Cortes de Cima – Pioneering Portugal: Revolution in Winemaking, Balancing Tradition and Innovation

Wine Producers

Cortes de Cima – Pioneering Portugal: Revolution in Winemaking, Balancing Tradition and Innovation


They came by boat from abroad and planted a forbidden grape variety. Now Syrah is accepted, and Cortes de Cima in Alentejo is a pioneer in sustainable winemaking.

From Sailing to Portugal in 1988 to a 140-hectare Winemaking Legacy

It’s the last week of July, and Anna Jorgensen is preparing for the harvest to begin the following day. This is one week earlier than last year. On the other hand, they are working for two months.

“We have vineyards in two different places and a lot of different grapes, so it takes a long time”, says Anna, daughter of the Danish-American couple Carrie and Hans Jorgensen, who came sailing to Portugal in 1988.

Anna has taken over responsibility for the 140-hectare (346 acres) domain, with the headquarters and 100 hectares (247 acres) at Vidiguera inland and the remaining 40 hectares (99 acres) three kilometres (2 miles) from the Atlantic coast.

The Cortes de Cima Estate, right at the entrance from the main road.
The Cortes de Cima Estate, right at the entrance from the main road. (Photo: Fredrik Åkerman)

The Adventurous Journey of Cortes de Cima: From Illicit Success to Alentejo’s Wine Revolution

The story of Cortes de Cima is like a tale of two adventurers. Carrie and Hans planted the first vines in 1991. Five years later, the first grapes were harvested. The “illegal” Syrah wine was released in 1998 and became an instant success.

“Incognito was well received, both at home and perhaps even more so abroad. It was revolutionary, and this period was significant for Alentejo as a wine region. Many new techniques were introduced, such as harvesting later for higher alcohol and using French oak”, says Anna.

From Stormy Seas to Vineyard Dreams: The Unexpected Journey of the Jorgensens in Portugal

So, it all started when her parents were on a long-distance sailing. They docked in Portugal and stayed longer than planned because of a storm. Portugal had just joined the European Union, and many investors were visiting the country, including Danes. So it went as it might. The Jorgensens took a liking to the Cortes de Cima farm in Vidiguera and made their move.

“Initially, the intention was not to make wine. There had been plantings here before, but the vines were uprooted. Instead, Mum and Dad started with olives, cereals and melons. They continued cultivating that even after planting the vines, as it takes a few years before you can start harvesting.”

Hans Christian Jorgensen, Anna's father, one of the founders of today's Cortes de Cima and one of the pioneers of the Alentejo wine region.
Hans Christian Jorgensen, Anna’s father, one of the founders of today’s Cortes de Cima and one of the pioneers of the Alentejo wine region. (Photo: Fredrik Åkerman)

From Forbidden Fruit to Alentejo’s Finest: The Rise of Syrah and the Changing Landscape of Grape Varieties

The area had primarily white grapes, but Jorgensen’s soil analyses showed that the area was just as suitable for black varieties. They planted local varieties such as Aragonez and Trincadeira, but also Syrah, at that time forbidden in the appellation.

“The climate was suitable for Syrah, and my parents were inspired by how well the grape performs in California and Australia with similar terroir. The fact that the wine could not be classified in the appellation system did not bother them. It sold anyway, on its own merits.”

“Just a year after they launched Inkognito, Syrah was approved in the appellation. Now it’s the fifth most planted grape in the Alentejo”, says Anna, who is also pretty sure that the ratio of black to white grapes now is 50-50. “Red wine is more interesting commercially, plus the climate here is good for black grapes.”

Anna Jorgensen working in the winery, tasting wine from barrels.
Anna Jorgensen working in the winery, tasting wine from barrels. (Photo: Cortes de Cima)

Embracing Appellation System: Showcasing Our Origin and Unlocking Global Markets

About the appellation system, however, she says: “We try to get our wines classified in the DOC because we want to represent the place where we come from. We can’t put Alentejo on the label if we’re not in the DOC. My parents used to sell the majority domestically, but if we want to export more, having an origin is vital.”

Coastal Farming and Winemaking: Exploring the Potential of Pinot Noir

At the farm on the coast, Zambujeira Velha, the Jorgensens are also experimenting. They planted native Alvarinho and Loureiro, but also the international grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

“Pinot noir is a curiosity”, Anna admits, reminding us that many winemakers nurture a dream to grow the finicky but delicate variety from Burgundy. “We wanted to try it, and if it’s going to work anywhere, it’s on the coast. Here, the climate is reminiscent of the Sonoma Coast, and we have sandstone just like in the Russian River Valley, where Pinot thrives. But it’s a mild climate with a lot of fog, so the disease pressure is much higher here than inland.”

Two amphorae guard the entrance to Cortes de Cima.
Two amphorae guard the entrance to Cortes de Cima. (Photo: Fredrik Åkerman)

Commitment to Sustainability: Cortes de Cima Leads the Way in Organic Farming and Eco-Certification

The environment has always been important to Cortes de Cima. They have solar panels and recycle water. They started converting to organic farming in 2019, and from the 2022 harvest, they are certified. “We try to bring energy back to the earth naturally. We let the weeds grow or sow different crops between the rows. We also have our own compost.”

The eco-certification is essential, especially for the export market. “The average Portuguese doesn’t care much, but we hope for a change. Many people say they grow organically – we want to show that we really do, that it’s not just talk.”

They also want to act as role models. “Sustainability is still a niche; Portugal is not the most progressive country in this respect.”

The wines name is Daqui, which means "From here". The wine is made from Touriga Franca, a grape variety grown almost exclusively in the Douro region, not in Alentejo. Moreover, it is made in amphora in the old traditional way and bottled in a one-litre bottle with a cap.
The wines name is Daqui, which means “From here”. The wine is made from Touriga Franca, a grape variety grown almost exclusively in the Douro region, not in Alentejo. Moreover, it is made in amphora in the old traditional way and bottled in a one-litre bottle with a cap. (Photo: Cortes de Cima)

Reviving Ancient Tradition: Cortes de Cima’s Amphora Wines – A Fusion of History and Innovation

Although Cortes de Cima likes to try new things, they cherish tradition. They started small with amphorae, a tradition here since Roman times. There’s even an appellation where you must put your wine in amphora (in Portugal called Talha), DOC Alentejo Vinho de Talha.” In the past, Talha was primarily used for home consumption, but now it’s fashionable and commercially interesting”, explains Anna.

Cortes de Cima put its first wine in Talha 2019 from Aragonez and Trincadeira. Last year, they did as tradition dictates, leaving the skins and all until 11 November, St Martin’s Day, when, according to DOC rules, must and skins have to be separated.

Anna Jorgensen overlooking the Alentejo plain at Cortes de Cima.
Anna Jorgensen overlooking the Alentejo plain at Cortes de Cima. (Photo: Cortes de Cima)

Exploring New Horizons: Exploring Skin-Macerated Wines and Embracing Indigenous Grapes for a Distinctive Taste of Place

“This year, we’ll try a skin-macerated white wine from the coast, probably Alvarinho or Sauvignon Blanc.”

Plans also include planting new vineyards to complement the range of grapes with more local varieties, which is a conscious choice. “The old varieties have adapted to the climate and are better able to cope with future challenges. We also want to make wines that say something about the place, and what better than indigenous grapes grown as bush vines?”