Fonseca's long association with Quinta do Cruzeiro is thought to have begun around 1870.
Its wines have been an essential component of the Fonseca Vintage Port blend since 1912. The estate is situated near the village of Vale de Mendiz on the east bank of the Pinhão River, in the heart of the original 1756 demarcation. Cruzeiro achieved feitoria status, the top classification then awarded to a Port vineyard, in 1761.
The property's terraced vineyards cascade down the slopes of a steep sided spur of land jutting into the Pinhão Valley. Perched on the ridge overlooking the vineyards are the traditional quinta house and winery. The Pinhão River loops around the foot of the property through a narrow fragrantly wooded ravine and defines its lower boundary. Most of Cruzeiro's 47,000 vines are planted on the south and west facing side of the spur. The Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz, both yielding their best results in full sun, are the main varieties in this part of the vineyard, alongside smaller proportions of Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional and other classic Port varieties. In contrast, the terraces on the north face provide ideal conditions for Tinta Barroca which prefers a cooler shadier environment. The sheltered lower terraces, in the still air close to the river, are the hottest whereas those on the upper elevations, some 70 metres higher up, are cooled by the breeze. The soils of the Pinhão Valley are relatively fertile compared to the more arid, rocky soils of the eastern Douro. As a result the vines at Cruzeiro maintain their vigour and produce balanced wines with excellent acidity even in hot, dry years.
In 1973 it was decided to secure Cruzeiro's historical link with Fonseca by purchasing it from its owner, Luís António Carneiro. The purchase was followed by a major programme of renovation carried out under the supervision of Bruce Guimaraens in his role as estates director. Although most of the estate was re-landscaped and replanted during this period, a substantial area of old vineyard located close to the house was left untouched and remains in production today.
The area of old vineyard was later extended with the acquisition of a small traditional property known as Soalheira located close to the road between the main gate of Cruzeiro and the village of Vale de Mendiz. Its broad south facing terraces are planted with a controlled mix of Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca.
By the 1970s the construction of traditional walled terraces in the Douro Valley had long since ceased to be viable. Additionally, rising costs made it necessary to envisage a degree of mechanisation and this required terraces with better access. The solution was found in the construction of patamares, broad platforms following the contours of the hillside and separated by tall earth banks. Cruzeiro was one of the first properties to apply this technique becoming a pioneer in the wave of vineyard conversions throughout the Douro which began in the 1970s and continued well into the following decade.
The renovation also involved matching each grape variety to its optimal location within the vineyard, each terrace carrying a single variety best suited to the specific growing conditions. In the Douro, there can be substantial variations in altitude, exposure and orientation, even within the same vineyard. Correct siting of the grape varieties is essential to obtain the best results from the terroir. Although planting in varietal blocks was not new (Dick Yeatman, chairman of Fonseca from 1949 to 1966, had planted the first single variety blocks as early as 1927), it had been carried out for research purposes and had not been practiced on a large scale. Again, Fonseca was a pioneer in this area.
The techniques and philosophy of vineyard landscaping have subsequently evolved (see Quinta do Santo António). However the experience gained at Cruzeiro in the early 1970s laid the foundation for Fonseca's expertise and leadership in this field.
The wines of Cruzeiro are made according to well proven traditional principles. The grapes are selected and picked by hand and then carried to the winery in small trays to ensure that they arrive in perfect condition. As in all the Fonseca quintas, the grape varieties are picked and fermented together to ensure that the wines are harmonious and complete. The wooden beamed winery is equipped with five granite lagares, or treading tanks, each with a capacity of 10 pipes (about 5,500 litres). Here the grapes are crushed and trodden by foot to release the tannins, colour and aromas from the skins before the fermenting juice is run off to be fortified and the Port left to settle until the spring of the following year.
For at least the last hundred years the wines of Cruzeiro have made an important contribution to the Fonseca Vintage Port blend. These have also been an essential component of the Guimaraens Vintage Ports. These were first released in the 1930s and are made in years producing more approachable and early maturing Vintage Ports. Above all they deliver the concentrated inky fruitiness which is typical of many Pinhão Valley vineyards but achieves particular vibrancy and focus at Cruzeiro.
In the Vintage Port blend Cruzeiro provides the dense core of black fruit and tannin. This is enveloped in the rich succulent jammy flavours and velvety texture of the wines of Panascal and overlaid by the exotic heady scents of Santo António. The fusion of the wines of these three diverse properties explains the multi-layered quality of Fonseca Vintage Ports and their ability to continue releasing the surges of opulent complex aroma, which are the hallmark of the Fonseca house style, over decades of ageing in bottle.