Luísa Borges

Luísa Borges

Vieira de Sousa (Enóloga/Winemaker & Co-Owner)

Forging a new path for her family.

When we asked Luísa Borges, the Oenologist at Vieira de Sousa, what led her to work in the wine industry, without hesitation she responded, “the decision was natural.” Luísa, who was recently nominated for the category of “Young Female Winemaker” in Portugal, grew up in the world of Port, although she lived in Lisbon rather than Porto. Her father, António Borges, was raised in the Douro village of Celeirós, and his family on his mother's side (Vieira de Sousa) was involved in growing and supplying grapes to prominent shippers of Port.

Her father, now in his eighties and retired, had been an importer of roller bearings for vehicles, but he also had a long-standing interest in Port. He added new properties to the family holdings he had inherited from his grandfather over the years, with the objective of producing a million liters of Port wine annually for sale to large Port houses. He achieved this in 2008.

Luísa studied oenology and viticulture at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia, interned for a semester at Bologna Universidade De Lisboa, and graduated in 2006. She then worked for two years at Taylor's Port House under the guidance of one of Douro's best viticulturists.

In 2008, when Luísa was 23 years old, her parents unexpectedly experienced a “crisis period.” Because selling bulk wine was no longer profitable, the family began crafting its own wines and building their own brand, Viera de Sousa. Luísa moved to the family home in Celeirós (Sabrosa) and became the winemaker and marketer for her family's wines. That same year she produced her first Port, Vieira de Sousa LBV 2008, which the family started selling in 2011.

Her father retired from the business a few years ago, and Luísa and her mother now manage the company. Her younger sister is studying marketing and may some day become involved as well.

Working as a Young Woman Winemaker. Luísa has not found it difficult to be a winemaker as a woman. She believes “that one does not need to take an aggressive stand to be taken seriously.” She knows she is the boss and is clear about the quality of work she expects. She thinks she may have learned a valuable lesson when she was put on the night shift in her first position at a winery. She did not flinch and carried on as if it was usual for the petite young woman that she is to be given that assignment.

Having a network of colleagues, including a mentor with whom she worked earlier, has been very helpful. In Luísa's experience, the Douro is more open than other regions of Portugal to hiring women as winemakers. She thinks the percentage may be as high as 30% women as lead winemakers. When working with Port, she noted that employers “may look to work with men more than women because of the very large barrels that are used.” However, she has noticed more young people and new projects that include women. In general she finds people quite open to discussing problems and sharing information.

The Port and Douro Wines. All Viera de Sousa wines are made with estate-grown grapes. Approximately 50,000 bottles are currently produced from their different quintas, all of which are situated along the Douro River. Although both still and Port wines are being produced, Luísa's plan is to “always do more Port than still wine.” She crafted the first Viera de Sousa table wine in 2011, and this line has been expanded to include a Tinto Reserva and Grand Reserva, Branco Reserva, and a new pair of wines they are launching, Alice Vieira de Sousa White 2015 and Red Reserva 2013.

The winery's Ports include a range of White, Tawny, and Ruby Ports. In 2013, Vieira de Sousa Ports were included in a blind test of 56 brands in Porto, as part of a world-wide presentation of the extraordinary vintage of 2011. Vieira de Sousa, a new brand at the time, was among the nine Ports rated in the range of 98–100 points. More recently, their Porto and Douro wines were featured in the November 2016 issue of “Revista de Vinhos,” a well-regarded Portuguese wine magazine.

The day we visited, Luísa was busy bottling, answering the phone, supervising employees, and graciously making time for us. There was not time to taste her wines because we had had a particularly difficult time finding the winery and arrived quite late. Nonetheless, we received a bottle of the 2015 Vieira de Sousa Tinto Unoaked as a gift, which we greatly enjoyed!