Here in the Estremadura with Olveira da Silva, the view from a hill overlooking the vineyard takes in bone-white houses dotting hillsides in the distance. We reach the summit and rumble down a winding and rocky road, and Olveira da Silva stomps the brakes. "See. See there. A partridge family," he announces. Waddling across the road, the feathered family disappears into a row of vines. Silva applauds any evidence of the good Mother Nature on his land. "It is a sign that things are working," he says.

Positive indicators abound for Olveira da Silva's winery, the Casa Santos Lima, and Portuguese wines in general. Like that of many winemakers in his country, Olveira da Silva's land in the Estremadura, a narrow strip near the coast, was always used to make wine, but until the industry was revitalized, all of the product was sold locally. Now he exports more than 80 percent to a host of other countries, including the United States. Olveira da Silva, who displays dinosaur bones he unearthed on the property in a quasi-Stonehenge production and enjoys finding fossils among the vines for visitors, takes great pride in the Portuguese grape varietals he grows. The country's distinctive native grapes are both the wines' strength and the reason they escape many educated U.S. consumers.