Portuguese wine family saves the grapes

Tue Nov 2, 2010 6:10am EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Climate change has a serious impact on all kinds of crops, including grapes, but one Portuguese wine family is trying to save some of the country's seldom-used varieties from global warming.

Portugal has about 258 indigenous varieties of grapes but many are no longer used to make wine.

Joao Roquette, the chief executive of Esporao, SA, the largest wine producer in the country's Alenjto region, and his Australian winemaker David Baverstock have selected about 188 varietals and are planting them in an experimental vineyard to make sure they survive.

"It's a way of making sure these varieties remain. Some were on the verge of extinction. They all were used at one time to make wine, but fell out of favor. But over time, tastes change, the climate can change," Roquette, 36, explained during a recent visit to New York.

"This way, we're insuring a heritage and also a resource. This is a long-term investment -- 10, 20, or 30 years," he said.

Roquette wasn't always such a long-term planner, and he never thought he would be running the wine business his father, Jose Roquette, struggled to build after Portugal's Carnation Revolution in the 1974.

"I didn't grow up in the vineyards," said Roquette, who spent much of his childhood in Brazil after his family fled Portugal in the early 70s to escape the political unrest.

The Herdade do Esporao, the 13th Century estate his father and a partner had bought, was nationalized and was not returned to the families until 1984.   Continued...