A Year in the Vineyards, March 2017

Frost on the vine in the vineyards of the Douro
Frost on the vine. Photograph: Fernando Alves
Miguel Potes, no stranger to the ups and downs of a year in the vineyards, talks about winter pruning, low temperatures, and a lot of hard work.

The winter pruning of the 2016/2017 viticultural year was largely concluded in our vineyards by the third week of February, a little later than usual due to the fact that in many of our properties in the Cima Corgo sub-region of the Douro work only began during the first half of December. Typically, winter pruning would be well underway during the month of November, but this year’s delay can be explained by the longer than usual vegetative cycle of the vines over the preceding season (2015/2016), which meant that after the vintage the vineyards were still relatively lush and the onset of leaf-fall was delayed by approximately two weeks. The above-average temperatures during the first half of November accentuated this further.

The relatively late start to the 2016 harvest also inevitably influenced the delay in winter pruning. In some of our principal vineyards such as Quinta dos Malvedos, picking during the harvest was halted on two occasions to work around some (beneficial) rain that arrived during the middle of September. Some of the finest grape varieties, including the Touriga Nacional, only began to be picked from September 26th, which meant that the harvest finished quite late, well into October.

Our pruning teams did not have to contend with much rain; in fact over the winter the lack of rain has given us some cause for concern, the shortfall being approximately 40% when compared to the 30-year-average. However, they did face very cold conditions, especially through January, which records showed as being the third coldest January of the last 30 years. The lowest temperature was registered at Quinta do Ataíde’s weather station on January 19th: 5.6°C below zero, which underlines the continental climate of the easternmost part of the Douro region.

Fortunately our pruners are equipped with electric secateurs, which not only increase productivity but also make the task much less physically demanding. They do, however, have to face the whims of winter weather for weeks on end, not to mention having to negotiate the steepness of the terrain, which really doesn’t make their task any easier.

Winter pruning of the vines is essential for their rejuvenation in the spring and one of its prime objectives is to influence the following season’s yield by controlling the number of buds and therefore those that will potentially burst and give rise to the desired number of bunches of grapes per vine.  Because it is so labour-intensive and time-consuming it accounts for around a third of the annual costs in our vineyards.

Electric secateurs notwithstanding, winter pruning in our vineyards is still an entirely manual task. It is one of the single most important periods of the year in the lifecycle of our vines for it is at this time that decisions are made that will determine the individual future of every single vine and have a significant impact on the success of this year’s crop. During the moments the pruner spends on each vine his or her decisions influence its growth over the new vegetative cycle, its fate quite literally in their hands. Manual pruning requires great skill, knowledge and experience if it is to be carried out successfully and one of its great advantages, as opposed to mechanical pruning, is the precision it offers given that each vine is tended with individual care, one of the indispensable prerequisites for the production of the finest possible wines.

 

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To New Beginnings

Sundial at Symington Family Estates Quinta do Vesuvio
Sundial, Quinta do Vesuvio. Photograph: Adriano Ferreira Borges

For the last eight years, the Graham’s blog has routinely and reliably provided information on the ebb and flow of the viticultural year in Quinta dos Malvedos, along with other reports and updates from the Douro Valley and Vila Nova de Gaia. To our great satisfaction, our content appealed to a wide audience, from wine critics and writers, to wine enthusiasts and everyone with an interest in the wines of Symington Family Estates, and what is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world.

As such, after almost 650 posts, it is with some apprehension that we have decided to stop updating Graham’s blog and replace it with this, the Symington Family Estates’ blog. Of course, the Graham’s blog will remain online for some time, after which its contents will be archived here for future reference

Here we will continue to publish the content for which the Graham’s blog was known; updates from the viticultural year in our Douro vineyards, the yearly harvest reports, and other assorted announcements from the Port trade. However, we also want to tell the stories of what are Symington Family Estate’s greatest assets, our wines, our quintas, and the people of the region.

Who knows what platforms we will use to share our stories a decade from now, but we do know that many of the wines we produce, such as Graham’s 2009 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port, the first of our wines whose production was chronicled online, will still be slowly ageing, as they have been for generations.

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