The administrator of the group born from the investment in Quinta da Pacheca, in the Douro, for ten years now, reveals in this interview several new investments, all involving wine and tourism, activities that Maria do Céu Gonçalves sees as a single business. Terras & Terroir, owned by the businesswoman and partners Álvaro Lopes and Paulo Pereira, bought Ribafreixo Wines in September (the group does not reveal the value of this acquisition, or other investments), with 114 hectares of vineyards in Vidigueira, in Alentejo. It has a handful of hotels in the pipeline, one opening in the last quarter of 2023. And, in three years, it wants to be in seven wine regions.
The empire founded by two Portuguese who grew up and became entrepreneurs in France, today managed by six hands, was already in Douro, Dão, Bairrada and Alentejo. To these regions he already adds Trás-os-Montes — another piece of news that appears in this interview —, where he already operates a property in Valpaços, whose first wines will hit the market later this year. There are already 300 hectares of vineyards, 200 employees, in Portugal alone. The group's sights are now on the Vinho Verde and Algarve regions.
In November, you celebrated ten years at the helm of Quinta da Pacheca, in the background, where your journey in Portugal begins. Is it true that they found a production of 80,000 bottles and today they produce more than a million?
Last year, only here at Pacheca were 1.7 million bottles. When we got here there were 80 thousand, yes.
Do you buy grapes?
Meanwhile, we bought more hectares in the Douro. In total we have 70 hectares [in the Douro], but we have agreements with producers. Here around Pacheca, we have many producers who have land that is leased to us. And we also buy the grapes, selected by our winemakers and our engineers. These 70 hectares include Quinta de São José de Barrilário and Vale Abraão, right there in Six Senses – the vineyard part is ours.
But they didn't jump from 80,000 bottles to 1.7 million overnight. How was this route?
When we arrived, the Serpa Pimentel family did not bottle all the wine they produced and also sold grapes to other producers. It sold wine in bulk, it did not make Port wine other than Vintage, in vintage years. The first year, we kept everything to ourselves. Afterwards, we built up stocks.
It was a Portuguese consul in France at the time who advised you on this investment, why? What were they looking for?
We weren't looking to buy a farm. We were distributors, selling wines from Quinta da Pacheca in France for several years, since 2001. They had a very good image, of quality. It was through a friend of ours, consul in France, who is from here in Régua and knew D. José Serpa Pimentel well, who asked him for help because he wanted to sell, but didn't want to sell everything. We did the deal, but the way we wanted to do it. In the first year we kept them as partners. They had 25 percent, we had 75 percent. In 2013 we bought their share.
But was that option for safety or because they didn't know the sector, the production?
I found it super-interesting to be able to continue working with the family, because they knew the region and the farm. And D. Teresa was very attached to the farm, emotionally, she still lives here today – she has usufruct of the house –, she couldn't see herself living outside of here, and I wouldn't feel well any other way. He worked with us until six months ago.
How many winegrowers do they buy grapes from, just for Pacheca's universe?
About 70. Here in the Douro, we have some employees whose parents have land and who today sell it to us.
What is your opinion on the, unfortunately, eternal discussion of the price of grapes in the Douro? About the fact that the same grape has two prices, depending on whether it is for DOC Douro or for Port wine.
I think Port Wine should be sold at a higher price. In France, at the moment, I buy Port wines from other companies for less than 2.5 euros a bottle for the company and our Port wine is sold at 4 euros at the exit of the cellar, because we went for quality (...).
Port wine can be better paid and sold more expensive. But my question had to do with the fact that the same grape was underpaid for DOC Douro. And with this discussion around the benefit...
The benefit was a way to protect producers, to have a minimum that would allow them to continue producing grapes, that minimum that is around 1100 euros per barrel, that would allow us to continue to have port wine. Because, if not, the big exporting companies would rule the producers. I think it was a very smart way to protect them.
At what price do they pay for grape?
Varies. What I can say is that it is here in the Douro that we are called those who pay the most for grapes. In the Douro, it costs between 350 euros and 800 euros a barrel. We walk there in the middle. People spend a lot of money to produce our grapes, because our winemakers and our engineers are very demanding and we are always looking for more sustainable treatments. We have integrated production.
How many weddings do you have scheduled this year and next year here on Thursday?
This year, we only have two free weekends, in December. It's so cold, these are free. We have 98 weddings scheduled for 2023. And for 2024 we already have 75. Weddings at Pacheca are really a very interesting business.
How did you get on the radar of wedding planners around the world?
We entered this business with Brazilian wedding planners. We went to two fairs, one in London and another in Paris, in 2015 and 2018, for that matter. And here in Portugal we went to several fairs and then yes, it worked really well. When we arrived, four weddings were held here a year. It was growing. Weddings already account for 15 percent of our farm tourism business.
With the acquisition of Quinta de São José do Barrilário, they planned to build a hotel. How is this work?
Yes, it's ongoing. We are planning to open in the last quarter of 2023. And it will be a five-star hotel, with a fantastic view over the Douro River. It is a traditional construction, but within that five star level.
Even with the expansion here at Pacheca, you need, and have, several partnerships with other hotels around here. With this new hotel, will you be able to fill this lack of rooms a little, is that it?
Yes, when we have events, we don't have rooms. We have 50 rooms, but many times they are not enough for our events and so we use our neighbors here who also have good service. There we will have 42 rooms.
Is the grape from Quinta de São José do Barreiro used in Pacheca wines?
These grapes, at the moment, are produced for the Quinta da Pacheca wine, but a new brand will appear in the group, it is already registered. Hotel and wines will be named after the farm, they will be high quality wines.
And, as I understand, they also have a partnership to operate the hotel next to the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, here in Lamego, is that so?
The hotel belongs to the Brotherhood and we have an operating contract for 50 years. It will no longer be me that I will end up exploring. It was completely vacant, it has been closed for over ten years. Let's renovate it all. We are demolishing the interior. It will have 35 rooms and open in 2024.
I wanted to ask you about your turnover for 2022. And about the evolution compared to 2021.
In the total group, we invoiced 20 million euros. Compared to 2021, we grew 36 percent.
Is your business wine for wine's sake, or are you always thinking about tourism?
I think that one [thing] does not go without the other, you see. We specialize a lot in wine tourism. And we made our brands and the quality of our wines accompany tourism. And it has worked really, really well.
How is business developing in Caminhos Cruzados and Quinta do Ortigão, in Dão and Bairrada, respectively?
At Caminhos Cruzados there was already a very good job done at the commercial level, they needed a bigger structure to develop the business, because they already have a large cellar, capacity to store wine and incredible technology, which did not exist here in Pacheca. It already has a very strong name in wines. Now we need wine tourism, which helps a lot to make our brands known. We already do visits and tastings, we also do lunches, but then we are always very limited because we don’t have accommodation and there are groups that we can’t take…
I see another hotel in your sights.
There will be a hotel, yes, we need to sleep there. He is studying architecture. It will never be an opening before 2025.
Quinta do Ortigão was a more recent acquisition. How are you?
It's more recent. We are restructuring the cellar, the sparkling wine needs a stage and a lot of space to store the bottles. Who says Bairrada, says sparkling wine and says suckling pig. And so our wine tourism, for now, will start with themed dinners. We have already taken our catering customers there, who ask us, who want to take employees there, even from France. But it's still not organized the way we want. And that will be to work for the year. Let's start by getting the house well organized, so we can do serious wine tourism.
And in these two projects, which production did you find and what happened in the meantime?
At Caminhos, we have already increased sales and production. We produced 400,000 bottles, we found wine there that we can now sell. All that was needed was to find new customers, open the doors to export. But there was no Caminhos Cruzados brand. There was the Holder and Teixuga. Creating the Caminhos Cruzados brand was our first priority.
How big will the hotel in Nelas be?
It will always be a size above 50 rooms, because the viability of a hotel is always to be able to have 100 customers at home.
And in Bairrada, what did they find?
Production is small, we have 12 hectares. What we want is to reorganize the winery and then look to buy more hectares of vineyards around there. There are families wanting to sell there near Ortigão.
In Bairrada, it often takes years to get 1 hectare…
Yes, they are small farms, but it is much easier to harvest than in the Douro and access is better. We already have a family that wants to sell 8 hectares, which will make 20 hectares.
Who does this prospecting? And the negotiation, who is going to have the people?
I don't know how people find my telephone number, but every day I answer calls saying: I have a farm to sell, my children don't want any of this, they're in Lisbon, they're lawyers, I don't know what I'm doing- to do this… See? Therefore, we don't exactly have a person doing prospecting. And the negotiation, we do.
In Trás-os-Montes, in addition to Olive Nature, the themed hotel dedicated to olive trees and olive oil, do you want to make wine?
Yes, yes, we want to make wine. Trás-os-Montes is the next wine region that will develop a lot, in terms of quality wines and very soon. We have stuff there already.
Things they saw, is it?
We already have a farm owned by a lady who lives in France, who is our collaborator and who inherited it. There are about 20 hectares of vineyards in Valpaços. They sell the grapes, and in 2022 they already sold us the grapes. We are going to bottle this year, white wines. We have an agreement with her, in which for now we are dealing with the farm, in exploration. But let's buy.
In Alentejo, they already have Herdade da Rocha. It was the last acquisition they announced.
At Herdade da Rocha, there are just a few hectares, we have 8 hectares. But it wasn't the last acquisition, the last one was Ribafreixo [Wines].
Tell me everything.
There are 114 hectares of vineyards at Herdade do Moinho Branco. The company is called Ribafreixo Wines. We were looking in Alentejo for a project with dimension because obviously 8 hectares in Crato… that was not our wine project in Alentejo. It was a bigger project.
It came about after they fell in love with the property in Crato, were those 8 hectares a test in the region?
No, the former owner is a friend of ours, who had bought it to put his daughter there, but the daughter wanted to stay in Porto. He asked us if we would be interested and when we went there we were delighted. We soon saw that there was incredible potential in wine tourism. And then we buy.
But at that time, were you already thinking about Alentejo or was it later?
We had been trying to close the Ribafreixo business for a year and a half.
It's in Vidigueira, I know it has a restaurant, which still appears on Google. What is your project there and when did you close the deal?
Yes, it's in Vidigueira and we have a restaurant. We bought it in September 2022 and meanwhile we did the deed. There was a South African partner, who doesn't live in Portugal, who was just an investor, and the deal was a little difficult, but we ended up doing it. There, like all our projects, we will have tourism. There will be good wines, with a lot of quality, which they already have.
Herdade do Moinho White wines.
Yes, but there are also other references, such as Gâudio and Barrancôa, which are already known in Portuguese restaurants, although not as we want to make them known. They almost didn't export. They have a fantastic wine cellar, it's an incredible investment. And they are in Vidigueira, for white wines, Vidigueira is the terroir.
What is the current production?
They produce between 500 and 600 thousand liters per year. About 750 thousand bottles. They sold a lot of wine in bulk and we are not going to sell wine in bulk this year. We can immediately start selling 1.5 million bottles, because there is a lot of wine in stock, a lot of reserves from 2015, 2016.
And is the restaurant open? Are you going to do any remodeling?
The restaurant is open. We are not renovating, we are creating infrastructure and improving kitchens. But it's how we want it. One of our team members goes there for wine tourism, but we have an excellent cook there and the catering part is well organised. They had few visitors.
Will it take a long time to open the wine tourism project?
No, the only thing that might take a while is accommodation, because there isn't any.
Which, I believe, will be in your plans.
Yes, but first we are going to build the hotel in Crato: at Herdade da Rocha we already have an approved project, which already existed before we bought it, to make something smaller, with 40 rooms. And there are already four rooms and four bungalows. There we have 8 hectares of vineyards, but the estate has 60 hectares.
With 144 hectares in Vidigueira, what area of vineyards do you have in Portugal? And how do you generate such a huge jump?
In total for the group, we exceeded 300 hectares of vineyards. Of land, there are 500 hectares. We keep the people who are already working there. For example, in Ribafreixo, the engineer Nuno Bicó, who planted the vineyard. He has a lot of experience, a lot of capacity and it's not us who are going to manage the vineyard, it's not me or the team.
But the business is managed by Maria do Céu.
We have centralized management, with 25 people in management, finance, communication, sales and export. We centralize services and in the regions we only have production.
With the production numbers you are talking about, almost identical to those of Pacheca today, the production of the Terras & Terroir universe will double.
No, no, we are not going to double it now, we are not going to go from 700 thousand bottles to 1.7 million in a year, are we? We have to make the brand known. And here [at Pacheca], what helped a lot to publicize the brand was wine tourism. An American or a Brazilian who came here would bring wine, arrive in their country and talk about the fantastic experience they had had here. This helped a lot in promoting the brand and also helped a lot to convince our customers to export.
Who advises your day-to-day?
My husband. We are super-complementary, the closest person is really my husband. And we have a partner, Paulo Pereira, who has always worked with me for 25 years. They are the two people closest to me in business.
But is it Maria do Céu who has the final say?
I am the manager. They completely delegate to me, which is an incredible responsibility, you see? They have brilliant ideas, we are complementary, but I make the decisions. When there are difficult decisions, I like to share the idea with them. And in investments and so on, I don't decide anything by myself.
But is she a thoughtful businesswoman? Are there no impulse investments here?
No, never. Our strategy, for three years, is for the Terras & Terroir group to be in at least six or seven wine regions. We have a project to assert ourselves in wines and wine tourism in the main regions of Portugal.
I counted, with Trás-os-Montes, five regions. Six or seven... are Vinhos Verdes on your radar?
Yes, that's right, Vinhos Verdes are on our radar. Ideally Monção. It's not easy, we want it, but we haven't found it yet. There are farms that even have mansions, but where the vineyard is completely destroyed. We want wine and wine tourism, that has both, that already has a vineyard, that even already has a brand.
There is a beautiful jewel there, at a millionaire price…
Yeah, at millionaire price. It's not on our radar.
Precisely because they ask too much?
Exactly, [Palácio da Brejoeira is for sale for] 25 million. And the business has to be profitable.
Therefore, Vinhos Verdes. And the seventh?
Why the Algarve?
Many tourists go there. And we want to contradict the idea that it's just a beach. And tourists who go to the Algarve want wines from the Algarve. We think there is an opportunity to create business. And even in tourism for weddings. It's not for Vilamoura, nor for Quinta do Lago. It's more towards the mountains, and more towards Alvor.
They also have some tourist apartments in Porto. Is this significant in the group?
Frankly, yes. Our apartments all have names linked to what we do. We have the Almada Wine House and we have other properties there, always entire buildings. And we also work on our farms, our terroir. They have a reception, it's not just a code [to enter]. They bring us guests and we take them there too. We have customers who leave here, have a plane the next morning, need to stay in Porto… Everything works in a network.
How many apartments are there?
There are 36 and the business has been growing. We are going to open another one, we bought the property in Arcadia, on Rua do Almada. Above, the apartments are under renovation, but we bought them two years ago.
Will the chocolate factory move from there?
We didn't buy Arcadia, we bought the property where Arcadia is located, they are our tenants.
Are the apartments only in Porto?
Yes, only Porto.
Are there any other investments you would like to share?
Yes, there is Vila Marim, which already existed and which we bought a few months ago, from some architects here in the Douro. We bought it two years ago, in the meantime we renovated it and it opened in September. There are three country houses, with 1.5 hectares of vineyards around them. It's a different business from the others, because there we won't want a brand [of wines]. It's for digital nomads, families who don't want to go where there are a lot of people, for people who want to relax and see the region. It is a very interesting business and complementary to what we have.
February 10, 2023.
Interview: Jornal Público.
Text: Ana Isabel Pereira.
Photography: Rui Oliveira.