Simon visits João Tereso, a sound engineer turned winemaker with a penchant for breathing new life into old vineyards, and for crafting delicious natural wines in the Lisboa region.

João Tereso with some 80 year old vines. Photo (C) Simon J Woolf.

João Tereso is a live sound engineer by trade. You’re more likely to find him behind a large mixing console at a jazz festival than in a vineyard. But that all changed when he learned that his grandfather’s old vineyard in Alcobaça was about to be sold by the family. Tereso had more than a little sentiment about the vines, as some of his earliest memories were of stomping grapes at grandpa’s house – when he was no more than two years old.

Tereso’s home region in Northern Lisboa is hardly prestigious for wine these days. Lisboa became the home of giant government-run cooperative wineries from the 1950s on, and its stock-in-trade was the production of bulk wine to be shipped to Portugal’s African colonies. That image has stuck, and over the last few decades many growers switched from grapes to apples or pears – both much more lucrative, when the price of grapes can be as low as 30 euro-cents a kilo. Sadly, the apple and pear industries are far more polluting. Apple orchards are typically sprayed up to 25 times a year with synthetic fungicides or pesticides, and the organic apple sector has thus far failed to materialise in the region.

Where vineyards have survived in northern Lisboa, they often resemble graveyards more than they do living farmland, with the wizened arms of neglected, unpruned vines punctuating a carpet of weeds. Little surprise that Tereso’s family wanted to offload their land. His friends told him he’d be mad to try to manage a vineyard on his own, but Tereso wanted to try. He contacted a respected local consultant winemaker and viticulturist named Rodrigo Martins and the pair met in his grandfather’s vineyard in late 2016. Martins was upbeat and encouraged Tereso to give it a go. Instead of taking him on as a client, the pair became friends and Martins arranged for him to have space at the local coop in Alcobaça to make his wines.

Birth of Chinado

Tereso had a trouble-free vintage in 2017, and created his brand Chinado – a Mexican slang word for a flick-knife which has become popular in Lisbon. Although 2018 proved to be far harder, he decided to stick with the winemaking. Then in 2019, as Tereso was walking in a valley close to his grandfather’s plot, he stumbled on what looked like a patch of weeds. Closer examination revealed that there were vines hidden amongst the scrub that reached as high as a person. Although clearly very old, some of them were still alive.

Having nurtured his grandfather’s vines back to health and productivity, Tereso was fascinated by the idea of doing the same with the abandoned vineyard he’d discovered. His only problem was how to locate the owner.

It turned into a quest that Tereso describes as “a hell of a story”. His initial research led him to a confused old lady living on a nearby hill. “Yes” she said, “we did once have some vines down there, but I have no idea if they’re still there”. She was quick to give her agreement that Tereso could work the land, and he enthusiastically began stripping back the foliage and pruning the vines – which appeared to be around 80 years old.

Mistaken identity

A few weeks later, a cousin of Tereso’s father said in passing “I see you’re working Jorge’s old vineyard. What’s the story with that?”. It was the first inkling that he’d wrongly identified the owner.

In slight panic, due to the considerable amount of work he’d already undertaken, Tereso tried again to find the rightful owner. After going around the houses (literally and figuratively), he ended up at the door of another widow named Esmeralda. She acknowledged that the plot was hers, but then admitted that she couldn’t hand it over without first offering it to her children.

At this point, Tereso had run out of patience. But his father had a lead on a different old plot. They duly went to visit another old-timer, who was happy to let him work the vines. But belatedly, Esmeralda got back to Tereso – all good, none of her children cared two beans for the plot. It was his.

“I’m basically in the salvage business” laughs Tereso. He now works a total of five different vineyards spread over a couple of hillsides. And although the sound engineering gig still brings in most of the money, two years of covid lockdowns enabled him to focus more on the vineyards and building up the Chinado brand.

Let the vineyards speak

Chinado logo - designed by Cláudia GuerreiroTereso’s style of winemaking is stripped down and simple – just letting these venerable old vines speak their minds. A pinch of sulphur is the only additive in the whole process. And where Martins sometimes opts to ferment in steel tanks, just about all of the Chinado wines are femented and matured in a clutch of used and even more used barrels. The results are wines that have exactly the right balance between refinement and rusticity – nothing airbrushed, but nothing out of balance either.

This methodology reaches its extreme with the 80-year-old plot, now named Esmeralda in honour of its previous owner. “The only thing that made sense was to make a field blend from whatever the vineyard yields” says Tereso. As was typical with plantings back in the 1940s, the vineyard contains a mix of red and white varieties, with some Baga, Castelão, Vital, Fernão Pires and a number of unidentified varieties into the bargain. The resulting wine is a characterful but lightweight palhete – the traditional Portuguese style where red and white grapes are harvested and fermented together. Imagine silky-textured red berry fruit, seasoned with wild herbs, bay leaf and pepper – and all enhanced with wonderful Atlantic acidity. It’s gorgeous.

“I just want to replicate whatever was done decades ago” says Tereso. But he’s certainly not living in the past. The eye-catching Chinado logo and the highly drinkable wines that Tereso turns out have ensured him an ever-increasing following both in Portugal and beyond. With the events industry now starting to recover, Tereso is likely to have his hands full.


Contact Joao and Chinado via his Instagram account.