A journey to the Douro valley and one of its finest wine estates, the Quinta da Côrte: authentic, homely – and surprisingly modern.
I wake and pull open the curtains. The valley materialises in an instant. A hill rises on the far side to a neat point, its surface a patchwork of evergreen and arid brown. Whitewashed and earthy terracotta-roofed buildings collect in the deep basin below, as the Douro River slips behind the hill’s hulking form. I step out of my suite, set in a low outbuilding.
To my left are the white and yellow walls of the quinta – the traditional farmhouse of the wine estate – and surrounding it all, as high as I can see above me, and as far into the valley as I can make out, are Quinta da Côrte’s grape vines. Countless rows line the ancient terraces, carved into the steep hillside, intersecting the early rays of the sun. The harvest ended a week before my arrival, and this morning, the valley is silent.
I am in Portugal’s Douro Valley, the UNESCO-listed wine region that produces all the world’s port, including ruby, vintage, and tawny, created from blends of hundreds of different grape varieties unique to the region. Quinta da Côrte is one of the Douro’s smaller wine estates, blanketing one face of a precipitous valley celebrated for its terroir and schist soil.
The owner, Philippe Austruy, purchased the property in 2013, adding to his three vineyards in Bordeaux, Provence and Tuscany. As well as producing port with traditional methods in the estate’s original winery, Quinta da Côrte also creates still red wines, in a purpose-built modern wine warehouse designed by French architect and interior designer Pierre Yovanovitch, completed in 2018.
I walk along a wide stone terrace, overlooking the decades-old vines and olive trees at its edge. The roofs of the two wineries, one a sleek white, the other a warm terracotta red, lie below. I reach a wooden side door and enter the quinta’s kitchen. White and blue Portuguese faience tiles cover the walls and the exterior of an original and prodigious open fireplace.
A collection of ceramic plates is mounted on the wall, and above the central dining table, a contemporary chandelier hangs like a group of pink balloons. This playful eclecticism is also the work of Yovanovitch, who sensitively transformed the interiors of the 17th century quinta into a sophisticated guesthouse.
Commissioned to work solely on the warehouse, he quickly fell in love with the estate and became involved with the whole project, including the landscaping of the schist terraces and access road, and the swimming pool further along the hillside. It is the third property Yovanovitch and Austruy have worked on together, and since its completion, the pair have collaborated on two further projects: a showroom for Vignobles Austruy’s wines, and a private residence of Austruy’s, both in Paris.
“We have developed a strong mutual trust, which is very important for me when undergoing these projects,” Yovanovitch tells me over the phone. “Philippe Austruy pushes me to go as far as possible.” Two of the designer’s projects for Austruy – La Patinoire Royale gallery in Brussels, and Quinta da Côrte – are documented in Yovanovitch’s first monograph, published by Rizzoli in September 2019.
Yovanovitch’s touch can be traced throughout the quinta. Adjoining the kitchen is a small library, warm with red ochre paintwork, cushions, and ceilings, with dramatic Celtic wooden masks from the nearby village of Lazarim on the wall. In my suite, whitewashed walls, oak doors, chestnut cabinetry, terracotta floors, and a 1970s Talsint rug in soft, thick wool, culminate in a rich interplay of textures. Even the ensuites in the guestrooms of the main quinta have been uniquely clad in hand-made tiles from Aveiro, each one employing a different colour and pattern.
“I wanted to preserve the original spirit of the farmhouse,” Yovanovitch says. “When visiting Portugal, I do not want to encounter something too contemporary or clean; I want to feel the warmth of materials, the hands of the Portuguese craftspeople. Throughout the property, I decided to honour the colour and material palette of a traditional Portuguese home."
When visiting Portugal, I do not want to encounter something too contemporary or clean; I want to feel the warmth of materials, the hands of the Portuguese craftspeople.
Pierre Yovanovitch, architect and interior designer
Outside, I follow schist stone paths, shaded by olive and plum trees. The modern wine complex, staggered in three tiers down the hillside, utilises the latest vinicultural techniques and machinery. Inside the complex, I am greeted by the heady, rich smells of fermenting wine; it seems warm, homely even, despite the cold steel in which it is encased. Overhead, the ceiling soars to a bright skylight. During the previous week’s harvesting, bunches of grapes would have been fed into a large stainless-steel machine outside the uppermost floor, which separates and discards the leaves and twigs before funnelling the fruit through a hole in the ground, taking them down to the building’s lower floor and into stainless steel vats, where fermentation can begin. At every stage, gravity is used instead of electric pumps to minimise crushing or disturbing the wine, which would affect its final flavour. After two to three weeks of fermenting, the wine is piped down to the cellar and poured into oak barrels for ageing. Here, a constant temperature of 11 degrees is maintained, and thick walls prevent any further vibrations from disturbing the wine.
I take the staircase down to the cellar, my steps reverberating, until I reach the cool silence below. A series of supporting pillars curves seamlessly into an undulating vaulted ceiling, evoking the serene ambiance of a church, or the sweeping hills of the Douro. “To research the project, I talked to many people who work at other local quintas,” says Yovanovitch. “They spoke of wine as something very spiritual. I wanted to capture this aspect of the winemaking process in the architecture – to create a contemporary beauty that connects the building with the spirit of the Douro Valley.”
Images: James Ash
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