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Julia Kemper: “The organic farming I do is the farming that my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather did in the 19th and early 20th centuries." (Photo: Tor Søreide)

Julia Kemper Wines

Winemaking Heritage

A lawyer by trade, Julia Kemper is now at the helm of one of Portugal's most exceptional wine estates, where nature, tradition and elegance come together to create award-winning nectars in the heart of the Dão

WORDS: Cristina Alcock|PHOTO: Tor Søreide| 2 June 2015

Winemaking Heritage

‘I never tired of being a lawyer, but since taking on the quinta, my life has changed enormously:
I fell in love’

FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS, Julia de Melo Kemper's family worked in the vineyards of the Dão region of Portugal, and transformed their lovingly grown grapes into the precious wine that accompanied each and every important family occasion, of parties and celebrations, and of times of tension and sadness.

A lawyer by profession, it wasn't long before her roots pulled her back, and today, she is the name and face of the elegant and sophisticated Julia Kemper Wines produced at the family estate of Quinta do Cruzeiro.

“I often joke that I was forced to inherit a stunning estate, but that's exactly what happened. For three years, my father convinced me to take over Quinta do Cruzeiro, which was basically a lifelong burden. Today the estate is legally mine, but I do feel the commitment to being the guardian of the ancestral values that members of my family have always upheld and which they have managed to preserve,” says the charming Julia Kemper, who admits she never planned to work in agriculture. “I never tired of being a lawyer, but since taking on the quinta, my life has changed enormously: I fell in love. Maybe because its written in my DNA! I fell in love with the land, with caring for the vines and all that it involves.”

Following in the footsteps of her forefathers, not only has Julia committed her life's work to producing high-quality, award-winning wines filled with strength and character, and thus promoting Dão to the world, she has also adopted organic farming and maintained the family tradition of preserving what nature has given them. And nature has certainly been generous: nestled in the heart of Portugal, the Dão is one of the oldest established wine regions in the country, with a unique terroir afforded by its mountainous surroundings, which protect the region from the wind, high altitude, temperate climate and granitic soils. As Julia says, “there is no region like it”. Here, surrounded by forests and pine trees, is where you will find Quinta do Cruzeiro and its 15 hectares of vineyards, standing at an altitude of 700 metres and boasting an incredible richness of terroirs and privileged biodiversity. Planted with traditional Dão grape varieties, such as Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz and Jaen in the reds, and Encruzado, Malvasia Fina and Verdelho in the whites, the estate's philosophy is centred on sustainability and interfering with nature as little as possible, staying true to the Melo family heritage of respecting the earth while incorporating modern techniques. 

“The organic farming I do is the farming that my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather did in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Obviously our organic farming is based on scientific know-how, whilst my ancestors worked from repeated experiences using sight, smell, taste and feel over the course of the years, but in essence they are very similar! I believe that when organic farming is done seriously, the quality of the fruit is completely different to the so-called 'industrial' fruit. More than that, we spare the human body of many chemical treatments.”

In the belief that organic farming is also a life philosophy, passed down from generation to generation for more than 400 years, Julia says that, for her, it's also a beautiful way of connecting with nature. And her passion for preserving the very essence of nature is clear: “The beautify of manual production, in which each one of our team members accompanies the birth of the grapes to the bottle, up until it is tasted on the market, is incredible, compared to the cold industrialisation of the wine process.”

The process in the winery is equally a source of pleasure for Julia, as she explains: “The alchemy of the aromas, of the colours and textures; the place of the big transformations, of the solid to the liquid, and the indelible presence of the intensely volatile and more or less persistent smells... all of which culminate in placing the product in the hands of those who are going to try our many moons of labour.” 

This unique and incredibly poetic approach to winemaking can be tasted in the award-winning producer's elegant, sophisticated and above all natural wines, three defining characteristics that have won over wine-lovers and connoisseurs everywhere since the first harvest in 2008. The perfect example of how tradition and modernity come together to create exceptional organic wines, the Julia Kemper white wines are fruity, well-balanced and long in the mouth, while the elegant reds are full-bodied with the aromas of delicious fruits of the forest. Alongside the widely acclaimed Touriga Nacional monovarietal, also in the estate's portfolio is the Elpenor label – an homage to the Elpenor caterpillar found on the grounds and which signalled that the organic farming was working –, with a complex red made from the region's main varieties of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro and Jaen, and a wonderfully fresh rosé also produced from the iconic Touriga Nacional grape. Finally, one wine that has piqued the interest of wine-lovers is Julia Kemper Curiosity, named after NASA's Mars mission rover Curiosity and which displays a little martian on the crest above the label.

“All the wines have their own story, which is why they have been given the spotlight in our world of Julia Kemper wines,” noted the winemaker. 

After years of producing wines exclusively for the consumption of the many family members and friends, the purpose of the estate, with Julia Kemper herself at the helm, is to share these wonderful nectars with the rest of the world. “Perhaps that's why nothing makes us happier than someone writing, calling or meeting us to say 'I loved your wine!'.”