Charismatic and determined but empathetic is the impression left behind after meeting Julia de Melo, who is an avid advocate for Portugal. The former business lawyer who left Lisbon to establish herself as one of Portugal’s leading winemakers, in the wine district of Dão, was recently in Oslo. We were so impressed that we visited her in Portugal. Julia de Melo Kemper did not know what she was in for when she was standing on high heeled shoes and stepped into the courtyard of the family farm, Quinta do Cruzeiro, in Dão in 2003. I was convinced that my brothers were going to take over, but my dad had pointed me out as an heir. The father had given Julia de Melo Kemper three years to digest the decision. Not in her wildest imagination had she believed that she was going to become a winemaker. I had a successful business law practice and my life was filled with the joys of the big city. I said no sometimes before I finally accepted, I have to admit. The family owned the property of Quinta do Cruzeiro for over 400 years but all Julia had ever experienced from the farm were the summers she spent there, during her childhood. The memories were abundant and good. Now it is was up to her generation to carry on the family legacy. The family had not done a lot on the property since the 1930s, and if it were to turn into anything more than just an estate with vines, she would have to go at it with great heart and means…
Lisbon is only three hours drive away so I thought to combine both lifes, tells Julia de Melo Kemper. I was a business lawyer on one side and a wine producer on the other. In the beginning, a lot was about establishing status and obtaining information from consultants. I needed help with everything. My first decision was that I should make wine from organic grapes. I would be an organic producer from A to Z. As time went on, action was taken more and more towards making the best wine. We also invested a lot in modern equipment to get better control over the entire production – from the work in the vineyards to the wine bottling process. Her first vintage came in 2008 and she felt it was a hit. Her name stood on the label, even though there were only two out of 17 the names she really has. – I couldn’t let the wines be called Ana Julia de Melo Ferreira de Almeida Peres the Noronha Galvao Teles Lucena Moita Cardoso Alves Cabral Amaral Campos Nunes Tavares Kemper, Julia says and laughs. One must keep in mind that there is a test in passport control when traveling abroad.
Initially, production was not big, compared to today’s 80,000 bottles, so more investments were made and first vintage that was exported was in 2010. – I had a good team with me in Dão and was about to create a new and well-balanced life. She gained a lot of recognition in the wine industry for her revitalization of the vineyard and strong focus on making a precise fruit driven wine style with balanced acidity. Her life as a wine farmer and business lawyer went on shining. Dramatic changes led to yet another better wines. Julia de Melo Kemper ended up in a coma after a failed anesthesia during one routine operation. The hospital loss led to that she was in a coma for three months and spent almost two years to get back to normal functionality again. Everything had to be re-learned, says Julia with seriousness in her voice. I am very grateful that my good friend and winemaker Dirk Niepoort took care of the vineyards and made sure for producing wine in my absence. These years made me decide that I would be 100 percent present when I came back in 2012. The law firm in Lisbon was discontinued and I produced wine in a much more holistic way. My life has been given completely different values and I am even more related to the vineyard, the history and what to contribute in its future.
From our point of view, and after having tasted all her wines from 2008 until the last vintage, no doubt prevails. Although Wine perfection is a never ending pursuit, in terms of price, Julia de Melo Kemper offers wines that are very good bargains. We look forward to her next vintages that offer great promise.