Quinta do Casal do Paço, in Vasco Croft’s family since early 17th century, spreads over nearly 20 hectares of land and forests, four of which are vines and another four of chestnuts orchards. At its centre stands a granite 16th century 2-storey manor house complete with chapel. The wine cellar on the first floor dates back to the origin of the house.
While winemaking has always been at the main revenue stream of the Afros Estate, back in the early days, several other cultures thrived as well, such as cereals, beans, fruits and olives. In fact, up until the early seventies, tenant farmers worked their plots and lived in the Quinta’s rural houses, giving a percentage of their crops in return.
Grapes were grown under ramadas, a sort of pergola to shade the crops which were planted on the outskirts of plots and along the paths, while cereals and vegetables were grown in the middle.
The vinification took place in the cellar existing in the basement of the main house and sold in bulk to merchants from neighbouring cities. Even then, Casal do Paço wines were very much sought after for their quality and often attained twice the standard prices.
The nearest ancestors of Vasco Croft to live there, whose deeds were imprinted in the property’s history, were his great grandparents Amália and José.
Earlier in life, José Teixeira de Queiroz, was a lawyer and a politician. He was elected minister of the first Portuguese Republic. Later in life he often took refuge in Casal do Paço, away from his turbulent political life in Lisbon.
His wife Amália, who shared much of his progressive ideas, married him at the age of seventeen against the will of her monarchic family.
Widowed at forty, she moved permanently to Casal do Paço where she lived and worked until her death in 1967. She was famous in the region, recognized as a leader and astute farmer, an ascetic and emblematic figure known as much for her military toughness as for her kindness and compassion towards the local people she dealt with.
Massive immigration in the sixties and seventies put an end to the old farming structures and ways of life, and soon came the exodus from the countryside.
After the Colonial War and the Carnation Revolution in 1974, large cooperatives and huge private industrial companies began to emerge, dramatically altering the wine economy, including the farm’s. It was from that point on that the entire production of grapes was sold to the nearest cooperative, leaving the cellar in the main house empty.
As the Quinta was now in the hands of several heirs, most of them living in Lisbon, it entered a sort of limbo. With works limited to a minimum of maintenance and grape production, it was mainly used as a vacation home by Vasco Croft’s relatives.
Recent history – The early years of Aphros
This went on for nearly 30 years, until the Aphros project was initiated in 2003, with the restoration of the cellar and the reactivating of wine production.
The rest of the property also underwent major restructuration, including water management, land shaping, replanting of vines and of chestnut orchards. A new team was put together, bringing together the necessary skills in farm management, viticulture and winemaking.
In October of 2006, the first biodynamic preparations were put to the ground, marking the beginning of a direction that would transform both the farm and its wines.
The implementation of biodynamics professionally applied to viticulture required the guidance of experienced experts. Daniel Noel, from Bordeaux, founder of consulting company Viti Vinis Bio, came for several times in each of the first years, from 2006 to 2010. His mission included diagnosing, work prescribing, and training the team in observation and practice. From 2010 to 2015 the counseling was handed on to Daniel Pasquet for viticulture and complemented by Jacques Fourés for winemaking and specific biodynamic practices.
At the same time as being erected and recognized as a model ecological winery, the wines were slowly taking shape and beinglaunched in the market.
Demand from overseas, mainly from wine mature countries, initially Japan, Germany, UK and USA, naturally led to the internationalization of the company.The challenge of being present in the most demanding market places in the wine world, enhanced by the visibility created by positive reviews of renowned critics, led to growth and the reformulation of the project in wider terms.
For attaining economic self sufficiency and being able to respond consistently to needs of clients in the wider markets, an increase in production and the creation of infrastructures were necessary. To this end, new areas of vines were added, from 2008, with the acquisition of Casa Nova, and lease of Valflores. A project for a new cellar, with the capacity to process and store 100 000 bottles (the production of the 3 Quintas), was made and finally erected in 2014.
In 2018, its 14th year of existence, Aphros is nearing completion ofits projected goals.Regarded as a pioneering ecological winery in Portugal, praised for the strong identity and originality of its wines, it is now present in 20 different countries all over the world.