Interview with David Baverstock
An quiet australian
His name is David Baverstock, and he is one of the most renowned oenologists of our time, signing for the notorious wines of Herdade do Esporão, an inevitable reference in the important Portuguese winemaking region, the Alentejo.
The evening was calm, with no wind. The autumn is late this year, and not a single breeze frizzles the plain smooth and shiny water, a bluish stain in a huge carpet of land embroidered with cork oak trees, oaks and olive trees. Overlooking the dam, big arches in front of the most beautiful never-ending landscape, the Enotourism House of Herdade do Esporão invites us in to try the fabulous wines of the property, the many delicacies from the Alentejo served here, or, simply to enjoy and feel involved in the serenity of the place.
Five hundred hectares of vineyard surround this estate located in Reguengos de Monsaraz, in Baixo Alentejo, just over 180 kilometres of Lisbon and where, since 1989, some of the well-loved Portuguese wines are produced.
David Baverstock, 51 years old, is the Australian oenologist which is head of the team which is in charge of the ‘stars’ of the house, as is the case of Esporão Reserva, Vinha da Defesa, the very much awarded monocasts (both Touriga Nacional 2001, and Trincadeira 97, have achieved the Portuguese Red Wine Trophy in the most important international wine competition, International Wine Challenge) or the crown jewel, Esporão Private Selection Garrafeira Tinto and whose 2003 harvest accompanied one of the specialities served in the Enotourism restaurant, the Bacalhau à Esporão (Cod à Esporão), proving to be an experience of pure pleasure. Unfortunately, unlike Monte Velho, the great motor of the property, the medium range (whites and reds) which represents around two thirds of the annual total production (5 million litres) or even of the prestigious Esporão Reserva (400 thousand bottles), this Garrafeira Tinto 2003 does not exceed 30 thousand bottles. A privilege not everyone can enjoy, but which is always worth searching for.
Charming, relaxed and very low-profile, David Baverstock is one of today’s most renowned winemakers, and Esporão, an inevitable reference in the second most important Portuguese winemaking region in the country. In 1999, he was considered Portuguese oenologist of the year and, in 2002, Time wrote an article about him, including him in the restricted group of “flying winemakers”, the Australian oenologists who became famous for globally revolutionizing the wine production technique, from Napa Valley in California, to the sacred soils of France.
Originally from Adelaide, Portugal started by being a holiday destination when, recently graduated, he decided to move to Europe to harvest in France and in Germany, the countries which in the end of the seventies, were a reference in the wine world. Here he met his future wife, Lisbon born and who accompanied him in his first two years of his professional career in the celebrated Barossa Valley (the most well known wine region in Australia), but who contributed to his return to Portugal, this time with the aim of producing quality whites and reds. It was the year of 1982 and the country was already politically stable, although “nothing was going on in the table wine sector”. Not being able to find a job in this area, he dedicated himself to Porto wines: first in Croft (1983/1984) and Symington Group (1985/1981); his début with the great reds of the Douro came in 1991 with Quinta de la Rosa, where he worked as an oenologist consulter until 2002.
The creation and launch of the prestigious Quinta do Crasto followed, having been responsible for this wine between 1994 and 1999. In 1992, he became technical director of Herdade do Esporão, and, since then, development has been almost exponential with Brazil, United States and Angola emerging as main export markets.
“When I got here we harvested one thousand tonnes of grapes; today, we harvest almost nine thousand”, he explains. Besides the DOC’s (Controlled Denomination of Origin) Esporão, Vinha da Defesa, Reserva and Garrafeira and the regional (Reguengos) Monte Velho or the various Monocasts, the Herdade also produces Alandra (white, red and rosé), a cheaper and more common table wine, with a young and fun positioning and which, following a recent restyling, saw a stark increase in its sales. To this diversified range, we add not only a Late Harvest, but also some unexpected products to the region – a sparkling wine and a fortified wine which works like a Tawny.
Natural Corks in Esporão Wines
But it’s not only from the meticulous choice of grapes, the richness of the terroir or the professionalism of the oenologist that a great wine is made. David Baverstock knows that the stopper in each bottle, especially ageing reds, is not a mere detail, but an essential issue: “Each one of the brands in our portfolio has a different moulding, and we carry out several studies with our suppliers so as to know which cork is more adequate for each mould. Because if the cork is carefully studied, in addition to guaranteeing a perfect seal; it also guarantees the perfect staging and subsequent evolution in bottle, with the formation of the much-appreciated bouquet”. Hence Baverstock insists in making it clear that all wines produced by Herdade do Esporão are sealed with natural cork stoppers, with the exception of Alandra, which, due to its price (significantly lower than other brands), is sealed with modern technical corks (corks conceived to seal wines destined to be consumed within one or two years, and which are made up of agglomerate cork with natural cork disks glued on to one or both ends). “Alandra, for its type of clientele – young people who care more about price than tradition or origin -, could actually be a vehicle for the introduction of the aluminium screwcap, but technical corks perfectly accomplishes its function and the price is the same,” he adds.
Always abreast of the latest developments in wine, especially those from Australia – his home country, and in which just over two decades transformed itself into one of the major table wine producers; this oenologist tells that there are already some New World wines – Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Australian Rieslings – , low/medium range young whites for immediate consumption, that have opted for this type of closure, the screwcap. “The use of the screwcap for those types of wines does not shock me at all. But in regards to all others, mainly excellence reds which are made to stage, it is absolutely unconceivable to use a closure any other than natural cork”. He insists: “Studies recently conducted in Australian compared red wines closed with screwcaps, with wines closed with natural cork stoppers. After ten years, the former were exactly the same and had not evolved at all, whilst the latter had evolved positively, presenting the necessary bouquet, confirming that cork, due to its specific cellular structure, contributes to this evolution”. In fact, in regards to cork stoppers, David Baverstock speaks with the certainty of who has already thought of and carefully researched the issue. Together with an oenologist from the Sogrape Group, he was invited by CTCOR (Technological Cork Centre) to test the first trials resulting from the application of the Symbios process, an innovative way of treating natural cork stoppers, preventing the appearance of TCA, the compound which is responsible for the dreaded “musty taste”. “It was an extremely interesting experience and with very satisfying results, for you could note a clear influence of this process in the wine’s positive evolution”, he concludes.