Book Review: Foot Trodden: Portugal and the wines that time forgot by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz

Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz both hold Portugal as dear to their hearts: a wine country that has captivated both of them over the years and so much so in Ryan’s case that he and his family moved there in 2013. Foot Trodden: Portugal and the wines that time forgot isn’t just their account of the lesser-known wines of Portugal, but very much a foray into the personalities of the Portuguese wine world that have touched them both either in a vinous or emotional way.

Following the success of their first book together, Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine, their second book, Foot Trodden, has also been funded through Kickstarter and is self-published. Perhaps the freedom of self-publishing, or confidence in the resounding success of their first book, has enabled Woolf and Opaz to produce another book which doesn’t follow the same formula as usual wine reference books. And I think it is all the better for it.

As Woolf explains in the introduction, “[this book] is not a complete guide to Portugal and its wines. Instead, we’ve selected a small sample of growers and producers whose personal narratives clamour to be heard, and whose work fascinates and satiates our palate… Foot Trodden is first and foremost a collection of those stories.”

This is Woolf and Opaz’s own adventure in Portugal, whereby they share the colourful images and stories they have collected there over the years. Woolf writes in a lively tone, weaving together facts and history with cultural insights that go beyond winemaking and into the psyche of Portugal. Meanwhile, Opaz’s photography is intimate and focused, with candid and natural winemaker portraits peppered between landscapes and action shots.

Aside from the introduction, which gives an overview of Portugal’s wine history and brings us up to speed with the current day, the book’s chapters each revolve around one region and usually a handful of local producers. Woolf uses the narrative of these wine personalities to offer a microcosm for the region and to explore how each region has become known for certain styles of wine, and to explain what’s happening on the ground at the moment.

Foot Trodden includes the touching story of the well-known vigneron from Barraida, Luis Pato, who forged the modern reputation for Baga and other wines from the region. But it also moves onto the next generation, or chapter, of the family and a new wine producing force – profiling Luis’ daughter, the renowned and experimental winemaker, Filipa Pato. Woolf doesn’t shy away from talking of tensions between generations, and this is what makes the stories interesting to read, and ultimately what makes the wines interesting to taste.

It’s comes as no surprise, considering their first book, that the talha wines of the Alentejo make a prominent appearance. Woolf doesn’t only share stories of producers working with talhas but also the challenges of the Vinho de Talha DOC classification and why some smaller producers are eschewing the DOC. It’s this balanced approach that makes Foot Trodden not only an entertaining but also an informative read.

Woolf weighs up innovation vs tradition, as well as mainstream vs boutique production, and is brutally honest about the threats to innovation in the industry coming from the national institutions: “The rules, regulations and stylistic requirements that once helped drive quality now stifle innovation and diversity in winemaking and wine styles,” he writes. “Worse yet, they alienate some of Portugal’s most innovative winemakers from the organisations which supposedly exist to support them.” Although the book looks at the hardships that producers have faced, and continue to face, in making Portuguese wine and its myriad of styles, regions and producers better known, it is a celebration of those hidden gems that are now coming to the fore or are on the brink of discovery.

Time might have forgotten some of these wines and producers, but with the publication of a book like this and the growing legion of wine enthusiasts looking to the great value and diversity of Portuguese wine, I am sure they will be remembered for a long time to come.

Review by Amanda Barnes

Foot Trodden: Portugal and the wines that time forgot is self-published and available online for €30