Bairrada: Home of Portugal's Baga Grape

Bairrada has a long tradition of producing wines from just one grape.  Until recently, the region's wines were made primarily from the baga grape, often by traditional methods.  Producers crushed grapes with feet and left the stems on during the production process.  The region's fortunes changed for the better in 1991, when Portugal joined the European Union and modernization of Bairrada's wineries began in earnest.  Today you will find both producers that use modern, sometimes even über-modern methods and winemakers dedicated to traditional practices.  Happily, when conditions are right, both traditionalists and progressive winemakers can achieve excellent results.

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History
Bairrada, like other Portuguese wine regions, got its start when the Romans came to town.  Vines grew well in the region's clay soil, and winemaking prospered here until the watershed year of 1756.  That was when the Marquês de Pombal, King José I's overzealous prime minister, decided that Bairrada's vineyards had to be uprooted in order to protect the all-important Port industry.  This was done, and the vineyards of Bairrada were replaced by farms.  Fortunately, the prime minister retired when King José died in 1777, and the vineyards were replanted shortly thereafter.

The first school of viticulture in Portugal was established here in 1887, making this another important year for Bairrada.  Phylloxera, of course, played its own role, but the region recovered and winemaking continued.  Interestingly, the Bairrada DO's borders were not officially defined until 1979; prior efforts to delineate the region's boundaries typically ended in squabbling.

Prior to 2003, Bairrada's wine law emphasized one grape, and one grape only – baga.  This red wine grape can be difficult to manage here because the grapes can rot on the vine if the weather is not favorable.  The restrictive wine laws frustrated some of Bairrada's winemakers, who lobbied for a longer list of approved grape varieties and finally won out in 2003.  Today, Bairrada wine producers can use eight red wine grape varieties in addition to baga, although wines labeled "Bairrada Classico" must be at least 50 percent baga.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Still, tradition dies hard in Bairrada, and quite a few of the region's leading winemakers – not coincidentally, also some of Bairrada's leading spokespersons – still favor the baga grape.  Their wines speak for themselves; handled properly, baga makes a quality wine.

Geography, Climate and Soils
Bairrada lies in northwestern Portugal, in the area between Aveiro and Coimbra.  The area's Atlantic climate is affected by winds that blow in off the ocean, bringing rains that can cause grapes to rot or ruin the autumn harvest entirely.  Bairrada gets from 31 to 47 inches of rain per year, with more rain, sometimes as much as 62 inches, falling in the eastern part of the region.   Temperatures are moderate, thanks to the ocean's influence.  Summers are warm, with plenty of sunshine, and winters are mild.  Most of Bairrada's rain falls in the winter and spring months.