Vinho de Talha
The centerpiece of the production of vinho de talha is the talha, a large clay vessel. This wine is made using a simple technique that dates back over 2000 years and was inherited from the Romans who used to inhabit the area of Alentejo in central Portugal. Wine made in talhas are made with prolong contact with the grape skins, and the wine as described as being “in the mother.” Because production is not standardized among the small-scale, artisanal producers, the exact production process can vary from place to place. In some areas, the wine is separated from the must earlier and bottled, while in other places the wine is left in contact with the skins just before consumption.
To make the wine, grapes are usually harvested in September. The best grapes are chosen, crushed and placed in to the talhas. After 48-72 hours the fermentation of the must visibly starts. The mixture is stirred with a wooden stick at least twice a day during the first three weeks, after which, depending on the room temperature, the fermentation will be complete. Any grape solids will have sunken to the bottom, and are part of the process of the filtration of the wine. The wine is poured in and out of the talha multiple times to be clafified, then placed into a different talha during the winter until bottling or consumption. Some producers cover the wine with fat, olive oil or other oil to protect the wine from air, just like a cork in a bottle. Because it is not filtered through an industrial or chemical process, the final product can be slightly turbid. It has an unusual taste compared to most commercially produced wines, and is usually consumed when young.
The exact quantity of vinho de talha produced annually is unknown, as much is made for personal use or to share with family and friends. Some wine commercially sold under this name is not made following the most traditional production methods. Production quantities are small, due to the nature of the production. Competition from large-scale winemakers who purchase grapes that could otherwise be used to make vinho de talha, along with difficulty in finding talhas today mean that production is limited, and the most authentic versions of the product are in decline. It is a wine most often made for personal use, in part due to the unique taste. More and more, non-local grape varities are being used, and wines are spending less and less time in the traditional clay vessels in contact with the grape skins. Not only could this product be lost, but a host of other careers and parts of culture could be as well as well, including the talheiros (who make the talhas), gateadores (who fix them), pesgadores (who waterproof the inside of the talhas), and grape producers. Many traditional cellars associated with this wine are closing, due to the age of the owners and changes in laws regarding wine production in the area.