Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Monday, April 30, 2012

April 17, 2012: Santa Catarina: Quinta Santa Maria, Sanjo Winery

Morning Once Again
If I ever go abroad again the one thing I will do for sure is to get some sleep! Many of those who comment on how great it must be to travel and visit special places only see the very tip of the Ice Berg. They see the perks but do not see the hours of work such as writing and planning that goes into making the trip a success. My work day begins early in the morning and continues long past our good nights at the hotel. Unless I fall asleep at the computer----and that is not a good thing as I awoke one time at 5 AM with my hand still on the computer and saw lines of nonsensical letters covering the whole of my computer screen.
I was up at 6:30 AM and made my way to the top floor of the hotel where breakfast was being served. Breakfast was varied and there was plenty to eat. A young lady brought me a circular pastry with warm cheese inside that was delicious.
 Outside the windows Sao Joaquim was spread out in front of me with the city streets on one side and endless fields and hills on the other. I could see dogs running around and various farm animals roaming and feeding in pastures. Occasionally one of the cows would utter a "moo"----funny but I never knew a Brazilian cow could "moo" in English!
After breakfast I made my way to the main foyer where we waited for Marcio to drive us to our first location. Roy was out having his puff and I befriended a very cute and handsome looking mongrel with a sweet disposition. I found the dogs in this area were well cared for and in good health. Come to think of it, I did see a large number of Veterinarians in the main cities and there was one in Sao Joaquim.   
Quinta Santa Maria 
Marcio sped his usually speedy way up and down the winding road to Quinta Santa Maria. It was hard to imagine that this was Brazil. My mind drifted! The scenery was of rolling hills bordering on mountains. The vegetation was pine trees------very special pine trees whose nuts we would taste at a very special meal. They were known as Araucarias (Latin name: Araucaria Augustifolia) and whose nuts were enclosed in football sized pods. Other areas had stands other scrub trees as well as a different species of pine, obviously human planted, that I did not recognize. Aside from the pines, the other prevalent tree was the apple. From what I heard was that the apple tree basically saved the region's economy with the selling of fruit and the making of juice.
So it was wood, apples and now grapes that were leading the road to productivity in this area. Hopefully Tourism was not hard behind.
My thoughts were jarred by the sudden bumpy nature of the road. We had turned off the slightly bumpy paved and now were in the truly bumpy unpaved. Marcio swerved around large pot holes of sorts as the scenery outside the car window shifted from pastures to deep valleys to forested areas and back to pastures. The ride seemed endless but in reality it was only about twenty minutes. The bumps would remain long in my memory-----as would the picturesque scenery. Vincola Quinta Santa Maria's sign was very welcome.
The Farm   
Quinta Santa Maria was a picture presentation of what Monet or Renoir would have chose to paint. As the car entered the farm I could see the serene beauty that was the estate. The sun light had a hazy glow to it. In the distance three women baked bread in a wood oven. To their left was the main residence that in its "rusticness" was so appropriate as a fit. To their right was a large oval pond that rippled as fish swirled----obviously feeding at the surface. A group of ducks waddled their way into the pond and proceeded to float their way to the its middle stopping intermittently to dip their heads for a bit of something or other. A breeze puffed its way past my face as I saw two figures coming towards us.
Interesting Background
We were met by Nazario dos Santos and his assistant Sabrina. We had met Sabrina the night before. Nazario dos Santos was a Portuguese who wanted to make this area into a second Douro. In many ways I could see the comparison. The Douro was mountainous, dry and had a varied climate. Many of the wineries were at altitudes of between 900 and 1300 metres. A river flowed through each area. The Douro River flowed through one (images of a 2009 boat ride with the owner of Quinta do Crasto phased through my mind) and the Lava Tudo River flowed in this new region. "A second Douro" he stated!
With the assistance of Jean Pierre Rosier, a PHD Enologist who was the consultant behind this winery Nazario dos Santos produced some utterly amazing wines which we tasted the night before. Shortly after the tour of the premises we were going to taste more of the wines.
Nazario dos Santos had all the attributes of a passionate man. Tall, robust, full of life he introduced himself of what he was, a winemaker who loved making wine. He touched and pushed back his greying but still thick hair as he proudly pointed to the building at the top of a hill a about a hundred yards away. We walked past the pond and paddling ducks up a small hill strewn with metallic rock and to a building that was in the midst of creation. Vineyards radiated from the builidng.
"This is going to be the winery and cellar" he said proudly. He went on to show us the dynamics of the winery and how it was going to be environmentally compatible. He went on to describe research and inventiveness that helped his wine initiatives such as, for example, the pyramid shaped, plastic covered container he invented to dry grapes for an "Amarone" style wine that he made. It worked via natural sun provoked heat and convection and worked well. "I obviously could not afford nor implant huge fans such as those used to dry grapes in places like Veneto (or Umbria sic) but I found that this worked well and plan to design a larger one" he said. He has patented the design.
We got onto the subject of the making of Icewine and other wines.Navario dos Santos' reply to that was that while others did make Icewine in the area,  he applied a strict adherence to the rules and he could not depend on enough cold weather to pick and press on the premises. I later found out that while the temperature of the area does get as low as -8 Centigrade, it may not remain at that temperature for over two or three days.  
After the tour we went to his tasting room where fresh baked bread greeted us along with his wines. Here we tasted his premium wines and some of his innovative creations. Of these creations he produced such a small amount that he did not sell it to the trade but gave it away to his guests. We were fortunate enough to obtain a bottle each of his Cherry Liqueur and an outstanding Cabernet inspired Amarone style wine that "knocked my socks off".
We finished our tasting and carrying a fine wine in our bag we had lunch at our usual Sao Joaquim restaurant and then were off to the next winery----Sanjo.
Sanjo Winery and Apple Juice Production 
We were met at Sanjo by Olavio Gavioli who was one of the company engineers. He told us about the starting of this unique winery in 1993 when a group of fruit growers united to form a co-operative. Members of this co-operative were descendents of Japanese immigrants who moved to Sao Joaquim in the early 1970's. They have an outstanding and varied source of apple and juice production as well as some top grape cultivation. Before we were allowed to tour the plant we had to dawn white laboratory jackets and wear hair nets------even I!
The production of apples was not only unique in Brazil but also in the World. Two main types of apples grown in this area: Fuji and Jabal. Great care was taken in the whole production process. The cultivation followed strict rules and monitoring procedures. Each batch of apples was put through quality control tests. The fruit was stored in cold rooms to keep them fresh. The apples then went through a presorting machine which sorted according to colour, weight and even defects. Water was used to prevent damage to apples as they were sorted. It was so filtered during this process that the water was always of drinking quality. The crates/boxes that the apples were placed in were numbered for identification. All palleting was done mechanically. To ensure that the products were in best of condition all the product area was air cooled and all products were expedited.
In addition to the sale of apples was the making of Apple Juice which was made of the highest quality process and apples.
In addition to the apples was the cultivation of grapes for high quality wine made from vines grown from as high as 1380 metres. In 2002 the Sanjo winery initiated production with Cabernet Sauvignon and later followed with Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The combined altitude and soil structure made cool climate technology a factor in the making of great wine in this area.
We were given a tour of the premises revealing up to date stainless steel tanks, temperature controlled, humidity controlled barrel cellars and the latest in laboratory/quality control testing.
We were taken to a laboratory where we tasted several of the Sanjo wines. We started with a Apple Sparkling and Brut Rose then moved onto a dry Cabernet Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the whites and several styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. Our visit to this unique winery/apple factory was eye opening as well as engaging.
Soon we were off to have dinner back at Sao Joaquim at our favourite restaurant, Pequeno Bosque. 
Suzin, Santa Maria and Jean Pierre  
We all met at the restaurant for what was to be the last time. Everson Suzin and his lovely wife were there as was our new friend Nazario dos Santos and his assistant Sabrina. Our favourite waiter whose nickname "Costela" or "Rib". I didn't know how he got that name but he was a great host and quite a pleasant person.
We began tasting some Suzin wines and what kind of wine we were going to have was dictated by our choice of dishes. Lamb was the main meal of the evening and what would be the ideal companion----of course some of Suzin's fine Sparkling Brut, Cabernet and Merlot. Suzin makes some excellent wines such as the Zelinda, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. His Sauvignon Blanc is certainly one that versatile to use even after a fine meal.
Both Everson Suzin and Nazario dos Santos had Jean Pierre Rosier to thank for some of this at least since he is an Enologist (and a PHD at that!) and has done a fair bit of work with these two great friends.
The evening went very well and ended with us bidding all a fair well-----that is all but Suzin who we would be visiting the next day.
End of Day Eignt