Cliff Richard opens his new winery
- Tuesday 24 August 2004
The evergreen singer – who the night before had sung to 25,000 on the beach – draped himself in the Portuguese flag while he welcomed his guests.
These included a cross-section of Algarve social and political life: the mayor of Albufeira, ViniPortugal president Vasco d’Avillez, wealthy businessmen, international jet setters like British TV supremo Cilla Black, wine industry players like John Halewood of Halewood International, and Richard’s neighbours – from the Algarve, his Barbados mansion and his house just outside London.
Generous and plentiful glasses of Richard’s Vida Nova Rosé were served as an aperitif. At 14% proof this added to the festive atmosphere, as did the aroma of two pigs being spit-roast at the end of the terrace overlooking the vineyards.
The Adega do Cantor (The Cellar of the Singer) winery, which stands outside the town of Albufeira on Portugal’s south coast, is a joint venture between Richard and his long-standing neighbours and fellow growers Nigel and Lesley Birch. Their son Max is the third partner in the group.
Designed by Australian winery specialists Castle Rock Logistics, it uses the latest techniques – such as the company’s patented mechanical plunger – for the gentlest possible handling of the fruit.
The head winemaker is the Australian David Baverstock, who is credited with turning round moribund producer Esporao in the Alentejo 12 years ago. Max Birch, 35, is assistant winemaker and general manager of the Albufeira venture.
Vida Nova, now in its third vintage, is a blend of Syrah, Aragonez and Alicante Bouschet. The rosé – produced mainly for the domestic market – is Aragonez, Trincadeira and Mourvedre. The partners are thinking of making a white wine with Verdelho, and a Reserva is at present in barrel. About 50,000 cases are produced.
The grapes come from Richard’s own 8.5ha, and from the 16ha Birch vineyards. The tri-partnership – Richard has a 50% stake – stresses the importance of using native varieties and making a recognisably regional wine.
‘We fight to keep Portuguese qualities to the wine – for example by using Aragonez in the blend, which is a classic hot climate grape,’ Max Birch told decanter.com, adding that he was also ‘looking at a grower who is planting Touriga Nacional further north.’
For his part, Richard said he loves tasting, but he defers to Baverstock at every stage of the winemaking process.
‘I feel comfortable just growing the grapes and combining that with other people’s gifts,’ he said. ‘It’s like music: you may be the catalyst but you can’t do everything.’
If wine producing started as a hobby for the multimillionaire singer, everyone is keen to stress it has gone well beyond that. With an initial capacity of 100 tonnes the winery design allows for quick expansion to a 300-tonne operation. Markets would also expand, although Vida Nova already sells very well in the UK supermarkets.
Above all the partners say they are trying to preserve a bit of the old Algarve. Albufeira, once a tiny fishing village, is now a sprawling tourist centre, where the rewards of winemaking are nothing compared to what you can get with a 30-chalet tourist complex.
‘I grew up here,’ said Max Birch. ‘It’s a shame everything is concreted over. I want to get back a little bit of what it was like in the 1960s.’