António Maçanita – History and Passion in Winemaking: The Transcendent Path

Wine Producers

António Maçanita – History and Passion in Winemaking: The Transcendent Path

His qualifications are as thick as a bible, but it is his work in the Azores that goes to the history books. António Maçanita is the winemaker and oenologist who goes his way, regardless of what those around him and the regulations say.

António Maçanita: A Bold and Restless Rebel with Deep Roots

António Maçanita is marketed as a bold and restless person. Rebellious but thoughtful. After several long conversations where every question blossoms into a forest of clues and reasoning, I agree with the PR people. António is the exact opposite of every ounce of conformism. But don’t think that his ideas are based on sudden whims. Everything he does is well-founded on historical studies and a belief that traditions don’t nail on chance.

Revives Vineyards and Preserves Local Grape Varieties in Portugal

He runs three wine-producing companies in Portugal with colleagues and consults for 13 producers. He has rescued local grape varieties and revitalised the vineyards in the Azores. Is the man really only 42 years old?

“I started early and have always wanted to combine science with history. I got science from my dad and an interest in history from my mum. I want to understand why, see a connection and learn from the mistakes made.”

Joana and António Maçanita's wine estate in the Douro region.
Joana and António Maçanita’s wine estate in the Douro region. (Photo: António Maçanita)

A Distinct Individualist Embracing Collaboration and Diversity

That António Maçanita, a distinct individualist, prefers to work with others is a logical consequence of his way of thinking. “You might think it’s strange – banks and investors ask me the same thing. But people are different. We are good at different things, and we complement each other.”

The answer lies in history. António Maçanita is an example himself – his father is from the Azores, his mother is from Alentejo, and his companies make wine in both these regions. He also collaborates with his sister Joana in the Douro. She is also a winemaker and wine consultant. They run the company Maçanita Wines with a personal repertoire that includes, among other things, a pure Malvasia Fina. On the red side, there is a 100 per cent Sousão (Vinhão).

Joana Maçanita presents her and her brother António's wines from their estate in the Douro region.
Joana Maçanita presents her and her brother António’s wines from their estate in the Douro region. (Photo: António Maçanita)

Preserving the Past, Embracing the Future: The Fight for a Rare and Forbidden Grape Variety in the Azores

In the Azores, he has revitalised the almost extinct Terrantez do Pico and is fighting for the legal existence of the hybrid Isabella. He laughs before taking a deep breath and gets serious again. “I have always liked underdogs. The local grape varieties are part of our collective memory, and our job is to preserve them. Moreover, with an increasingly warmer climate, they could be the solution for the future. These grapes are adapted to their place of grow; have high acidity, lower alcohol and are less productive.”

António Maçanita's wine estate in Pico, Azores.
António Maçanita’s wine estate in Pico, Azores. (Photo: António Maçanita)

Isabella is a controversial commitment. The EU has banned the grape variety. It was considered one of the American varieties that brought phylloxera (wine louse) here in the mid-19th century. For the Azores, however, Isabella was a godsend. Before the outbreak of phylloxera, 90 per cent of the main island of Pico was planted with vines. After the slaughter, most vines died, and half the population emigrated. Before the grafting solution, hybrids, like Isabella, were introduced and planted.

For António, Isabella is part of the history of the Azores and has legitimacy. He made a wine called ”Isabella, A Proibida” (”Isabella, the Forbidden”). The authorities were anything but happy. “But I found a legal no man’s land, so now I only label it ”A Proibida” (”the forbidden”). It is a beautiful wine with nice acidity and taste of strawberries, a bit like a cross between Beaujolais and an aromatic Touriga Nacional.” Most of it is exported to the US, where it has become very popular.

António Maçanita in the vinyards at the estate in Pico, Azores.
António Maçanita in the vinyards at the estate in Pico, Azores. (Photo: António Maçanita)

Preserving Azores’ Wine Heritage: Adventures from Alentejo to Pico

António Maçanita made his first wines in the early 2000s in the Alentejo, in the company Fitapreta, which he started with David Booth. Later, he extended the commitment to his childhood’s promised place, the Azores, more precisely, to its main island, Pico. “We went there on holiday when I was a kid, and I have always loved the place. I saw the potential, the history and the grape varieties.”

Herdade do Paço do Morgado de Oliveira home for the wine producer FitaPreta Vinhos.
Herdade do Paço do Morgado de Oliveira home for the wine producer FitaPreta Vinhos. (Photo: António Maçanita)

In 2014, he started the Azores Wine Company. The rest is history. From renting 30 hectares (74 acres), they now own well over 100 hectares (247 acres). They have inspired others to start growing vine again. “Now there are probably 300 small farmers and 6 major wine producers. That’s still half compared to before the outbreak of phylloxera.”

Growing vines in the Azores is a challenge. The soil is volcanic, and the farmers have planted the vines in small stone-enclosed vineyards called Currais. It may look picturesque, like a grid along the coast, but it requires strength. UNESCO now protects the cultivation method.

António Maçanita works here as gently as he can. “Pico is a fantastic and unique place with unique grape varieties. We want to preserve that and do not wish to construct.”

Harvest at António Maçanita's wine estate in Pico, Azores.
Harvest at António Maçanita’s wine estate in Pico, Azores. (Photo: António Maçanita)

A Winemaker’s Tales: A Journey Across Continents and Cultures

António Maçanita’s distinct views on how and what he wants to do are based on history and his own experiences. He has worked in Australia, California, and Bordeaux (Château Lynch-Bages).

In California, he learned, among other things, what he did not want to do. “There, having a long ‘hanging time’ is essential. The wine growers in California wait with the harvest until everything is ripe. To be able to, they irrigate. The grapes become overripe, and there is no balance in the wine. Instead, I divide the vineyards into smaller plots and harvest them separately when the grapes are just ripe.”

In Bordeaux, the grapes felt, if anything, a little too green at harvest. But António Maçanita appreciated the winemaking, which he describes as natural and straightforward. “Most of it was wild yeast, and they showed great respect for the grapes by using gravity instead of pumping. Very inspiring.” He has adopted this and moves almost all his must with the help of natural gravity. Pumps can be pretty brutal and evoke unwanted aromas.

In Australia, winemaking was a lot about technology. “I do not put any valuation in it because they were good at what they did. The wine growers in Australia use all the grapes possible. Unlike the Californians, they want a quick fermentation. The must is heated, and they add enzymes and tannins to give structure and colour.”

Rediscovering Ancient Traditions: The Art of Aging Wine in Amphorae

But inspiration can also be found where you are. In Portugal, there is a 2000-year-old tradition of ageing wine in amphorae (talhas), which António wanted to try. And with good results. “I first tried it in 2010 with a local coating of beeswax. At first, I thought the wine was simply disgusting. It looked bizarre. Maybe that’s why people stopped using amphora, but I left it for a year, and when I bottled it, it had stabilised. It used to have a waxy feel, but now the fruit was back. It tastes like the region it comes from, with an extra layer.”

Unconquerable energy and passion transfers to the wines

The discussion wanders to Georgia and times gone by, which doesn’t stop our modern clock from ticking away. António has to go to the physiotherapist; an injury from his years as a rugby player is haunting him. How he also managed a sporting career is hardly surprising – António Maçanita is a man with indomitable energy, which he has managed to transfer to his wines.