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Ana Mota: Twenty harvests and a passion

Portugal 31/10/2020

The cork stopper is truly a stopper that interacts with time, the environment and the wine’s evolution. No other stopper interacts in this way. That’s a great asset.

She wanted to be close to the land where she was born - the Douro region - and therefore decided to study agronomy. Ana Mota has worked for two decades at Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, where she is Director of Viticulture and Production of the Amorim group’s two wineries – in the Douro and Dão regions. Twenty harvests later, she maintains the same respect for the land and the same love for wine, allied with profound knowledge of the unique terroirs, whose identity she helps preserve.

How did you first become interested in wine?

It was when I was still a teenager, around 14 years old. I knew that I wanted to work in an area that was connected to the land. I grew up in Peso da Régua, in the heart of the Douro region. I always knew that I didn’t want to leave here, so I wanted to study a course related to vineyards and wine. That’s what happened. I studied Agronomic Engineering so that I could work and organise my life in the Douro. That’s how everything began, because no one in my family is connected to vineyards or wine.

And how did your family react to your decision?

I’m very close to my roots, with close ties to my family. I didn't want to live far from my parents and grandparents. I'm adventurous, but only up to a point. I need to feel that my roots are here, providing me with a safe haven. I really wanted to live in the Douro region, close to my family. But it was a big fight with my parents, because they didn't believe that my university course had any future. But I'm a bit stubborn, and I insisted.

What is your first memory of cork?

For me, cork was just about cork stoppers. As simple as that. But I have a funny story. I was working at the Real Companhia Velha, where I was contacted by Dr. António Carlos, Human Resources Director at the Amorim Group. I told him I knew nothing about cork stoppers, because I was responsible for the vineyard and not the wine. If the subject was cork stoppers, he needed to talk to the winemakers. He said he needed to talk to me, because Quinta Nova was looking for a technical expert! But that’s just a personal story. Since I’m from the agricultural area, I am innately interested in everything to do with nature and sustainability. I have always loved cork as a material, I pay attention to its development and have always identified with Amorim. Corks are Amorim, full stop.

Is it true that wine starts in the vineyard? Why?

Without a good knowledge of our viticulture and correct management, it’s impossible to have good grapes for the types of wine that we want to produce. There are wines that are very genuine, such as the Quinta Nova and Taboadella wines. We do our utmost to transpose everything that the grape has into the bottle, with minimum intervention inside the winery. I like to joke “You have Quinta Nova and Taboadella and then you have the others” (laughs). There are many companies that pursue our approach, and also many others that do a great deal of oenological engineering, producing wines with a lot of intervention at various levels. Wines to which specific products are added - to give them aromas, colour, tannins, whatever. They are not natural products, they do not come from the grapes, and of course the end result will not be the same, the longevity of the wine will not be the same, nothing is the same. At Quinta Nova, we have worked in the winery since I first arrived here 20 years ago, working separately with each vineyard plots (we have 41 individual plots). The wine ages separately and the batches are only produced at the end of the process, before the wine is poured into the bottle.

Does that mean that Quinta Nova has 41 different terroirs?

We have 41 plots, each individualised and with different characteristics and different agricultural techniques. Everything is done, implemented and designed according to our overall objectives for the wines. Basically, we guarantee the unique identity of each wine, because we know exactly what the grapes are and what vineyard plot they derive from. Year after year, we try to ensure as much balance and continuity as possible. Although each vintage year has an influence, Quinta Nova, and now Taboadella, has a lot of consistency, and this is due to this precision that we apply in our viticulture and that accompanies us into the winery.

Taboadella is a more recent project. How is that experience for someone from the Douro?

My heart is currently divided (she laughs). I have been involved in this project right from the beginning. Dr. Luisa Amorim immediately asked me to give my opinion on the estate. I confess that as soon as I entered, I fell in love with the vineyard. It’s a very beautiful estate, in an enclave surrounded by forest, with 40 hectares of vineyards in total. It's amazing. The vineyard was fairly neglected, but many vines could be recovered, whereas others had to be replaced. We also visited the winery, which had very little technology, and didn’t even have a coat of paint! I went there with the winemaker, tasted the wines and realised that it had extraordinary potential. That’s what we try to convey. Our option was to vinify everything separately (there are 25 vineyard plots) to understand the unique terroir of those grapes. That’s what we did. We began by launching some first wines, which we called “Studies” because they reflected a study of the estate’s plots and different grape varieties. It was very good to see the progress of Taboadella. In 2020, we began making wine in the new winery, applying the same assumptions. The 2018 vintage wines are now being sold in the market with a very good reaction. As a result of the 2018 harvest, we decided to replace some of the estate’s grape varieties to uphold the principle of only having national and DOC grape varieties.

For example?

Touriga Nacional, which is the classic grape variety of the Dão region, and also Alfrocheiro, a grape variety that astounds us because of its wonderful aromas. And other grape varieties, such as Jaen, which at Taboadella have a very special character. We also have an area of Baga, which although many people think is a grape variety from the Bairrada region, actually originated in the Dão region.

In your opinion, what is the biggest contribution that the cork stopper makes to wine?

The cork stopper has many contributions, you can’t just identify one. It is common sense to talk about the ritual of opening a bottle, a very beautiful gesture, which attracts everyone’s eyes around table, regardless of whether or not they are wine connoisseurs. This is the social dimension. Then in technical terms, the cork stopper is truly a stopper that interacts with time, the environment and the wine’s evolution. No other stopper interacts in this way. That’s a great asset.

Wine and cork are both natural elements. They share an organic character. How do you see the integration of sustainability in the field of viticulture?

Every year we have to adapt to something, because the changes are evident. I can tell you that at Quinta Nova we have suffered from a lot of erosion and early on we adopted a type of grass that allows water to seep and not drain, and thereby helps maintain the terraced vineyards. We are also creating a natural habitat for native fauna and flora. This means that we avoid using any herbicides at Quinta Nova, because taking care of the soil gives us all the beneficial micro-organisms that control populations of harmful organisms in the vineyard. We have also adopted other measures, such as not removing the leaves, having very controlled pruning and using other very old vineyard techniques, that existed prior to mechanisation, which we replicate today, to protect the vineyard.

On the other hand, in the Douro region we are one of the few estates that avoids treating the vines just for the sake of doing so. We treat the vineyard in an integrated production scheme (which will soon be biodynamic) including constant monitoring from our weather station. This allows us to know if there has been an infection in the vineyard and helps us understand how to cure it. Instead of using preventive products, we work with curative products. In other words, there are fewer interventions, and less impact.

Is there high respect for the soil?

And for the plant itself. We ended up having minimal interventions in the plant, which delivers better yields, with better quality, and plants that will live longer. This is very important in the vineyard. Because a vine that is 15, 30, 45 or 60 years old will give us completely different qualities. It’s a bit like wisdom in people. Maturity brings less quantity but higher quality. In our project, quality is the essence. It is paramount. As I like to say: "Life is too short to drink bad wines".