How to become a winemaker for a day in Portugal

Discover how you can master your own perfect drop by becoming a winemaker for a day in Estermoz.

Lisbon’s heart may pump a stream of blue with the Tegos River running through this historical port but its countryside showcases another shade – the colour of deep red wine – and one where I could become a winemaker for a day in Estermoz.

Located a short 1.5 drive just outside of Lisbon is renowned Portuguese wine connoisseur and maker, João Portugal Ramos’s largest winemaking facility in Estremoz, Alentejo.

The postcard-perfect Alentejo region was the first to produce his first wines in 1992.  Since then, João Portugal Ramos has made it a family affair with getting his family members involved in the art of creating the perfect drop throughout the country in Tejo, Beiras, Douro and Vinho Verde. However, the heart and soul of his winemaking still lay in Estremoz.

I went as a guest on behalf of João Portugal Ramos to see the winemaking process – and also got to enjoy a traditional meal too!

joao portugal ramos

Winemaker for a day

joao portugal ramos

Wineries are usually all about sipping on the finer things in life (wine, naturally) however this winery allows you to wear a different hat for the day and become a winemaker. This would certainly make my Dad proud as he almost has wine running through his veins!

joao portugal ramos

There were three grape varieties to choose from to craft our perfect red (best described by João Portugal Ramos):

Aragonez – Ripe fruit flavours with hints of cherry and plum and a faint spiciness. Suited to those who prefer a structured red wine.

Touriga Nacional – Floral notes of violet and bergamot partnered with a fresh aroma of red fruits. Provides an intense and smooth flavour.

Alicante Bouschet – A vibrant wine of great complexity with wild red fruits and balsamic notes. Suited to those who those who appreciate a dense and powerful drop.

Pour.

Glug, glug, spit.

Pour.

Glug, glug, spit.

And repeat.

It was a game of trial and error to create the winning sip. I was more than happy to be a human guinea pig for my first experimental wine which in the end, combined an even split of Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet to create smooth, punchy red flavour. Yes, I can officially add Wine Master to my CV.

Joao Portugal Ramos
Getting the hang of creating a decent pour.

How wine is bottled

After the winemaking process, it was time to see how they were shipped out to the masses. We were taken on a tour of the winery to see the bottling process. I felt like a kid in a candy shop with seeing the overall process of the actual operations. From the wine being bottled to being boxed up and ready to be shipped to thirsty mouths all over.

It was a great demonstration of seeing the overall production line and heavy machinery involved. There were barely any people insight to oversee the process. I found it really interesting nonetheless to see how seamlessly a factory operates – glad it was a wine one too!


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Joao Portugal Ramos
Don’t worry, they will be filled up with grape goodness soon!

The cook cooks cod

Maybe this day started off in reverse. We were sipping wine before the mains but either way, it made me appreciate the art of Portuguese cooking and cuisine that extra bit more. We were giving aprons and hustled into the kitchen to see the resident chef midway into the food preparation. It was almost as if there was going to be an influx of long-lost Portuguese relatives coming to celebrate some big occasion with the amount of food that was being prepped. That and the pots-for-giants that sat on top of the kitchen hot plates. This was certainly going to be one big, massive Portuguese feast!

Soon enough, we were the unpaid labour for the day, deboning and peeling the skin off the half roasted cod and putting it into a colossus clay tray mixed in with caramelised onions. The amount of olive oil that was then poured onto the fish could have ran a car around the countryside for a week. Thankfully, a decent amount of olive oil is good for you.

Joao Portugal Ramos

The chef soon prepared ‘migas’ – a mash-like combination of bread and broccoli. In the oven, it went. But two seconds later the chef, pulled out another tray from the oven which felt like the whole TV show chef with there ‘here is what I have prepared earlier.’ It was another tray of cooked migas and one I wanted to get my fork into stat!

Of course, being in the kitchen wasn’t all about just prepping – it was about nibbling too. Anti-pasto was on offer including sliced black pork, rosemary and olive oil croutons and fresh bread. Perfect as I needed something to soak up that wine!

Joao Portugal Ramos

The main course

There was roughly around a dozen people sitting around the long, wooden table with the vineyards in perfect view. The table was set with enough glasses to host a cocktail evening for the masses. Of course, our lunch was going to be paired with grapes from these vines to compliment every bite that was about to be consumed.

Lunch kicked off with a traditional pumpkin, watercress and almond soup. It was then followed by the fruits of our labour – the cod and migas.

I was every bit proud to be involved in making (well ‘supervising’ I should say!) this dish as it was just so tasty. Me being me, I went up for seconds as this home-cooked dish was too good not to have again. My future self would be walking up and down the many hills in Lisbon so I knew those extra calories would soon be burnt off before they even found a comfortable spot on my body to call home.

But oh no, dessert would come. It was aptly titled ‘chocolate sin cake.’ It was so devilish. Warm chocolate just oozing itself out of its’ soft outer sponge. I’m not even a big sweets person but it was heaven but damn, I felt so guilty eating it!

A toast!

This was a fantastic trip to a winery which doesn’t compare to any other vineyards I have visited before. Girl had become a winemaker! The fact I got to make my own wine was a real highlight. Even better, I could take it home with me so I could savour that last drop.

Joao Portugal Ramos
One, two, three, four….girl could sip some more!

Vineyard

Head over to the João Portugal Ramos winery Vila Santa in Alentejo – Estermoz to become a winemaker for a day. It is just under a two-hour car ride from Lisbon. Highly do recommend having a car as public transport can be an epic journey in itself!

Have you had experience being a winemaker for a day in Portugal? Or any winemaking experience? Share below?

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