Trois Vinhos – A Fusion of Heritage and Innovation in Portuguese Winemaking

Wine Producers

Trois Vinhos – A Fusion of Heritage and Innovation in Portuguese Winemaking

Studying abroad made them realise the potential at home. Trois Vinhos opted for Castelão instead of Cabernet – now others are following in the trio’s footsteps.

“In Bordeaux, they have Cabernet Sauvignon, in Burgundy Pinot Noir. In the Península de Setúbal we have Castelão. Why should we make wine from Syrah or Cabernet when the whole world is doing it?” So says Filipe Cardoso, one of the three members of Trois Vinhos, an innovative project that sees the future in the rear-view mirror – that is local grapes.

The Enchanting Península de Setúbal: A Paradise for Castelão, one of Portugal’s Hidden Gems

Located south of Lisbon, the Península de Setúbal benefits from the spreading freshness of the Atlantic Ocean, with inland mountains providing structure. It’s a paradise for Castelão, one of Portugal’s great black grapes. In the warm sandy soil, it ripens into raspberry-like fruit with fine tannins that, over time, develop into a complex cigar box not unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, if you have to compare.

Reviving Tradition: Trois Vinhos Inspires Local Wine Producers to Embrace Native Grape Varieties

It was precisely the love of Castelão that led Filipe Cardoso, Luís Simões and José Nuno Caninhas to start Trois Vinhos during that dinner in 2015.

“We sat and talked and thought it was a shame that people were planting international grape varieties when we have our own varieties that give identity to the region. Castelão has been here for centuries, and Fernão Pires makes good wines if you vinify it the old way, with a little skin contact. Today, most people mix these grapes in their entry-level wines”, says Filipe Cardoso, explaining that his years abroad have strengthened his ties to the region and its traditions. Coloured by his experiences, he wants to pass on his insights to local wine producers – in short, to encourage them to dig where they stand.

The success of the Trois Vinhos varietal wines has had the desired effect: “People see what we do and start to change their mindset. They see that our native grape varieties are selling.”

A vineyard with sandy soils at Quinta do Piloto.
A vineyard with sandy soils at Quinta do Piloto. (Photo: Trois Vinhos)

Unconventional Winemaking: Redefines Possibilities and Pursues Freedom

Trois Vinhos is a side project against the grain, where nothing is impossible. They work at other wineries: Filipe Cardoso at the family firm Quinta do Piloto, where José Nuno Caninhas is the oenologist. Luís Simões makes wine at the family’s Casa Horácio Simões. The grapes for Trois Vinhos come partly from the mountains at Luís’ estate and partly from the sandy soils at Filipe’s estate. The must is fermented and aged in different barrels at each estate before being blended and bottled at Quinta do Piloto.

“Now we make around 20,000 bottles per year. We don’t want to grow; we want to make wine in small volumes – only then can you be free”, says Filipe, excitedly describing his latest innovation, a Beaujolais Nouveau-style “en primeur”.

The winery at Quinta do Piloto.
The winery at Quinta do Piloto. (Photo: Trois Vinhos)

Unveiling Primeur de Trois: A Colourful Portuguese Twist on Beaujolais Nouveau

According to local tradition, winemakers open their cellars on St Martin’s Day (São Martinho), 11 November, to taste the new wines.” The atmosphere is more important than quality”, says Filipe.

Inspired by the French phenomenon of “Bojo”, the trio decided to do something similar. The result was Primeur de Trois, a blend of the three grapes Cãstelao, Moscatel Galego Roxo and Fernão Pires – one black grape, one pink and one white.

“It’s like a rainbow”, says Filipe enthusiastically. “We wanted to make a more serious wine than what they serve there, but still spiritual. As in Beaujolais, we make ours by carbonic maceration, and I think we are the first in Portugal to do this.”

Embracing French Influence: A Journey of Wine, Tradition, and Innovation

French influences are ever present – not least in the name Trois, French for three. Like his colleagues, Filipe has travelled to many countries and studied in Montpellier for three years.

“I have always liked France and its wines,” he says, explaining his choice of study centre.” France has broadened my awareness of how to make wine. Here in Setúbal, we have always made wine in the same way. We want to show other possibilities that there are different ways – without losing the tradition.”

The trio’s decision to name their project in French was very deliberate: “Trois is internationally marketable, and France is a country with a consolidated wine business.”

A bottle of Trois Castelão.
A bottle of Trois Castelão. (Photo: Trois Vinhos)

Discover Portugal’s Indigenous Grapes: Unique Flavours in Endless Expressions

The similarities stop there. As mentioned, Trois Vinhos wants to emphasise indigenous grapes, the trump card that has become Portugal’s strength internationally. Today’s wine consumers are initiated and curious and want to taste genuine wines. Not only does Portugal provide a diversity of grapes and locations, but many of the grapes can also be drawn out into many different expressions.

Filipe returns to Castelão: “It can be very elegant and without much colour, but at the same time, it has character with acidity and tannins and can develop well. It is very gastronomic. If you have short maceration, it will be a lighter wine you can sell quickly; with long maceration, you can store it for a long time.”

Revitalising Fernão Pires: A fusion of tradition and innovation

The trio also wants to shed new light on Fernão Pires, the white grape that quickly loses acidity and oxidises. Today, it is mainly used in base wines. “I remember how our grandparents vinified it. They left it on the skins to get more structure, and the oxidisation made the wine last longer over time.”

The Trois version with 100 per cent Fernão Pires is a successful combination of past and present. The must ferments under temperature control on the skins for about a week, and we then place it in oak barrels from the Vosges in France.

A bottle of Trois Fernão Pires.
A bottle of Trois Fernão Pires. (Photo: Trois Vinhos)

Savour the Taste of Atlântico: A Harmonious Blend of Portuguese Grapes Influenced by the Sea

The tradition in Portugal is to blend grapes. Trois Vinhos has done this in Atlântico, a white wine from a vineyard 300 metres from the sea. Filipe talks passionately about it, about the fresh acidity and the delicate fruit. The harmony and balance, the vibrant energy. The wine is a blend of what grows on the spot – Alvarinho, Fernão Pires, Encruzado and grapes they don’t know the name of.

“It is a charming wine that the sea has influenced. It has been kept in steel tanks and large barrels, 600 litres, to preserve its character.”

Our Future: Revealing Our Plans Only When the Harvest is Seen

When I ask what they plan next, he is silent momentarily and then says the obvious: “We don’t have many plans for the future. We’ll only reveal them when we see the harvest.”