Casal Figueira and Marta Soares – Cultivating Culture: A Vintner’s Journey Across the Canvas of Wine and Art

Wine Producers

Casal Figueira and Marta Soares – Cultivating Culture: A Vintner’s Journey Across the Canvas of Wine and Art


“My wines should be like a painting of the landscape. It’s about culture, not business.” So says Marta Soares, a winemaker and artist north of Lisbon who cherishes local grape varieties and prioritises the soul of the place.

Redefining Winemaking as an Expression of Life and Resilience

It starts with a conversation about wine but leads to reflections on life itself. For Marta Soares, winemaking is part of something bigger, a way of expressing oneself and conveying the feeling of a place there and then. That’s why there was no wine last year.

“2021 was not a good year. It was tough for everyone, even for us who worked there. So, we decided to sell the grapes to the cooperative. We don’t regret it – sometimes you must make such a decision.”

One of the old and high altitude vineyards from which Casal Figueira sources grapes for its wines.
One of the old and high altitude vineyards from which Casal Figueira sources grapes for its wines. (Photo: Marta Soares)

Passionate Pursuit: A Dream to Save Old Vines and Create Sustainable Wine

We speak when there are only days left in 2021. It has been twelve years since Marta Soares lost her husband, António Carvalho, and was left alone with two young children and a passionate project to save old vines.

António provided the knowledge, but Marta had gradually learned and was determined to pursue their dream. The idea was to find partially abandoned vineyards on the Serra de Monejunto’s slopes and make wine with minimal impact.

“Previously, we had a fairly large farm, Casal Figueira, where António had planted vines and fruit trees for a good balance. We did not want to exploit the land; we wanted happy and healthy vines. That’s how we came in contact with biodynamic cultivation.”

Casal Figueira’s Biodynamic Journey and the Art of Cultivating Respectfully

Casal Figueira, north of Lisbon, was one of the pioneers in Portugal when they started using biodynamic methods in the early 2000s.

“I knew Steiner (Rudolf Steiner, the author of anthroposophy, red. note) through my art studies, and António had, among other things, visited Nicolas Joly in the Loire, the leading figure in terms of biodynamic wine. For us, it was not about jumping on any trend; we were looking for a respectful way to cultivate. The goal is to always get the best grapes and adapt to the material we have”, says Marta Soares, who today makes wine from three hectares with 70 to 100-year-old vines.”

She does not own the land but has a deal with the owners. As she says: “I need them, they need me.”

Old grape varieties yield few grapes, so it is easy to understand why vineyards are abandoned here. The three hectares that Marta manages produce between 5,000 and 10,000 bottles a year. Or, like last year, none at all.

One of the old and high altitude vineyards from which Casal Figueira sources grapes for its wines.
One of the old and high altitude vineyards from which Casal Figueira sources grapes for its wines. (Photo: Marta Soares)

Defying Wine Conventions: Discover the Coastal Elegance of Vital

Marta works with three grape varieties, but the majority is Vital, a white grape that sometimes goes by the name Malvasia Corado or Malvasia Fina. It has a relatively neutral flavour and bland acidity unless you grow at a higher altitude and keep the harvest down. In the past, most went into spirits or simpler blended wines. António and Marta wanted to refute the classic notion that a good wine must be based on body, alcohol and depth of flavour, so they made a varietal wine from the workhorse Vital.

“We first tried it in 2008. It became a mineral wine with lower alcohol at a time when everyone wanted oak and a big body. We wanted to show that it is possible to do it differently.”

Asked to describe her Vital wine, she mentions words like lemon, local fruits and singing acidity. “It tastes like the sea. It is fresh. The wine can cut like a knife – it’s straight, not round, just like the place. The sea is only 15 kilometres away, so the Atlantic influences are obvious.”

The Art of Winemaking: Discover Marta Soares’ White Wine Passion and Red Wine Relaxation

White wine is closest to Marta’s heart. It’s like a mirror of herself. “My face”, as she says. “I’m a maker of white wine. I like to work fast and scrupulous, carefully. With red wine, you need to be more relaxed; it requires an entirely different mentality.”

The order of nature has helped her find a way of working that works. White grapes are harvested and vinified before the black ones. “First, I make the white wine, then I can relax with the red”, she says with a laugh.

Marta Soares in the winery at Casal Figueira, with a bottle in her hands.
Marta Soares in the winery at Casal Figueira, with a bottle in her hands. (Photo: Marta Soares)

The Dynamic Duo: Castelão and Tinta Miúda – A Perfect Blend for Exquisite Red Wine

The black grapes account for a third of the production. The grapes are Castelão and Tinta Miúda. The latter is identical to Graciano and was used historically, as well as Vital, mostly in bulk and table wines. Marta describes it as challenging to work with, with low alcohol and late maturity, but it is interesting if you take care of it.

“2020 was the first time we blended Castelão and Tinta Miúda. Castelão provides the aroma, and Tint Miúda the body and colour. But it has taken me years to learn how to make red wine.”

Preserving the Essence: The Art of Winemaking and the Power of Place

For Marta, winemaking is a form of culture and recalls the English word agriculture.” Art and agriculture are connected; it’s about expression. The wine is an identity for the locals, a photo of the region. My job is to try to preserve as much as possible of the character of the place, but it requires that I work hard and with respect.”

Casal Figueira has a place on the shelf for natural wines, but Marta doesn’t talk about that. Instead, she talks about respect for everyone involved – the place and the grapes, as well as the people and the way of working.

“One example: to preserve the flavour of the place, I use the natural yeast found on the grapes, even though it can be risky. I have to be sure it will be good. There is a link between the size of the vineyard and the quality. You can’t do this on a large scale.”

Marta Soares in one of the old vineyards from which Casal Figueira sources grapes for its wines.
Marta Soares in one of the old vineyards from which Casal Figueira sources grapes for its wines. (Photo: Marta Soares)

Finding Balance: Marta’s Journey of Wine, Art, and Motherhood

Marta divides her time between the wine estate, teaching art at the university, her own creative work and being a mum to her children, ages 13 and 16. She recognises that combining can be difficult when the passion is equally strong on all levels, but the different elements enrich each other.

“It’s a balancing act to do everything, but as far as wine and art are concerned, they cross-fertilise each other; they are connected. I don’t make wine to make money; it’s my painting of the landscape.”