Prior Lucas produces wines from the Bairrada region of Portugal, from vineyards that grow in an ancient limestone sea bed, made of calcareous clay soil filled with ammonite fossils that stretches all the way through the region of Champagne. The winemaker and owner, Rui Lucas, founded the winery in an effort to recover and protect the vineyards and winemaking tradition of his own family that had been lost in previous generations. His great grandfather, José Francisco Prior, had operated a small vineyard and winery in the small community of Souselas outside of the city of Coimbra. He had worked hard to provide wines to the small bohemian student taverns of the ancient university city, and had carefully tended vineyards of exceptional quality. However, given the small and somewhat fragmented nature of the vineyard parcels of the region combined with the division of inheritance between numerous children, Rui’s family eventually lost the vineyard and winery business and it wasn’t until Rui decided to revive his family’s winemaking traditions that the vineyard was recovered. It now forms the heart of Rui’s own centenary vineyard from which he produces wines of exceptional quality. Having himself experienced the temporary loss of his own family’s vineyard through the passing of generations and changing hands, Rui has undertaken to act as a kind of steward for the historic family parcels of his community. Over the years he has established numerous long-term contracts with families and neighbors to use their family parcels in the production of his wines. The purpose of these contracts is both to provide grapes to the winery, but also to help preserve the viticultural heritage and traditions of his region within Bairrada, ensuring that the vineyards and carefully maintained and preserved as younger generations move away or abandon the traditional family viticulture that was formerly such a central aspect of Portuguese culture. Rui maintains each of the vineyards himself, practicing low-intervention techniques in order to maintain vibrant and biodiverse vineyard plots. Rents range from standard cash payments to a certain number of bottles of wine or brandy made from the vineyard’s annual yield, but Rui happily pays them in order to ensure that Souselas’ winemaking tradition continues.
The wines that Rui produces are made from a combination of indigenous Portuguese varietals like Maria Gomes (also known as Fernão Pires), Bical, and Baga, but also incorporate international varietals such as Syrah which has become fairly prolific within the region as a whole. Like his viticultural methods, Rui employs as light of a hand as possible in the production of his wines. Harvest is done by hand and meticulous attention is paid to grape selection, sorting, and pressing in order to preserve the incredibly complex nuances of the grapes that are yielded from the vineyards the Rui tends. The incredibly high limestone content of the soil in which the grapes are grown contributes to an intense vein of minerality in the wines, which is further emphasized by the fact that the primary fermentation of the wines is undergone in concrete cubes that Rui himself made from concrete produced from the soils in the vineyards themselves. This practice, along with the traditional method of production that Rui utilizes in the production of his sparkling wines, creates wines of sharp and bright acidity that are underpinned with complex minerality and a light salinity that makes for exceptional food pairing options.
Prior Lucas is a winery that is truly an exercise in passion, care, and a desire to preserve those things that are truly valuable that are left to us by generations of our ancestors. Rui Lucas is concerned not only with making excellent wines that are worthy representations of the historic region from which they come and preserving his own family winemaking history, but also with being a good neighbor and steward of that tradition within his entire community. He shows this in the way that he tends to the vineyards that he has worked to protect, but also in the way in which he concerns himself with the overall sustainability of his practices. From recycling and rebuilding barrels, fermentation tanks, and equipment within the winery, to even starting a program to clean, recycle, and reuse bottles for the production of some of his wines, Rui demonstrates a vision to preserve what is important from his own heritage and that of his community well beyond his own lifetime and into the future.