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With only two days in Lisbon, my friend and I were looking to pack in as much as we could. She emailed me asking if one of our activities might be to have dinner at Belcanto, a two-star Michelin restaurant. The 2019 Michelin Stars had just been announced and Portugal has twenty-six Michelin starred restaurants, twenty which have one star and six which have two stars. Belcanto had yet again received two stars. I knew it might be a bit of a splurge but I could not say no. Of course, the challenge would be getting a reservation. We were only two weeks away from going on our trip and the website only had an email address on it. I reached out to a friend of mine in Lisbon who works for the elegant Palacio Estoril Hotel and thought he might be able to find their phone number and call from the same time zone. The next day, I had an email from him telling me that the restaurant was completely booked BUT he was able to get us a seat at the Chef's Table. We would experience a tasting menu with wine pairing. We immediately booked the reservation. Belcanto is owned by celebrity chef José Avillez. Avillez has worked with gastronomic superstars Ferran Adria, Eric Frechon and Alain Ducasse, as well as received his first Michelin star at Taveres, Lisbon's oldest and grandest restaurant. Avillez took over Belcanto in 2012. An award-winning restaurant since 1958, Belcanto had been a late night gathering place for artists and opera patrons who frequented the nearby St. Charles theater, as well as a “gentleman’s club” where dancing girls performed on a small stage. Avillez renovated it into a subtle and sophisticated intimate restaurant with only 36 seats.
This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register.
While watching the Red Carpet during the Golden Globes the other night, I was motivated by what actress Natalie Portman said: “We have realized the scope of what we have lost, of the creative contributions of people who have been pushed out of the [film] industry. And when we think of other industries and what women have been pushed out of and the contributions we have lost because of that…it has to change; it is time to change.”
It had me thinking of the wine industry and the contributions women have made and will continue to make. I thought about some of the women that I met on my trip to Porto and Douro recently.
For such an historical region, with wine production dating to the 18th century when it was noted as the first demarcated region in the world, it has been dominated by men. But I learned an interesting fact: A woman is the person considered the leader in winemaking innovations and one of the leaders in the history of the Douro Valley.
A Ferreirinha (1811-1896), born Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, was the first woman to head a Port company after inheriting vineyards from her family. Widowed at 33 years of age, she became the executive of the estates and is attributed with leading the cultivation of Port wine. During the time of phylloxera, which destroyed many of her own vineyards, she traveled to England to learn modern techniques to fight it and brought American rootstock back to Portugal. She also learned winemaking processes that she incorporated back in Portugal.
Though A Ferreirinha is the first woman of Port and her contributions to the industry are ever-lasting, there are many women working there today who are also contributing to the future of Portuguese wine. Here are the women I met on my trip:
Ana Paula Filipe Castro of Quinta das Chaquedas
I had the pleasure to visit Ana Paula at her home in the heart of Douro, approximately three kilometers from Peso da Regua. Ana Paula Filipe Castro was working as a lawyer in Porto when she and her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the military, purchased property in the Douro. They started with six hectares with existing vines and built their home on the property. Ana Paula, her husband and their three daughters moved into the house in 2006 and their first vintage was 2010. They purchased 14 additional hectares in Pinhao, a warmer area to the east.
This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register. To me, the best way to get to know a county and its culture is through its food and wine. Local ingredients and dishes, the indigenous grape varieties and winemaking processes, they all tell so much about a culture, its history and present-day. So, on my first trip to Portugal, specifically to the city of Porto, I dove right in. Located in Northern Portugal, along the Douro river, Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon. From the cobblestone streets to the tiled houses to the food and wine, it is no wonder that Porto was classified as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1996 and recently awarded The Best European Destination by the Best European Destinations Agency. Porto is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the vineyards in the Douro to the east. The cuisine of Porto uses its natural resources, which include fresh seafood and meats. And there are the sweet desserts, many of which are made with what was described to me as just “sugar, sugar, sugar and eggs, eggs, eggs.”