As far as vineyards are concerned, Adega Mayor has a very particular story. Brainchild of Portuguese entrepreneur Rui Nabeiro, the adega is a fairly recent feature in Rui’s long and fulfilling life. At 13 he began working in his uncle’s coffee business and didn’t take him long to set up his own. Campo Maior, his hometown in Alentejo, just by the border with Spain was destined to be his headquarters. In the 60’s, a time of burgeoning smuggling activity in the border he set up Delta. What is now a world renowned coffee business began with three employees (two of them border guards…).
Campo Maior has always been a wine making region with traditional families making some wine for home consumption and friends. Rui wanted to transform this tradition into a top wine-making enterprise. His determination was made evident by inviting the most iconic Portuguese architect, Alvaro Siza Vieira, to design a unique adega reflecting terroir, landscape and culture, as well as Rui’s commitment to social cohesion and community. The result is a phenomenal space with excellent wines, where anyone can feel at home.
When we visited in mid September, we were hosted by Tiago who leads the wine tourism aspects of the company and by CEO Rita Nabeiro (Rui’s granddaughter). September is the time to visit vineyards as you can fully immerse yourself in the harvest and the first stages of winemaking. Adega Mayor offers an exciting hands on experience with everyone joining in the picking of the grapes while knowledgeable Tiago shares the ins and outs of the Adega and the winemaking process.
The clean, precise lines of Siza’s architecture are reflected in how the adega operates. The building is designed to maintain optimum temperature for storing wine without the need for artificial cooling. The vineyards were planted from scratch in 1997 and have been meticulously controlled in terms of varieties and soil characteristics. They regularly use drones to photograph planted areas in order to monitor how different grape varieties are developing!
After a walk through the vineyards and some grape picking (which included tasting grapes such as Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouchet) we headed back to the adega where we were met with a surprising and unexpected addition to our experience. Although Adega Mayor prides itself in its modern approach to winemaking, we got a chance to crush some grapes old school; shoes off, trousers folded up, and feet crushing the grapes as groups of visitors help each other balancing by holding arms. Traditionally there would have been singing but it was probably for the best that this did not emerge…
We proceeded to try the ‘mosto’ of two wines at different stages. This is itself is a great lesson in wine tasting as you can appreciate how sugars in the grape juice form into alcohol through fermentation. The Adega Mayor vindima experience finishes with a real bang. A tasting/workshop with six wines accompanied by local Alentejo cheese, hams and bread. Once again Tiago shared his knowledge in an entertaining and informal way. Our favourite wines were the white Caiado (their ‘entry level’ crisp and citrous white) and the Monte Mayor Reserva red, both from 2015.
Adega Mayor is a real treat to visit. To help them in the vindimas was quite a privilege and we will always remember that their 2016 wine had our hands… and feet!