Windmills line the hilltops in certain parts of Portugal, especially the Montejunto mountains near Lisbon. Sadly, most have been abandoned and are gradually decaying. Some, however, have been painstakingly restored and not only produce flour using traditional methods, they also host bread workshops and even wine tasting sessions.
Moinho de Avis (Avis Windmill) in the Montejunto mountains is one such place. Thanks to the skill and dedication of Miguel Nobre, this and 32 other windmills are fully functioning once more.
This one is particularly dear to him. Built in 1810, Moinho de Aviz has been in Miguel’s family since his grandfather bought it in 1937. Miguel remembers spending time here as a youngster, helping his grandfather and listening to tales of how King Carlos once sheltered from the rain in this windmill.
Using sound to manage the sails
To operate a mill efficiently, millers relied upon terracotta pots called buzios to evaluate the speed and direction of the wind and make any necessary adjustments to the sails. If the sails, and therefore the grindstones, spin too fast, the resulting heat spoils the grain and flour.
Miguel happily demonstrated the range of different sounds the buzios produce depending on their size and nature of the wind. With several of these pots tied to each windmill strut, I can only imagine how deafening it must have been inside the mill when the wind caught them at full throttle, drowning out the clatter of sheep and goat bells.
Miguel currently uses the mill to produce flour for making pão com chouriço (bread with paprika sausage). He and his nephew run bread-making workshops in which participants use this windmill to grind the flour they will use to make pão com chouriço. They then cook it in wood-fired ovens behind the adjacent windmill. Although we hadn’t gone there to make bread, we did get to taste the still warm, slightly crusty and ever-so-tasty end product.
Wine tasting in a windmill
We were there for a wine tasting session. Bruno Gomes is in charge of wine tourism at Quinta do Gradil and is brimming with ideas for creating unique and memorable experiences. Since the wine estate is so close to the Montejunto mountains and its windmills – we stood on the roof of an old building to gaze across the vineyards at them – he decided to combine wine tours with a visit to the windmills.
After a delicious lunch at the onsite restaurant and a tour of the traditional wine cellars established by the Marquês do Pombal back in the 18th century, we drove through attractive countryside to reach the windmill.
Sheltered from the blustery wind and warmed by the log fire inside the mill, we sampled four of Quinta do Gradil’s wines. The rosé, a blend of Touriga Nacional and Syrah grapes, was particularly pleasing; fresh, fruity and with none of the sweetness that put me off rosé wines for too long.
Although I enjoyed the white Viosinho wine, I preferred the one we’d had at the quinta’s restaurant with lunch. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Arinto, a typical grape from the Lisbon wine region, that slipped down very easily.