World beat – Jerry Luper’s fine Portuguese wine

Larry Walker

In the 1970s, Jerry Luper was one of the seminal winemakers who helped establish the quality standards that put Napa Valley on the wine map. His work at Diamond Creek, Freemark Abbey and Montelena are still benchmarks in California winemaking, 30 years on.

So there could be no better indication that Portugal is the “next big thing” than the fact that Luper and his wife Carolee have recently released their first wine from Portugal, Quinta da Carolina. The wine isn’t the result of any jet-set winemaking on the part of the Lupers. They moved to Portugal in 1994. Luper was invited by Real Companhia Velha (the Royal Oporto brand in the U.S.) to consult and revamp their range of table wines. His work was so successful that they made Luper the company’s technical director.

The Lupers’ first release, 1999 Quinta da Carolina Red Table Wine, is winning praise in Europe and now in the United States. It spent 18 months in American, French and Portuguese barriques and is sold in six-bottle wooden cases at about $45 a bottle.

“I have gained a rather intimate and inside knowledge of the Douro,” Luper told Wines & Vines via e-mail. “That planted the seed that germinated into the idea of staying here with my wife and buying a small quinta to make table wine from grapes that normally would go into port. The varieties are fascinating.”

In 1998, the Lupers found a property on the Douro River, near Pinhao. “It has 14,000 very old vines and in all four vintages we have had excellent ripeness (13.9-14.3[degree]). The microclimate matures the grapes before the rains come. Due to very low yields and rigorous selection, we end up with 4,000 to 5,000 bottles per year of one red wine which we call Quinta da Carolina in honor of my longtime partner. Carolee and I do all the work, except for the vineyard operations which are done by local experienced help under my direct supervision.” (This past year, the Lupers were joined by their youngest daughter, Liliana, who is 23. She is taking a year off from school to sharpen her cellar rat skills before going on to Oxford to do a masters program in Refugee Studies.)

The Lupers’ restored the open lagares of the old quinta and the grapes are crushed by foot. They use a hand-cranked basket press–all a far cry from high-tech California. “We live on the property, and have built a new house over the mini-cellar below, which we also expanded. Here I am my own boss, and enjoy the freedom of having no partners. We plan to stay small in order to maintain the ultimate control of our wine,” Luper said.

The U.S. importer is Domaine Select Wine Estates, based in New York. “Domaine is licensing itself in many other states. They are typical of the new breed of specialist importers/distributors who are revitalizing the market. Their forte is small family-owned domaines from around the world,” Luper said.

Steven Spurrier, writing last year in Decanter magazine, gave the wine a good sendoff: “This is the first release from Jerry and Carolee Lupers’ 2.7ha vineyard in the Upper Douro. It has masses of ripe, plummy fruit that is seductively lush and firmly structured at the same time. Delicious now, it will probably last a decade.”

I’ll go along with that. I also found the fruit exceptional, with rich almost port-like depth. It’s well-balanced, no sharp elbows digging at the palate. All in all, a luscious wine. Good work, Jerry and Carolee.

Gonzalez Byass And Campari Strike A Deal

A joint venture agreement between the Spanish sherry and brandy producer and Campari will handle the marketing of both brands in the Spanish market. The joint venture will be 70% owned by Gonzalez Byass and 30% by Campari, with estimated sales of 1.8 million cases and a net annual turnover of around 65 million euros, according to

Alan Cordery, managing director of Gonzalez Byass, expected that the new venture, “would improve the strategic perspectives for both brands in the medium and long term.” Campari regional director Paulo Perego said the new deal, “represented an excellent opportunity to exploit opportunities for the Campari brands in the key Spanish market.”

Resources: Domaine Select Wine Estates can be reached at (212) 279-0799 in New York. The West Coast representative for Quinta da Carolina and Domaine Select is Jeff Meisel at (415) 824-7453.

The first release, a 1999, is sold out at the winery, but still available in the U.S. They are now releasing the 2000.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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