I wrote this on Wednesday morning just after midnight but have only now had the chance to post it.
Today we picked a block of vineyard that we all know as Noémia. It is a beautiful piece of land, relatively flat by Douro standards, almost on the top of the hill and well above Cavadinha. Its imperious position at around 500 m above sea level affords it dramatic views across the Pinhão valley and beyond, to the villages over on the south bank of the Douro.
Although it was yet another startlingly hot day for this time of the year, the air at that altitude was crystalline in its clarity and the landscape was just begging for attention. The myriad tiny parcels of olive grove, forest, vineyard and white houses are completely absorbing. There is so much visual detail to be drunk in that even at quintas where I have worked for several years there are still moments of ‘I’d never noticed that before!’ almost very time I raise my eyes from the vines. When I got my first job here I really did believe that I was working in God’s own office.
My love affair with Noémia has been short but passionate. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that we have only known each other for just over a year. Paul has a habit of buying fairly run-down vineyards (albeit in good locations) and last year he was lucky enough to snap up Noémia. Usually these purchases are too far gone to make much of, and I’m kept busy ripping them out and replanting. That was to be Noémia’s fate too, but the first time I went into the vineyard I got a special feeling. I’m not sure what it was, but there was something in the air between us. I persuaded him to give her another chance; he agreed, and last harvest we kept her grapes apart to ferment in their own lagar. I was delighted when it made perhaps the most elegant and aromatic wine of the vintage which is quite unusual when you consider that the majority of the vines in the mixture are Tinta Barroca. But Paul was convinced by the evidence, and Noémia was saved.
Then the hard work started. First a serious campaign was launched to get her free from weeds. This has gone so well that in another month or so we’ll be ready to cover-crop the space between the rows of vines with scented clovers. Then we noticed that we could just about squeeze a tractor between the rows if we straightened out the rickety trellis, so it was all pulled out and a modern system with strong posts and double foliage wires was installed. Noémia was now mechanised.
Next we tackled the vines one by one (about 8500 of them) and chopped off most of the twisted old parts, leaving only a single cane per plant, the strongest and best-positioned. This cane was tied down to the new wire, and in no time we had a unilateral cordon in place too. Any vine that was not healthy enough to be retrained according to this criterion was ripped out mercilessly. Sometimes you have to be a little cruel in this world.
We widened the tracks so we could get the quinta truck in, and then set about filling in the gaps in the rows where vines were missing. We chose Touriga Nacional since it ripens at about the same time as Barroca but it can also provide a more structured and floral wine. We planted about 2000 rootlings which have since been hand-watered to see them through the hot summer. I can’t wait until they are contributing to the blend in a few years. Finally we put on a good dose of organic fertiliser to see her through this tough makeover. The vines responded beautifully; the expression ‘a new lease of life’ must have been written for this vineyard. Today, less than a year after we started work, Noémia has been completely transformed.
It’s getting late now but there is one lagar that I’m going to sit up watching for a while tonight. Goodnight Noémia.