day 17 :
monday, 11 june
After a very relaxing morning of breakfast, spa treatments, reading, and napping, we joined up with our friends John and Jacki for a quick visit to Évora to see the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) next to the Igreja de São Francisco. As you enter the bone chapel, an inscription above the door reads: "Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos" (or, "We bones that are here await yours") – how inviting. The chapel is built from the bones of 5000 monks, and is meant to serve as a reminder that life is temporal – perhaps, in essence, it's telling us not to sweat the small stuff.
And so, ironically, we embarked on the most frustrating drive of our trip – this one made getting lost on the way to Extebarri seem like fun. Our lunchtime destination was Esporão, a winery with a restaurant which we had made reservations for last month. Pedro from Esporão suggested that we take the shuttle from our hotel so that we wouldn't have to worry about driving; an excellent suggestion, except that we discovered this morning that the hotel shuttle was busy taking guests to Lisbon and wouldn't be back until late in the day. So, we asked the hotel receptionist for directions, who told us to go to Reguengos de Monsaraz, and then look for signs to the winery. "It's very well marked," he said. Well, we're here to tell you that it's not. We stopped several times in Reguengos, and each time we asked for directions, someone would tell us to take some road and then "look for the signs," and inevitably there were no signs. Finally, we stopped at a gas station, and Dawn managed to communicate with a friendly old woman who spoke no English; she recognized the word Esporão, and instead of telling her to follow the signs like everyone else, she told Dawn in Portuguese to go through three roundabouts (and Dawn amazingly understood her!). After driving through acre after acre of Esporão's vineyards, we arrived at the restaurant after 1:30 – over a half-hour late for our reservation.
We were hoping to have lunch with the David Baverstock, the winemaker, whom we had met in Seattle a couple of months ago and who had arranged this lunch for us. Unfortunately, he was out of town on business. However, our friend Eric's cousin Kristin and her husband Vince, both from Seattle, were able to join the four of us. They apparently had a much easier time finding the winery. And so, we sat down to a five-course meal paired with Esporão wines, complete with custom menus prepared just for our table. We chatted about world travel, food, history, politics, religion, and where everyone first met. (Kristin and Vince also met at UMass Amherst – an unexpected coincidence.) We enjoyed all of the wines, but it was the final glass of Licoroso, a port-style wine similar to a ten-year ruby, that really wowed us all. Like the law for Champagne, you can only call wines made in the Port region "port." Sadly, the Licoroso is not available in the States, and the Esporão store had run out of stock. We plan on contacting our local importer, Vinum, to see if they can acquire it. After a final round of espresso, we asked our waiter for the check. He smiled and said that there was no charge – "it's been our pleasure." We were all shocked! What a fabulous treat.
Kristin and Vince left to continue their travels in Portugal, and as we were about to leave the winery, we had the good luck of running into Pedro Viera, the same salesperson we met in Seattle who had set up several of our restaurant reservations in Porto and Lisbon. He offered to give us a personal tour of the winery, which we obviously couldn't turn down! Perhaps getting lost on the way here and starting lunch late was a good thing after all. As Pedro was showing us around, Eric asked if the eucalyptus trees around the wine estate were used for anything, and we learned that their newest storage building was going to be built out of eucalyptus wood because it helps keep the interior cooler than other woods. We were ushered into the observation floor above the dust-free bottling lines, and the machinery speed was impressive – the fully automatic line can handle 3000 bottles per hour, while the semi-automatic line produces 6000 bottles per hour, with some human assistance. We wandered by rocket-sized storage tanks that each held 129,000 liters (about 34,000 gallons) of wine. Pedro said that those are the old generation of storage – next year, they're installing half-million liter tanks. Next, we went 30 meters below ground to the enormous wine caves which hold five million bottles. Amazingly, this is only half of their yearly production of ten million bottles. What really impressed us was that even with all of this highly advanced automation and storage facilities, they are able to consistently produce many very good, and several excellent, wines.
We wished John and Jacki happy travels as they left for Marvão, and we spent the evening packing and resting up for our final road trip to Lisbon tomorrow. We drifted off to sleep picturing the Reguengos countryside of the afternoon – sheep grazing on golden hillsides, with the occasional green-topped tree cresting a hill.