by Jean Charles Viens photos by Stefano Scatà
Carlos Dias is a symbol of the spirit of renewal and the obsession with quality that has decreed the success of Lusitanian wines worldwide.
(Carlos Dias, a world-class entrepreneur with an overriding passion for wine, pictured here in his stately home in Paço de Palmeira, which is located near Braga, in the north of Portugal.)
A team tends the vineyards as though they were gardens
In these recent, highly successful years for Portuguese wine, one person has stood out from the others for his spirit of initiative and the passion with which he has managed to promote his country’s wine around the world. In a short space of time, Carlos Dias has created an authentic constella tion of wineries throughout Portugal and, thanks to his almost fanatical attention to detail and tireless commitment to grape varieties and cellars, he can now claim to be one of the best wine producers in his country. Since 2009, the visionary genius of the high-end Swiss watchmaking brand, Roger Dubuis, nowadays owned by the Richemont Group, has diverted to Portuguese wines that passion for excellence and entrepreneurial creativity that decreed his success in the sector of high-quality timepieces. As evidenced by our classification of the 50 best Lusitanian wines, the results are surprising of you consider that in only six years, some five bottles feature in the list. An achievement that only confirms the extraordinary potential that is still to be brought to the surface. When he purchased his first property, Colinas de São Lourenço, in 2009, Carlos Dias explained that he already intended to “produce wines of a very high standard, able to compete with the most prestigious international wines”.
Since then, to accomplish his ambitions, he has stinted on neither commitment nor resources, and he has invested in the latest technologies for the wineries in Dão, in the Bairrada district, and in Minho, concentrating on the constant improvement of the techniques of cultivation and management of the eight properties that are owned by the Idealdrinks Group.
Carlos Dias wants to produce high-quality wines, “able to express the spirit and the culture” of his land, fully exploiting its enormous potential. Paying particular attention to native varieties such as Loureiro, Alvarinho and Touriga Nacional, Dias aims at making his wines “the ambassadors of the best Portuguese winemaking tradition”.
The underlying philosophy of his activity is the utmost respect for nature and the soil, which Carlos compares to “a mother who does everything to ensure her children have the best conditions for favouring their growth and potential”. In his wineries, the attention to detail and the obsessive precision are the same as those that made him famous in the world of Swiss watches. From the outset, Dias made an excellent impression on me: his hearty handshake, penetrating gaze, and confident mien. All signals that let you know you are meeting a man with a great temperament, with little or no tolerance for mediocrity. His elegance straight away reveals him to be a person of great culture, who has travelled a lot. It comes as no surprise, then, to discover that his wines are the mirror image of his personality. Quoting Socrates, Dias explains his vision in this way: “To gain the friendship of a worthy individual, we have to foster in ourselves the qualities we most admire”. Very exacting with himself, he is never satisfied with the results he attains. “I returned to invest in Portugal after 42 years”, he continues, “as a challenge to myself”. His objective is to provide a model to the winemaking sector and “induce other producers to explore the considerable potential that our country has to offer”. Independent not only financially but also mentally, he loves challenging the status quo and pushing the envelope: “I don’t get caught up in rules”, he stresses. “I do what I do, inspired by my personal desire to create something unique, something of the highest level”.
(Royal Palmeira Loureiro 2010, a white wine obtained from Loureiro grapes, with a strong, resolute personality to match that of its producer)
(A view of the interior and of the Italian-style gardens, tended to perfection, of Paço de Palmeira, the eighteenth-century home of Carlos Dias. The house was built by Don José de Bragança, archbishop of Braga, who was also a prince of the royal family, showcasing conservationism and respect for Portugal’s environmental, architectural and artistic legacy.)
His objective is to provide a model to the winemaking sector
He is a man of conviction, who is not afraid to listen to advice that he considers valid, and to put it into practice courageously and rapidly, “making difficult decisions that other people don’t want to make”. Entrusting himself to Pascal Chatonnet, the prestigious oenologist who still today acts as a consultant to the Group in the three regions where his properties are located, Dias replanted many of his vines with greater density than is traditional, he modified the cultivation methods focus- sing more on quality than on quantity, and he assembled a team that manages the vineyards “as though they were gardens”. In his cellars, rosé wines are subjected to very gentle pressing, using Coquard presses, the Ferraris of grape presses. White wines are fermented under a controlled atmosphere thanks to the cutting-edge Bucher Vaslin system that crushes the grapes under inert gas, guaranteeing and preserving the freshness and aroma of the grapes. Lastly, red wines are aged in French oak barrels produced by the finest coopers of France.
Always aware that it is the details that decree the quality of a product, he has gone so far as to purchase refrigerated containers specifically for shipping his wines abroad, in this way ensuring that the transport conditions are always the best they can be. A true-blue Portuguese, he is proud of his origins and never misses an opportunity to emphasize them. The ‘Proudly Produced in Portugal’ brand, which he launched together with his winemaking empire, has the “ambition to certify the authenticity of the best of Portuguese production, and to testify to its excellence and know-how”. More than a mere mark of origin, it is based on “a philosophy of absolute quality through the adoption of stringent specifications, constant improvement and high ethical standards”. Dias authorizes the use of the brand to “those who share our pride in our roots and our origins, in the culture and the traditions of our land, and in our spirit”, he explains. The results of this incessant attention to quality are extraordinary.
(At the confluence of the Cávado and Homem rivers, Paço de Palmeira had a pier where Roman ships moored: Bracara Augusta is the ancient name for Braga. Carlos Dias contemplates the panorama with a glass of red wine: his Principal Grande Reserva 2011 Colinas de São Lourenço was placed at the top of Spirito diVino’s tasting of Portuguese wines.)
He also launched the ‘Proudly Produced in Portugal’ brand
During the course of my visit, I was struck by Principal Rosé Tête de Cuvée 2010, a delicious rosé obtained from a blend of 90% Pinot noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. After five years of ageing, it has lost none of the liveliness and primary aromas typical of younger wines, with fragrances of berries and strawberries and spicy notes. Mellow on the pal ate and deliciously refreshing, it is the perfect complement to classic Portuguese mature cheeses.
And we discovered a true treasure in Royal Palmeira Loureiro 2010, which does not feature in our classification, and is not even the best Loureiro produced by Dias, which is Eminência.
Even thus, and despite it being made from vines that were planted just a year before, this wine is destined to take its place in the rankings, having already demonstrated its strong and confident personality, the sure sign of a great future. Slightly pungent, with notes of citrus peel, a whiff of sage and just a hint of flint. Vivacious, with an exciting and savoury finale, it is simply delicious. To accompany a dish of roast beef from Carlos Dias’ cattle farm in the vicinity of one of his properties in Comune di Braga, we filled our glasses with Quinta da Curia Clefs d’Or 2010. This is a sensual wine obtained from an original blend of Merlot with Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon. Intense aromas of red and dark fruits mingled with notes of spice and leather. It has a velvety consistency and a finale that caresses the palate, and just the right density for perfect ageing. From the acquisition of his first winery in 2009, thanks to his great pride in his origins, to his intense passion for wine, and his obsessive attention to quality and innovation, Carlos Dias has attained quality levels that will see Portugal acclaimed among the top wine producers on the international scene. In the few short years since he entered the sector, he has obtained extraordinary results, the unmistakable signs of an enormous potential that is still to be exploited.
(Carlos Dias among stills, whiskey thieves, barrels and glasses for spirits in Quinta da Pedra: the Portuguese entrepreneur avails of the experience and know-how of a world-renowned maestro of the art of distilling, Gianni Capovilla from Vicenza, to produce spirits as fine as his wines.)
(An interior shot of Paco de Palmeira enhanced by an impressive collection of sacred artworks. Build as a summer residence for Jose de Braganza, archbishop of Braga from 1741 to 1758 and a prince of the royal household, it even house a splendid church and it is considered to be the loftiest expression of architecture of the Minho region.)
(The special livery of Quinta da Pedra Alvarinho 2010, a white wine made from the noble Alvarinho variety, characteristic of the Minho region; elegant geometrical perspectives of Paço de Palmeira.)