Portugal's wine barrel tradition fizzling out

Tue Sep 30, 2008 9:56am EDT
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By Shrikesh Laxmidas

LISBON (Reuters Life!) - The centuries-old tradition of making and repairing oak wine barrels in southern Portugal is ending, pushed out by steel barrels, "bag in box" packaging and a younger generation's disinterest in the craft.

"There were 'tanoarias' (barrel-making workshops) everywhere, this always existed as a tradition," says Dona Irene, an octogenarian tavern-keeper who has been serving wine from oak barrels for 57 years.

The picturesque tavern her mother opened in Cova da Piedade, south of the Tagus river, complete with stone counter, tiled walls and hanging bay leaves, is one of the few in the area still selling wine from oak barrels.

The others have closed down or have become cafés, she adds.

Equally famous for its fried cuttlefish, the tavern sells up to two barrels of wine per week, but Dona Irene says that it used to have larger barrels, "but those were different days."

As she serves a customer a glass of red wine for 40 euro cents (57 U.S. cents) from one of the three 30-liter (6.6 Imp gallons) barrels, Dona Irene stresses that her life has been spent with the barrels.

"When they end the barrels, I'll be retired by nature."

Near Palmela, at the Adega Venancio da Costa Lima, the wine company which supplies Dona Irene's tavern, manager Venancio Vida is also pessimistic about the future of the 'tanoarias'.   Continued...

<p>Wine wood barrels are lined up to be transported at Palmela's cellars on the outskirts of Lisbon September 26, 2008. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro</p>