The surriba (terrain preparation) begun almost two months ago at the western extremity of Malvedos is making good progress. Men and machines are at work on the steep slopes expertly carving the terraces on which vines will be planted during February/March 2015. Due to the gradient of the terrain (50% inclines in some sections) these new terraces or patamares have a relatively narrow platform and their supporting earth walls have to be quite substantial in order to support the platforms adequately. Given their narrowness, each terrace will have only one row of vines planted, meaning lower plant density. Thus, adding to the very high cost of building the terraces and replanting vines in this unforgiving topography, one has to factor in lower production as well. Ultimately though, the return will come in the form of high quality grapes to make high quality wines.
The area being worked on amounts to 5.85 hectares (14.5 acres) and is part of the Síbio vineyard that was incorporated into Malvedos two years ago. Almost half of the terrain abuts onto a pronounced shoulder of land, which follows the sharp bend in the River Douro below and forms an east and southeast facing aspect, in visible contrast to the predominantly south facing aspect of Malvedos. This will influence the choice of grape varieties planted; according to Alexandre Mariz (the viticulturist in charge of Malvedos) these are likely to be Touriga Nacional on the east / southeast facing terraces and Touriga Franca on the south facing terraces (as a late ripening variety the Franca handles the extra heat well). Virtually the only other established east facing vineyard at Malvedos is the ‘Port Arthur’ traditional stone terraced vineyard whose grapes contributed to the outstanding Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port. It is hoped that the vines planted on this newly laid out vineyard will one day deliver grapes of similar quality.
The Douro has the largest area of mountain vineyard in the world and over the last couple of decades in particular, advanced techniques have been developed to best address the challenges posed in laying out vineyards in such intractable terrain. Laser technology is employed to ensure that the earth-banked terraces are constructed with the required slight inward and longitudinal cant (3%), which has a twofold purpose: water retention and combating erosion. This double cant of the terraces helps retain sufficient water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the soil whilst simultaneously allowing excess rainwater to drain off gradually without washing away the valuable topsoil or causing erosion, which — if left unchecked — can provoke the collapse of the terraces themselves. It’s very much about striking the right balance between the volumes of water one wants to retain and allow to drain away.
The only other activity at Malvedos at this quiet stage of the year (from a viticultural perspective) is the ongoing rebuilding of sections of the old stone terraces at the main entrance to the property. As commented in previous reports, this undertaking has taken much longer than originally envisaged. In hindsight, this was to be expected because unlike the construction of patamares, the socalcos (stone terraces) have to be rebuilt in very much the same way they were originally built two centuries ago, i.e. entirely by hand. Furthermore, experienced stonemasons aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but fortunately for the preservation of the Douro landscape there is still a school in the region which continues to teach this age-old skill.
Weather wise, July has been an unusual month at Malvedos inasmuch as the rainfall for the first three weeks (18mm) was almost double the monthly average for the Quinta which is 10mm (July is the driest month of the year in the Upper Douro). Fortunately this part of the Douro Valley was spared the sudden deluge which hit some areas on July 3rd: 80mm fell in just one hour in parts of the Pinhão Valley and 26mm in the village of Pinhão; both locations just 8km downriver from Malvedos (where 5mm was recorded over the same period). This rainfall has proven a boon for Malvedos as the previous four months had registered well below average rain and there are no signs of hydric stress in the vines. August can be — and usually is — a make or break month for the grapes’ final ripening stage but Alexandre and the caretaker, Sr. Arlindo, feel this extra water in the soil (coupled with relatively cooler temperatures throughout the month, thus far) has provided the vines with good conditions to stay the course.
This time last year, Véraison (known locally as pintor) at Malvedos was running about a week late. This year and in step with the generally precocious 2013 – 2014 viticultural cycle, the pintor gave its first signs 10 days earlier than average at Malvedos and most of the grapes on the vines have now changed colour. The berries look very healthy with good even ripening of the grape bunches boding well for the next few weeks.