Cold weather settles into the Douro vineyards

Autumn is upon us, low lying clouds hang to the mountain tops and the morning is damp and chilly. This is a typical early morning at Malvedos in November.

I have just made a quick visit to the Quinta with our German distributor.

We have had some very welcome rain over the last couple of weeks and hope that it will continue to replenish the much depleted water reserves in the soil.

After the frenzy of the vintage and a well earned rest the vineyard work is slowly getting back in gear. This morning the pre-pruner was out busily cutting away at the main growth from last season so as to allow the pruning team to enter the vineyard and do the vital and skilled job of the final pruning that will have such a critical effect on next years growth.

With the leaf fall and the beginning of pruning the Douro becomes rather barren and takes on its least attractive mantle until the first signs of growth appear early next spring although the plumes of smoke from the many bonfires burning the pruning wood rising in the still air add a poignant beauty as another viticultural year comes to an end.

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Graham’s viticulturalist provides rainfall and temperature data for Douro in 2009

Most of our readers will probably know that people involved in agriculture tend to use a slightly different calendar from the rest of the world, based on the natural rhythms of plant growing seasons. With the end of the grape harvest in October, the viticultural year in the northern hemisphere is generally considered to finish on the 31st.

This occasion therefore demands a brief review of the climate during the preceding 12 months, and I have been collating our meteorological data to find out exactly where we stand relative to other years. What follows is a very brief summary of this year’s conditions. Note that this information is taken from a far more complete report that can be found amongst the monthly viticultural reviews published at http://tinyurl.com/yezksj8  Note that the data presented here is not actually from Malvedos, but from nearby Pinhão. This makes sense for two reasons – not only is Pinhão effectively right at the centre of the prime vineyard area of the Douro, but it also has a far longer history of weather records making the averages more meaningful. In other words, it is a more representative source of reference values for the Douro in general. Malvedos is invariably a little hotter than Pinhão (this year’s mean temperature there was 17.3º C, as it happens) and it also tends to be slightly drier. The total precipitation at Malvedos was just 489 mm, for example, compared with the higher total given below. 

Figure 1. Precipitation in Pinhão in 2008 / 2009

The graph above makes it abundantly clear that, in spite of a late rally, we are still finishing the year quite a bit lacking in water. The total of 529 mm for this year is well short of the mean of 675 mm. Moreover, it is the third consecutive drier than average year, and also the fifth out of last six. The last three years have brought a total of 1585 mm of precipitation, when somewhere in the region of 2025 mm would have been expected by the law of averages. The need for a very wet winter has never been clearer.

In terms of temperatures, this year was very fractionally cooler than the mean but the difference is so small that we need two decimal places to show it: 15.86º in 2008 / 09 and 15.94º for the long-term mean. In fact we had six months of above-average temperatures offset by six below-average months. What is more significant, however, is the distribution of the hotter and colder months. On the following graph the long-term mean curve is plotted on the right hand axis, and the relative difference this year is illustrated by columns on the left hand axis.
 
Figure 2. Temperatures in Pinhão in 2008 / 2009

Interestingly, this chart illustrates very clearly that it has been a year of extremes. Note the concentration of the blue bars on the left of the graph and the red bars on the right. This shows that the winter months were quite a bit colder than usual, and (July excepted) the summer was once again hotter.

 

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September and October 2009 Douro Insider

The freakish autumn of 2009 has already been discussed enough for us to avoid dwelling on it in too much detail here (see Paul Symington’s Harvest Report 2009). In very simple terms, September was unusually and consistently hot (reaching 39º C in Pinhão) and also remarkably dry. The hot weather (including that which came at the end of August) combined with a lack of water did not pass unnoticed by some of the vines. Whilst we know that our grapevine varieties are extremely drought resistant, part of this capacity comes from the fact that they are able to put down roots to a depth beyond that which is influenced by a single year’s precipitation. On the back of the third consecutive dry year, however, it suddenly became clear that there was a distinct lack of humidity at depth. Certain vines were hit harder than others, but predictably young vines, low-lying vineyards and south-westerly facing hillsides suffered the biggest problems. These vines did the only thing they could, and shed the older, basal leaves to reduce water loss through evapotranspiration. This unfortunately left the bunch zone exposed to the sun, and there were one or two problems with fruit dehydration. Full Report

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Paul goes to China and Japan to show Ports with PFV

Our work as a family is not only about making wines from our vineyards in the Douro, we then need to get out and sell the wines. So last week I took my dinner jacket (tuxedo in American) to the dry-cleaners as I am travelling to Asia on the 14th Nov.

Part of our selling effort is made with our friends in the PFV and it is with them that I am travelling next week. This is a group of independent family-owned wine producers who work together to promote their wines. The world of distribution and retail is tough and challenging, it is not easy to get our wines into new markets and into the best wine shops and restaurants if you do not have the power of a big group behind you.  Working with a group of independent family producers like the PFV has helped each of us to open new markets and to find new customers.

So next week we are in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai showing our wines at various tastings and dinners. We are working with the Shangri-La Hotel group and will be doing various events in these great hotels in these three cities. Dinners are taking place in Hong Kong at the Island Shangri-La on 16 November, in the Tokyo Shangri-La Hotel on the 18 November, and at the Pudong Shangri-La in Shanghai on the 20 November.

The tastings and dinners will be remarkable and memorable events. We are 11 producers and between us we represent many many centuries of tradition and experience in making wines from some of the world’s greatest wine regions. In every case a senior member of each family will be present and we take with us some of our very greatest wines. Guests will be able to discuss each wine with the person actually responsible for making it. The following producers will be travelling together next week: Alessia Antinori (Marchesi Antinori), Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (Château Mouton Rothschild), Laurent Drouhin (Maison Joseph Drouhin), Egon Müller (Egon Müller Scharzhof), Etienne Hugel (Hugel et Fils), Hubert de Billy (Champagne Pol Roger), Marc Perrin and Pierre Perrin (Perrin et Fils), Paul Symington (Graham’s, Warre’s and Dow’s Port), Juan-Maria Torres (Torres), Sebastiano Rosa (Tenuta San Guido) and Pablo Alvarez (Vega Sicilia).

I will be showing our Graham’s 2007 and 1983 Vintage Ports at the Press Tastings and serving the Graham’s 1994 Vintage Port at the Gala Dinners. Serena Sutcliffe, Master of Wine and head of Sotheby’s Wine Department will introduce each wine at the dinners and will be responsible for auctioning a unique 12 bottle case containing one of the finest wines from each producer.  We hope to raise a substantial sum of money in this way for a local city charity that has been nominated by the Shangri-La.

You will probably not be surprised to know that within the PFV, we are actually all very good friends. These trips are a bit crazy, with long flights, many time-zone changes, mad rushes to each airport and late nights, but we have a good laugh a lot of shared memories and we hugely enjoy each others wines and above all each others company. I recall Johnny Hugel’s famous comment; ‘In general I find that people who like wine are a lot nicer than people who do not like wine’.

My problem is that Port is usually always served last. How do I keep the attention of the audience after 10 other world-class wines?!

Wish me luck,

Paul

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