The Cartuxa Winery, located on the Quinta de Valbom estate is closely connected to the Jesuits.
Founded by Ignacius of Loyola – later Saint Ignacius – in 1540, the Order of Jesuits was devoted to missionary and educational work. It was to those ends that Jesuits came to Évora, firstly to set up the College of the Holy spirit (Colégio Espirito Santo) around 1551, and later, in 1559, to create the University of Évora. A Jesuit rector of the University, Father Pedro Silva, acquired Quinta de Valbom in 1580 to house the university’s teaching body. The building of what came to be called the Jesuit Retreat (Casa de Repouso dos Jesuitas) took 10 years to complete, and resulted in a large, many-roomed building, complete with refectory and chapel.
In 1759, the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal by Prime Minister Pombal, and the Valbom Estate was taken over by the State. In 1776 it was equipped with a wine press which quickly gained importance in the region.
Adega Cartuxa took its name from its proximity to the Mosteiro da Cartuxa (Cartuxa Monastery), erected in the mid-16th century, a name which has endured to the present day. The great-grandfather of José Maria Eugénio de Almeida, the creator of the Foundation, bought the Estate in 1869. It was sold at auction as part of a long-term plan instigated after the Liberal Revolution of 1820, whereby Church and Crown properties were nationalised and then sold off to private buyers. The Estate was inherited by his son, Carlos Maria Eugenio de Almeida, who immersed himself in expanding the agricultural production of Casa Agricola Eugenio de Almeida.
It was his initiative to plant vineyards that gave origin to the Foundation’s wines, and with the progressive expansion and success of the charity’s wine production, the Cartuxa Winery, housed in the former refectory, underwent a series of improvements. The most significant were made between 1993 and 1995 when the winery was re-equipped and enlarged, considerably increasing its winemaking potential and storage capacity.
The old equipment is disused now but was truly innovative in its day.There are still such museum pieces as clay pots (amphoras) for fermenting red wines, concrete fermentation vats and cement tanks for fermenting white wines. These storage tanks, built from cement and later lined with resin to stop the porosity of cement, date back to the 1950s when they were commonly used.
The new Cartuxa Winery, situated on the Herdade de Pinheiros estate, can take all the grapes grown in Foundation vineyards and is fitted with three technological innovations that set it apart from the rest. These are: efficient refrigeration capacity; facility to sort the grapes on arrival at the winery and the ability to move musts and wine around by force of gravity.
The bottling line is fully automated and has an output of some four million bottles per year. These are red, rose and white wines of brands, Vinea, EA, Foral de Évora, Cartuxa, Scala Coeli and the legendary Pêra-Manca.
All of the Foundation wines are based on the excellence of its fruit.
The area under vine is a cluster of vineyards at the estates of Pinheiros, Casito, Álamo da Horta and Valbom. The choice of Alentejo grape varieties approved and recommended for Denominação de Origem Controlada Alentejo, (sub- region Évora), have been fundamental in the creation of its wines.
There are currently over 400 hectares of land under vines, which are closely monitored and replanted. The choice of grape varieties grown is drawn from the wealth of experience the Foundation has accumulated, combined with the latest research into vinegrowing techniques.
Achieving quality grape requires a large number of factors, from selecting vine tending techniques to quality control at laboratory level. An assessment plot by plot is also carried out, focussing on soil structure, relief, sun exposure and covering all grape varieties in every stage of their production cycle.
Major grape varieties indigenous to the Alentejo are used for white wines, such as Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Arinto. Red wines are produced from the best-known indigenous varieties, like Trincadeira, Aragonês and Castelão. Smaller amounts of less traditional, but equally qualitative grape varieties are also used in some blends.
Training systems for the vines depends on the desired quality levels to achieve while at the same time fulfilling criteria for environmental conservation. Tests are carried out throughout the production cycle to ensure that all is going to plan.
Each plot of vineyard is treated and tended individually throughout the year according to age, grape variety and soil structure, and always with a view to the wine the fruit is destined for. The yield will be estimated four months before harvest, row by row, making whatever adjustments are needed to achieve the required yield.
In the final phase of the cycle, and 45 days before harvesting, a weekly check of each plot will monitor grape maturation. Sugar and acid levels will be tested in the laboratory, the results of which dictate when harvesting should begin. Most of the picking is done manually and in daylight (all the white grapes and 75% of the reds), leaving around 25% of the the reds to be machine harvested.
The harvesting machines start work at night because high daytime temperatures cause many of the grapes to rupture. Harvesting, therefore, begins between midnight and one a.m. when the grapes have cooled and released much of the radiation absorbed during the day. The grapes are then speedily transported to the winery in small containers, to decrease the risk of oxidation. If larger ones are used they are long and shallow to prevent the grapes from being crushed.
The harvest dates differ for each grape variety, depending on their maturation time and technical requirements to optimise production. Irrigation may be necessary to obtain quality fruit in excessively dry years. The technical team of the Foundation pay particular attention to irrigation, using a variety of options based on science and experience.
The sub-surface drip irrigation was pioneered in Portugal by the Foundation and introduced in the 1990s. For environmental reasons, chemical treatments are used only when strictly necessary, taking utmost care not to damage the health conditions of the plant.
The Eugénio de Almeida Foundation has also opened its doors to the scientific community. It has been working on research projects with the University of Évora and other institutions since the 1980s.