Cover topic Guillaume Leroux – Monte da Casteleja
It is with great pride and pleasure that I report the edification of my project Monte da Casteleja where I perform my daily activity of organic winegrower. This project, created from scratch in the farm I inherited from my maternal grandfather, a rural area a few kilometers from the coastal city of Lagos, has 7 hectares in total area. The largest area has vines, on the borders planted almond and fig trees, a vegetable garden provides the basic foods and te Rural tourism guests relax in a quiet and cosy atmosphere. It is an authentic garden, which receives more and more visitors, curious to discover the only organic wine, produced by hand, with local varieties and well differentiated quality.
But how did this project arise?
First of all, the strong desire to become a farmer, that I felt from an early age, to work outdoors and get my hands on earth. About 25 years ago, my installation was still a mirage, there were many unresolved issues: what kind of culture to deploy, how and who market the fruit. So the wisest decision at the time, before taking the big leap, was to deepen my theoretical knowledge in an area that was under my motivations and gain practical experience in the sector.
I fell in love with the wine world and worked for about 10 years in the area, until I thought that I had gained enough experience to start on my own. For me it was essencial to master the entire chain of production, free from intermediaries. I studied the varieties, the climate, the soils, drew new paths, planned the location of every culture and the style of wine to produce. I projected the evolution of the farm in the years ahead. To ensure an early return was fundamental rehabilitation of the house in Rural Tourism.
Then it was a slow but steady way. In the vineyard I learned to be patient, to devote myself with body and soul to the plants. In the cellar always opted to purchase used equipment. The promotion of the product was made by hand, door-to-door.
Today, after 15 years since the planting of my first vines, the Portuguese wine industry has evolved considerably. It has increasingly cutting edge technology, where prevails the rules of hygiene, testing, certifications, etc… The market demands require a rigorous wine processing and trade, but this still remains a very attractive and magical product.
A quality and differentiation policy always will bear fruit in the medium term. It is however undeniable that the fact that we are in a tourist region, with a resident population with high purchasing power, has contributed to our success.
The farm has now entered a new cycle: self-sustainability. It is essential to improve soil fertility and waste, with the help of farm animals, produce their own energy, conserve, recycle and recover the water, create secondary products and further diversify the offer. The plans never end.
In conclusion I would say that organic farming is undoubtedly the most beautiful and healthy profession there is. It is exciting and rewarding to take care of nature, observe its contrasts, beauty and mysteries. It’s a constant challenge that requires great humility and delivery, but fully reward the power of creation, the joy and to share what it provides.
Advice for Young Farmers
I advise whom begins in the area not to lose the motivation. Because at the beginning when I presented the project in the region, some people linked to the sector had demoralizing reactions, they did not believe in the project. Note that many times the value of our culture and of our traditions is given by foreigners, while locally what is advised is to invest in international grape varieties.
Regarding the investment itself, equity is a very important factor to take into account, one can not just rely on subsidies, it is critical.
If you are thinking about having a farming project in the Algarve have in mind the climate. The weather in the Algarve is favourable for plant growth, not only for the vineyard others too.
Winter is very reduced and there is also shortage of water for 5 months. To solve this problem I did a project with denser vineyard so that the plants have deeper roots, less power and less need for water. But since some years it does not rain enough, nor in winter or in the spring, we had to resort to irrigation. But I try to imitate thunder, watering abundantly at night, from month to month, so the plant does not get used too to water.
Prepare to bureaucratic constraints that are increasing and the wine industry is heavily controlled by various official entities. These constraints takes us from the promotion and sales where we should be most of the time.
It does not exist in Portugal appreciation and specific laws for small farmers. There is not the idea of “small is beautiful” this makes the sector laws adapted to large enterprises. We are forced to make unnecessary investments which increase costs and cut profitability. However we live in times of transformation.