A couple of weeks ago, Tom and I took a break from all the Port Wine Day goings-on in Porto and the Douro and headed south. We had been invited to join the vindimas—wine grape harvest—at Quinta do Gradil, in Cadaval, not far from Lisbon. There are countless opportunities to experience harvest season in Portugal, but this one seemed especially fitting. Quinta do Gradil occupies the former estate of the Marquis of Pombal, 18th-century statesman and Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs of the Kingdom of Portugal. It was his work—demarcation of the Douro wine region—that is celebrated on Port Wine Day, 10 September.
Our host was Bruno Gomes, the Quinta’s Wine Tourism & Events Manager, and emcee of the event. Bruno had promised us a rollicking good time, and he and his team certainly delivered. From cushions on 18th-century walls to bars scattered around the estate to high-spirited performers, the team seemed to have thought of just about everything.
“Our aim is for everyone to enjoy the day, with no obligations!”
Upon arrival, we checked in, put on t-shirts and hats, and enjoyed a variety of nibbles brought around like clockwork: codfish fritters, bites of melon and ham, skewers of sausage, all typically Portuguese and all yummy.
Booths had been set up to showcase various regional products and offered tastes of potato chips with Piri-Piri sauce, fresh bread, and cider vinegar refresco, to name just a few There was plenty of wine flowing as well, but for us, the emphasis was not on formal tastings. Rather, it was a fun day that celebrated the camaraderie, local flavors, and relaxed lifestyle of the Lisbon wine region’s countryside.
Mingling and fun for all ages
Bars scattered around the estate offered cold drinks, including plenty of water, to beat the heat, and photographers provided selfie props. Kids had a great time in the inflatable outdoor playrooms, and a band kept up the lively pace. By the time the more than 400 guests had arrived, the scene looked a bit like a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration, decidedly “green”!
Harvest time in the vineyard
Eventually, it was time to get to work, for anyone who wanted a grape-clipping experience. Equipped with gloves, clippers, and bins, we headed into the vineyard, with musicians leading the way. Before long, the tubs were full and ready to load into waiting trucks.
Lively music to lead the way…to vineyards and to dinner
Weekends in Portugal are times for family get-togethers and excursions. What better way to spend a beautiful autumn afternoon than with family and friends in a vineyard? After everyone’s tubs of grapes had been loaded onto trucks, kids were welcomed into the winery to tread grapes and enjoy an early children’s meal.
With sunset, came time for everyone to gather at long tables under a big tent in the courtyard of the Marquis of Pombal’s palace. We poured our choice of wine from the bottles on ice at every table and enjoyed a simple first course of olives and bread with pepper spread. The three-course dinner was served with impressive precision—waiters marching out almost as a drill team, bringing plates to each table in turn.
Gourmet touches without the fuss
Servers poured us a seasonal soup of chicken and chestnuts in a broth rich with the aromas and seasonings of autumn. The main course–salted cod marinated in red wine, oven-roasted and served on a bed of chickpea puree laced with thinly sliced cuttlefish—evoked Portugal’s iconic landscape of countryside and sea. For me, the best came last: a dessert of local Rocha pears (also the main ingredient in a marvelous jam often served with cheese and port wine), atop an eggy souffle.
Want to do something like this?
Vindimas comes but once a year, but Quinta do Gradil is a leader in wine tourism year-round. We first visited Cadaval when we toured Lisbon’s wine region on an excursion with Lisbon-based Singular Trips, tasting marvelous food from Chef Daniel Sequeira and enjoying a sunset wine-tasting in a windmill atop a mountain in the nearby Serra de Montejunto.
Quinta do Gradil is an easy journey from Lisbon, whether on a guided excursion or traveling independently. For more about experiences and wine tourism activities on offer, check out the Quinta’s website.