PORTUGAL: Cartuxa seven steps to heaven
Anna van Densky from CARTUXA For a traveller who wishes to come in touch with the stardom of the universe of Portuguese wines, Cartuxa is a must – a well-established name in Europe and abroad, it produces the most exquisite brands in white and red, however it is the red of Cartuxa, which is listed globally among the best 50 wines, and among most expensive in Portugal. The recent average price for Cartuxa Pera Manca Tinto hits €300, and in spite of being a luxury item, it is sought after. Some wine ‘pilgrims‘ come from the other continents to the winery to acquire a bottle.
Enchantment of Cartuxa starts with its legend in the visitor centre is in the old refectory of the former retreat of the Jesuit Brothers who taught at Evora University in the XVI-XVII centuries. During the dramatic moment of the Jesuits eviction in 1759 by order of Prime Minister Pombal, the property was taken over by the State, and already by 1776 it was recorded as operating a significant wine-press, taking grapes from across the region. Adega Cartuxa was purchased by the Eugenio de Almeida family in the XIX century, living through evolution over the years, and preserving its outstanding architectural and historic integrity.
Pêra-Manca is the label reserved for Eugénio de Almeida Foundation’s most exceptional wines.
The whites are a blend of Antão Vaz and Arinto grape varieties producing wines with a vivid citrus colour and a fruity, persistent, delicate and complex aroma. On the palate they are soft, dry, complex and balanced.
The charms of contemporary wine production is deeply rooted in Cartuxa Monastery built for the Carthusian Order in XVI century by Archbishop Teotonio. The monument is close to Évora, where the sound of Monastery bell is heard, especially when it tolls at midnight, contributing to the World Heritage museum-city ensemble. Today, the Cartuxa de Santa Maria Scala Coeli is appreciated as part of a larger Evora’s artistic and spiritual treasures concert. But the contemporary perfection of the convent’s edifice was not always the case…
It was only in the mid-XX century the heir of the property, Vasco Maria, Earl of Vil’alva decided to restore the monastery and return it to the Order of Saint Bruno. In 1960 the Carthusian Monks entered the monastery at the invitation of the Foundation, whose initiator completely rebuilt and restored the convent. Nowadays the Convento de Santa Maria Scala Coeli or Cartuxa de Évora, property of the da Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, is a place of prayer of contemplation, the only presence of Carthusian Monks in Portugal.
From 1960 the Carthusian life was reborn and revived at Santa Maria Scala Coeli, open to all who wished to escape urban noise, and share monastic lifestyle.
Cartuxa winery is generously sharing with the visitors the savoir-faire of art of wine production, presenting the entire cycle from grapes collection to solid cellars with barrels, and, of course, the tasting. The explanations of the skilled guides along the tour contribute to understanding of wine sensations, however it is the tasting that is crowning the experience. The Foundation’s wines and olive oils, are abundant there to purchase in a cellar shop, with the exemption of the star of the show Cartuxa Pera Manca Tinto (€200 at spot) which can be acquired as one (!) bottle per group to enjoy during tasting.
Scala Coeli, which means in Latin “stairway to Heaven”, takes its name from the Santa Maria Scala Coeli Monastery, more usually known as Cartuxa Monastery, a site where Carthusian monks live in silence and prayer. Produced from the best blends of each year grape varieties, it was issued for the first time in 2008 as Vinho regional Alentejano, Alvarinho grape. Traditionally, underlining the connection to Monastery, from which the name originates, the label depicts the steps to Heaven (see below).
Adega Cartuxa – the old cellars at Quinta de Valbom are nowadays used to age the wines produced by the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation. The success of its winemaking venture enables the Foundation to fund its charitable activities in the region.
The Eugénio de Almeida Foundation is a privately-owned charity, based in the city of Évora. Its statutory aims are cultural, educational, social and spiritual, focussed on enhancing human achievement and overall development of the region of Évora. Bequeathed by Vasco Maria Eugénio de Almeida, its statutes date 12 August, 1963.
The Foundation meets the aims of its Statutes by creating its own initiatives, exclusively or in partnership, while also supporting projects from other private or public organisations whose intentions meet the charity’s criteria.
In order to carry out its Mission, the Foundation works closely with both Portuguese and international partners. The increasing involvement of the Foundation within the community has resulted in a plethora of projects noted for their excellence, innovation and quality. Continuing the Alentejo age-old connection with wine, the Foundation has a longstanding history of winegrowing.
However, those who have no opportunity to visit the Winery, and follow the guided tours, can grasp a chance to enjoy Cartuxa finest wines in Restaurante Cartuxa Wine & Flavours located in the historic centre of Évora, in the Eugénio de Almeida Forum, next to the city’s iconic Roman Temple and close by the Cathedral, Museum and Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval. The restaurant menu is inspired by Mediterranean cuisine where flavours of the Alentejo. Under the direction of chef Bouazza, old family recipes are recreated from seasonal, regionally sourced produce, taking great care to preserve traditional flavours. The restaurant wine list suggests some of the best ALentejo Wines to accompany the meal.
Cartuxa Wine Tourism centre is based at Quinta de Valbom, just a couple of kilometers from the centre of the World Heritage city of Evora, next to the Cartuxa Monastery from which its name originates.