Soalheiro – A Pioneering Force in the Alvarinho Landscape Balancing Tradition, Innovation, Sustainability, and Local Empowerment

Wine Producers

Soalheiro – A Pioneering Force in the Alvarinho Landscape Balancing Tradition, Innovation, Sustainability, and Local Empowerment


Vinho Verde is known for light, slightly sparkling wines. The “Soalheiro family” firm in the Monção e Melgaço sub-region shows another side with complex varietal Alvarinho wines.

Alvarinho has many faces, and you can also make ageable wines. The grape is similar to Chenin Blanc’s versatility – it can withstand oak barrels and is good as a sparkling wine. As it matures, it takes on the characteristics of Riesling, but with a little less petroleum character.” So says Luis Cerdeira, winemaker at Soalheiro, a pioneer in the Alvarinho area. 

Unveiling Vinho Verde: Exploring the Complexities of Portugal’s Green Corner

Portugal’s green corner in the northwest is synonymous with aromatic, crisp wines best enjoyed the year after harvest. But the region is more complex than that. Sure, the Atlantic Ocean influences much of it, but with mountains to protect and delineate, it’s also possible to make wines with more substance.

Vinho Verde is divided into nine sub-regions, with Monção and Melgaço in the north being the most characteristic. Here, the climate is more continental, with less rain and warmer summers. This is reflected in wines with slightly higher alcohol and generally more pressure. “Soalheiro just means ‘sunny place’,” explains Luis Cerdeira.

The winery at Quinta de Soalheiro from above, with surrounding vineyards.
The winery at Quinta de Soalheiro from above, with surrounding vineyards. (Photo: Soalheiro)

Soalheiro’s Journey of Alvarinho Excellence: From a small field to 92 Hectares, Collaboration is Key

The history of Soalheiro begins in 1974 when João António Cerdeira planted the first fields of Alvarinho. Previously, the tradition was to plant vines around fields of other crops; here, a patch was planted with only grapes. However, it was not until 1982 that the family began marketing their wines under the Soalheiro name.

Today, the farm is run by the third generation. They have 12 hectares (30 acres) of their own but harvest grapes from 92 hectares (227 acres). “We collaborate with a group of winemakers and provide them with technical support”, explains Luis Cerdeira.

The winery at Quinta de Soalheiro in the mountainous landscape, where vineyards and forest intermingle.
The winery at Quinta de Soalheiro in the mountainous landscape, where vineyards and forest intermingle. (Photo: Soalheiro)

Exploring the Enchanting Alvarinho Wines of Monção e Melgaço: A Geographical Patchwork for Complex Flavours and Age-Worthy Delights

He describes the sub-region as a geographical patchwork, drawing parallels with Burgundy. The soils change rapidly in character, although granite predominates. “In some cuvées, we mix different sites to give more balance to the wines; some sites are perfectly ripe, others are warmer and more mature, while the higher sites add freshness.”

The rules for DOC Monção e Melgaço are even stricter than for the general DOC Vinho Verde, requiring at least 11.5% alcohol, 100% Alvarinho and limited yields. “The sub-region probably accounts for 75 per cent of all Alvarinho in the whole of Portugal. Our region is special; the terroir gives complex flavours, and the wines develop well in the bottle. It’s no problem to keep them for ten years.”

Wine bottles of the classic Soalheiro Alvarinho.
Wine bottles of the classic Soalheiro Alvarinho. (Photo: Soalheiro)

Delicate Acidity of Alvarinho: Crafting Portugal’s Finest Sparkling Wines

Thanks to the delicate acidity of Alvarinho, it also makes excellent sparkling wines. Soalheiros Espumante Bruto is the first 100% Alvarinho sparkling wine made using the traditional method. The first vintage was in 1995. “Now we are the biggest in Portugal in sparkling Alvarinho. We experiment a lot, although we always want to keep a simple profile that people understand. For example, we have a bubble that has spent 12 months in oak barrels before the second fermentation. We also have a Methode Ancestrale with no added sulphur.”

Crafting Unfiltered Natural Wines with a Pleasant and Fruity Twist

Speaking of sulphur, Soalheiro also makes so-called natural wines, a concept that has no official classification but is based on minimal intervention. Natural wines are often made without added sulphur. “Yes, it is a bit trendy to make such wines”, admits Luis Cerdeira. “But our goal here is also to make a pleasant and fruity wine. We don’t filter this wine, so the mouthfeel is more round, and maybe the flavour is a bit more bitter.”

Exploring the World of Qvevri: Soalheiro’s Unconventional Journey in Winemaking

Experimenting and exploring is part of Soalheiro’s identity, so unsurprisingly, the repertoire also includes wines raised in Qvevri. Qvevri are large buried clay vessels originally used in Georgia and are now enjoying a renaissance worldwide. “We have both Qvevri and Amphora (above-ground clay pots) and are testing with different clays to get different textures. The clay helps with micro-oxidation, which rounds off and oxygenates the wines. But we don’t make orange wines in clay vats – we want to keep the fruit character; we love the elegant profile of Alvarinho.”

Commitment to Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Local Empowerment: Soalheiro’s Holistic Approach

Soalheiro is also committed to social responsibility and sustainability. For them, the concept extends beyond the vineyard and cellar – they include the people and the typicity of the place. “For us, sustainability is also about people. 90 per cent of the people who work with us come from the area. It’s important to have a relationship with the place, and the local people have that.”

Vineyards at Quinta de Soalheiro with the surrounding mountainous landscape.
Vineyards at Quinta de Soalheiro with the surrounding mountainous landscape. (Photo: Soalheiro)

Soalheiro’s Rosé Showcasing the Harmonious Marriage of Alvarinho and Pinot Noir

In addition to Alvarinho, a few other varieties are grown, including international favourites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. “They thrive here, and Pinot Noir works well with Alvarinho.”

This combination can be found in Soalheiro’s rosé, which was born out of a desire to make a light, dry rosé in the style of southern France – something rare in Portugal. “With this wine, we want to show the diversity and possibilities of our terroir. The wine gets its character from Pinot Noir and lightness from Alvarinho.”

Luís Cerdeira, winemaker and manager of Soalheiro, in the winery with two egg-shaped steel tanks and a basket press.
Luís Cerdeira, winemaker and manager of Soalheiro, in the winery with two egg-shaped steel tanks and a basket press. (Photo: Soalheiro)

Soalheiro: A harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, showcasing the richness and diversity of Portuguese terroir

Soalheiro is a winery that seamlessly combines tradition with innovation, nurturing the distinct profiles of Alvarinho and other varietals in its diverse wine portfolio. Their holistic approach to sustainability, which not only preserves the environment but also uplifts the local community, sets a commendable example for others in the industry. Whether it’s their commitment to the unique winemaking technique with Qvevri and Amphora or the intriguing marriage of Alvarinho and Pinot Noir in their rosé, Soalheiro’s wines unmistakably express the richness and diversity of their Portuguese terroir.