‘One of the best examples of regenerative farming I have seen so far. It was a joy to go around and see an estate full of life and biodiversity.’
This is how Dom de Ville, our director of sustainability, described Coelheiros after he visited earlier this month. We explore why the estate is so impressive, and why it’s our Sustainable Producer of the Month.
Vines have been grown at Herdade de Coelheiros since 1981, although there are historical references to the estate dating back to 1467. The production of high-quality wine really started in 1991, and the current owners, Alberto Weisser and Gabriela Mascioli, took over in 2015 focusing on the biodiversity of the estate, with Luís Patrão joining in 2016 to oversee the enology and viticulture. The estate now stretches over 800 hectares, including 50 hectares of vineyards, 40 of walnut orchards, a large area of cork forest, an olive grove and a lake.
Coelheiros liken their philosophy to Arraiolos tapestry, a famous style of needlework rug made in the nearby town of Arrailos since the Middle Ages, where tiny individual embroideries connect to form a larger detailed and beautiful design. This is how they shape the wines from Coelheiros: ‘From each vineyard plot, blend to blend, a composition that is woven in a deep connection with land and nature.’
Finding vineyards full of international grape varieties, Luis and his team began to replant with local Portuguese varieties (alicante bouschet, touriga franca & touriga nacionale) which prove more adaptive and resilient to climate change. These varieties have bigger berries, and therefore survive better in heatwaves; they are grafted onto roots of the existing vines to minimise disturbance to the soil. The Wine Society currently stocks the 2022 Coelheiros Branco, a pure, fresh, unoaked wine from the arinto grape.
Coelheiros are certified organic, which goes hand in hand with their regenerative approach to reinvigorate the soils. One of the advantages of more fertile and healthy soils means water is absorbed much better; this means humidity stays in the soil and doesn’t impact the vines, reducing the extent of fungus, supporting an organic, chemical-free approach.
‘With conventional farming we feed the vine; with regenerative farming we feed the soil’ - Luís Patrão.
Cover crops (other plants grown between the vines) are a key part of their farming. ‘After the harvest, we shallow plough between the vines and seed the soil with cover crops.’ says Luís. ‘The mix of crops will depend on what the soil needs. For example, if more nitrogen is needed, we use legumes; if the soil needs to de-compact, we plant grains as they help to break up the soil when they grow.’ The cover crops are never cut during spring and summer, instead they are folded so they cover the soil, working like a shield against the sun. Allowing them to die and mulch into the soil also adds organic matter.
‘We have 1300 sheep who fertilise the vineyards and walnut trees. They transport different plant species and biodiversity through their manure, which adds complexity of plant life in and around the estate’ says Luís. The sheep are carefully moved around the vineyards to add the right amount of fertility to the soil and avoid compacting it; they also reduce fire risk by eating dead plants and twigs on the ground. They’ve been such a success that Luís is planning to add chickens to the vineyards; the estate also has deer, rabbits, hare and duck in the wild areas.
See the stunning estate, and hear from Coelheiros themselves in the video below.