The plaque above the chapel’s door tells the story of one woman’s final triumph after a challenge.

We’ve charged up the ridge in a trusty Land Rover, with our host, Maria Ferreira, tackling the unimproved roads of Quinta do Vale Meão like a pro. She pulls us up in the shadow of the classic Portuguese chapel overlooking the valley, and searches for the key to the front door. In a twist that has us laughing and shaking our heads, she finds it—an iron skeleton key on a ring with a handmade wooden fob—resting on the hood of the jeep. We cannot believe it rode the entire way up undisturbed. But, then, again, the valley stretched out below us feels unbelievable as well.

We’re rewarded in short order with the tale that demonstrates why this place is so special. The original owner, Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, purchased in 1877 these 300 hectares near Vila Nova de Foz Côa, adding to her significant holdings in the Douro valley. Her dream was to build a new model of quinta, and she used this remote part of the Douro Superior as her laboratory.

In that day, the far reaches of the Douro river were not readily accessible from Porto—the hub of viticulture in Portugal and where barrels of fortified Port wine traveled to be stored and aged. This portion of the river was effectively blocked from Port production because of a natural barrier—a waterfall that the boats could not breach on their travels upstream. It was only with the laying of the railway through Pocinho that access was granted, and regular labor could make way to the land surrounding this confluence of the Douro, the Côa, and the Sabor rivers.

With “the Ferreirinha” (as she was known) leading the way, the quinta launched into making special wines. One in particular, Barca Velha, has its genesis in the original cellar built on the lowlands of the quinta—called Barca Velha, or old boat. During the initial growth of the quinta, from 1887 to 1895, Dona Ferreira made use of a triumvirate of good terrain, including the schist prominent in the region, and alluvial soils both with large pebbles and quartz, as well as those featuring fine-grained sand. 

The challenge she lost? If the planting could be completed on the massive estate, along with the construction of two winery buildings, a main house, a handful of outbuildings and dormitories for workers she would build a chapel on the quinta at the “order” of her estate manager, António José Claro da Fonseca. She did just that, only a few months before she passed away. The family uses it for infrequent services and special occasions.

To describe “the family,” we follow the legacy of her trineto (great-grand nephew) Francisco Javier de Olazabal, who took over management of the estate in the 1970s. The overall wine business of the Ferreira family continued to grow as A.A. Ferreira, S.A., through the decades, primarily in Port production downstream. But grapes from Quinta do Vale Meão were sold to A.A. Ferriera for use in its best table wines—such as the Barca Velha, which saw its first vintage in 1952.

 In 1994, the estate was turned over completely to his sons. In 1998, Sr. Javier de Olazabal stepped down from the presidency of A.A. Ferreira, and his son, enologist Francisco de Olazabal (along with Nicolau de Almeida), saw the potential of the quinta and incorporated the business into F. Olazabal & Filhos, Lda.

The enterprise has overseen the modernization of the quinta—but with important caveats. The main adega still houses the majority of winemaking in the 140-year-old building. But the original granite lagares have been split into quarters to manage more precisely the process of stomping the grapes—whether by foot in the traditional way for the top-end wine, Quinta do Vale Meão, or by mechanical treader that moves on a rail from lagar to lagar. 

Walking down the original staircase formed from local pinhal da rega wood, your feet step easily into the treads left by workers for 100 years or more. But stainless steel tanks stand sentinel over the barrels stacked through the center of the warehouse. Maria leads us along a row through to the cellar created in 1953 for the Barca Velha wine. It sits underground in such a way that it maintains a constant temperature between 16C to 18C, with water seeping down the walls to naturally keep a constant humidity—vital for preserving the integrity of the barrels.

For the tasting, we sit down at a long table in a newly finished part of the building—the quinta’s leap into enotourism is just beginning. Maria pours us a selection of wines that we try with bread, local cheese from Vila Nova de Foz Côa, and the quinta’s own olive oil. 

While the Meandro Branco leaves us wanting more—it’s produced in such limited quantities that we can’t take a bottle home with us—it’s the flagship Quinta de Vale Meão that has us stunned. I take ratings with a grain of salt, because I so often taste a bit differently, but in this case the accolades make sense. The floral aromas on the wine unfold in multiple ways, showing layers of nuance as the wine breathes. I would love to try the wine again in 10 years—or 20. 

Until then, we’ll satisfy ourselves with the memories of a beautiful vista, a few bottles of the quinta’s range of wines, and appreciation for the awesome vision of a legendary wine producer. Suade, Dona Ferreirinha.

Quinta de Vale Meão
5150-501 Vila Nova de Foz Côa

T. +351 279 762 156
F. +351 279 762 207
[email protected]

Tasting Notes: April 1, 2019

Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro Branco 2017

From Rabigato and Arinto grapes. Color of fresh straw (hint of green). Hay flowers, fresh young straw aromas…warm flowers in the sun on the mountains. Fresh hint of pineapple on the palate. Moderate acidity, and the Rabigato gives softness. 50,000 bottles made, only distributed in Portugal because of limited quantities. 13% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2017 Quinta do Vale Meão

From: DOC Douro

Style: Fresh, floral white

Varieties: Rabigato and Arinto

Price: about €11 retail online—very limited availabity

Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro Tinto 2016

From Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Sousal, and Syrah grapes. Blended for a similar style from year to year. Deep violet color, moderate tannins. A whiff of petrol, morello cherries, blackberries, then nutmeg and roses. The taste predominantely of black cherries. 200,000 bottles; exported. 14% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2016 Quinta do Vale Meão

From: DOC Douro

Style: Fruity, spicy red

Varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Sousal, and Syrah

Price: about €11 retail at the loja

Quinta do Vale Meão Monte Meão Cabeça Vermelha 2014

From Tinta Roriz grapes; single vineyard in alluvial soil; oldest vines on the quinta with 47 years old at time of harvest. Fermented eight days in used oak, with 20 months in second-year 225-liter French oak barriques. Dark ruby color, significant legs. Lavendar, black currant, touch of leather aromas. Medium-grained tannins, with good integration and a soft finish. Black currant flavors.14,5% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2016 Quinta do Vale Meão

From: DOC Douro

Style: Floral, leathery, fruity red

Varieties: Tinta Roriz

Price: about €29 retail at the loja

Quinta do Vale Meão 2016

From Touriga Nacional (35%) Tinta Roriz (55%), and five percent each of Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca grapes—the best grapes from each lot. Harvested straight to the granite lugar where they are stomped for four hours then passed to the steel vats for fermentation with pump over. Direct to the barrels from there for malolactic fermentation. Deep burgundy color. Aromas: roses, lilacs immediately, then rosehips, then black pepper, finshing with bright red cherries. More cherries to taste, with fine tannins and great structure. 14,5% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2016 Quinta do Vale Meão

From: DOC Douro

Style: Floral, complex, cherry-filled red

Varieties: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca

Price: about €75 retail at the loja

Quinta do Vale Meão Ruby Port 2016

From Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Alicante Bouschet grapes. Aged in bottle. New: freshness, red fruits with long streaky legs. Obscured plum color. Aromas of bergamot, strawberries, then tea roses. Bright red fresh fruits: strawberries and red currants. 19% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2016 Quinta do Vale Meão

From: DOC Douro

Style: Bright. lively port with red fruits

Varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Alicante Bouschet

Price: about €40 retail at the loja

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