Terrenus – Portalegre, Alentejo
- The Terrenus wines come from the most northerly vineyards of the Alentejo
- Made by Rui Reguinga, one of Portugal’s best respected winemakers
- From old vines over 90 years old
- Blends of native Portuguese grape varieties only
- High altitude vineyards
- All grapes grown without any use of chemicals
Most of this vast province lies south of the River Tejo – this is hot, dry, flat and sparsely populated country filled with cork trees, sleepy villages and empty roads. But Portalegre, Alentejo’s most northerly wine region, actually lies to the north of the Tejo. Here the countryside is more mountainous and rugged, and the hilltops are dotted with ancient fortress villages which once acted as a defence against Portugal’s old enemy – Spain. Cork, olive and eucalyptus trees thrive amongst flocks of free-roaming sheep; sleepy, whitewashed villages sit next door to grand Roman and Moorish ruins. A visit here feels like you are stepping back in time…
Right up in the north of Portalegre lies the dramatically beautiful Sao Memede mountain range and national park, which at its peak reaches altitudes over 1,000mts. Here, on the cool northern slopes of these mountains, below the hilltop fortress-village of Marvao, Rui Reguinga grows his grapes. His are the Alentejo’s most northerly, and coolest climate, vineyards.
About Rui Reguinga
Rui Reguinga is one of Portugal’s most renowned winemakers. A qualified agronomist from Lisbon and Bordeaux universities, he has built up a deep knowledge of Portugal’s best terroirs over the past 30+ years. He is now one of the country’s most demanded winemaking consultants and was awarded “Winemaker of the year” in 2009 by Portugal’s most prestigious wine magazine – Revista de Vinhos.
Rui firmly believes that great wine is made in the vineyard. He has a deep passion for old vines and the Portallegre subregion of the Alentejo. Since he started his “Terrenus” project in 2004, he has patiently, plot by plot, purchased 12.5 hectares of the region’s oldest vines, split between 7 small vineyards. For Rui, an old vine must be at least 90 years of age before he will add the term “vinhas velhas” to the label, which is at least twice as old as in many other European wine regions!
About the vineyards
For anyone who loves wine, Rui’s vineyards are an absolute delight to behold. 22 different native Portuguese grape varieties grow on old, ungrafted bush (aka “gobelet”) vines. The leaves provide the grapes with shade from the hot mid-summer sun. Here, as was traditional 100 or more years ago, many different grape varieties were planted in the same vineyard, so that red Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet grapes may grow right next to white Arinto or Fernao Pires grapes! Each of Rui’s wines is a “field blend” of the different grapes which grow in each of his vineyards. And each is truly typical of its unique northern Alentejo terroir.
The soils in the area comprise granite, schist and limestone; deeper down is an ancient seabed. The roots of Rui’s old vines reach depths of 20 metres or more in their search for water, and it is this combination of rugged, stony terroir with an ancient maritime influence which gives a unique salty minerality to his old vine wines; quite remarkable!
Rui’s vineyards range from 600 to 800mts altitude, and benefit from strong cooling winds and very low night time temperatures. In the summer there are differences of over 20C between day and night time temperatures, which is hugely influential in retaining freshness and elegance in his wines.
Rui treats all his vines organically with no added chemicals. He wants his ancient vines to continue producing wine for as long as possible, which he believes will best be ensured by maintaining a natural ecosystem and clean, healthy soils. Yields in these old vineyards are tiny – less than one glass per vine – giving impressive depth and complexity to the Terrenus range of wines.
About the winemaking
In the winery, Rui believes in minimalist winemaking techniques, using wild yeasts which grow in his vineyards to ferment the wines naturally. His small winery contains an amazing diversity of fermentation vessels – cement “eggs”, stainless steel tanks, clay amphorae oak casks of varying sizes! This allows him to ferment and mature each vineyard plot separately, in the method he feels most appropriate for each individual wine. He also has a small barrel cellar where he matures his top “reserva” and oldest vineyard wines.