The first wine that Dirk Niepoort ever made, back in 1990, was an old-vine blend of local Portuguese varieties, from a vineyard called Quinta do Carril in Portugal's Douro Valley. He called it Robustus. The name was apt: The wine was, as he recalls, "a monster." It was massive and powerfully tannic, almost overbearing in its intensity—but still, he felt, quite good. At the time, almost no one else in the Douro was making table wines. Port ruled the region, as it had since the 1700s. The Niepoort family business, which Dirk's father, Rolf, directed, was port.
Dirk made four barrels of Robustus, then headed off to Australia to work the harvest in the Barossa and extend his knowledge of winemaking. When he returned to Portugal several months later, he stopped by the family cellars in Oporto to taste how his wine was progressing. But the wine wasn't there. "My father," Niepoort recalls, "had given away three of the four barrels I made to the workers."
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When Niepoort told me this, we were sitting at the table in his backyard, midway through one of the frequent dinner parties he likes to give. He's a talented cook, and he seems to enjoy nothing more than bringing together a crowd of friends, employees, other winemakers, passing journalists and anyone else, then plying them with terrific food and wine (the cellar under his house is jammed to the ceiling with bottles). It's a generosity of spirit that's appealingly Rabelaisian and very hard to dislike.