The First Brand of Alvarinho
As far as our memory goes, Alvarinho was always present in our Territory. In our region, grapevines were traditionally planted around the outskirts of a parcel, with grains cultivated in the centre. In 1974, João António Cerdeira and his parents, António Esteves Ferreira and Maria Cerdeira, decided to break from tradition and plant a full parcel as a continuous vineyard of Alvarinho. Since this first innovation of João António, our family has been linked to the development of Alvarinho cultivation in Melgaço.
Today, third-generation family members, siblings Maria João and António Luís, along with their mother Maria Palmira Cerdeira, have embraced this spirit of innovation. António Luís, with a graduate degree in oenology, has built a profound knowledge of the Alvarinho grape variety throughout his life. Maria João, a veterinarian by profession, assumed the responsibility for viticulture and successfully introduced organic farming into our vineyards.
Our innovative vision extends to the Territory and includes the sustainable revitalisation of the surrounding rural area. This has led us to invest in wine tourism and, most recently, in herbal tea production.
1974 - Origins
It all started in 1974, when João António Cerdeira planted a small parcel of Alvarinho grapes. This parcel was called ’Soalheiro’, meaning ‘sunny’, referring to its location, exposed to sun all day long. Soon after, in 1982, João António turned his passion into a small independent family production. He took the red Ford Escort out of his garage, replacing it with the tools he needed to turn grape must into wine. With this, he officially started the operation that would become the Soalheiro we know today: the first brand of Alvarinho in Melgaço. Today, this first parcel of Alvarinho is used to produce Primeiras Vinhas, meaning ’the first vineyard’.
1994 - A Tradition of Innovation
António Luís recalls his first vintage as oenologist at Soalheiro, in 1994, was not easy. “The objectives of the winery were very high and the wines had to be perfect”, he remembers. Nevertheless, his next vintage was marked by the release of the first-ever sparkling wine made with Alvarinho. In its time this release was a novelty, but nowadays such production styles have spread to Vinho Verde and Rias Baixas. Innovation that turns into tradition is, without a doubt, one of our most important values.
2005 - A New Look
One of the turning points in our history came in 2005 when we completely changed the look of our wines. It was not an easy task, but our packaging needed to be updated to match our spirit of innovation. The old green bottle was replaced with a dark brown one to protect the wine from light, and our label was replaced with a more straightforward one. In respect for tradition, our lettering stayed the same and remains one of the defining parts of our image.
2006 – Organic Farming
Her love of nature and animals led Maria João to embrace the management of the viticulture of our vineyards, while also dedicating herself to veterinary work. In 2006 she had all our vines certified as organic/biological agriculture, a pioneering initiative in the region. To this day, our winegrowing practices promote environmental sustainability and support biodiversity in our viticultural ecosystems. This is not limited to only our own vineyards, as we also work to spread the same spirit to our producers’ club. A part of our own organic vines is the source of grapes for our natural wines, Terramatter and Nature.
2007 – Dimensions of Alvarinho
Alvarinho, and its many dimensions, will always be our main focus. In 2006, we released Primeiras Vinhas (sourced from our first vines) and Reserva (a barrel fermented Alvarinho), highlighting the diversity of expressions possible with this varietal. In 2007, we began blending Alvarinho with different grape varieties. ALLO was the first of these blends. The name may sound like a greeting, but it is actually a merge of the initials of Alvarinho and Loureiro, the two noble grape varieties of Minho region that make up this wine. Oppaco is another wine with a very special place in our hearts. It is our one and only red wine, a blend of Alvarinho, Vinhão, and Pinot Noir that brings a new dimension to the red wines in our region.
2015 – Alvarinho with Altitude
The elasticity of Alvarinho and the diversity of our Territory inspired us to start exploring high altitude vineyards. Located at heights above 400 meters, these vines produce wines with much more mineral qualities than our ‘classic’ wines from the valley. In 2015 we released Granit, a mineral expression of Alvarinho sourced from high altitude vineyards. The wine’s success encouraged us to continue experimenting with high altitude Alvarinho, leading us to plant the highest altitude Alvarinho vineyards in Portugal. With the ever-present threat of climate change, it is important to study extreme situations in order to build knowledge and develop solutions. These experiments prepare us for the future and ensure that the tradition of winemaking in our Territory will continue.
2018 – Sustainability in All Its Forms
Our mindset of bringing prosperity to the region’s agriculture and economy turned Soalheiro into a family of families. Today we are a team of more than 30 people, and we created a club with more than 150 families of grape growers. Most of the members of our Club of Producers have another professional occupation and work their small parcels at the end of the day and on weekends. They treat the vineyards as their personal gardens and provide us with top-quality grapes. This ensures that they maintain a strong connection with their own lands. They all work their own vines, with our guidance, practising the sustainable viticulture necessary to meet our quality requirements. In addition to the Club of Producers, our project of Infusions contributes to the local socio-economic, environmental, and cultural sustainability by bringing new opportunities to the region and revitalising the local herbal tea culture. Finally, Project Germinar embraces the importance of social projects. From the work in the vineyard to the design of the label, it reflects a global social integration project for young people and adults with intellectual and developmental difficulties. For us, it is more than a wine- it is an awakening of awareness of equal opportunities.
2019 – The Launch of the Soalheiro Innovation Centre
2019 marked the launch of the Soalheiro Innovation Centre. In this year, we became the first winery in Portugal to achieve the Investigation, Development, and Innovation certification (IDI) (NP 4457, based on Oslo Manual of OECD). This certification helps us to effectively manage our ideas and projects, strengthening our ability to bring success to Vinho Verde and advance the quality of Alvarinho in Monção and Melgaço. The pioneering nature of our winery’s work has paved the way for a number of Innovative projects. These initiatives touch on various areas such as traceability, process enhancement, IT and communications, wine improvement, viticulture, tourism, and more. Planting of the highest altitude Alvarinho vineyards in Portugal, the green roof of a new winery, our customised bottle with an eco-efficient design, and digital wine tourism experiences are among our most recent ventures.
2020 – Paving our way towards sustainability
Thinking about environmental efficiency has caused us to rethink many of our operations, focusing on ways we can be more sustainable from day to day. In 2020 we created an eco-efficient bottle that enabled a 19% reduction in CO₂ emissions in its manufacturing. By producing the bottle locally in Portugal it resulted in 8.5 times less CO₂ emissions in its transportation. In addition to this, our new boxes consume 39% less cardboard, sourced from Sustainable Forests (FSC certified). In April 2020, following our partnership with Porto Protocol, we built a green roof for our modernised winery. In addition to integrating the winery into the surrounding landscape, this will also bring an estimated energy saving of 26% per year.
Since the beginning, forever: Territory
Since the beginning, our work has been inspired by the Territory that surrounds us. When we speak about our Territory, emphasised with a capital ‘T’, we speak about more than just the land where we are located. Our Territory embodies the natural conditions of our landscape, the people working on it, and all the biodiversity that inhabits it. Our commitment to sustainability is about more than an answer to the climate emergency – it is about protecting our land, its people, their culture, as well as our planet. With the desire and hard work of our team, a commitment to quality, a bit of creativity, and a respect for everything that surrounds us, we got where we are today, and we will continue moving forward.
Immerse Yourself in Soalheiro’s Story
Our wine tourism experiences offer a wide range of possibilities for becoming a part of our daily life at Soalheiro and getting to know our Territory. Come and enjoy our unique landscape, taste some of our favourite wines, and get to know the local gastronomy.