GREAT INTERVIEW: RODOLFO QUEIRÓS
For two years now, as president of CVR Beira Interior, Rodolfo Queirós is printing his stamp on the region. The increase in notoriety, the bet on indigenous varieties and the development of tourism, integrating all economic agents in the region, are challenges to be conquered. The new Beira Interior Wine Route is another step in that direction.
Beira region, Beira Interior is mainly made up of plateaus, old vines and native grape varieties. Bounded by the Estrela, Marofa and Malcata mountains, altitudes between 400 and 800 meters and strong thermal amplitudes, it has a secular history but was only demarcated in 1999, integrating three sub-regions: Castelo Rodrigo, Cova da Beira and Pinhel. p>
RV_ How would you describe the Beira Interior region today?
RQ_ We have a vineyard area of around 16,000 ha and, in the last 12 to 15 years, we have restructured around 4,000 ha. We brought together 60 associates of various dimensions, including four cooperative wineries. The region is characterized by having a heritage of white grape varieties such as Síria and Fonte Cal and reds such as Rufete. But it hosts other varieties in the 16,000 ha of vines, such as Malvasia and Arinto, or Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Trincadeira, Jaen or Alfrocheiro.
As for sales, it still represents little at the national level, but we are working to increase the presence in large distribution and in the Horeca channel. We sell just over four million bottles per year, which is little, given our potential, but we are opening up to international markets, namely Brazil and the USA, which are already significant for us. We are making a great effort to promote out of doors.
RV_A Beira Interior has altitude, much is said about organic wines and indigenous grape varieties, but few large companies have been focusing on the region. Because?
RQ_I believe that this will soon change and we may have some news in the short or medium term. The situation is favorable for us, as the world runs after fresh and elegant wines and, in addition, organic products are highlighted. We fulfill these requirements. Traditionally, biology has always been done in the region and we have good conditions for this practice: the oldest know that there have always been three powdered 'sulfurs'. It is a product that is only used in organic farming, but at that time the wine growers did not have the roles and processes. We are the second region in the country with the largest area of organic vines and we have 12 producers who intend to advance with this certification. Our climate is very cold in winter, which eliminates the main pests, and in summer it is dry, with low relative humidity, which prevents the development of diseases, such as powdery mildew.
Old varieties, new markets
RV_Still in relation to native varieties, is there potential in varieties like Fonte Cal?
RQ_May above all help us to differentiate, but it has some problems related to its relative dissemination, as they are not desirable varieties for nurseries. It is not easy to order rootstocks with Fonte Cal. We made an effort to make the selection of Rufete and Fonte Cal from our producer. Nowadays only ready rootstocks are planted and everything is done in nurseries. The ministry itself is making an effort to make minority varieties available to producers.
We recently tasted a 2002 Fonte Cal mono-variety and it was fantastic. It is an early variety, which ripens well, integrates the typical blend of the region, with Syria and Arinto, but Fonte Cal brings a complexity that often reminds us of toast. It is very interesting in its own right and can be an affirmation path for the region. Two or three years ago we had two producers doing Fonte Cal and now we have five.
RV_E, in reds, Rufete…
RQ_A Rufete had a problem. The market itself looked a lot at wines for their color, something that the grape variety does not bring, as it presents an open color to which the market had an aversion. If it were Pinot Noir, it would have had less color, but as it is French ... This also shows the path the market has taken - wines with less alcohol and potency are now being ordered. Rufete wines are fine and elegant, they do not tire and therefore have their place. Fortunately, some producers are betting on Rufete and it will again have the expression it deserves. Other important ones are Jaen or Alfrocheiro, even though it produces very little, so the winegrower, who is paid according to the probable degree, prefers Tinta Roriz.
We have to take this path of differentiation and revitalize the old grape varieties. We have the project of making our own experimental field to safeguard the grape varieties at risk of disappearance and offer the producer quality vegetative material, such as Mourisco, which has the potential to sparkle or add aromaticity to the lots.
RV_Is there a risk of loss of genetic heritage?
RQ_The interior of Portugal suffers from a serious problem of desertification and aging. Most of the vineyards are in charge of older people, so we can lose genetic heritage. But there are also signs that make us happy: the region was entitled to 80 hectares more in planting rights, but we applied for another 200, which shows that there is a desire to invest in this sector. It is necessary to combat interiority, a problem for the whole country. With gains for all: there are parishes in the region that have not had fires for more than 15 years, because they are covered with vineyards. Winegrowers are the first firefighters, because if the land is cultivated, the risk of fire is lower.
RV_How would you describe Beira Interior wines?
RQ_Talking about the reds, they are wines with a very interesting aromatic expression, a little hard at the beginning, because they have very present tannins. They have the characteristic acidity of the region, are very gastronomic, with great aging potential; they are fresh and do not tire, so you feel like drinking another glass.
Also in whites, freshness is always very present, some of them with a lot of aromatic exuberance and aging capacity. In fact, a large part of the consuming public still thinks that white wines should be drunk in the same year or the following year. I believe it is a good challenge to ask consumers, wait a few years for wines and observe the evolution of characteristics.
RV_NIn these early days as president of CVR, what challenges do you anticipate for the region?
RQ_Gain national notoriety. You can already hear a lot about the region due to its characteristics. Our focus will be to promote Beira Interior wines to the maximum in the national market and to place a strong bet on export markets, in conjunction with our economic agents, in order to create critical mass.
Another current challenge is the implementation of the Beira Interior Route, which we will start to implement with the opening of the store (see box). It will be a territory route, as we want to add the municipalities, the hotels, the restaurants, the Historic and Schist Villages, as well as our own associates. The region covers 20 counties, with a great diversity, ranging from Mêda and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo to Vila Velha de Rodão, Proença-a-Nova and Sertã, with a diversity of terroirs, gastronomy and heritage. We want to create opportunities for young people who want to settle down. And create wealth so that anyone who wants to come here can live with the same dignity as in Lisbon or Porto. Another challenge is, therefore, to reduce seasonality, by bringing more people for longer. We are on the side of Spain, with 40 million consumers and a per capita income higher than the Portuguese, who love Portugal, our gastronomy and wines; we have to guide them here, because the border is a sea of opportunities.