The Serra do Mendro
Different Alentejo

The Serra do Mendro separates the Alto Alentejo from the Baixo Alentejo and has its highest point in the Herdade Aldeia de Cima, 424 metres above sea level. It was here that Luisa Amorim sensed the “dormant” potential of a unique geological heritage, where it would be possible to plant the first traditional terraced vineyard in the Alentejo.

The Ancient Iberian Massif

This is a different Alentejo, the Serra do Mendro, which separates the Alto Alentejo from the Baixo Alentejo, pertains to the oldest geomorphological unit of the Iberian Peninsula and presents a geological singularity known as horst, which resulted from uplifting of land that created the block of schist rocks in this area.

The lands we walk on today, that consist of schist, granite, gabbro and quartzite, among many other types of rocks, are still an original specimen of the mountain range, the ancient Iberian Massif.

These rocks underpin the poverty of the skeletal soils, that in the past were used by red clay manufacturers throughout the Alentejo region.

A unique ecosystem

In the Alentejo, most people live from forestry and farming and Serra do Mendro is no exception. The people depend on what the land provides and capitalise on the resource presented by the cork forests, one of the 35 most important global ecosystems for the conservation of biodiversity – equivalent to paradises like Amazonia, the African savannah and Borneo. Farming on the 2,400 hectares of land on the Herdade Aldeia de Cima involves little human input, focusing on a model of integrated production and natural resource optimisation in order to ensure landscape preservation and interactivity with the existing ecosystems.

Sustainability

At Herdade Aldeia de Cima, sustainability means respecting the land. Restoring an entire expan-se of land means not just cutting down on the use of chemicals but also regenerating Serra do Mendro’s unique ecosystem, helping to preserve this natural and cultural heritage, and increa-sing the biodiversity for coming generations and the well-being of all those who live and work on the estate.

The estate manages its agroforestry resources sustainably based on medium/long-term profit. The anthropogenic system of agriculture, forestry and grazing of the cork woods is based on a mixture of two oak species - cork (Quercus suber) and holm (Quercus rotundifólia) - which supply a variety of foods and wildlife habitats essential for soil conservation, water cycle regulation, carbon sequestering and biodiver-sity conservation.

The wines of the Herdade Aldeia de Cima reflect these practices within this huge ecological mosaic, where our grapes are grown with minimal intervention, ensuring sustainable practices in the vineyards in the early years, using integrated production in order to gradually adapt them to organic production.

This is our philosophy of viticulture, that underpins the maintenance of our vineyards and the character of our wines. We believe that this approach is essential for preservation of a unique ecosystem that has roots in the past, and on which our future depends!

In a sustainable agroforestry management system - which aims to generate profit over the medium to long term - the pastoral agro-silvo system of the cork oak forest, which is subject to anthropogenic interventions, is based on the combined presence of two different oak tree species - the cork oak (quercus suber) and holm (quercus rotundifolia). The forest provides a variety of food and wildlife habitats, and is essential for soil conservation, regulates the water cycle, decreases carbon emissions and conserves biodiversity.

The forest, formed by cork oaks and holm oaks, also has occasional maritime pine trees, schist soils and is stony. It maintains natural habitats such as woodlands filled with Cretan rockrose, woolly rock rose, gorse, groom, small trees and brambles, interspersed with spontaneous grassland. This habitat is ideal for sedentary species such as Iberian partridge, hare, pheasant, small bustard, fox, mongoose, wild boar and Alentejan black pig. We respect the autochthonous animal and plant heritage, that provides us with several defences against pests and weeds and avoids the need to use pesticides. In these pollution-free lands, it is common to see storks, sparrows and goldfinches, as well as impressive birds of prey, such as the black vulture or kite. This entire natural ecosystem is absolutely vital.

Merino white sheep are raised on the high plateaus. A herd of about 1500 animals graze throughout the year on the estate’s large stretches of land, thereby ensuring soil maintenance and avoiding the danger of forest fires, while making it possible to control the density of the vegetable matter in the different vineyard plots.

Between the vineyards and the cork oak forest we encourage beekeeping because it plays a fundamental role in ensuring the balance of the ecosystem and also enables us to use this fantastic natural product - honey.

We study the climate, soils and rootstocks for each grape variety, in order to choose the ideal microterroir for each.

We have identified 4 zoning areas in the higher areas of the mountains and in the Planalto do Mendro plateau, in order to obtain natural freshness, in an increasingly warm Mediterranean climate. We planted 20 ha of vines in function of the level curves of the land, divided into 22 plots, most with less than 1.5 ha of vines.

The measurements used for planting our vines is 0.80cm x 2.20m in the Serra do Mendro and 1m x 2.250m in the plateau. The formative pruning was made at a height of 0.70 cm.

Unilateral cordon training is the main vine training system used for our vineyards, with the exception of the Alvarinho and Arinto grape varieties that are planted using the Single Guyot system, which contributes to less production and greater concentration.

Sometimes, we use ancestral cultivation techniques, such as rolling the vine instead of removing the tips, in order to reduce the scalding effect and guaranteeing the best health of the grapes.

Pruning waste from the vines is fully crushed and all organic matter is returned to the original soil.

We always preserve natural grass to create a mulching effect, that serves as a natural habitat for species that assist the local habitat.

We only use organic fertilisers, in order to maintain organic matter in the soil.

We control temperature, rainfall and wind speed using our own weather stations, installed at different altitudes next to the vineyards.

We build small dams that collect natural water and have installed an irrigation system that works exclusively with solar energy. Day by day, we monitor water management with the meters used for different zones, only using irrigation in situations of confirmed hydric stress that may have a negative impact on the harvest.

The typical Alentejan architecture of the houses and agricultural buildings, built from mud and brick, with completely whitewashed walls, and dispersed small windows, has been recovered by the current owners, making it possible to revive the authenticity of this place and the village’s community spirit.

The autonomous and sustainable way of life reflected in the rich local gastronomy, which combines products from the pasture land - milk, cheese, meat, ingredients from the vegetable gardens and orchards, honey and dry fruits from the forest - are the basis for the food eaten by us and all those who work with us.

To pay tribute to the family, we have recreated a 1000m2 area of ancestral vineyard in, using the quincunx planting pattern, with autochthonous grape varieties, where the grapes were only grafted in the following year.

We encourage and support Cante Alentejano, traditional polyphonic singing from the region, declared intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO that reflects a feeling of love for the land, and resilience in the face of the hardships of life.

We promote handicrafts and, above all, Alentejan clay which derives from red schist soils.

The Escalada do Mendro is promoted every year in June, in conjunction with Vidigueira Municipal Council, involving two routes for running or walking in the Serra do Mendro, spanning 6 kilometres or 11 kilometres.

We preferentially work with local people from Santana and neighbouring municipalities.

We integrate local suppliers and small local farmers within the company's culture, developing genuine partnerships, that aim to foster the sustainability of the business and preserve local traditions.

In the day-to-day life of our company, we respect our employees and offer a lot of training, fostering a culture of gender equality and social inclusion.

We have installed shelters and toilet facilities in the Vinha dos Alfaiates vineyard, in the Serra do Mendo, so that local people can store their belongings and protect themselves in adverse weather conditions.

We encourage a proactive response to increased environmental pressures, through placement of organic waste bins in various parts of the Estate, optimisation of waste separation for recycling purposes, the use of thermos flasks for individual consumption, reduction of packaging materials, among many other small actions.

We provide transparency rules throughout our value chain, and do not tolerate illegal and fraudulent situations in the management of human resources and business partnerships.

This is the philosophy that we aim to recreate on a daily basis, improving it with the benefit of experience and available technology so that we can repay everything that the Earth has given us.

The Serra do Baixo Alentejo

Despite the widespread idea of the Alentejo as one large plain with endless views and never-ending fields of wheat, which today are no more than an endless wall of intensive olive groves, in truth, for those who live here, Lower Alentejo has plenty of serras, or hill ranges - six from north to south:

  • Serra de Grândola 383 metres in altitude
  • Serra de Portel 418 metres in altitude
  • Serra do Mendro 424 metres in altitude
  • Serra da Adiça 522 metres in altitude
  • Serra do Cercal 378 metres in altitude

In the southwest of the peninsula, the Alentejo is the lowest region of what remains of an old mountain range, what some have called Hercínica or Varisca, that began to lift up from the ocean around 380 million years ago.

The Iberian plateau and the plains

The marine soils that composed the supercontinent of Pangea left schist containing fossils in the subsoil that indicate the environment and age through various rocky strata which initially lay horizontally and are now twisted, pleated, fractured and dislocated. Over time, they were crushed by the erosion of the thousands of metres of earth that stood on top and hid them, reducing this large mountain chain to a flat plateau. The Alentejo landscape, which some geographers and geologists have called a peneplain, is ill served by the concept contained by the word “plain”. On the contrary, as an area which is high above sea level, scholars have described it as a plateau or highlands, which is true for the Meseta Iberica that includes all of the southwest of the peninsula and, within in, the Alentejo. This is why the Alentejo “plain” is not in a phase of development but, rather, in a phase of decay.

The Alentejo is a resource-poor region, but it is the only winemaking region in the country with almost every kind of soil found in Portugal.

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