Our core work force at Quinta do Tedo

Last month I wrote about rebuilding parts of our 4 km/2.5 miles of dry stone walls that were originally built in the 1800s, with photos of our vineyard workers in action.  Thanks to this team our terraced vineyards stand solid.   These exemplary multi-taskers are the quinta’s backbone and an integral part of our success.  As we are minimally mechanized, because of the sheer steepness of our terraced vineyards, we depend on this workforce - to work the vineyard in the winter months with our horse Tedo and  to ensure throughout the year the best viticultural conditions possible to have an excellent grape quality at harvest and, among other duties, to build and rebuild dry stone walls.  In order to work so hard it is essential that they are provided decent working conditions. Heading off for break for 9:30 meal.

A well-deserved break.

Arriving in the summer at 6 :30 as the sky lightens and the temperature is cool,  they work until 9 :30, come in for a light meal to refuel, head back to the vineyards and return at 1 PM for a hot lunch.  A break follows and then back to the vineyard, finishing around 4 PM.  Long, hot hours under the sun with sweat and fine schist dust; we are indebted to them.

Green bean and potato soup and fried fish…..mmmmm….


Proud to be a « traditional quinta » we serve hot meals to our workers, thanks to our cook Adelaide’s delicious food.  The morning « snack » includes a delicious soup (Adelaide is a pro at this) and a protein and carbohydrate – grilled sardines,  big slabs of bacon or codfish cakes aka « bolinhos de bacalhau » with potatoes and watered-down wine.  At 1 PM a more substantial meal is prepared, with soup again, meat or fish, potatoes, rice or beans, and homegrown vegetables, all prepared in a myriad of ways.  Adelaide cooks not only for the vineyard workers but also for our winemaking and tasting room/agroturismo teams, and V and me.  One day I will put up a plack outside her kitchen « Adelaide’s Place » - but there are only 24 hours in a day, as I remind myself.

Conviviality is ever so important for all work.

Harvest starts next month and our vineyard workers swell in number from 6 to around 25, women with more hand dexterity for cutting our delicious and ripe grapes and men to carry the grape-filled baskets down the steep terraces  for loading in our trucks.  The sooner the grapes come in to press the better and our quinta becomes a beehive of activity, to be reported on next month.

Food at the quinta

When we first bought the quinta in 1992, in addition to being self sufficient in vegetables, fruit, olive oil, wine and of course port, we also had chickens, roosters, ducks and pigs.  We slaughtered 2 pigs a year, and always had legs hanging to season in the kitchen’s enormous chimney. Fowl was prepared in a myriad of ways and had flavor!  Vegetables were seasonal and picked fresh in the morning to be served at lunch.  I loved this ambiance, being a Californian who had never lived on a working farm, such as our quinta. Our children had a ball running around, being dirty most of the time, exploring and being part of the quinta in action.  Feeding the feathered animals and pigs was a highlight, and they would excuse themselves from the table to run outside with kitchen scraps and breadcrumbs to offer.  Of course they would much rather do that than to sit down and eat!  I remember one day at lunch when my then 3 year-old daughter Odile, looking at the steaming tray of rice with meat waiting to be served, asked “Mamma, where’s da red rooster dat I fed dis morning?”  You can only imagine! We no longer have these farm animals but we do boast home-grown seasonal vegetables, from tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, beans, lettuce and one vegetable that finds its way into almost every meal….cabbage!  Oranges, tangerines, lemons and almonds also abound, and the cornucopia overflows.

The cabbage family dominates
and potatoes go hand in hand

At Quinta do Tedo we do not have tractors to work the land, as mentioned in a previous blog, we have a horse and around 6 workers, in addition to our cook, manager/winemaker, assistant winemaker, tour guide, and occasional extra help, that mushrooms into a crew of 25 at harvest!  We have 2 meals a day for those who toil outside; a “snack” at 10 AM; typically soup, potatoes, grilled sardines or another protein source and at 1 PM; a proper hot lunch, starting with soup, following varies from baccalhau or fish, to grilled pork ribs, roasted chicken or braised beef to feijoada (a bean stew with pig ears, tripe and sausage), always accompanied by rice, pasta, beans or potatoes.  A full stomach=a happy worker is a saying that we believe in.  Our table wine is for all, mais bien sûr!  The vineyard workers have one room and the large kitchen is where we eat, together with the winemakers, the tour guide, and any visiting friends, family or business connections.  Lunch is the time to sit down and talk and to be together.

When people ask me how is the food at our quinta, given that I am not Portuguese, I generally respond that it is, in a nutshell, “simple, yet very flavorful”.  Now “simple” is very subjective.  The methods of making many dishes at the quinta are not simple, they take time; dishes simmer for hours on the stovetop or roast in the oven, meat and fish are marinated before grilling, discreet herbs and spices are used.  Ours is a working farm, the cook prepares for everyone, no one dish “jumps out” at you, flavors are harmonious.  The core ingredients are genuine, because for the most part they come from our land.  Our olive oil is soft and delicious, our table wine has a hint of port in the bouquet and is round and inviting in the mouth, and the port speaks for itself.

Life is good at the quinta and we are so lucky to be here.

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