An Update from Malvedos

As August draws to a close and we come ever closer to the beginning of this year’s vintage, the typical scorching summer temperatures of the Douro Valley have not materialised. While there have been several hot days, with temperatures in the high 30s (Celsius), until now August has been the first month of the 2014/15 viticultural year with temperatures below the mean.

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Ripening grapes on the old vines (vinha velha) of Quinta dos Malvedos.

However, owing to the drought conditions throughout most of the viticultural year, these lower than average temperatures in August are a real boon. With just 4.8mm of rain falling over Malvedos since the beginning of July (see previous post), lower temperatures reduce the possibility of excessive hydric stress. Charles Symington, head winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos, reminds us that at this juncture air temperature is also extremely important for another reason.

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More ripening grapes on the old vines (vinha velha).

Very high temperatures during the final maturation cycle can lead to higher sugar concentration in the berries to the detriment of acidity, which is of course very important for the wines’ balance and ageing potential. The lower than average daytime and nocturnal temperatures will ensure grapes with homogeneous maturations which will almost certainly result in very high quality wines.

In any case, with moderate rain forecast for tomorrow it looks like Malvedos will have the benefit of both relatively low temperatures and some useful additional water; meaning everything is still on track for a stellar harvest.

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The east facing side of the Port Arthur stone terraces, still under a cloudy sky.

In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing regular updates on the harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos.

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Looking Forward to the Harvest

We are now in the final weeks before the culmination of the viticultural year and the beginning of this year’s harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos. Although the Portuguese Meteorological Institute is currently announcing severe drought warnings for the entire country, the vines look robust and healthy, and the viticultural cycle is approximately ten days ahead of schedule. The vintage plan has now been drawn up, and although it will no doubt undergo several changes before we begin to bring grapes into the winery next month, we are currently aiming to begin harvesting at Malvedos on the seventh of September, four days earlier than last year, when the vintage started on the 11th.

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Quinta dos Malvedos on Monday (24th of August).

The Viticultural Year to the Present

On a whole the viticultural year was quite uniform, although unusual, as almost from start to finish it has been warmer than average, and very dry.

The yearly cycle began with an extremely wet November that saw 179mm of rainfall (more that twice the 30-year average of 67.5mm) falling over the quinta. However, these conditions were not to last and as we moved into December and the new year, rainfall decreased dramatically (to less than half the 30-year average), a trend that would continue throughout the year.

Over the course of the year average temperatures always kept above the mean, but when we look back at the year as a whole what marked it was the lack of rainfall. Apart from ample precipitation in November 2014, this viticultural year, and especially the summer months, has been extremely dry. With only 2.6mm of rain falling in July. We were fortunate to have 2.4mm fall over the quinta last weekend and with more forecast for next weekend, it should be some relief for the vines, which are already reaching their limit.

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Temperature and precipitation over the last viticultural period (March to end of July). Note the proximity of 2015 to 2011 (a phenomenal vintage).
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Rare August clouds over Quinta dos Malvedos on Monday (24th of August).

That being said the vines are now beautiful, and rarely in a year of such drought have they looked so fine. Still covered by a lush green canopy, only first growth lower leaves, now beginning to turn brown and dry, tell the story of their struggle for water throughout the year.

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A row of Touriga Franca planted in 1983 exhibiting fine green foliage.

The Vintage

Walking through the vineyards with Alexandre Mariz (the viticulturist responsible for Quinta dos Malvedos) as he tastes the grapes from each row of vines, evaluating them for the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness which indicates their level of maturation, you can see that he is quietly confident in the ability of the hardy Douro Valley grape varieties to withstand the severity of the region’s weather, and that this year’s vindima (harvest in Portuguese) promises to be a great one.

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Alexandre Mariz inspecting a row of Souzão, high above the river Douro.

One of the reasons for his confidence is that not only are the vines all in very fine condition, but that they are at the same level of maturation and their sugars, phenolic levels and acidity are all showing even development. In short, no variety is significantly lagging behind another.

This year the star of the vintage could be Touriga Franca, which is looking particularly good. Normally a late ripening variety, this year it started developing earlier than usual, giving it a head start and meaning that it will be perfectly matured closer to the beginning of the vintage rather than later, as is normal with this variety.

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The juice of a Souzão grape. This variety is known for the deep colour its wines.

Other Happenings at the Quinta

Besides preparations for the imminent vintage, work is also nearly complete on the creation of new terraces on the western side of the quinta. When complete, the 4.9 hectares of new terraces are due to be planted entirely with Alicante Bouschet, which at the moment only exists in very small quantity at Quinta dos Malvedos.

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The new terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos (looking eastward).

All told, the vineyards are in great condition and everyone is going into the vintage with high expectations. Although there are always unknowns, everything is pointing to a great year for the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos, and Graham’s Port.

In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing regular updates on the harvest at the Malvedos winery.

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Alexandre Mariz looking over the vines high above the Douro.
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Black Kites over Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

The wilds of the Douro Valley are a haven to many species of plant and animal, and you don’t have to spend long there to witness birds of prey in their natural habitat.

Home to several species of eagle, vulture, falcon, owl and kite, these large birds, which are the top of their respective food chains, are an impressive site to behold.

This pair of black kites were photographed flying over an area of uncultivated land between Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas and Quinta do Vesuvio, deep in the Douro Superior. The pair was accompanied by another, perhaps their offspring.

Eagles Vesuvio

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