As we approached the Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate on foot from Estômbar, we were greeted with the sight of life-size colourful bears doing handstands among the vines and a curvaceous red giantess standing on the top of a hill. We knew we had arrived. The estate is no ordinary winery, but also a renowned sculpture park, where the owner, Karl Heinz Stock, displays his and other artists’ grand sculptures of elephants, bears, hippos, birds and unfashionably Rubenesque dancers.
Many of the works are for sale and, for people who want to try their hand at making something in the arts-and-crafts-line themselves, workshops are held at certain times. Images of some of the sculptures have made their way onto the labels of the estate’s wine bottles, including the company’s logo of the Sirens from a work ‘Legends of the Seas’ by Fachraddin Rzaev. We were happy wandering around the grounds on our own (although we did notice a group of visitors on a guided tour of the grounds), moving from one area of sculptures to another, past a barbecue area, a swimming pool and an outdoor eating area
I fell in love with the kissing hippos in a pond surrounded by blue, purple, green and red naked women floating on the water. We finally arrived at an area of sculptures by Ivan Ulmann, whose work is prolific throughout the estate, which included small elephants painted to illustrate the parables which are printed on the accompanying information boards, such as ‘The Day an Elephant Crossed the Land of Plenty’, and another of my favourite sculptures in the grounds, the ‘Love Car’, an old car completely covered with mosaic tiles.
As we walked through the grounds we passed fruit trees with oranges, lemons and plums waiting temptingly to be picked. Dotted around the 44-hectare estate we took a sneaky peek at some of the accommodation that can be rented, including a lovely villa, a cottage and apartments, and decided that it would make a wonderful location for a peaceful holiday, a wedding or a very special party.
We discovered a large area of animal pens hidden away at one end of the estate, with geese, sheep and goats. The geese were noisy and keen to make their presence felt, while the group of sheep and goats were running around the grounds acting very camera-shy. We finally caught up with them in the orange grove.
But it was the wine that we really went to the Quinta dos Vales for, having already tasted a bottle of the Marquês dos Vales white wine at the Lagoa Jazz Festival. Vines have been grown on the estate since the 1980s, when commercial wine production in the Algarve began and vines can be seen growing for as far as the eye can see, including grape varieties such as Syrah, Verdelho, Aragonês, Arinto, Touriga Nacional, Castelão and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Quinta produces two labels: the aforementioned award-winning Marquês dos Vales and a new range of fruity, uncomplicated wines on the Dialog label (look out for the kissing hippos, elephants and bears on the labels). Finally we got to try some wines, opting for a solo tasting, which for the bargain price of €5 allowed us to taste four glasses of wine from the Marquês dos Vales label. A leaflet of tasting notes was provided. The glasses were arranged on an ingenious holder that allowed us to safely carry three glasses to the secluded seating area, where we sat back to enjoy the Duo White 2015, the Duo Rosé 2016 and the Elegant Grace 2012. The Duo White was a blend of Verdelho and Arinto grapes and was light with a citrus flavour. It was very refreshing on that hot day. The Duo Rosé was a blend of Touriga Nacional and Castelão grapes. It was pale pink in colour and had a strong floral perfume. It was a young wine with a slightly sharp flavour. The Elegant Grace was a red wine made of a blend of Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Aragonês grapes. It was a light and acidic with a garnet-red colour. Finally, we were served a glass of the Licoroso Red 2010 made with Touriga Nacional grapes. This was a fortified wine with a cherry aroma and a smooth, berry flavour. It reminded of the cherry liqueur ginjinha that I have drunk and enjoyed in Lisbon. Luckily neither of us was driving, so we were able to enjoy all of the wines knowing a taxi would take these two tipsy people back to Carvoeiro.
Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate, Sítio dos Vales, Estômbar
Opening hours: October to April Monday-Friday 9am-6pm; May to September Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm. Entrance to the grounds is free.
Tastings (as of June 2017): a solo wine tasting is €5 for 4 glasses. For an extra €9.90 per person they will provide regional snacks such as bread, cheese, ham, pâté, and olives. A private tour of the winery and cellar costs €29.90, plus €6 per person for a guided wine tasting with bread and olive oil.
By public transport: the Faro-Lagos train stops at Estômbar railway station or the Lagoa-Portimão bus stops in front of the station. It is a 10-15-minute walk from the station. Follow the sign on the signpost opposite the station to Quinta dos Vales.