In 2015 we made the transition from conventional to organic methods of wine production. Since, we have undertaken several steps to improve the biodiversity and environmental sustainability of the farm. In this blog post, we delve into the initiatives we’ve embraced to cultivate harmony within our vineyards and beyond.

Reforestation for Biodiversity

Our journey towards environmental sustainability focussed on the ambitious task of reforesting a monocultural Eucalyptus Forest in 2021. After deforesting a large area of a steep north facing slope of Eucalyptus, we painstakingly removed the roots with diggers, or the forest would regrow immediately. Eucalyptus notoriously is extremely vigorous and is typically harvested every 9 or so years, mainly for the paper industry. Sadly, as the case with most monocultures, there is little biodiversity in such a forest – birds cannot nest in trees with long naked trunks, and the lower canopy is restricted to weeds that can still grow with little sunlight and a low soil pH.

We made the decision to plant indigenous Portuguese tree species, not only to enhance the visual beauty of our landscape but to foster increased biodiversity, almost as an extension of the Tapada de Mafra, the nature reserve that borders much of our property. We chose to plant 3500 trees in the very wet January 2022. The diversification of tree species has created a resilient ecosystem that benefits the entire environment that surrounds us. It is difficult to give an accurate statistic, but we estimate that this reforestation has had a success rate of roughly 75% which we are quite happy with. We look forward to seeing how the forest will grow in the next decades!

Water Reservoir Expansion

 Portugal’s hot and dry summers presented a challenge in terms of water scarcity for the farm. In 1999 we built a water reservoir in the middle of a valley amidst the forest, making the most of a natural valley, using the soil to build a dam wall, trapping rainwater in the winter months to for irrigation in the summer. Our gardens, tree plantation, flowers stood a much better chance to thrive in the summer from rainwater that would otherwise have ended up in the sea months earlier.

Our commitment to thoughtful water management practices respects others further down the waterline reflecting our dedication to sustainability and resilience. In the summer of 2022, we expanded our water reserve capacity to ensure a consistent water supply for our various farm projects in view of droughts. With relatively little intervention we built a second water reservoir below the existing one, making the most of a natural “bowl”, practically doubling our water capacity – so long as it rains enough in the winter – acting as a safety net for the future. Now we can use the water from the lower reservoir before having to access the upper one, allowing the upper one to develop into its own biodiverse ecosystem of frogs, dragonflies, fish, lilies, snakes, and ducks. And every now and again to cool down ourselves after a long day in the fields! Fingers crossed we get more rain!

Bee-friendly Flower Project

 Our flower project goes beyond aesthetics; it serves as a sanctuary for local bee and other insect populations. The diverse collection of heirloom flowers we’ve curated provides abundant pollen, supporting the well-being of these essential pollinators. However, the threat posed by the invasive Asian wasp (Vespa Velutina) is a reminder that safeguarding pollinators is about preserving the delicate balance within the broader ecosystem.

We are actively seeking support to protect the bee colonies and contribute to the health of the environment, and we all know that life without bees is not sustainable. We therefore try to create awareness to collaborate with the general public: if you ever notice an oval shaped Asian wasp hive (usually attached to a branch or trunk, high up in a canopy), please be sure to call your local municipality to have them exterminate it.

Soil Enrichment

The composting project we’ve initiated is a sort of dialogue with the earth, enriching the soil with nutrient-rich compost derived from organic waste on our farm. We introduce the green kitchen scraps from our own home but also from the events kitchen, as well as garden and vineyard cuttings. Composting introduces organic matter into the soil which breaks down in the process and transforms into nutrient-rich humus. The key nutrients in compost are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These contribute to plant growth and overall soil fertility. This practice also boosts microbial activity, as bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms play an active role in the composting process, aiding the nutrient cycle and disease suppression. The more visible effects of compost include improved water retention (acting like a sponge) and enhanced soil structure, allowing for improved root penetration and aeration. It is amazing how this “gardener’s gold” has quite visibly benefitted the health of our Quinta!

The involvement of sheep in maintaining the grass and fertilizing the soil contributes to a sustainable approach to land management. As natural grazers, our flock of Suffolk sheep help control unwanted vegetation in the vineyard. This reduces our reliance on mechanical or chemical means for weed management and promotes a more environmentally friendly approach, whilst contributing to soil fertility through their droppings.

Lastly, grazing activities create diverse microhabitats for insects and small animals, again bringing a positive impact on local flora and fauna. Last not least, our chickens also play an invaluable role in managing pests and fertilizing the area they roam. The challenge is to keep them out of the gardens!

Organic Transition and Quality of Wines

 In 2015, we took a significant step towards sustainability by transitioning from conventional to organic methods of wine production. This shift was not solely about our vineyards; it was a commitment to the health of the land and the quality of the wines we produce. Embracing organic practices has not only enhanced the biodiversity of our farm but has also resulted in richer wines, distinctive characteristics, and varietal expression. The transformation witnessed in our vineyards has had a positive ripple effect on the wider environment.

As Quinta de Sant’Ana’s commitment to environmental sustainability continues to evolve, we are reminded that every small effort contributes to a larger impact. As much as a vineyard ought to be seen through the lens of a gardener – where the gardener can identify stronger and weaker patches of the garden that lead to an effect on quality and output – we do our best to replicate this not only in the vegetable gardens, flower fields, vineyards, and fruit trees, but also strive to create a more biodiverse and resilient forest.

We invite you to join us on this journey towards sustainability, where every grape harvests `tells a story´ of the environment surrounding it. If the quality of the wines has in fact improved over time as we have come further along this organic journey, why not give them a try just to be sure?