Following a three-day pause in picking decided by Charles last Thursday, September 22nd, the roga returned to the vineyards on Monday morning to begin harvesting the prized Stone Terraces vineyards at Malvedos. These are the Cardenhos vineyard, with its north/northeast aspect set in a small amphitheatre behind the Quinta house and the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard, straddling the Síbio stream, close to the point where it joins the Douro. Port Arthur has a westerly and an easterly facing vineyard. The terraces of the latter accompany the contours of the ridge on which the house is built, curving around to a south facing aspect. The various sections of the Stone Terraces vineyards face all four cardinal points giving a mix of characteristics, intensity and richness from the westerly aspects and freshness and aromatics from the easterly and north facing parts of the vineyard.
The roga began picking under cloud cover but fortunately this has since cleared and the weather continues ideal with mainly clear sunny days, maximum temperatures hovering around the upper 20’s degrees Celsius. Night time temperatures have been dipping quite markedly which is ideal as it allows the grapes still on the vines to conserve their natural acidity, which lends greater freshness and balance to the wines.
On arrival at the winery, the bunches undergo the newly introduced two-stage grading and selection system, whereby the bunches are first sorted on the triage conveyor (as in previous vintages) after which they are gravity-fed into the new Bucher-Vaslin Delta-Oscillys de-stemmer. This equipment represents a significant advance at Malvedos because the de-stemming is selective and very effective, leaving unwanted raisined berries attached to the stalks and releasing only the healthy berries. This is achieved through a pendulum swing whose intensity can be adjusted. The released berries are then gently crushed through rollers, which can be adjusted in accordance with the required berry size and weight.
The first Stone Terraces lagar from the Cardenhos vineyard showed very good colour and gave a sugar reading of 13°, not unexpectedly because of its cooler aspect, a little below the graduation of the Port Arthur lagar (east and south facing sections) which recorded a Baumé of 14.05° and an equally encouraging colour.
On Wednesday, the third day of the harvest the first Sousão grapes from the neighbouring Graham’s Quinta do Tua, began to arrive at the Malvedos winery. As soon as we began to fill the lagar, and even before treading began, the impressive colour was clearly visible from the free-run juice. The Sousão is valued in our winemaking for its good acidity and for its colouring properties, but to see such colour even before treading had begun really caught Henry’s attention. Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist at both Malvedos and Tua, had commented that the Sousão from Tua was looking particularly good, so Henry was not entirely surprised. Once the lagar was filled the baumé reading was taken and it registered a very satisfactory 13.4°.
Charles commented that these balanced graduations are encouraging and that higher sugar readings are not necessarily a prerequisite for producing great wines.
Rupert Symington, hosting a group of guests from the USA at Malvedos, invited by the family’s import and distribution company — Premium Port Wines — visited the winery and the old lodge, originally built in 1895. Rupert and Henry talked the visitors through the winemaking process, explaining how well the modern lagares have performed since 2000, the year they were first employed at Malvedos; a great year whose finest wines made an outstanding Vintage Port.
Into the fourth day of the vintage, after all of the Sousão was harvested and before confirming the picking schedule for the next varieties, Charles, Henry and Alexandre made a thorough visit to the finest Touriga Nacional vineyards at both Malvedos and Tua. Charles determined that the berries would benefit from a few more days on the vines and decided to postpone further picking until after the weekend.
The busy visiting schedule continued: João Vasconcelos, Graham’s market manager for the UK market, showed some visitors from the UK around the winery, just an hour or so after his colleague, Gonçalo Brito, had done the same with a group from Smart Wines, Germany.
On the second day of the vintage at Malvedos and under blue skies and moderate temperatures, the 24 strong roga moved on to vineyard 17, the largest of the Quinta’s three Tinta Roriz vineyards.
Yesterday Charles and Henry tasted the first lagares of Port made this year – the Tinta Barroca and the wines made from the field-mixed vineyard at Síbio, planted in 1990. The Síbio section of Malvedos was acquired by the Symington family in 2012 and the majority of these mixed parcels are in fact made up primarily of Tinta Roriz and that’s why they were picked almost simultaneously with the Tinta Roriz parcels.
Charles commented on the good colour shown by the Barroca and was also satisfied with the balanced Baumé readings recorded in the Tinta Roriz lagares: 13.4°. Following consultation with Alexandre Mariz, the vineyard manager, Charles and Henry decided that on day three of the harvest the roga would move on to the Tinto Cão at Malvedos and then be taken to the neighbouring Tua vineyard to start picking the Sousão vines.
On this second day of the harvest, Henry received his first visitors of this vintage: a group from Smart Wines, who import Graham’s Ports into Germany, as well as some of the Symington family’s other wines. The group was headed by Herman Stockmann, whom Henry has known for several years as he often goes to Germany to help Hermann host tastings of Graham’s Ports.
The vintage at Malvedos started yesterday, September 19th, approximately a week later than last year’s starting date. Normally, the vintage in this part of the Douro Valley, the Cima Corgo, kicks off during the second week of September; rarely later than the middle of the month. This year’s delay can be explained by the unseasonably cool and wet spring, which set back flowering and veraison — both by almost two weeks. The exceptionally hot summer, which brought two heat waves during August, slowed things further as the maturation rates lost pace due to the very high temperatures. Fortunately, the abundant winter rainfall, which replenished the quinta’s soil water reserves, helped to sustain the vines over this period and the maturations and phenolic ripeness steadily recovered. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker thinks that conditions point to a very good year.
A further reason for putting back the vintage was the heat surge felt during the first week of September with maximum temperatures in the Douro reaching 43°C and setting a new record for highest ever recorded maximum temperatures for this month. Luckily, some timely rain came to the rescue in the build up to the vintage: 20mm falling at Malvedos on just one day (13th September). To put this into perspective, the 30-year average rainfall for September at Malvedos is 33.4 mm. These conditions have allowed for further gradual evolution of sugars and colour in a balanced way. This rain may well prove to be one of the decisive moments of the vintage. Experience tells us that just the right amount of rain during the first half of September, especially after a very hot and dry summer, is often a defining moment of a Vintage year.
The weather forecast until the end of the month is very positive, indicating warm, dry weather (but not excessively hot); just what is needed for some of the later ripening varieties to catch up and deliver good Baumés and balanced phenolic ripeness. On the first day of picking here at Malvedos the maximum temperature was just a fraction above 30°C. Night time temperatures have been dipping a fair bit (minimum was 14°C), which is desirable and to be expected with the the autumn equinox just around the corner. This is exactly what we need for a great year: dry, sunny days and cold nights.
As is customary, the Tinta Barroca was the first variety to be picked, closely followed by the mixed parcels from the Síbio section of Malvedos. Henry Shotton, the winemaker who runs the winery — this is his 17th vintage at the Quinta — was well satisfied with the colour and the good graduations of the Barroca, an encouraging sign but not surprising for this particular variety; the real test will come when the Tourigas, the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca begin to arrive at the winery, from later this week or early next. In the following post, further details on the other varieties to be picked will be provided.
In this seventh video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the maturation studies carried out in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos, which will guide us in determining the vintage starting date.
Maturation studies, which normally begin around mid-August, are of great importance in setting the vintage starting date and in preparing an optimum picking sequence, this being determined by the different maturation rates of each grape variety, as well as other influencing factors such as the vineyards’ location, altitude and climate. Carefully devised picking schedules ensure that the grapes are picked at their optimal point of ripeness.
Whilst nowadays, several advanced techniques are employed to assess berry ripeness, these do not replace frequent field sampling by our viticulturists and winemakers. In the vineyards they sample the berries for feel, taste and colour. As grapes ripen they become softer to the touch and taste sweeter, revealing the desirable accumulation of sugar as the grapes’ organic acids gradually diminish through the ripening period. They will also check for colour by squeezing berries in the palm of their hands to reveal the pigments on the skins and the appearance of the juice. The seeds or pips will also be checked for colour, as this is another reliable gauge of fruit ripeness; yellowish-green means unripe, whilst dark brown means ripening is on track.
To get the full picture of balanced fruit maturations it is important to also screen phenolic ripeness. The phenolic compounds, which include tannins and anthocyanins — the pigments responsible for colour — are a prerequisite for balanced and well structured wines with fresh aromatics. This year, when our maturation studies began on August 15th, it became apparent that phenolic ripeness was evolving very well whilst sugar readings were lagging behind. However, these have since caught up and we are looking at evenly balanced fruit maturation — a good augury for the forthcoming grape harvest.