How Did the Dictatorship of António Salazar Influence Wine Production?
How Did the Dictatorship of Antonio Salazar Influence Wine Production?
When Amalia began her intensive tour of Dao’s producers in the late noughties, the region was still reeling from Antonio Salazar’s regime. Despite stirring protests, the dictator seemed serene in his conviction that he was guiding Portugal’s destiny.
He preached rigor and patience and quoted Machiavelli frequently. He also strove for a solitary life, shunning close relationships and dismissing ministers with the clap of his hands.
Salazar was born in Vimieiro, a village near Santa Comba Dao, in the province of Beira Alta. His family was poor, but he received a good education, studying at the seminary in Viseu and then at the University of Coimbra, where he studied law. In the early stages of the First Republic, he remained deeply religious and was frustrated with the secularism and anti-Catholicism that ran rampant in Portugal.
A few years after the army overthrew parliamentary democracy, he was appointed finance minister and built a civilian authoritarian regime. He modeled his political system on Italian fascism, which he called corporativism, although he did not embrace the ideology of Mussolini. Instead, Salazar drew on the encyclicals of Pius XI and Leo XIII that preached that governments should assume only those responsibilities that neither market nor family could do adequately on their own.
Gallagher: Salazar’s conservative political ideas, combined with his firm grasp of economic matters, kept him in power until his death in 1970. He was a strong defender of Portugal’s grip on its colonial empire, which he referred to as “Lusotropicalism,” and defied African liberation movements and U.S.-led diplomatic pressure to give up its colonies. He was also brusque in dealing with subordinates, once ordering a minister who arrived hatless at a conversation to clamp his own homburg on the man’s head because he looked “better that way.”
His loyalty to Great Britain enabled him to keep the country out of World War II and led it to join NATO in 1949.
Dao’s Vigneron Culture
Salazar drew his inspiration from Catholic corporatism and the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII and Pius IX, preaching that the state should take responsibility for social justice yet follow the principle of subsidiarity, that is, undertaking only what neither the market nor the family could do alone. His philosophy was a form of Catholicism that he termed “Christian socialism,” but it was far from liberalism, as the state made itself responsible for all social welfare programs and forced families to contribute.
The vigneron culture in Dao was built around the idea that the community of winegrowers was an essential element of the national community and, as such, all wines should be made in the village. It is this sense of com munity and the importance of a winegrower’s role in society that is celebrated every year at the Fete dos Vignerons (Winegrowers Festival). The festival has been recognized as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and embodies the ideals of transmission and intergenerational dialogue, and respect for tradition combined with innovation.
While a few producers continue to make traditional white field blends in Dao, most are focusing on red wines. As a result, the region’s classic red blend is now mostly Touriga Nacional based. But, the region’s white grapes are also gaining a reputation as incredibly expressive and versatile—in the hands of the right winemaker, their aromas can reveal the mineral purity of Puligny or Meursault and the density of Chablis.
Salazar’s regime created a system of state-owned cooperatives, called Centros de Agricultcia Rural, to centralize wine production and prevent growers from selling their grapes outside the cooperatives. This essentially put an end to vigneron culture and made it impossible for independent winemakers in the region.
The regime also bolstered an arena of official popular culture, characterized by events and festivals that were culturally inculcated and meant to assert the dictatorship’s monopoly on a supposedly authentic and traditional Portugal. This included a wide variety of parades, folk music performances and ethnographic, historical and/or folkloric displays—including a few major exhibitions that could rival those in the renowned museums of Lisbon.
Over the past 30 years, Dao’s viticultural community has successfully rebuilt a vigneron-based approach to winemaking and established an independent reputation. Wines have become increasingly resonant with their local terroir, thanks to better-quality fruit that has revealed a more distinctive style of Dao wine. This has been supported by a reduction in the amount of French oak used and shorter periods spent in barrels. And an increasing number of producers have revived traditional practices like spontaneous yeast fermentation, foot-treading and aging in lagares. The revival of historic field blends has also been a key feature, with producers such as Casa de Mouraz, Passarella and Joo Tavares replanting old vines to produce the luscious, complex wines that once graced their vineyards.
The region takes its name from the Dao river that runs through it, but it’s the tough, granitic soil that defines the terroir of this northwestern Portuguese wine region. The hottest and driest parts of the Dao, around Viseu, Mangualde and Nelas, favor late-ripening Touriga Nacional and fuller-bodied, bold red styles. Meanwhile, the cooler or more elevated transition corridors along the mountain ridges (Seia to Vila Nova de Tazem, Gouveia to Penalva) tend toward riper Alfrocheiros and Jaen that lend perfumed red fruit and fine texture.
Today, post-deregulation has brought important modern winemaking advances to the region, but the old traditions remain strong. Many Dao producers make deep, intensely tannic red wines that balance big, powerful grapes with elegant structure and balanced acidity. Some make them in the traditional style, aging in large wooden vats or using lengthy maceration to accentuate the tannic nature of the wines. Others utilize small concrete tanks or spontaneous yeast fermentations. And still others have re-introduced the use of ‘largarettas’ – granite walled vessels for treading the grapes that date back to the Middle Ages, though they are no longer used in the massive, factory-sized lagars that pepper older quintas.
Some modern winemakers have also returned to respecting the traditional field blends of the region, making single-variety bottlings of vineyard sites that once made up larger regional assemblages. And, perhaps most importantly, they haven’t given into the New World spoofulation that has drained so much of Spain of its original winemaking heritage.