Sónia Pereira

Sónia Pereira

Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Enóloga/Winemaker)

Looking for a career focus led Sónia Pereiera to wine.

Our arrival at Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo followed a challenging drive along steep and curvy mountain roads and through several tiny villages. The winery, one of the oldest and largest quintas in the Douro, is located in Covas do Douro, west of Pinhão as the crow flies. When we arrived, a bit unnerved by the drive, we were greeted by the radiant Sónia Pereiera.

Ready for a change, Sónia came to Quinta Nova in the fall of 2010 to help with harvest. On the last day of harvest she was offered and accepted a job as a cellar worker, a position not usually held by women. In a few short years she worked her way up to being the enologist/winemaker at the winery. In this role, she works closely with Jorge Alves, the lead winemaker. Sonia views Jorge “as the best winemaker in Portugal at this time” and describes him “like a private teacher.” She could not be happier. As a measure of her commitment and dedication as a winemaker, she is the first to arrive at the winery each day and the last to go home.

Winemaking was not an intentional career path for Sónia, however. She grew up on a small family farm, and although her parents made wine for personal enjoyment, she “was not a fan of wine.” Her then boyfriend, and now husband—they married in 2005—enrolled at the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real in 1998, the only university in the area that offers an enology degree. Sónia, who was at the point of considering her own educational path, decided to attend the same university the next year. She took a number of jobs in wineries to support herself while in school and found that she loved working in the cellar and doing harvest. Most importantly, she discovered her love for wine. She completed her degree in 2004 and immediately accepted a position at a small winery where she worked until 2010 and “did everything.”

What Does It Take To Be Successful? Sónia is respected by her colleagues and held with great affection, as we saw first hand when Tiago Silva, hospitality manager, joined our lively conversation. Sónia is personable but also focused and precise. When we asked what she most loved about her work, she replied that “all things are connected, it is different every day and never boring.” She likes challenges and sees problems “as something to be solved.” “Everything has a solution except when the wine ends up on the floor!”

When asked specifically what is needed to be successful, Sónia indicated that the situation is improving for women in Portugal, but that women still need to prove themselves more than do men. “Today it is not enough to have a family name, you have to be able to do the work.”

Sónia's spouse also works at Quinta Nova, and their daughter Joana spends many happy hours at the winery. She noted that younger men like her husband — those under age 45 — know they need to work at home and do their fair share. “Working women have different expectations.”

The Port and Douro Wines. The highlights of Sónia's career thus far are the birth of her daughter in 2008 and crafting the Mirabilis Grande Reserva White wine together with Jorge Alves. The Mirabilis Grande Reserva White 2015 is the first Portuguese white wine to enter the distinctive list of the best wines in the world. This complex and intense wine earned 94–96 points from the prestigious critic, Robert Parker.

Quinta Nova crafts a number of award-winning still wines and Ports. These include three grand reserves, two red and one white, two reserves, and four brands. Approximately 300,000 bottles are produced each year.

We continued our lively conversation in the lovely tasting room, where we were treated to an impressive tasting of six Quinta Nova wines, all delectable. Starting with two white wines, the 2015 Pomares and 2015 Grainha Reserva, we moved on to three reds, the 2014 Unoaked Tinto, 2013 Grande Reserva, and 2014 Grainha Reserva, and finally to the Clã Special Reserve Porto.

Regrettably, we needed to leave the wonderful tasting sooner than we would have liked. It was getting close to 6 p.m. and quite dark outside. Yes, we were nervous about the drive down the mountain in the pitch dark. Sónia sensing this, offered to lead the way. And she did, at breakneck speed!