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Master Winemakers Top 100: Tiago Alves de Sousa

Tiago Alves de Sousa, winemaker at his family’s business, features as one of our top winemakers in this year’s Master Winemaker 100 guide. He speaks to db about the responsibilities of winemaking, returning to university as a professor and early-career accidents.

Tiago Alves de Sousa was born into a family with deep winegrowing roots in the Douro Valley. After winning an award for being the top student on his agricultural engineering degree course, he gained experience with celebrated wine mentors such as Manuel Vieira, Luís Cabral de Almeida and Anselmo Mendes.

In 2003 Tiago joined the family business and today is responsible for all the Alves de Sousa Port and Douro wines. Alongside this focus, he has had work published in scientific magazines, lectures regularly abroad and judges at major international wine competitions. Since 2020 Alves de Sousa has lent his expertise to the Menin Wine Company, a new, ambitious project launched by two Brazilian entrepreneurs.

His Alves de Sousa Vintage Port 2020 won a Master medal at the Global Fortified Masters 2023.

Describe your winemaking approach in no more than three words.

Understanding and expressing terroir.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

How diverse it is! There’s an amazing combination between nature, all the science behind that and then the art and craft involved in a glass of wine.

Which aspect of the job keeps you awake at night?

Many! But in particular it’s the challenges that Mother Nature presents us and the great responsibility involved. There’s a responsibility to my family, my team, our clients and ultimately to the person who is going to buy the bottle and drink the wine. Therefore there’s a responsibility behind every single bottle that leaves the cellar. As well as this, of course, is a lagar of Port waiting overnight to be fortified.

What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?

Depends on the long day! It may well be some cool bubbles in the summer, or an old white Port at any time. But it could almost be pretty much any glass of a great wine, as I do love wine in every colour and shape.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“You can do better.” I always keep these words in mind, and that makes me want to continue to evolve and improve every day. And there’s always room to improve.

What was your greatest winemaking mistake?

There are a few! Our winemaking life is made of mistakes and wins – hopefully more wins than mistakes! We have so many variables out in the vineyard that even if you try to be the most prepared, study, plan carefully, things may not work as you wish. But my biggest mistake was actually something very practical in one of my first harvests. I was trying to fix a valve from a vat when suddenly the valve fell and the wine got all over the winery! It was a disaster, but the day after I could come up with 10 different ways to solve a similar situation. Always learn from your mistakes!

What’s the most important winemaking lesson you’ve learned so far?

That there are no magic success recipes. The world of vines and wines is so dynamic, with conditions changing every single year, that we have to adapt all the time. It’s about always reading the surrounding conditions and the impact of our decisions.

Which figure outside the world of wine inspires you?

Portuguese architect Siza Vieira. He’s one of the world’s most awarded architects and fully active at age 90. A restless, creative mind.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

Right here in the Douro, one of the most amazing places in the world.

If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be doing and why?

From a very young age, I knew that vines and wines were my life. But, contrary to what my wife sometimes says (sorry Catarina!), I do love other things. I love music: I play the guitar and have also learned other instruments. I love mathematics and architecture as well. I love studying and sharing knowledge and experiences with others and, actually, that was what took me back to the university where I studied originally, now as a professor of the Oenology & Viticulture degree and Master programme.

What’s the most memorable food match you’ve had with one of your wines?

Our Alves de Sousa Pessoal Douro white 2008 paired with an amazing hairy crab in Macao.

What role does sustainability have to play in a Master-winning wine?

A crucial role. The privilege of working with unique vineyards, many planted by our ancestors, is only matched by the responsibility of preserving them so that future generations have this same opportunity. Likewise, we must ensure that our practices in the vineyard, in the cellar and in the marketing of our wines not only do not have a negative impact on our planet, but can actually help mitigate and reverse many of the environmental challenges we face. We still have time, if we all work towards it.

Which type of wine do you drink most regularly?

All! I love wine, end of sentence! This means I don’t have a specific type of wine; I love instead to be always tasting and discovering different things.

Your home is on fire: which bottle do you save?

Oh dear, that’s a tough one! Sorry, I can’t choose. Many bottles that I have at my place are special to me not only for the wine itself, but also for who made it, who gave it to me and for what they represent. I would probably be in trouble, trying to save them all!

What are your top three markets and importers?

Canada (Vins Balthazard in Quebec; Davenport Vista in Ontario)
Brazil (Decanter)
Belgium (The Solar, Multicor, Delhaize).

And which market would you most like to enter?


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