Maria Serpa Pimentel

Maria Serpa Pimentel

Quinta da Pacheca (Enóloga/Winemaker)

“Never be distracted from the important parts of your life.”

Maria Pimentel, the winemaker at Quinta da Pacheca, is a remarkable woman. She has the distinct honor of being among the first woman winemakers in the Douro. She is also well known for her work as a professor at Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD).

When we asked Maria who first encouraged her to pursue a career in wine, she named her grandfather. He always brought her books from abroad, took a strong interest in her studies at the university, and was a person she greatly admired. Maria has fond memories as a child of swimming in a lagare (a waist-deep granite tank for crushing wine by foot) at her grandfather's winery.

Maria's grandfather was well known in the Douro, where he had established wineries and served as president of the Port Wine Institute until 1976. In 1973, he started to bottle Douro still white wines, namely, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, which he gave to friends. Their positive responses to the wines led to his creating the brand name “Pacheca,” and marketing the wines. In the 1980s, he started producing still red wines under the Quinta da Pacheca label, and in 2000, the year he died, he produced his first Port Vintage wines under the Pacheca label.

After completing high school in Lisbon, Maria returned to the Douro to study enology at UTAD. After graduating, she was invited to teach classes in microbiology while doing her master's thesis on malolactic fermentation, research that involved travel to Germany to study the microbiology of fermentation. She completed her master's degree, continuing teaching, and started work on her doctoral degree. She also married and started a family during this period. In 2000, the year of her grandfather's death, she returned to help her family with harvest, and three years later, she began working at Quinta da Pacheca as its winemaker, a position she continues to hold today.

In recognition of her expertise, Maria was nominated for and now serves on one of the boards of the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (Port and Douro Wine Institute), She coordinates the board that assesses Port wine samples and assigns their designations. She is the sole woman on the board. According to its web site, “The mission of the institute is to promote the control of the quality and quantity of Port wines, regulating the production process, as well as the protection and defense of the Douro and Porto denominations of origin.” Maria finds serving on this board challenging and important. She noted that the Douro might be the most controlled wine region in the world, especially with regard to Port wines.

Working as a Woman Winemaker. Maria has two children, a son studying law, and a daughter in high school. Both were born early in her career. When asked about balancing career and family demands, she emphasized the importance of knowing one's priorities in making difficult decisions that inevitably arise. She spoke eloquently about the importance of moving on after making important decisions and “thinking that every day is going to be the best day.”

When we asked what it was like to be one of the very few women working in the cellar, she responded that: “In the beginning it was not easy. My ability in traditional male areas was constantly questioned. They asked, for example, ‘Can she climb the stainless steel vats?'”

She believes that things are quite different today. “All winemakers try to show the terroir in their wines. Today, women have the same opportunities.” In her class of 15 students at UTAD, eight were women, five of whom are working in some aspect of winemaking. She did mention one area of annoyance, however — describing her wines as “feminine” solely because she is a female winemaker!

The Port and Douro Wines. A wide range of award-winning Port wines are produced by Quinta da Pacheca, and include a White and Rosé Port, Tawny Port, and Late Bottle Vintages (LBV) and Vintage Port. Its Douro still wines include Tinto, Reserva Tinto, White and Rosé. Quinta da Pacheca was recently awarded a gold medal for its Tawny Port and silver medals for the Reserve Old Vines 2011 and Superior Red 2012.

Following our heartfelt and most informative discussion with Maria, we lunched at the Quinta's lovely dining room, where we enjoyed her luscious Pacheco Douro Superior 2013; it paired perfectly with our stuffed pork loin with demi-glaze.