Esporão: Pioneering The Alentejo Wine Region

Heradae Do Esporão Military Tower overlooking Vineyards © Esporão

The name Esporão is synonymous with modern-day Portuguese wine, especially those from the Alentejo wine region. This family-owned winery spans two generations and is a front runner in the organic movement in wine growing and winemaking. From the Douro to Vinho Verde to their main headquarters, Herdade Do Esporão in the Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC sub-region, Esporão is one of the largest organic wineries in the world. They are pioneers of the Alentejo wine industry with their eco-friendly winemaking.

History of Herdade Do Esporão

The path to becoming one of the most prominent organic winery had bumps along the way. Jose Roquette and a partner purchased the property in 1973, but a military coup in 1974, followed by the nationalization of the estate in 1975, forced the Roquette family to move to Brazil. During their absence, they sold grapes to the Reguengos de Monsaraz Co-Op. The Roquette’s returned to Portugal in 1983, and Jose produced his first wine in 1985. It was eight years later that he started producing olive oil. By 1989 the estate was solely owned by the Roquette Family.

Esporão Holdings © Esporão
Map of Portugal and Esporão Holdings

João Roquette

Now in its 2nd generation, João Roquette took over in 2006. It is under his stewardship that the winery has transformed. With an emphasis on sustainability and organics, the winery underwent a 12-year transformation to become organically certified. In addition, João acquired Quinta Does Murcas in the Douro, followed by Sovina Craft Beer in 2018. Finally, in 2019, Quinta Do Ameal in the Vinho Verde region became part of the portfolio.

João is implementing the Esporão motto of “Reduce, Re-use and Recycle.” This practice is achieved through environmental, social, cultural, and personal approaches to sustainability. Farming represents the environmental, the community signifies the social aspects, the archeological sites denote cultural, and the slow forward lifestyle with its counter-culture concept characterizes the personal.

João Roquette ©Esporão
João Roquette

Winemaker Sandras Alves

Sandra began working for Esporão in 2001.  In 2011 she was appointed Director of Winemaking for Alentejo wines in 2021. After 20 years with Esporão, Sandra’s goal is to achieve the best wine with the grapes and land given to her as winemaker.  When she came on board, she was responsible for white wine production.  Today, her impact on white wines is seen with their growing popularity in an area predominately known for its red wines.

Esporão Winemaker - Sandra Alves ©Esporão
Winemaker – Sandra Alves

The Estate

The estate consists of 4,522 acres, of which 1091 contain vineyards. The property has olive groves, orchards, and vegetable gardens. Today the winery produces 25 wines, with 80% reds and 20% whites and Rosés. They also make port. Three historical monuments, an early renaissance military tower, built in the 15th century, the Esporão arch, and the Nossa Senhora Dos Remédois chapel reside on the estate. The military tower acts as a beacon in the vineyards.

The soils vary throughout the estate. Dioritic soils give the wine its aroma, fruit, and acidity, while Granodiorite soils bring freshness and minerality. Mottled schists are planted with grapes high in sugars and phenol levels. Many of the white grapes cultivate in sandy clay loam soils.

Esporão Today

Herdade do Esporao is the largest independently owned wine estate in Alentejo. The estate was the first in Alentejo to open its doors to visitors. All three wineries are open to wine tourism through their “Experience Centers.”

Esporão grows 37 grape varieties, including many indigenous varieties. The goal is to create rich, unique, character-driven wines.

As an eco-winery, they utilize small-batch ferments, and to minimize energy usage, the winery is gravity-fed. Many of the wines ferment and age in concrete and amphorae.

Esporão Amphorae and Concrete Vats ©Esporão
Amphorae and Concrete Vats at the Winery

Reserva Labels

Portuguese artists create the artwork for Esporão reserve wines. These works of art change with each vintage.

Esporão Reserva White ©Cori Solomon
Esporão Reserva White

Heradad Do Esporão Wines

Colheita White 2020: This wine combines Antão Vaz, Viosinho, Alvarinho, and a small percentage of other varieties, which after four months of aging in concrete, brings forth a clean, lively, fruity wine.

Esporão Colheita White ©Cori Solomon
Colheita White

Colheita Red 2018: Like the white version, this wine ages in concrete for six months. The wine consists of Touriga Nacional, Argonez, Touriga Franca, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Alicante Bouschet. Although a small percentage, the Cabernet comes through on the palate. This easy-
drinking smooth, very dry wine displays an earthy nose.

Esporão Reserva White 2020 DOC Alentejo: Blending Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro and small percentages of others, the wine ferments in 70% stainless steel and 30% first and second year old American and French oak barrels for six months. Compared to the Colheita White, this wine is more viscous and displays citrus and spices.

Esporão Reserva Red 2018 DOC Alentejo: This red wine combines Aragonez, Trincadeira, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Alicante Bouschet. Each variety ferments separately. The wine ages 12 months in 60% American and 40% French oak, both new and used. The wine presented itself as a rich, full-bodied wine with black fruit and pepper on the finish.

Looking back at my notes on the 2016 Reserva, I noticed a consistency in my comments. That vintage showcased the rich depth of wine evidenced by the fresh dark fruit accented by spices and chocolate on the finish. I noted the wine delivered a rustic quality.

Esporão Reserva Red ©Cori Solomon
Esporão Reserva Red

Other Wines

Quinta dos Murcas Minas Red 2018: Showcasing the Douro DOC, this winery was one of the first in the valley to plant vertically. Composed of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Francisca, the wine ages in concrete vats and used French oak for nine months. The concrete gives softness and elegance to the wine. It also brings out the ripeness of the dark fruit. Minas Red is a very drinkable wine.

Esporão Monte Velho Red 2019: The wine is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah and ages three months in stainless steel. I found a rich spirited wine with cedar, tobacco, and mocha on the nose and dark fruit on the palate, showing that wine can deliver quality aged in stainless steel.

Esporão’s influence in Alentejo is profound. Their investment in becoming completely organic has paid off and proven that outstandingly healthy fruit attributes to the quality of wine produced.

Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.

Photo credits courtesy of Esporão on images of the vineyards, winery, owner, and winemaker.