Wines of the Brazilian Sertão

vinicola-ouro-verde-da-miolo-localizada-no-municipio-de-casa-nova-na-bahia-1367854476183_956x500The Juazeiro/Petrolina wine grape-growing belt has close to 25,000 acres of vineyards. It’s one of the only regions in the world with 2 to 3 harvests per year (as opposed to the usual, single harvest). The grape economy generates more than 30,000 direct jobs in the Sertão, where 50% of the rural workers union leadership of Petrolina (Pernambuco) are women. In certain functions they make up 70% of the manual labor workforce. The principal jobs given to them are the “raleio” and the “pinicado”, two techniques used in the thinning of the grape bunches during their development. The most delicate activities rely upon them, women that are helping to transform the lives of their families.

The São Francisco valley is leading the way in the cultivation of grapes in tropical conditions. It’s the only wine ever to be grown in a hot, semi-arid, tropical climate where there’s sunlight for 300 days per year and no winter. All the water needed comes from the São Francisco river, thanks to irrigation technology. And the research related to wine-making being done in the region in the last decade is being led by Brazilians, who themselves are becoming worldwide experts in this emerging field.


While part of the Brazilian northeast goes through the largest dry spell in four decades, vineyards from the Sertão are able to produce up to 10 million liters of wine per year, close to 15% of the Brazilian market. Wine production started in the 1980s and has been gaining visibility in Brazil and abroad. Aside from conquering the European market, wine from the Northeastern region of Brazil goes to the US, Canada, China and also to Africa. The main wines grown in the region are: red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, Alicante, Bouschet, Ruby Cabernet, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Tannat, and Syrah) and white (Chenin, Blanc, Moscato Canelli, Moscato Itália, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Verdejo).

The big players took notice years ago and positioned themselves firmly with strategic local partnerships. The situation then becomes a win-win because the market, both in Brazil and abroad, improves and expands while the workers of the Sertão get consistent work, and women bring in a secondary income. All that’s missing now is a Sommelier school on the banks of the São Francisco.

Watch the full report, in Portuguese only, which was also the main source for this article.

Hinterlands – Vocabulary

When talking about the ‘hinterlands’ or ‘backlands’ in Brazilian Portuguese, which can be considered Brazil’s version of Australia’s outback, one can use the term sertão, but be sure not to confuse it with other related words. Thanks for a comment from Fábio (of English This Way, which I link to on my Links page), we see that sertão comes from desertão (big desert).

 (sertão, dry season)

Sertão – Semi-arid lands of the Northeast of Brazil. A person from there may be called a sertanejo, which means ‘peasant’ but is generally used to say ‘cowboy’. Another word for cowboy is vaqueiro.

Related Words

(caatinga, rainy season)

Caatinga -A type of shrub-like vegetation and an ecoregion of the Northeast characterized by said vegetation.

Cangaço – For a second, I thought cangaço (social banditry) was the same as sertão and cangaceiro (social bandit) the same as sertanejo but I was incorrect. Thanks to this post, I looked it up.

A Volta da Asa Branca – A Backland Social Dance Song

A Volta da Asa Branca (Return of the White-winged Dove, aka Picazuro Pigeon) is one of the best known songs to emerge from the Luiz Gonzaga-Humberto Teixeira partnership. Their version drew on a traditional tune, to which they added new lyrics and an arrangement. It was first recorded in 1947, followed by numerous other recordings, but perhaps the ‘classic’ version of the song is the one of 1952, in which it was first presented as a baião (a popular Northeastern song and dance). The lyrics center on the image of the asa branca, a Northeastern bird. It is said that the asa branca is the last living creature to leave the Northeast during a drought. If the asa branca flies away, one can be sure that it won’t rain that year. Asa Branca’ is a baião.

The baião is a popular dance of Northeastern Brazil that may have emerged in the 19th century. The baião is one of the dances used in the forró, the Northeastern term for a social dance. Some people claim that the word ‘forró’ is a corruption of the English ‘for all’. Allegedly the announcements for social dances which British companies organised for their employees in Recife during the 19th century stated that they were ‘for all’. Whether fact or fiction, in time social dances throughout Northeastern Brazil came to be known as forrós. ” (courtesy of David Byrne & Co.)

Apparently there exist many versions of this song, with some people even saying that a lesser version of the song was sung long before being recorded by Luiz Gonzaga. Of the two popularly recorded versions, I prefer the one Tom Zé sings in the video above which was originally recorded by Luiz Gonzaga and Zé Dantas, as opposed to the other in which Zé Dantas is replaced by Humberto Teixeira. This other version carries with it different lyrics on the same subject.

A Volta da Asa Branca (1950) – nesta toada-baião, Zedantas retrata a alegria do sertanejo ao ver a Asa branca voltar ao Sertão e, com ela, chegam as primeiras chuvas, a esperança do sertanejo. Luiz Gonzaga, em entrevista ao Globo Repórter – TV Globo (1985), afirma que “A Asa branca é o símbolo da dor e do sofrimento na seca. Quando a seca queima o Sertão, até a Asa branca vai embora”.

A Volta da Asa Branca (1950) – in this baião ditty, Zé Dantas repaints the happiness of the backwoodsman upon seeing the Asa branca return to the Backlands and, with it, the first rains, the hope of the backwoodsman. Luiz Gonzaga, in an interview with Globo Reporter – TV Globo (1985), affirmed that “The Asa branca is a symbol of the pain and of the suffering that occurs in the dryness. When the dryness scorches the backlands, the Asa branca goes away”