Travel Guide to Portugal

Women’s History Month: Exploring the Maternal Side of Winemaking

By Sonia Nolasco

AnaEditor’s note: With the March being recognized for stories about inspiring women (also known as Women’s History Month in the USA), we thought it would be fitting to honor the only female master blender existing today, Ana Rosas, of the renowned Ramos-Pinto port house. A woman that oozes with, grace, passion and the warmest of maternal instincts—all the qualities (and more!) that Ana Rosas brings to her wines, “mothering” barrels and bottles of Tawny ports that result in some of the best value for your money in the market. We start our wine talk with tea …

Though tea isn’t likely what comes to mind when visiting quintas (wineries) in the Douro Valley, it was precisely what my body and soul needed on the fourth day of our #douro14 press trip organized by the Douro & Port Wine Institute. From earthy duck rice and succulent roasted kid to zesty puddings and decadent cakes, our group of bloggers had been fed like kings and queens. Each carefully-prepared meal was paired with hand-selected wines from the Douro. A treat I’m already longing to repeat … Yet on that fourth day, it was time for a break, making the tea a soothing surprise. (photo by Ryan Opaz)

After spending a few minutes with our host, Ana Rosas, the daughter of the legendary Adriano Ramos-Pinto, the tea made much more sense. Ana oozed maternal instincts, smiling softly at each one of us as we settled into Quinta do Bom Retiro, this wine family’s fairytale estate surrounded by terraced vineyards, cypress trees, stone fountains and rose gardens. Tuned in to our specific needs, Ana realized quickly that I wasn’t feeling well, a result of the autumn’s schizophrenic shifts in temperature. My throat was soar, my body and ears achy—not the best condition to be in to taste wine. Before everyone gathered in the sitting room for a lesson on blending Tawnies, Ana built a fire and dragged a cozy, flower-printed armchair close to the flames so I could sit and stay warm. Then, she handed me a lemon and honey tea, and another cup of it after dinner. She brushed the back of her hand against my forehead and shook her head disappointed at what she found, heat, and offered up pills. Amid entertaining the other guests, she made sure to keep an eye on me, smiling occasionally, and doing everything she could to ensure I was stable. After all her sweet nurturing, it came as no surprise that Ana sees winemaking as a maternal process. I sat down with Ana to learn more about this maternal side of winemaking, to explore her thoughts on wine education and more:

Can you tell us about your winemaking process?

Especially after having children, I see winemaking as somewhat of a maternal process. You have to let the wines grow and show their own personality, and then like children you help mold the wine a bit. Yet in the end, you don’t always know what the result might be. It’s a dedication and passion.

You say that Port is the most humanized wine.

Yes, Port is the most humanized wine. After the harvest, the wines go to Vila Nova de Gaia. There we have two people that help me; two men that are exactly in the same positions as the generations that came before them. They are third generation—one is in the tasting room and the other in the warehouse. We all learned with past generations, our fathers, our uncles, and transmit that knowledge onto the wine. The relationship of this wine with the people that take care of it is extremely close.

What would you tell a younger generation that is just discovering Port wine?

First of all, you have to drink it and be passionate about it because you’ll feel so many things. They are different from other wines, even different from other fortified wines. They have so many types of flavors and aromas. Once they try it, they normally want to know more about that wine and start learning about how it begins, from the vineyards and crush to how the people help age it. They tend to get attached. The best thing is to spend a few days learning about it during the harvest, it’s special, because both the process for Port and Douro wines is completely manual. But it starts with drinking it, and then discovering how we manage to provide this pleasure with all of these aromas and flavors. (photo by Ryan Opaz)

Then there are the different ways and occasions to drink the wine. You can drink it as an aperitif, after dinner, some can be paired with a meal or in a cocktail—though the latter is not my favorite way of drinking Port. You need to start drinking and appreciating. It’s not only about having alcohol, it’s an experience. It’s a huge experience when you start to discover what you have in your mouth and get excited, especially with others around you. What we used to do in Portugal and all of the Mediterranean countries, at least in the countries that had wines, we used to teach our children to drink at home. They would normally start drinking around 15 years of age, first with water. But they would start this process at home. They would discover that wine is a pleasure and not a question of having a shot of rapid alcohol. I know that almost all of the people that work in wine still do this with their children, but not in general.

RamosSo you feel strongly about wine education?

Wine education is something we should start at home. It’s not a question of being drunk all the time, it’s to teach our children and society about the different types of wines—Port, Champagne, Burgundy—and gathering people around the table to talk about the wine. Yes, I think there should be a greater emphasis on teaching about wines and how to drink them properly.

What differentiates Ramos-Pinto from other Port houses?

Ramos-Pinto is still a small family business, even now that we belong to the Roederer brand, we remain that way. You see, Roederer buys different houses but they keep the people that were working there before. We have kept most of the same people and places, because we’re the ones that know our wines, it’s in our heart. What I think is different about Ramos-Pinto is the way we work together in the vineyard. Normally, we have a lot of the same families working together in one place; it’s a very human process. And, we also have a lot of respect for horticulture. We try not to change too much of what nature has given us. These vineyards, these families and the way we work with the wines, is equally parts history and innovation. We keep a close watch on the soil, the terroir, the people and especially nature. (photo by Ramos Pinto)

What is your favorite Port?

The 20-year-olds. They are the most complete. Normally, when you are aging Tawnies, somewhere between 18 and 25 you lose the maximum color from oxidation and caramelization in the wine, so it’s getting greener, yellower in color, but around 20 years is where you’ve reached maximum color. It has everything a Port wine should have: nice color, yet not too caramelized. It has traces of young fruit but with finesse. It’s long and wonderfully drinkable. It manages to embody a bit of the entire story of Port. Now that’s poetry in a bottle!

Cheers to Ana Rosas and her passion for Port,

Sonia Andresson-Nolasco


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