Carol A. Wilcox, Our Portugal Journey, “Adega Belém Urban Winery A new concept in wine tourism for Portugal”
> text Carol A. Wilcox, Our Portugal Journey > photos Paul Wilcox
What happens when a professor of anthropology and a biologist meet and fall in love? They start an urban winery in Portugal, of course! Former professor David Picard and former biologist Catarina (Cat) Moreira, parents to two young daughters, left their academic and research lives behind to pursue a new adventure in wine making. They’ve been making wine for seven years and opened their tasting room, Adega Belém, in 2020. Located in an old former mechanic garage on a side street in the heart of Belém – a popular Lisbon destination for tourists – this energetic, talented, and creative duo are making interesting wines worthy of your time and taste if you’re visiting or living in the greater Lisbon area.
Throughout the United States, urban wineries have become popular over the last few years, but they’re still not a thing in Portugal which makes this concept and this Portuguese winery all the more interesting.
Easily accessible by public transportation, the winery is a short 5-minute walk from the Belém train station. When walking down the little dirt side alley named Travessa de Paulo Jorge, you feel as if you’re in old Portugal and not in the middle of a city. The entrance to the winery is a big open door (think former garage) with casual seating inside and outside of the building. The interior décor is rustic with walls decorated with old tools which were found onsite. A former body shop room at the rear of the garage serves as the wine cellar with a grape crusher and press, stainless steel vats, French and Portuguese oak barrels, and traditional terracotta clay vessels.
From researchers to winemakers
When the couple left their respective academic and research careers, they spent two years in the study of oenology and viticulture at the University of Lisbon. Oenological studies at the University of Geisenheim in Germany followed.
In 2015 Catarina worked as an assistant winemaker at wineries in the Swiss Valais and in Portugal. In 2017, she became a resident winemaker of the prestigious Herdade da Barrosinha until 2019.
Research funded for David by the University of Lausanne, Switzerland (where he was a full professor), provided further experience in South Africa, California, Bordeaux, Austria, and China in the study of wine tourism.
By 2016, the couple began the search for an urban industrial site in Portugal to form their own urban winery and by 2020 they were ready to open their own tasting room.
Although the tasting room décor is very casual, welcoming, and whimsical, winemaking is taken very seriously with about 12,000 bottles produced annually and increasing, as much as production space allows. David and Catarina collaborate with growers in three different vineyards in the greater Lisbon area where they determine the day to hand harvest the grapes depending on the ripeness. The grapes are then hand-picked into 20-liter boxes by the Adega wine team (made up mostly of family and friends), and then transported intact to the winery. The grapes are allowed to ferment primarily as whole grapes which allows a slow release of sugars. Only a small amount of sulfites are added just before bottling. The use of top-quality natural corks means the wine will continue to gracefully age in the bottle.
All Portuguese Varietals
The winemakers produce a variety of reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines using only grape varietals from Portugal and include Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, Encruzado, Moscatel Gaelgo, and Alvarinho.
During a visit, Paul and I tasted several wines including:
Cookie – a wine named after the family bunny rabbit. This white wine has aromas of citrus fruit. The taste is smooth and fresh with balanced acidity. The wine can be paired with food or enjoyed on its own.
Moscatel Galego Branco – we’re not big fans of Moscatel since it’s usually too sweet for our tastes, but David encouraged us to try this wine and we’re glad we did. It was surprisingly dry and refreshing and not at all sweet. David explained that the grapes are macerated on-skin for 3 weeks, and then aged in French oak barrels. The result is a wine with a nice yellow color, aromas of pineapple and passion fruit, and with a taste that is slightly acidic and smooth. This wine can accompany light fare such as prawns or pasta in a light gravy. It can also be enjoyed on its own or with semi-soft Portuguese cheese.
Senhor Rita Reserva – Castelão grapes are used to create this complex red wine. The color in the glass is a rich red with aromas of juicy red stone fruits. On the palate, the fruits burst in flavor with balanced tannins with a long, satisfying finish. This food-friendly wine can pair well with red meats and hearty Portuguese dishes.
Children, pets and frogs
Adega Belém is truly a family wine business full of creativity and complete with the normal daily activities of any young family and every member contributes to the effort. The whimsical wine labels are based on artwork by the couple’s young daughters. Lili, the family’s friendly resident cellar dog will greet you at the door. The frog logo is a tribute to Catarina’s work as an evolutionary biologist focused on exploring frog mating and frog sounds.
Distinctive wines and dedicated winemakers
Many times, (especially in the past as writer for our now-retired website Southwest Wine Guide), when Paul and I attended informal wine tastings, tasting the wines from any single winery frequently all seemed to run together making the wines practically indistinguishable from one another. But not this time. Each wine we tasted at Adega Belém was distinct and memorable. They each had their own personality and structure reflecting the talent of these serious, creative, and passionate winemakers.
If you visit
Adega Belém offers 3 or 5 tastings of wine, or if you prefer, you can order a glass of your favorite to enjoy along with the light fare they offer. Cellar tours are available by reservation. Regular cellar events include Wine Quiz Night on Fridays and Saturday brunch.
Private groups can be arranged by prior reservation for social, business, or family events including catered foods to accompany the wine. They can accommodate both large and small groups.
Credit cards and cash accepted.
Adega Belém wines are available for purchase at the winery or online (shipping to Portugal and several European countries). Their wines are available in a few select retail stores in Portugal.
Check their website for hours and details.
Until next time…