Aline Domingues – Breaking Norms, Defying Climate with Sustainability and a Dash of Traditions

Wine Producers

Aline Domingues – Breaking Norms, Defying Climate with Sustainability and a Dash of Traditions

The young are leaving Uva. French-born Aline Domingues moved there. Now, she makes vital wines in a place where the climate is described as “nine months of winter, three months of hell”.

“But last year it was 12 months of hell”, Aline Domingues summarises the hot and dry 2021.

From Paris to Uva: Aline Domingues’ Journey Home

Aline Domingues, 32, is an odd bird who has found a home in the small village of Uva near the Spanish border in north-east Portugal. Born in Paris to Portuguese parents, she longed to return to the country they left behind.

The village of Uva in the Trás-os-Montes region.
The village of Uva in the Trás-os-Montes region. (Photo: Aline Domingues)

Rediscovering the Forgotten Vineyards

Aline had developed a taste for wine and a desire to make her own. At first, she thought of the Douro, but coming as a newcomer to the traditional region felt a bit intimidating. So she tried living for a few months in Uva, where she has roots. Uva is located in Trás-os-Montes, a remote corner characterised by economic decline and depopulation. Barely 50 people are living here, but the many pigeon lofts testify that times were once different.

“I stayed for a few months, enjoyed myself and found old vineyards that no one wanted anymore. There used to be much more wine growing here, but ten or twenty years ago, people started looking for work elsewhere.”

One of Aline Domingues' old vineyards.
One of Aline Domingues’ old vineyards.(Photo: Aline Domingues)

Defying Expectations: Trading Parisian Lights for Uva’s Rustic Charm

Aline’s decision to go against the grain and move to Uva from a metropolis like Paris was met with scepticism. “They thought I was crazy because it’s hard to make a living here, and most young people leave. But I liked the village and then met some other young people who had stayed and gained confidence, which I needed.”

From Grandfather’s Celler to a Thriving Winery

Once Aline had decided to live and make wine here, she couldn’t find a winery. “Nobody really trusted me, so I had to borrow my grandfather’s house. I dragged out his old stuff and brought in my tanks that I had scraped together.”

The wine cellar had no electricity or water, but Aline had a stubborn mind. She made her first batch in 2017 and was hooked. There was only one problem. She had no money for a proper winery. But solutions are never far away for the Paris-born lab assistant; with the help of crowdfunding, good friends and Palombar, the winery was made functional.

Palombar is an organisation that works to preserve nature here and keep the countryside alive. I don’t know if I would have started without them.”

Aline Domingues in her small winery that has no electricity.
Aline Domingues in her small winery that has no electricity. (Photo: Aline Domingues)

Thriving Vines in Trás-os-Montes: A Labour of Love Amidst Extremes

Aline makes about 10,000 bottles a year. That’s plenty, as she wants to do all the work herself. It is in the vineyard that she thrives despite the climate. Trás-os-Montes has an extremely continental climate. It is located north of the Douro, east of Vinho Verde. The name means “beyond the mountains”.

“It’s dry and hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. But the vines are doing well because I have old, local grape varieties. The plants are small and low and used to the conditions here. Then, I let it grow freely between the rows. The vegetation protects the soil from the sun.”

Ageing Gracefully: The Expressive Wines of Clay and Slate

The vines are between 30 and 100 years old, and black and white grapes grow together – as is the tradition. Aline rents ten different plots, totalling three hectares (7 acres). The soil consists mainly of clay and slate. “The clay gives expressive wines, while the wines on slate are more delicate and fresh with higher acidity. They need more time to open up.”

An old vine that needs the support of a stone to survive.
An old vine that needs the support of a stone to survive. (Photo: Aline Domingues)

Navigating the Heat: Wine Production Amidst Changing Climates

Aline’s wines show an unparalleled stringency for such a hot summer climate. She explains this with the fact that the temperature drops significantly at night. “We can have 40°C (104°F) during the day, 20°C (68°F) at night. So far, there hasn’t been a problem with the alcohol content because the nights are cool. But it is getting warmer every year. Last year, we had three days with 43°C (109°F) – the leaves were burnt.”

Climate change is also reflected in the winter by the lack of precipitation. “We need rain in the winter to have water in the summer. But now there is none.”

A break from the hard work of harvesting.
A break from the hard work of harvesting. (Photo: Aline Domingues)

Embracing Tradition with a Twist: Aline’s Unique Approach to Winemaking

Aline makes four different cuvées. All are blends of grapes that she doesn’t always know what they are. The white wine Líguen includes Malvasia, Bastardo Branco, Formosa (Diagalves) and Poilta (Carrega Branco). Empusa is a rosé wine of Negrada (Tinta Gorda) and Malvasia, while Ciste is a lighter red wine with black and white grapes: Bastardo Preta (Bastardo), Negrada, Malvasia, Formosa, Poilta, etc. Finally, the darker red wine Palomba is almost exclusively Negrada, with ten per cent other local varieties such as black and purple muscat.

The piquant acidity is pervasive, as is a nicely ripe fruit. One of the explanations is that Aline puts most of the wine in steel tanks. “I don’t like barrels; I don’t like the oak flavour. I have maybe ten per cent of the wine in barrels, the rest in steel and fibre tanks. In the past, some of the rosé was stored in barrels – a legacy from my grandfather – but from 2021, it will be different, although people appreciate the flavour. But oak barrels are not me. Barrels are not my thing.”

Aline Domingues in the trees and bushes on the property.
Aline Domingues in the trees and bushes on the property. (Photo: Aline Domingues)

Aline Domingues: Embracing Tradition and Innovation in Sustainable Winemaking

Aline Domingues’ unorthodox approach to winemaking reflects a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, with a distinct emphasis on environmentally conscious practices. Despite the challenging climatic conditions, her wines, all unique blends of indigenous grape varieties, exhibit a rich fruitiness and zingy acidity, primarily attributed to her preference for steel tanks over oak barrels. Aline’s commitment to her craft, coupled with her adaptability amidst changing weather patterns, truly encapsulates the spirit of modern winemaking in the face of climate change.