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Sustainability: creating a ‘crop mosaic’

How wine and olive oil producer Herdade dos Grous is increasing biodiversity at its large estate in Alentejo…

 

Horse and cattle breeding go hand in hand with organic farming at Herdade dos Grous

Sustainability: creating a ‘crop mosaic’
  • Chris Boiling
  • 2021-02-09
Striving to produce wines and olive oils in a more sustainable way, Portugal’s Herdade dos Grous has created a beautiful mosaic of agricultural landscapes in the southern part of Alentejo.
The large estate, in Albernoa (20km from Beja), combines organic farming and animal husbandry – producing excellent wines and olive oils alongside horses and cattle. Increasing biodiversity is one of the key programmes and includes the maintenance and reforestation of the montado (oak forest), sowing permanent biodiverse pastures, growing olive groves, rotating fallow areas, promoting habitat banks for pollinators, and growing indigenous grape varieties such as Trincadeira and Aragonez in the vineyard.

The 1,000ha estate has:

  • 93ha of vineyards
  • 140ha of olive trees
  • 15ha of pine trees
  • 7ha of fruit trees and vegetable garden
  • 240ha of pastures, including 120ha of Mediterranean oak forest (montado)
  • 120ha of natural pastures
  • And 275ha of forage for cattle – which is also an important area for wild-plant hedgerows, temporary ponds and habitat banks for pollinators and wild animal species that benefit the vineyards and other farming plots.
There is also an artificial lake covering 85ha and three solar-panel parks which power all the buildings at the estate.

Herdade dos Grous oak trees
Herdade dos Grous terrace
Herdade dos Grous vyd
Herdade dos Grous winery
Herdade dos Grous daisies
This crop mosaic is fundamental for sustainable agriculture, according to the company, which produces 700,000 bottles of wine a year.
Herdade dos Grous is the first producer to obtain the ‘sustainably produced’ certification from the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program (WASP), a pioneering project in Portugal created by the Alentejo Wine and Vine Growing Commission in 2015.
In the vineyard, Herdade dos Grous has looked at the orientation of its rows – planting new vineyards with an east-west exposure to avoid sunburn and grow grapes with better balance between sugar and acidity.
The company has also been planting Portuguese grape varieties that are more resilient to drought and heatwaves since 2002. The total vineyard area now has 74% of such grapes, which include the reds Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional and the whites Antão Vaz, Arinto and Gouveio.
Other agricultural practices adopted to “enhance the protection and life in the soil” include seeding inter-row cover crops that will naturally enrich the soils and protect them from erosion, reducing the use of pesticides, not using any herbicides, and fertilising with natural organic matter from the estate’s other farming activities.
Herdade dos Grous has also installed bird of prey and bat boxes to help control pests, such as moths and rodents.
In the winery, built in 2005, Herdade dos Grous’ winemakers are using electricity from the solar panels and water more efficiently. Measures include a switch to LED lights and installing water pressure pistols in all the hoses. They are also reusing the water from washing the vats and have educated workers on the need to save water.
In the bottling are they are using more and more sustainable materials in the packaging and will start using lighter weight bottles.
As a business, they are incorporating social responsibility and increasingly involving employees and the local community. An example is commemorating World Environment Day on June 5 by inviting the local community and schoolchildren to participate in some planting activities at the estate (below).

Herdade dos Grous schoolchildren
Luis Duarte
Luís Duarte (above), the manager and winemaker, says all this work is positive for the business: “We believe that the work that we are developing will have later on more advantages than problems. The advantages are essentially on the soil quality (based on soil analysis), on the water savings, on the biodiversity increasing and on the well-being of our employees. Although in this initial moment we are feeling an increase of costs due to this agriculture management, we also believe that we’ll have a good turnover in the near future.”
The estate offers a restaurant, wine bar and wine shop. Visitors can explore the vineyards on foot or riding one of the homegrown horses.

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