Tiago Sampaio of Folias de Baco shows the world a much-needed alternative side to the Douro Valley. Although this is a region famous for port (fortified wines) and for its big, muscular red wines, this wasn’t always the case. Just a few decades ago, there were much lighter, lower alcohol wines made here, and Tiago’s mission is to recreate these.
Although it’s famous for its red wine varieties (namely Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca), the region is actually home to dozens more indigenous varieties. Tiago works with historical field blends of over 30 varieties, and has a new project focused on their conservation. These are crucial and brave steps to ensuring that the history of the region is not lost.
It would be easy for Tiago to simply follow what has become the norm, but that’s not his style — through protecting genetic diversity of previous generations, but while experimenting with new methods, Tiago is truly a revolutionary winemaker. His work is about bringing new thinking into the next generation, while safeguarding heritage.
Thank you to Tiago and Modal Wines for the photos
People: Tiago Sampaio
Place: Douro (plateau of Alijo, in the Cima Corgo subregion), Portugal
Varieties: 30+ — Rabigato, Chasselas, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Mourisco, Tinta Pinheira (jaen), Touriga Franca, Donzelinho and Samarrinho, and many more
Farming: Organic with some biodynamic methods
Wines: Click here
Did You Know? Working with some of the lesser-known old varieties of the Douro might be able to help us in our struggles with global warming. Tiago explains,
“Global warming is a reality. I remember what it was like 20/30 years ago. We picked one month before we pick today. My grandfather began harvesting at the end of September, and now we’re harvesting at the end of August. So, it’s really important to return to those old varieties — perhaps more important now than ever before. We can find varieties that better resist the heat, that have delayed ripening… Besides the conservation issues, we also need to look for solutions for the future.”
“The old vineyards of the Douro were traditionally planted as field blends. They have a very big diversity of varieties — white, reds, pinks — everything mixed together. Often, they feature over 30 or even 40 varieties.”
To ensure that his old vineyards and their swathes of genetic diversity can be perpetuated (after all, nothing lives forever), he replants via massal selection. This means he propagates cuttings from the old mother plants, thereby essentially recreating the healthiest plants of the vineyard. This saves the special vine material if the mother plant were to die.
Some vines look so unique and different to their neighbours that Tiago suspects he doesn’t even know the varieties. He says,
“This year (2021), I’m going to arrange with some specialists to try to figure out what some of the varieties I don’t know actually are and catalogue them. I replanted a little piece of a vineyard, and my idea is to do a genetic saving of the varieties in the old vineyards. As the vines are very old, some die, and the idea is to propagate some of them, to create new plants. That way I can save them all to keep that diversity, and to introduce that to new plants.”
Unfortunately, as in so many other regions, the genetic diversity present in the vineyards of the Douro is at grave risk. Tiago explains,
“There’s been heavy replanting during the past 20 years. Most farmers don’t get paid more for grapes from older vines, so they replant their vineyards to have a bigger crop. Plus, if they replant them to enable mechanisation, it’s less physical work, so a lot of diversity has been lost. Some vineyards have gone from 40 varieties down to just one or two, so some varieties are becoming more and more rare.”
It’s a sad tale, and if it weren’t for growers like Tiago, some of these varieties could be at risk of extinction. Who knows — perhaps some of them have never even been documented! It’s a lot of work for this young man, but it’s admirable and hugely important (and very exciting — we can only imagine how it must feel to finally discover what your vineyard is planted to…)
You might ask: why are they at risk? Why don’t more people protect their field blends and plant more varieties? The answer: it’s not so simple. Tiago explains,