By Rose Murray Brown MW      Published in The Scotsman 12 June 2021


I talk to four women in four different European countries, who all own their own wineries and make their own wine – and all pioneers in their fields.


One of the most inspirational Tuscan winemakers, Horton is focusing on what she calls ‘real wine’ – made naturally as possible from unusual grape varieties for her region with a nod to Etruscan winemaking.  With her mother and brother, Horton bought a crumbling castle and tiny four hectare vineyard in 2000, painstakingly restoring it to its former glory nestled below Tuscany’s highest peak, Mount Amiata.  The Greens are seasoned restorers, this was their third Tuscan renovation project, but by far the most ambitious. 

When I visited Potentino nine years ago, they were mid-project.  Horton had unearthed several Etruscan winemaking artefacts in the vineyards, volcanic stone vats which she uses for winemaking (Charlotte is pictured above lying in one of the old wine troughs).  “Etruscans planted vines and olive trees here 1,500 years ago; I am only a continuum here, doing it in a modern way”, says Horton.

Potentino castle Tuscany

Inspired by Conca d’Oro’s unusually cool microclimate and mixed volcanic schist, calcite limestone and metamorphic marine clay soil, Horton planted site-sensitive grapes all in one vineyard which other Tuscans would struggle to grow.  “It was a calculated risk planting Pinot Nero, but exhilarating and stimulating”, she says.  To date Potentino’s best wine is 100% Pinot Noir PIROPO 2015 matured in 1700 litre French Alliers oak: bright vivid Pinot with enchanting lingonberry-scents, soft sensuous texture, smoky undertones, elegant (£26

Lidewij van Wilgen Terre des Dames Languedoc France LIDEWIJ VAN WILGEN, TERRE DES DAMES

One of the leading ladies of the Languedoc, van Wilgen is unusual in that she did not come from a winemaking background.  Brought up in the Netherlands, she switched careers from marketing in 2002 – training to become a winemaker in southern France and buying a C18 cellar and vineyard in Murveil-les-Beziers near St Chinian. She has restored her 14 hectare vineyard’s old vines, renovated the cellar and rebuilt the house – whilst raising her three daughters who now work with her. 

Van Wilgen focuses on organic viticulture.  “It was so easy to convert, but only 8% of winegrowers in this region are organic”, she says.  She is also moving to biodynamic method, initially using the calendar for pruning, picking and bottling.

Her most approachable red is Grenache/Syrah blend, LA DAME (£14, but her best wines are whites from Grenache Blanc.  Typical of her independent spirit, she planted Grenache Blanc vines herself, whilst neighbours prefer Viognier. She believes Grenache Blanc is under-rated and the most adapted white grape in Languedoc’s warm climate.   She admits it has taken her several years to fine-tune winemaking techniques, now settling for 50% in amphora: LE BLANC 2019 (£17 is fresh concentrated fruit, dense long finish with superb texture.

Sandra Tavares da Silva Wine & Soul DouroSANDRA TAVARES DA SILVA, WINE & SOUL

Tavares divides her time between her Douro project Wine & Soul which she set up with husband Jorge Serodio Borges in 2001 – and her parents’ estate Quinta de Chocapalha near Lisbon.  It is a mere four hour drive between her two winemaking projects, but she takes it in her stride along with coping with three teenage children.

Having trained in winemaking in Italy, Tavares gained valuable hands-on experience at Quinta Vale Dona Maria under Cristiano van Zeller in Douro’s Rio Torto.  When she set up Wine & Soul, the goal was to invest and protect very old vineyards (50-125 yr old) which were being torn out in late 1990s and make wines which reflect the Douro’s old vines.  Based near the iconic Mendiz village in Cima Corgo, 70% of her wines are table wines from higher altitude slopes and the lower warmer slopes are kept for port grapes.  She focuses on retaining Douro’s traditions of 30-grape field blends and using foot-treading in lagares.

At Quinta de Chocapalha, an hour north of Lisbon, Tavares is helping revitalise Lisboa region’s reputation with one of the leading small estates.  With its foggy microclimate, diurnal temperatures and sheltered position beneath Serra Montejuno, Chocapalha produces fresh vibrant ageable whites and reds – again using traditional methods from similar grapes found in the Douro.  QUINTA DE CHOCAPALHA TINTO 2016 (£14.25 is great reflection of this microclimate with floral violet bouquet, spicy undertones with freshness and good acidity.

Judith Beck Weingut Judith Beck Neusiedlersee AustriaJUDITH BECK, WEINGUT JUDITH BECK

Judith Beck is one of the pioneers of the biodynamic movement in Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, Austria’s new red wine powerhouse.  She began conversion to biodynamic in 2005 and was one of the initial members of the Respekt-BIODYN biodynamic growers association. 

Whilst her grandparents had a mixed farm, it was her parents who focused more on vine growing at a time when chemicals were widely used.  “We nearly lost everything in just one generation; but we could see that something had to be done to revitalise soils and bring life back to the vineyard”, says Beck.  “We had been told that cover crops would not work in our area, but now they are flourishing”.

Beck’s introductory red, INK 2019 (£15.70 is made from Austria’s popular Zweigelt grape with a little St Laurent.  Zweigelt is grown on lower loamy soils giving cherry fruit and soft tannins matured in small old barriques, whereas St Laurent is planted on red gravel over loam at top of Gols hill and matured in larger oak casks.  This lively vibrant biodynamic wine with its pure fruit, silky smooth texture, moderate 12% alcohol and gentle spice demonstrates Beck’s lightness of touch and her focus on fresh lower alcohol natural wines.

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