Why the heck would you go Downtown?
The downtown area has undergone a sort of revival these past few years. I recall a time when Purchase Street had many boarded up businesses, and was generally in disrepair. It was simply an area that was best avoided. I mention this, because I have a recurring conversation with many of New Bedford’s denizens.
It generally begins harmless enough with a “Where are you going tonight?” When I reply that I am heading downtown and will be eating at No Problemo, watching live music at The Pour Farm, or mention any other destination, I usually get a snicker and/or a puzzled look. Almost always there’s a cynical comment of some sort. “Downtown? Why the heck would you go downtown?” is a common follow-up quip.
Many people still erroneously believe that downtown is still a run down, depressed section of town. While it has a long way to go, and many issues to iron out, it has vastly improved. While they register disbelief when I tell them about the revival that downtown has undergone, I think I experience greater disbelief when people say they’ve never heard of some of what has become daily fixtures for me. Tapas, Jazz, Art, and Festivals downtown? You gotta be pulling my leg, right? Tomfoolery!
I’m beginning to enjoy blowing people’s minds. So imagine how flabbergasted they are when I mention to them about the urban winery downtown, right smack in the heart of the district. “You mean a packy?” they quiz. “No. A bonafide, honest micro-winery.” I reply. “Like…a wine shop?” they say puzzled. “Well, you can buy wine there. They make it right on site, and sell it within their shop.” You would think I told them that Jimmy Hoffa’s body had just been found.
Well, I think the point is fairly illustrated. There is a genuine urban micro-winery right on Purchase Street that many are unaware exists – that includes people who actually frequent downtown and walk by it often. Travessia produces award winning wines using primarily local, Massachusetts-grown grapes. Yes, they make these wines right there on Purchase Street.
Owner, Vintner, and Driving Force: Marco Montez
So, who exactly are “they”? Owner, vintner, and driving force behind Travessia is Angola born, Marco Montez. Marco, was born in the Portuguese colony, and lived there until civil war broke out in 1975. The conditions forced Marco’s family to return to Portugal, to the medieval Trás-os-Montes – a region in the northeast, that is well-known for its wines. They are so well known, in fact, that the entire region is entitled to use the protected designation of origin. That is the equivalent of saying that the Bologna you just bought was produced in Bologna, Italy or the Parmesan cheese you bought is from Parma, Italy. No one else who produces the same product can say that it’s the genuine article unless they are from that specific region. It’s quite a distinguishing honor.
Marco grew up in this region that treasured wine and wine making. It’s in their bones. It can’t be separated from their culture. It’s who they are. From the young age of 6, Marco was involved in helping out in making the wine. In this village of 1,000 souls, everyone made wine. Everyone drank wine, and Marco confesses that he was sampling wine at 10 years old. His family produced approximately 500 bottles of wine per year. That’s ONE family, mind you.
This is where Marco stayed and made wine, and likely would have for the rest of his life. If not for a fortuitous visit to Massachusetts to reconnect with relatives, the story would have ended here. Marco enjoyed his stay so much, that he returned within a year and in spite of being incapable of speaking English, attended New Bedford High School. Picking up the language quickly, he graduated and headed to UMASS to earn a degree in Electrical Engineering, which he completed in 1996. Post graduation meant plowing ahead into a career in engineering and even a foray into software. For 16 years, he plugged away at the American Dream.
No Escape From Wine-making Bones
However, there’s no escape from wine for a young man from Trás-os-Montes. After all, it’s in the bones. To paraphrase, the proverbial saying “Find what you love to do, and you don’t work a day in your life.” applied here. Electrical engineering and software weren’t his obsessions. His passion for wine and wine making pecked continuously at him and the grapes beckoned. The pull was powerful and not something he could ignore.
However, there were things to consider and obstacles to overcome. What should he do? Corporate life meant financial security. Staving out on one’s own was a massive risk that could prove to be financial suicide. The appeal to trade discontent for happiness can be a powerful lure, that could lead to ruin. “With big risks, come big rewards,” they say. But that story could end tragically, and often does. Any thoughts of pursuing his dream were seemingly dashed when he began to research the logistics of starting a vineyard. Close to a million dollars would be needed to purchase enough real estate, and erect a proper facility. This simply wasn’t within reach.
But those darn grapes beckoned. As fate would have it, in 2007 he accepted an offer from Running Brook Vineyards in North Dartmouth, while continuing to keep one foot in the software world. It was his first fateful step back into wine-making. While he was refining his wine-making, he went on vacation to Oakland, California and saw his first Urban Winery – a winery within a city, as opposed to the rural countryside, that not only sells wine, but actually produces it. This rekindled his hopes and owning his own winery became a real prospect. Not long after returning to Massachusetts, Marco decided to strike out on his own and on December 14, 2008 Travessia was born at 760 Purchase Street.
With only his cousin, Edson Pereira and an occasional family member to help, Marco began to combine the centuries old family recipes, experience at Running Brook and ideas that had been brewing for years – pardon the pun – to mold his own inspired creations. While Marco freely admits that he has no official training in enology, or wine-making, he feels this contributes to a certain experimental freedom and was no barrier to being capable to producing world class wine. One of the fundamental tenets that Marco adamantly adheres to in is that terroir is integral to making the best wine on earth. All his wines, excepting the Jester label (Red) are Massachusetts-grown grapes. He believes that the local geology, geography, and climate are mandatory aspects of superlative wine-making.
Success, Accolades, and Awards
Indeed, interview any of his thousands of satisfied customers, and they will fill you right in on how his labels compete with or even outdo some of the finest. Lest you think I am biased: Travessia attends the annual Wine Riot in Boston. This major event features over 250 wines from around the world in a head to head battle. The major league players are always present and competition is as tough as it gets. Marco’s Vidal Blanc was awarded the #1 overall wine, beating out all the others. He also took home 3rd and 4th places in other categories. Three out of the top four wines out of 250 reside here in New Bedford! (Last year his Pinot Noir Rosé took home 3rd best overall wine.)
By 2011, his moderate success allowed him to expand his Purchase Street facility. In March of 2012, Marco’s wines had proven themselves enough that he completely left the corporate world behind and dedicated 100% of his time and effort to Travessia.
The current wine line-up consists of 3 whites – Riesling, Chardonnay, and Vidal Blanc – a Pinot Noir Rosé, and a Red called Jester which is a 2011 vintage. Prices range between $15-$19. The Chardonnay and the Jester were both aged in French oak barrels, for 6 months and a year, respectively and then bottled unfiltered. As mentioned previously, these grapes are harvested here in Massachusetts, except the Jester whose grapes yield from sunny California. The wines average an 11% alcohol content, with the Jester peaking at 14.4%.
The 2011 Jester is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah. There is a genius in this varietal blend. The Cabernet, Syrah and petite Sirahs are powerful, full bodied varietals often lending themselves to a coffee, blackberry or black pepper aromas. Drinking these alone is typically for the “hardcore” wine drinker. The Sirah here compliments the powerhouses with its fruitiness. The final component, the Zinfandel brings its higher sugar content to the table, sweetening the blend and telling the other three to “settle down.” It really is a well-thought out and careful blend that has resulted in an amazing, and “safe” red for everyone. If you are a steak lover, this wine is perfect company. Lamb, venison and even a hamburger will match well.
The medium-dry Pinot Noir Rosé that took 3rd place overall at the Wine Riot is a wine whose grapes come from Westport Rivers Vineyard. The grapes are picked, crushed, and pressed the same day and the skins are left in contact with the juice for a few hours to extract more flavor and tannin and acquire its gorgeous color. Three grams of sugar per liter give a little bit of sweetness. This is a perfect wine for Tapas, cured meats or spicy foods. Think Thai Cuisine.
The Vidal Blanc is considered the star of the show at Travessia. These grapes are brought from Running Brook Vineyards in Westport and Dartmouth and lightly crushed before pressing. One of the ways to ruin a white table wine is to make it syrupy and resemble a dessert wine. Often, the sugar overpowers any attempt to admire and relish the flavors. A white table wine done properly will bring the sweetness up to a point where the complex flavors are unharmed. Marco does this perfectly, almost magically. This is why his Vidal Blanc consistently wins awards and more importantly, thrills those who try it. Typically a Vidal Blanc is paired with seafood in general and works famously with lobster, crab and shrimp. You can also pair it with any “white” pizzas.
The Chardonnay is the other unfiltered wine. Many Chardonnay drinkers seemingly sit on one side of the fence, in terms of preference: aged in oak barrels or not. Seldom do I find someone that couldn’t care less. This vintage in particular was aged 6 months and the natural malolactic fermentation gives it the “butteriness” that many Chardonnay drinkers enjoy. Perfectly paired with poultry, particularly roasted or grilled chicken with a little char.
The Riesling is a sweeter wine, but less sweeter than the Vidal Blanc. This fruity, aromatic wine is a crisp, medium-dry creation that has all the elements that one looks for in a standard Riesling. What makes Travessia’s Riesling stand out is the proper amount of sugar content. Again, allow the natural flavors to shine, yet retaining enough sugar to please. This vintage is perfectly matched your favorite Thai or Vietnamese food, especially Nime Chow.
The Future, Tasting, and Wine Club
Marco has clearly found his life’s passion, and that often translates into great contributions. Who knows what each wine season will have in store, and what delights Marco and Travessia will surprise us with. Marco has greater ambitions for Travessia and has his sights set on purchasing agricultural land in the Southeastern New England area for his own vineyard.
Travessia often offers sampling events and they are conveniently positioned so that you can purchase a bottle or two on your way to many of the local eateries. The newly added function room is a classy addition that allows people to browse, sample and ask questions. A local artists handiwork always decorates the walls.
There are cheeses and chocolates to pair with the wines to help you make a decision. Tasting room manager Jenn Marcos not only warmly welcomes you, but warmly answers every question you have. Marco clearly has high standards, and he chose someone who demonstrates a similar passion about wine. You’d be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable tasting room manager in the area.
The Travessia Wine Club is free to join. To maintain your membership one buys three bottles, four times per year, of YOUR choosing. If you live in Massachusetts they can ship it to you and the shipping is free if you buy at least 3 bottles. You get 10% discount on all wines and merchandise. So if you are going to buy wine anyway, it makes a heck of a lot of sense and translates into real savings.
You also get invited to special events, FREE wine tasting for you and a guest, and what Marco calls “Wine Geekdom.” In his words “Free or discounted admission to educational events. Other benefits such as special gifts, winemaker’s newsletter, etc.”
Travessia is open for tasting and sales Wednesday-Saturday from 12 to 6 pm and Sunday from 12-5 pm. Arrive no later than 30 minutes before closing time. If you are a group of 10 or more and wish to schedule a tasting, call 774.929.6534. 24 hours ahead of time.
760 Purchase Street
New Bedford, MA 02740
Phone: (774) 929-6534