The winemaker who loves a challenge

on Jul 1, 2012 in Automatic Pilot | No Comments

António Maçanita is part of a new generation of winemakers that has continued the good work of colleagues from the 1990s, showing over recent years that persistence leads to good results.

During his agro-industrial engineering course, António acquired a passion for viticulture, which encouraged him to plant a vineyard on his family’s land in the Azores. Despite his enthusiasm, he soon realised that if he was to develop, he had to travel further afield. Between 2001 and 2002, he trained in the Napa Valley (California), at the Merryvale Vineyards and Rudd Estate wineries, even taking a Wines of the World course at Napa College, to consolidate his knowledge. In 2003, he travelled to Australia, where he also spent some months at the famous d’Arenberg winery, in McLaren Vale. It was there that he met Jack Walton, the assistant winemaker at d’Arenberg and ex-rugby player, who he became friends with, discovering that Jack had worked at Chateau Pichon Baron through the Pays-Medoc rugby team. António decided to do the same, he contacted the club, sent his sport CV and waited for a reply.

In the meanwhile, he returned to Portugal and joined the team launching the Herdade da Malhadinha Nova project, in the Alentejo, where he tested his newly-acquired knowledge. In the first year of production, the Malhadinha 2003 won three gold medals in Portuguese and foreign competitions, rewarding all his effort. Then his reply came from France and António set off for another internship at the prestigious Chateau Lynch Bages. He returned to Portugal at the beginning of 2004, which is when he met David Booth, and they started laying the foundations for their own wine company, Fita Preta Vinhos. Through ID Wines, the winemaking consultancy company of which he is also a founder-partner, he is involved in projects in various regions of the country, such as Quinta do Condoso and R4 Vinhos (Douro); Albergue do Bonjardim (Beiras), Quinta de Sant’Ana (Lisbon), Herdade do Arrepiado Velho, Adega do Calcário, Herdade da Maroteira and Herdade das Courelas (Alentejo), Adega Cooperativa de Lagos, João Clara, Quinta da Vinha and Quinta do Francês (Algarve).


You work in various regions, whih presents the greatest challenge?

Each one has its own challenges. At Quinta de Santana, in Mafra (in the Lisbon region), the challenge was making great wines in a region with no wine tradition. Now, the challenge is making a great Alvarinho, because I believe that the climate is perfect for it. In the Alentejo the responsibility is greater, because there are lots of good wines. At this phase, the challenge is making a genuine white with local identity, which resulted in my latest white, Branco de Talha. Lastly, the challenge in the Azores is recovering the Terrantez, a grape on the verge of extinction, which not only created a great wine but also mobilised the region to replant the variety.


What’s your favourite type of wine?

I  think the aromatic purity of whites is fascinating and how well they transmit the grape varieties and the soil they come from.


What’s your favourite white grape?

There are few white varieties with the qualities of Alvarinho! It has acidity, texture, minerality and a fruity/floral profile when young, and hints of honey when a little older. I like the slightly more mature Portuguese profile and the more rustic style of the Galicians. I think that it’s a grape that has a complexity that other Portuguese whites can’t rival. In terms of red grapes, I’m split between Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet. Touriga Nacional because of its Portuguese identity, with its concentrated floral aroma and fine colour. Alicante Bouschet, because it’s the variety that really improves wines across the board. It has a concentration of colour, structure, and it allows me to use essential grapes for the Alentejo blend, like Trincadeira and Aragonez, highlighting their qualities and compensating for their weaknesses at the same time.


If you could choose to dine with someone, who would it be and what wine would you choose?

My partner in wine and adventures, David Booth, who died recently… First, I would open one of the two magnums of Preta 2004 we have left, which was our first vintage and the wine that marked the beginning of our adventure. To go with the wine, some porco preto (unique breed of pig) cutlets and migas, to ensure our cholestorol peaked! Then, we would go for a Preta 2011, our best vintage according to David, which is still in the barrel. It’s rough and needs to be finished, but it was our last vintage together and it would go with a great Serpa cheese on finely-sliced, two-day-old Alentejano bread…

by Maria João de Almeida


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