Adega Beira Mar – Resilience in a Bottle, Exploring the Unique Flavours and History of Colares Wines

Wine Producers

Adega Beira Mar – Resilience in a Bottle, Exploring the Unique Flavours and History of Colares Wines


Colares is one of the most remarkable regions in the wine world, with a mere 20 hectares (49 acres) in the far west of Europe. But it is threatened by urbanisation and drifting dunes.

There are seven producers. One of the oldest is Adega Beira Mar, started by Paulo da Silva’s grandfather in 1898. Paulo da Silva is 93 and still active.

“Paulo knows the most about the company and can tell you about it, but he is in our vineyards in Torres Vedras, further inland. Is it okay for us to do it by email?” asks his nephew Pedro Rocha when I ask for an interview. Of course, you accept. This is a unique place, not only because the vineyards are located in a UNESCO-protected national park. The grapes, the cultivation method, the wine – everything here has a history in itself.

Colares – A Coastal Haven of Vineyards with Resilient Roots

Colares is right on the coast, three-quarters of an hour by car west of Lisbon. The cliffs plunge into the waves, and to the east rises the Serra de Sintra. The wind has whipped up several meters of deep sand between the sea and the mountain. To plant vines, you must “nail” them to the ground below. That is, dig yourself down to the solid bottom. But the sand is not all bad. It meant the wine louse (phylloxera) never made it here in the late 19th century. Therefore, the wines of Colares grow on their own rootstock.

Deep pit dug by hand to plant vines in the sandy soil of Colares.
Deep pit dug by hand to plant vines in the sandy soil of Colares. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

The Changing Landscape of Colares and the Rise of White Wine

The proximity to Lisbon and the breathtaking scenery took its toll on viticulture. Expansion drove up prices, and building houses became more desirable than growing wine. In 1940, there were 1,011 hectares (2,498 acres) in Colares, but in 2017, only 20 hectares (49 acres) remained.

Another remarkable development is that today, more white wine than red is produced: in 2019, 6,700 litres of white were made, compared with 5,800 litres of red.

How many hectares Adega Beira Mar owns is a little uncertain. “Yes, because we have vineyards both in Colares and what we call ‘hard ground’, which is bottled as Regional Lisbon Wine”, says Paulo da Silva.

A Journey Through Time, Exporting to Brazil and Ageing on Mahogany Barrels

The winery was thus started in the late 19th century by António Bernardino da Silva Chitas. The wine was sold locally and exported to Brazil, an important trading partner to Portugal then. And an explanation for why much wine here is aged on mahogany.

“Other exotic woods that were brought home from Brazil were also used”, says Paulo da Silva.” The barrels were large, between 1,500 and 12,000 litres. We still have some that were made in 1885. They have become a hallmark of our wine house.”

Adega Beira Mar's winery with the large barrels in Brazilian mahogany.
Adega Beira Mar’s winery with the large barrels in Brazilian mahogany. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

Surviving the Stock Market Crash 1929: How Adega Beira Mar Defied Odds to Become the Last Original House

The stock market crash 1929 with the ensuing recession was a severe blow for Colares. Exports to Brazil died out entirely, and many wineries closed. Out of 18 existing houses, only a handful survived. Three of them were bought by other companies – the only original house that still exists is Adega Beira Mar, run by the founder’s grandson.

“The economic recession, coupled with the urban growth of Colares, has significantly reduced wine production”, Paulo da Silva points out.

Adega Beira Mar's winery.
Adega Beira Mar’s winery. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

Unique Flavours, Manual Craftsmanship, and Rising Demand

“We have our own production, our own vineyards. But, today, the Colares vineyards are clearly insufficient for the great demand. Regarding regional Lisbon wine, planted on hard ground, we have a much larger quantity.”

Paulo da Silva also recalls the high production costs. “The place here is unique. The proximity to the sea gives extraordinary flavours and sensations to the wine. Still, the sandy soils mean that all work must be done manually, which is expensive. Nevertheless, in recent years, we have been replanting in Colares to expand our production and meet the interest.”

With its hardy character and long ageing requirements, it may seem strange that the demand for Colares wine is so great. Most wine is bought to be drunk here and now. But if something is unusual enough, the trend factor rises.

One of Adega Beira Mar's new vineyards in the sandy soil of Colares.
One of Adega Beira Mar’s new vineyards in the sandy soil of Colares. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

Discover the Grape Varieties Ramisco and Malvasia de Colares resistant to climate change

A vine of the Ramisco grape variety growing in its traditional low and wide way.
A vine of the Ramisco grape variety growing in its traditional low and wide way. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

The grape varieties are the black tannin bomb Ramisco, with an acid of the same calibre and drinkable only after six to eight years, and the salty, slightly floral Malvasia de Colares.

“Our black grape variety Ramisco is not so alcoholic and withstands the maritime climate well. But with climate change, we see the alcohol content rising”, says Paulo da Silva. He says the same thing about the white Malvasia de Colares. It has adapted to the climate and can produce despite the weather challenges.

The wind is salty and can burn the leaves. Therefore, apple trees are planted, and fences are built to stop the worst winds.

Harvest of Malvasia de Colares at Adega Beira Mar.
Harvest of Malvasia de Colares at Adega Beira Mar. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

Discover the Makers of Colares

The seven producers of Colares DOC on sandy soil are:

  1. Adega Beira Mar
  2. Adega Regional de Colares (the cooperative)
  3. Adega Viúva Gomes
  4. Casal de Santa Maria
  5. Casca Wines
  6. Ramilo Wines
  7. Fundação Oriente
Paulo da Silva, 93 years old, and owner of Adega Beira Mar in Colares.
Paulo da Silva, 93 years old, and owner of Adega Beira Mar in Colares. (Photo: Adega Beira Mar)

Discover the Resilient History and Unique Flavours of Colares Wines

The charm of Colares wines lies not only in their unique taste profile but also in the enduring resilience of the grape varieties Ramisco and Malvasia de Colares. Despite the region’s sandy soils and the challenges of a maritime climate, these vines have adapted and thrived, withstanding even the test of climate change. The rarity of these wines, coupled with the exceptional craftsmanship of the seven producers, makes each bottle a treasure worth exploring. So, the next time you come across a bottle of Colares, remember you’re not just tasting wine; you’re savouring a piece of viticultural resilience and history.