The municipalities of Monção and Melgaço have a lot to offer. Go up to the belvederes and enjoy the magnificent views of mountains and fields. Discover the hot springs, the villages, the monuments. Come and taste the wines
Green wines can be white, pink, or red. They are called green because they are fresher and come from lush green surroundings. The Alvarinhos from Monção and Melgaço have some features in common; the grape varieties have a sweet balance, a moderate alcohol content and a fresh acidity. The territory allows this versatility, which translates into a fruity, mineralized, sweet or drier wine, characterized by intense color and aroma, with citrus notes.
Across borders, the recognition of the quality of this region’s wine dates back to the 14th century. At that time, it was much sought by the English who came to Portugal to exchange it for cod.
The Cerdeira family was one of those who made the wine business their life. João António Cerdeira was a visionary, seeing a promising future for the Alvarinho grape. His “empire” would start in a garage.
1. The red Ford Escort leaves the garage to make room for the first casks
João Cerdeira bets on the first hectare of vineyard in a sunny and protected area by the mountains. In 1982, Soalheiro, the first brand of Alvarinho in Melgaço, was born.
The old red Ford Escort leaves the garage to make room for the first casks. Here starts the history of a green wine with sustainability concerns and whose label is drawn by hand. Interestingly, the garage where it all started will be turned into a tasting room called The Origin.
In 1989, Luís Cerdeira followed his father’s footsteps. While managing Soalheiro with his sister and his mother, he studied oenology and his journey continued full of surprises. The first vintage was made in 1994. One year later, Soalheiro marks a turning point when it creates a new market segment, the first sparkling wine.
Luís says that Soalheiro has several families: employees, 150 grape producers and his own.
2. The bet on Sustainable Agriculture
The choice for organic farming arises in 2006 with quality as its sales argument.
At that time, Maria João, Luís’s sister, joined the company and started to bet on sustainable agriculture. Although they no longer used herbicides, there was much more to do to make viticulture organic.
Luís explains: “We bet on a concept of biodiversity based on fauna and flora of the vineyards, which are our secret.” And he adds: “There is a synergy between them, great for wine tourism.”
Four years ago, they managed to certify the company in environmental, food, research, and development areas.
Luís says that “the winery has grown and that the fact that they covered it with vegetation meant that energy had a 25% reduction.”
They have an environmental concern linked to innovation and climate change, so they want to make packaging more environmentally friendly, betting on materials from sustainable forests.
3. “Territories must be Economically Viable”
The wine culture lived for centuries side by side with other cultures, in an subsistence economy. Currently, they are dedicated to Alvarinho grape variety and this production is important for the population’s income.
Luís claims that economic sustainability must also be social and environmental, and underlines that: “Territories must be economically viable”, adding: “We and farmers’ families must be socially sustainable.”
Also, “we intend to create knowledge and strategies that allow producers to value their products, create routes through the vineyards and inform them about the environmental care to be taken, taking into account the tourism they will be targeting.”
Luís wants to bet on wine tourism and invest in the Enotur project, which involves visits to the region and a sustainable eco-label.
4. Denomination of Origin
To obtain the Portuguese appellation system of Denominação de Origem Controlada, it is necessary to comply with the requirements. The authenticity of Vinho Verde is guaranteed by the certification awarded by the Vinho Verde Commission.
As brand manager and responsible for the Clube de Produtores do Soalheiro, Luís Cerdeira agrees with the appellation of origin to which the Associação de Produtores do Alvarinho (APA), recently appealed. “Monção and Melgaço must have it in a short time,” he emphasizes.
The exclusivity of this region in the production of Alvarinho runs until 2021, because the name will then be liberalized. In this regard, Luís Cerdeira states: “There was a period for enlargement and there is an agreement because currently, 75% of the Alvarinho at a national level is from Monção and Melgaço.”
Still related to the recent APA statements, Luís Cerdeira clarifies: “there is a sub-region since 1900”, as well as “a detailed characterization of its differentiation and a library rich in scientific articles, this is not something new,” he reinforces.
Soalheiro has partnered with the Instituto Superior de Viana do Castelo in studies of the territory and with other entities that analyze wine tourism, vineyards and zoning, the evolution of Alvarinho in the bottle and the diversity of fauna and flora. Under study, they now have a vineyard planted near Parque Peneda Gerês at 1100 meters of altitude, the highest in the country.
5. Change of Mind: The search for premium wines
If before the most sought-after wine was carbonated and of a lower price, now the demand for premiums has increased significantly.
“There is organic growth, the global demand is for quality wines, there has been a change in mentality and a large investment by winegrowers to accompany this change,” Luís says.
To illustrate this panorama, he adds: “Currently the Alvarinho grape is the most expensive in the country and the price has been maintained even during the pandemic.”
Regarding this, he comments that it is very difficult for a farmer to make the two worlds. “You either choose to make affordable wines or premium quality wines.” Besides, “we have to choose the export partner well.”
The future goals are to create innovation and maintain consistency while creating a tradition.