all these rocks, with which I truly identify myself, and which are beautiful! It was really love at first sight. I remember seeing some deer in the distance. I thought they were cows, ignorant as I was, for I didn’t even know there were wild deer. When I saw them, I asked Mister Francisco (the person who showed me the property), «Are there still cows down there?» He replied, «No. They are deer. And we’re looking out for them, because they normally roam around here». Crato is a historic town, with influences from the Serra de São Mamede mountains. The same day I made the decision to buy. It took place in late 2007.
So, you began to turn this property into Herdade da Rocha back in 2007?
The first thing we did was to register the name (Herdade da Rocha). We found that it matched, throughout its area, for the rocks (rochas) that were here and also because we are the Rocha family. Formerly, and even today, the place was known as Couto Saramago. It has nothing to do with Saramago (the writer). Then, perhaps at the same time, we worked on planting the vineyard. Planting rights were required. There are twelve hectares of vineyard. This was worked on for about two years.
«Given its size, the property allows us to have a golf course here»
Speaking of the vineyard, how many grape varieties do you grow here?
We have several grape varieties. Native grape varieties, varieties that are not native, as is the case of Alicante Bouschet and Syrah (but they behave really well here in the Alentejo). And we have Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. In terms of reds we have these four grape varieties. In terms of whites we have three: Alvarinho (which is a challenge, as I am from the north), Arinto (which is the most predominant grape variety in this region) and Viognier (which is to give it an international dimension and also to achieve wines with a little more volume).
Planting of the vines: mission completed.
What came next?
In 2009, we planted the vineyard. At the same time we started the project for this house (now the Boutique Lodge). It was the family home at the time.
The house was built. We had to wait until 2013 to get electricity. When we bought the estate this was scrubland, a small jungle. It was all done from scratch. In 2013 we got electricity, we furnished the house, and we started to spend a few days and some weekends here. In the meantime our children were growing up, their desire to come was not as it had been, because they had other kinds of agendas and then, there were many times when we couldn’t make it. Meanwhile, our eldest daughter, Mária has graduated in hotel studies and thrown down the challenge of using this as Local Accommodation. We have been developing the space, in the sense of promoting not only the project, but also the wines. With the four suites outside, plus the bedrooms in the house, we have the right conditions. We have created the Boutique Lodge, with a different decoration. In 2017, we opened the space to guests.
«The winery is geared towards visits, towards tourism»
What kind of experience can guests enjoy here?
It is a unique opportunity to be in contact with nature and to rest, above all else. People need to have opportunities to rest. The silence that you could feel here, over the weekend, I think that showed you enough to understand. Then they have the opportunity to experience our wines, to do tastings, to visit the winery.
Of course, to get in contact with nature you go walking or cycling. Here you can watch nature, animals; this is a fantastic place to do some watching for a few days...
And you’ve been creating distinct spaces throughout the property?
Yes. We have the opportunity to enjoy a picnic by the vineyard, where there is a pleasant atmosphere. We made the most of the natural part and created. For example, we have tables in the middle of two covered rocks. We have tables for those same picnics under the oak trees, which offer fantastic shade, and are totally clean. Not far from being finished, we have a fenced area of about 8 hectares, which you will be able to cross, and a bridge will be built over a water feature there, with connection points between rocks. A wooden walkway will be created (much of it is already there) so that you can watch native animals of the region, namely deer, which is our image; the boar; the hare and other species. It won’t be a zoo, it won’t be a nature park, but it will be an area of 8 hectares where people can watch the native wildlife in its natural habitat.
There is another very different space... almost for meditation, is there
Yes. This is another project that we intend to ahead with. In that place you get a magnificent view over nature. It is a large rock, which is easily accessible, and, on top of this rock you get this broader view of everything, with a transcendent sunset. It is my wish to make this place a kind of spiritual retreat, honouring someone, who I won’t reveal to you now, and to create a place where people feel good and for it to be a retreat of peace.
You also have a very special space at Herdade da Rocha, which, from time
to time, helps let of some steam in the stress of everyday life...
Yes. Golf. Given its size, the property allows us to have a golf course here. We are making the experiment. It’s not yet completed. The course is yet to be approved. In the Alentejo we have difficulty with water; we had to create an eco-friendly golf course. We are creating a kind of grass that needs little moisture (the Americans were the first to go ahead with this). In Europe it is hardly used. The aim, in the near future, will be to make it a course that isn’t for golf at the highest competitive level, but rather for golf tourism.
How many tees are up and running at the moment?
We have four holes working.
And when did the winery come about?
The cellar has only just been completed, but we were already producing wines here. The underground part of the winery covers about 1000 sqm. It has an upper section, which is stunning, and which is where people can taste our wines. That’s where we have the presses, where the wine is made. The ageing is done in the underground area (area with 8-metre ceilings). We wanted to add an art component to the winery. Therefore, the winery is geared towards visits, towards tourism. It has a space that can even be used by companies and groups, in which to hold conferences, retreats, etc.
«The project was created with quality in mind and not quantity»
Why did you want to add art to wine? Is wine also a kind of art?
That’s so true. Wine is an art. A winery can be a museum at the same time. It is a cultural space, not only for the culture of wine, but also because the winery is kind an industry. It is an industry that works really hard for one month a year and then there are 11 months in which we have to find an occupation for it. The passion I have for art, and several contemporary artists I know, led me to challenge them to also create some pieces for the winery. If you look at the doors, they have art incorporated into them; if you look at all the stone, it has art incorporated into it. I have no doubt that I did this with a great deal of passion and that it is a very pleasant space.
What artists were involved in this project of the works of art?
We have works by several artists. The doors are by Paulo Neves, an urban artist. The design team from Antarte were greatly involved too, jointly developing the work in the winery. We also have the works by a sculptor, António Miguel, who works essentially with Corten steel and who is from the Algarve; we have a large panel of tiles made by a Dutch woman, who lives in Portugal – Meinke Flesseman; and then we have other works that we have brought from abroad, from Japan, from Indonesia.
And those paintings next to press area?
They are by Fábio Carneiro. All that painting represents Antarte. We draw inspiration from nature itself: the relationship of undulations, with colour of earth... while at the same giving a strong artistic and design component. For the wine press area those works were created to fit the walls. Fábio’s work is about 50 m by 5 m high. Fábio Carneiro was inspired by works from the same period of wine and from there we find the figure of Bacchus, the famous god of wine; and Mona Lisa. They are classics. We have the Sistine Chapel reflected there, we have Michelangelo.
The barrel room is very discreet...
It is the great hall. It is a project by our designer (Antarte); it is where all the barrels are. It is our project; mine, Sónia’s and Paula’s. This room is located between three parts of the winery. The press room, and the presses themselves, are a challenge given to Fábio. The great hall, the barrel room, is buried, insulated, has thermal insulation and the decoration in wood was all designed and developed at Antarte. The cellar doors are made from sustainable wood, which came directly from the Azores. We started building the winery in 2013, and now it’s 2018. It took five years to complete the winery.
Moving on to the wines. What offers us Herdade da Rocha?
We are in a region where it is difficult to produce. They are granite soils; it is very hot, but we also have low temperatures. As such the wine has freshness, it is highly concentrated, it has a lot of quality, but it is very different from many regions. Production is low. There are regions in the country that can achieve 10 tonnes per hectare, and some even more. We find it hard to achieve more than five tonnes per hectare here. This year was less, for reasons we know, but the average with regard to 2017 (and was not when we were operating at full capacity), is close to 60,000 bottles. But the project was created with quality in mind and not quantity. And trying, of course, to characterise this region by making wines at the finest level.
What wines do we have?
We started by launching the Couto Saramago wines (White, Red and Rosé). This is the entry-level wine in the range. Then we have the Herdade da Rocha Selecção, which is, as it were, the name of a selection of the best grapes and the best wine coupages. And we have the Rocha Especial Reserva. These are the three reds that usually come out every year. We are now making a different product, which is to get the best out of the grape varieties in this region. We’re creating a varietal, but we’ll only bottle it when it’s classified. When you reach a higher level of each wine then we make a premium batch. At the moment we are launching the Alicante Bouschet Premium. Our intention is to make more varietals, as far as reds are concerned. In whites, we have Couto Saramago as the entry-level wine and we have Herdade da Rocha Reserva. There are two identical profiles, two fresh wines, just that one, as it is a reserve, is aged in wood and is also aged in the bottle. The other is a fresher, more direct, simpler wine in normal consumption.
What is your favourite wine?
It depends on the day and the time of year. And above all else, it depends on the meal. If it’s a hot day, and if we have a lighter meal, I sincerely like a white. We are at the end of October; from now on I will favour the reds. And, within the reds, the Reserva Especial. Now I’m getting very excited about the varietals. Perhaps because this was a different experience, for anyone who has participated in planting the vineyard, for those who followed the whole process of the vineyard, I think that the varietals create another kind of enthusiasm.
And the labels. Why customise them that way?
All the labels have a particular deer. The deer, besides being a very characteristic animal in this region, is an animal that I really like. We invested in this property because we found deer here; as such we associate the image with the deer. Now, every wine has its label. For example, the whites have a deer with a tiled texture. As an azulejo tile is usually blue, we associate the freshness with white. For the white reserve we invited an artist to do it. And the Herdade da Rocha red too. It is a wine with more time, and therefore, the label is darker, it has those triangulations of colours. In the entry-level range we have a white label. The Grande Reserva was made by Paulo Neves. Not only will it stay for the 2015 vintage, in the special reserve, but also it will remain over the next few years in the varietal wines, in the premium wines.
In the coming years, will we find you more involved with furniture
(Antarte) or with wines (Herdade da Rocha)?
I would like to continue as I am. I really like what I do. I would say that I am dedicating myself, and I continue to dedicate myself, 80% to the furniture, in particular to the creativity with relation to products and, whenever I can, at weekends, I come here, to the vineyards. Obviously, in the grape harvest period I dedicate 50% on each area. But, now that it has finished, I will return to normal. I have a great passion for my professional activity. I would like to continue this way. This is clearly an emotional project, of a great deal of passion, into which I dedicate time with passion, but I cannot get distracted, because the company (Antarte) depends a lot on me.