Abilio pulled the leaves off the vine giving the grapes space to breathe. He checked each cluster with a precise eye, imagining the wine that would come of his labour. His hands, dirty and dark from digging at the dirt, checking the root stocks, and testing the grapes between his fingers, waved excitedly as he watched Analisa striding quickly towards him between the vines.
Her long dark wavy hair flowing behind her, framing her delicate features, dancing on her shoulders in rhythm with the summer breeze. The sun like a halo behind her, filtering through, lightening each curl, lingering on her skin in tones of milky coffee. She waved back with the hand that held her sandals and gripped a light blue cotton drawstring bag in the crook of her arm, balancing the contents of it on her hip.
He grabbed her in his arms trying hard not to touch the back of her cotton dress with his working hands. “Como estas hejo meu amor?” she said. He smiled his big open smile, unable to speak and hoped she understood how breathless she made him feel. It didn’t matter that they did this every single day. His reaction was always the same.
Later, hands washed and sitting at the small wooden table behind his work shop they ate lunch together as he stroked the palm of her hand. “What will we do?” he said sadly, looking down as if the answer would emerge from the soft skin of her palms, hoping that the question would finally reveal an answer even though it had been posed a thousand times.
Her parents would never accept him. He was a vineyard labourer, a winemaker, living his passion close to the earth that he cherished, and he could not give Analisa the comfortable life that they had given her. He wanted to ask their permission to marry their only daughter so he could spend his life with her, out in the open, walking through the village without fear of being seen, spending evenings sitting on the bench in the town square, waking up together every morning as the sun came up over the vineyards in the distance. But Abilio and Analisa had to hide, eating lunch behind his workshop, savouring each of the thirty minutes, thirstily looking forward to the next thirty minutes, tomorrow. “What will we do?” he asked again.
“You give them this.” She said triumphantly. “When you come on Saturday to talk to papa, you give him this,” she said, picking up the blue drawstring bad that she had rested at her feet.
The weight of the bag made a heavy sound on the wooden table as the soft cotton fabric fell off to reveal a large bottle of wine. It had no label, but Abilio recognized it. It was the first gift he’d given her two years ago when he first fell in love with his beautiful Analisa.
The gift was a symbol of his labour and his promise that he would toil to make their life sweet. That he would be as patient as he was in the vineyard. And that their relationship would come to fruition with constant care and love just as his wines did.
“How can I give your father this? What will he think of me? I am nobody, and he the most respected man in all of Alentejo.”
“You are not nobody. You are a great winemaker Abilio. One day your signature will be on the bottles you make!”
Uncertain but taking Analisa’s advice, Abilio arrived at Monte da Ravasquiera on Saturday afternoon at precisely 4:00pm to meet Analisa’s parents. His heart thumping in his chest, he wiped his palms on a tissue in his pants pocket before he shook the hand of the man that he hoped would be his father-in-law, handing him the bottle of unlabelled wine.
Graciously Analisa’s father poured the wine at the dinner table and raised a toast to the young couple who silently hoped the conversation of marriage would go well after dinner. Taking a sip Analisa’s father closed his eyes as memories of his boyhood flooded back. “Where did you find this wine young man?” He asked Abilio.
“It is mine, made four years ago while I was learning the art of winemaking.” Said Abilio nervously.
“This wine needs a label. It is a special wine Abilio.” Exclaimed the old man. “It is the same as my father used to make. Now that he is gone, we need a winemaker of this calibre in the family business. If you are available, I’d like you to try. What do you think?”
Abilio couldn’t believe his ears. He glanced at Analisa and then her father’s kind face. “Bem-Vindo a familia Abilio!” Welcome to the family.
And so, Coutada Velha was born.
This is a work of pure fiction about a very real wine and wine region in Portugal. Read my tasting notes on Coutada Velha here.