Did you know that the females of the Iberian Tree Frog generally only respond to, and mate with, males who call in the local frog-dialect? One could say that they take no risk and are happy with security providing gender conventions and established kinship systems.
But this is only half of the story.
If we look more closely, we realize that a few females fall for the unique beauty of the spell of a foreign male passing by their pond, and love happens. This is when things get interesting at a genetic level, and in social life in general. Difference creates friction that challenges us to rethink what we hold for granted and allows us to invent new ways of being in the world.
And this is precisely how we at Adega Belém envision our approach to wine and to life in general, and define our promise: every single wine is handmade from mostly healthy, delicious grapes using scientific knowledge, sophisticated craftsmanship and quite a bit of natural randomness as well to grow into a strong distinct personality; a unique produce that reflects at the same time the varietal fruit character of our grapes, the ecological conditions of each vineyard and vintage year, and the love that drives the winemakers to do what they do.
And because the Iberian frog calling story proviodes such a good metaphor for us and our work, and because Catarina used to be a professional frog scientist (read here), we have made the Iberian frog our logo.
We started off as university researchers, Catarina as an evolutionary biologist exploring frog mating in Portugal and David as an anthropologist studying magical thinking in the Western Indian Ocean. We met at a barbecue party and have stayed together ever since.
We decided to make wine together and spent two years studying oenology and viticulture at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia at the University of Lisbon. A professional internship led us to the Alentejo region.
The first red is made in our bathroom back in the Santa Catarina neighbourhood of Lisboa. It smelled like a mixture of superglue, overcooked strawberry jam and oloroso sherry. We kept it for those guests who wouldn't leave. It was a rather curious wine.
We became Erasmus students for the first time in our lives and spent our second year of oenological studies with the Vinifera Euromaster Programme at the University of Geisenheim in Germany.
Catarina became an assistant winemaker at Provins in the Swiss Valais and later at Grande Enseada in Redondo, Portugal. In 2017, she became the resident winemaker of Herdade da Barrosinha in Alcacer do Sal, where she worked until 2019 with one of Portugal’s most senior winemakers, António Saramago.
Research in South Africa, California, Bordeaux, Austria and China funded by the University of Lausanne, Switzerland where David had become a full professor, helped clarify how to bring wine tourism into the 21st century. We realized that we needed the winery in the city where we want to live.
We started looking for urban industrial sites and found this old car repair shop in Belém. We instantly fell in love with its weird and wonderful space full of antiquated equipment in a great location. It would become our winery.
Two lawyers, four notaries and more than 70 neighbors helped us to update all legal documents linked to the land registry.
The project to transform the garage into a winery is submitted to the municipality of Lisbon.
The winery gets an earthquake-proof steel structure, new piping, new electric cabling, fire doors and an energy saving roof.
Ten custom made stainless steel tanks, oak barrels, pumps, a destemmer and a horizontal press are put in the cellar. The winemaking equipment is ready for work.
The winery gets its winery license and is ready to operate.
After an intensive year of demolition works, masonry, carpentry, plumbing, plastering, painting, dealing with contractors and website programming, the winery is ready to open to the public. The Corona virus epidemics forces us to delay this til the summer.
While using other wineries for our 2018 and 2019 vintages, 2020 is the first full vintage produced in the Belém winery.
Evolutionary biologist and winemaker, Catarina is involved in all daily operations
Júlio is strong as a bear and has decisive ideas whenever all else fails.
Anthropologist and winemaker, David is involved in all daily operations
Helena is a chemist and the best Portuguese grandmother in the world
Ana and Sofia are the actual bosses of the entire venture.
Knows all about wine, is extremely patient, knows how to tell good stories, speaks 27 languages
Lili is a professional tennis ball fetcher and keeps the whole team together
Has a lot of patience, will to learn, endurance, muscle power, appetite and a driving licence.