We visited Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos again just as winter officially turned to spring with the passing of the equinox. It was a brilliantly sunny day, and a good one for getting lots of work done in the vineyards. Things are picking up pace now as the growing season gets underway.
Alexandre Mariz, viticulturist responsible for Malvedos and the nearby Quinta do Tua, confirmed that we continued to have rain in the Douro throughout February and so far in March, mostly intermittent showers which have allowed the rain to penetrate the soil and sink in, rather than running off in torrents as can happen with too-heavy rainfall. So far, so good. But after two very dry years we still need more to replenish the deep-soil water reserves – Alexandre cannot help but notice as the landscaping works go on that the soil just a metre and a half or two metres down is still bone dry. After several dry sunny days, the outlook beginning Friday 22nd was for a week of rain. Right now it’s a bit of a balancing act – we want the rain, but we have a lot of work to complete in the vineyards.
The landscaping of the 5 hectares at the high northwestern corner of Malvedos is nearly done, we expect it will be completed before the Easter holidays, weather permitting. Meanwhile, in the parcel lower down, nearer the river and west of the caseiro’s house, we have begun planting the Touriga Franca.
Planting is – or can be – one of the most labour intensive and time consuming tasks in the vineyard. This parcel alone is 4 hectares and will be planted with 12,000 vines. Typically we would require 8 people who can plant about 1,000 vines per day.
With the same combination of imagination and engineering skills as resulted in Symington’s modern lagares, our viticultural team have developed a new solution for planting. A trailer, which we designed and built, has a plough at the leading end which opens a furrow for planting as it is drawn along the terrace by the tractor. A man sits atop the plough share and inserts a pé – the plant – into the furrow. Just beyond his reach there is a mechanism to close the furrow around the pé quite gently, then a second mechanism to close it more closely and firmly. When the last planted pé passes a marker on the trailer, the plantador knows to insert the next one, to ensure even planting. Three men can plant 4,000 vines in a day with this trailer. We trialled it last year with the new plantation at Quinta do Tua, made some improvements and adjustments, and are using it again this year at Malvedos with great success.
After we have planted, we irrigate by hand – someone walks down the line of vines with a hose, just as you do in your own garden – to give the plants a good long drink to settle the soil and help them get established.
The pés are made from scions from our own plant stock, in this case Touriga Franca selected from Quinta do Vesuvio. When we pruned at Quinta do Vesuvio during the winter of 2011/2012, we selected certain canes and left them on the vine to mature a little bit more before cutting them and sending them to a nursery, where they were grafted onto our choice of rootstock. The grafted plants have been growing at the nursery throughout 2012, and have now been delivered to us for planting. The red wax protects the grafted join, and will gradually fall off as the plant grows.
Elsewhere in the quinta, we are grafting new vines in-place: where we have lost an odd vine in a mature plantation, we plant a rootstock and let it grow for a year to establish itself, then the following year cut down the rootstock, and insert a scion, again cut from our own vines, and complete the graft by wrapping it with raffia to hold it snug so the plant material can grow together.
Most important viticulturally: we have bud burst – the appearance of the first buds of leaves on the vines. Alexandre said it is a bit later than usual this year, but this is not a concern, as once the weather warms up, with the moisture in the upper soil from recent rains, the vines will grow rapidly and make up any lost time.
Many more plants are blooming including fruit trees, lavendar, gorse, and the aromatic esteva which you can often recognise on the nose of Graham’s ports. We even have tadpoles spawning in a puddle from a tractor print on the road into the vineyards. Spring is definitely making itself felt throughout our quintas.