Question 1 – To start, please introduce yourself.
KHS – My name is Karl Stock, I am the founder and director of Quinta dos Vales, one of the main wineries in the Algarve. In 2006, I decided to say goodbye to the money-driven business world of my past and instead decided to focus on my two passions, wine and art. This is how Quinta dos Vales was born, and today we are the most awarded and renowned winery in our region. It’s been a long journey, but I put the right team around me and I was determined to approach wine production in an honest manner.
Question 2 – What do you think is the most important secret in wine production?
KHS – It might sound like a cliché, but the most important factor in wine production is authenticity. Good wine is made in the field, not in the laboratory. The idea behind wine production is to nourish and guide the production process, but always letting nature lead the way. But unfortunately, it’s a financial challenge, so nowadays this approach is the exception rather than the rule. It is much easier to add substances that enhance the flavors or reduce the aging requirements of a wine, the financial benefits are easy to understand.
To give a simple example, when you buy a Fanta you know that the flavor is not from the actual oranges, but you are aware of it. Whereas when you buy a wine you hope and expect the opposite – that you are tasting a product that comes from nature. Wine that hasn’t been handled in the lab is called natural wine, but producing natural wine is exponentially more expensive, which is why it’s now rare.
Quinta dos Vales from the sky
Question 3 – Can you give some examples?
KHS – Of course the simplest example is the aging time. Almost all natural red wines need several years of aging before they are ready to be tasted, the tannins simply need a long period of micro-oxidation to become round and palatable. Hence the saying “aged like a good wine”. But there is a simple shortcut available, named “Gum arabic”, an extract from the acacia tree. Add it to a young red wine and all of a sudden it tastes round, smooth and full-bodied.
But without a doubt, the example that makes me smile the most is when a young red wine has that recognizable flavor of red berries. This flavor can develop and develop in natural wines, but it takes years to develop, and before the age of 3-4 is barely noticeable. So what can give young red wines this strong flavor? Berries, real red berries which are dried, crushed and poured into the wine. This is a common practice, and fully permitted, even in organic wines, as long as the berries are produced organically.
Question 4 – How is it possible that the experts ignore it?
KHS – Well, it depends on their area of expertise. All winegrowers are aware of this, it is no secret in these areas. But many, if not most, “experts” who focus on the sensory aspects of wine don’t learn enough about actual wine production. So when we read the incredible red fruit flavor of a wine that is only 1 to 2 years old, all we can do is smile, because we know without a doubt which area this flavor comes from, and there is certainly no grape in this area.
I don’t discourage anyone from drinking industrially produced wines, I sometimes drink them myself. But when I choose to drink one, I do it knowingly, and I don’t think of comparing it to a natural wine, because it’s just a whole different world.
Question 5 – So if you are saying so clearly that producing natural wine is a bad financial decision, why continue?
KHS – We are lucky in the sense that wine production was never meant to be profitable for Quinta dos Vales. We produce a completely authentic wine because it is a project of passion for me, and it is what I believe in. When I decided to enter the world of wine, I was aware of it and knew that if I wanted to make a wine that I could be proud of, I would need to make a profit elsewhere. This is why we have focused so strongly on wine tourism, the profits generated there allow us to make no compromises in our wine production.
However, that said, there are of course some advantages to this stubborn approach. 2020 has been a disaster for almost all areas of our business, but a big positive has been our mail order business. Not only did we have a record year in shipping wine throughout Europe and the rest of the world, but the most important thing is the loyalty rate. Once people make their first purchase with us, they are almost guaranteed to order again. This encouragement and positive feedback takes us back to what we have always preached, quality and authenticity.