Dirk Niepoort talks about his projects, present and future

Dirk Niepoort talks about his projects, present and future

24 February 2020


Dirk Niepoort talks about his projects, present and future


Quinta de Napoles crowns a hill above the Rio Tedo, on the south side of the Rio Douro. Levels for reception, fermentation and ageing descend deep into the hillside, and grapes and wines move by gravity with minimal pumping.

I am here to meet Dirk van der Niepoort, for the first in a series of I Love Douro – Grape Discoveries interviews.

Recognised as an original innovator, Dirk Niepoort has made remarkable contributions to Douro table wines’ new position of international acclaim.

Niepoort talks about the sensitive cohabitation of these ‘new wines’ alongside Port, revered and traditionally dominant in Douro wine production. “We need to think about the Douro and not only about Port. If we think about the Douro, the sky is the limit. We have Port, one of the best wines in the world… we could also make some of the best white and red wines.” He explains the most suited vineyards for Port are often not the same as those for table wine: north facing or vineyards at altitude can be ideal for making white or red wine but not so good for Port.

Robert Parker awarded the Niepoort Port Vintage 2017 an impressive 100 points. It also received the Revista de Vinhos 2019 Wine of the Year award, the wine equivalent of an Oscar for Best Actor. “I gave serious thought to what my grandfather did,” Niepoort remarks modestly. “I would like to see Port becoming more and more one of the most special things in the world.”

Niepoort expands on the enormous diversity of the Douro with its north and south facing vineyards, varying vineyard altitudes and eighty-five different indigenous grape varieties. “Even if wines are heavy, there is a certain freshness that gives a unique balance. At Niepoort we work with higher vineyards to get this freshness and tend to pick earlier than most of our colleagues.” We are aware of the evidence of climate change, he comments, “we are used to living on the edge of too hot. However, with north facing vineyards we can correct this.”

Refusing the strait-jacket of celebrity, Niepoort acknowledges the debt winemakers owe to earlier generations. Several times he mentions his father, Rolf, and other elders. “Look at what they did, how, why… and learn from them. Suddenly we make much better things.”

How about the influence of his contemporaries? “Everything about me is influenced by other people! The more I do, the more I learn. It’s incredible how we grow and learn together.” This philosophy embraces partnerships and knowledge acquisition to produce wines that are light, elegant and a joy to drink.

What about the future of the Douro, a wine region today on the map and opening to visitors? “It’s important for people to come and see and realize what hard work it is to produce a bottle of wine.” Niepoort adds, “let’s make sure that tourism does not spoil this beautiful area.”

We linger on at Quinta dos Napoles, talking late into the evening, tasting exceptional bottles past and present. Dirk Niepoort’s hospitality is generous, the conversation expansive. A glorious curiosity embraces wine, food, people and travel, while inspiration is drawn from contact with others and the sampling of their experiences.

We hear about Niepoort’s project for a low alcohol Vinho Verde, quaffing wine; various projects in the Dão and at Quinta de Baixo in Bairrada; Nat Cool, of course, his project with international winemakers to make wines of character, fun to drink. “This is not about Niepoort, or about me …we create wines that are authentic to their area.” He gives us a glimpse of his “other passion”, Japanese green tea, and a project with his wife Nina, growing and blending tea plants near Porto.

“At the moment, the most important thing is my eldest son Daniel who started to work here with me last week.” Daniel Niepoort will be taking over development of Nat Cool. “This makes me very happy.”  

The author, James Mayor, is the founder of Grape Discoveries, a boutique wine tourism business: www.grapediscoveries.com