At Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua the viticultural season is well underway and we are busy in the vineyards with a wide range of tasks, whilst the vines are growing well.
From the week before Easter through 11 April we had rain most days, which has been very welcome. Alexandre Mariz, our viticulturist, is finally expressing cautious optimism that we may have had enough rain to see us through a typically hot, dry July and August. After two and a half years of drought, the reserves deep in the soil had a lot of catching up to do. There is no further rain in the immediate forecast.
Since the 11th it has been clear and warm – low 20ºs C – which is a bit cool for the time of year, but welcome. Alexandre says the recent moderate temperatures have been good for two reason: first, the moisture in the soil has a better chance of sinking in rather than simply evaporating in the heat, and second, it means the development of the vines since budburst has been steady, not wildly exuberant as it can be with a sudden hot sunny spell. The result is that the vines are looking very healthy and already showing the nascent clusters of grapes-to-be. Although we still need to get through the flowering and fertilisation period in May to know what kind of crop to expect, right now the signs are promising.
We have begun the despampa, a process of removing excess shoots from each and every vine by hand to leave two shoots from each bud. Removal of excess vines and the odd shoots that sometimes spurt from the trunk or even from the Americano rootstock ensures good air circulation which is important to minimise the chance of fungal diseases. Limiting the number of shoots also concentrates the vigor of the vine into those remaining, so we will have greater concentration of flavour and sugar in the grape clusters that ultimately do form.
The Touriga Franca vines that were being planted in the newly-re-landscaped parcel west of the caseiro’s house during our last visit to Malvedos are settling in and starting to sprout well. In the other parcel which we are renovating near the top of the quinta, the surriba – landscaping works – are nearly done, with just a few more days of work to go. Alexandre was hoping to start the planting sometime this week, with the five hectares divided between the Touriga Nacional and Sousão varieties.
As part of the work of re-landscaping our vineyards, we plan for drainage systems to handle the often heavy rainfalls in the winter. We need to strike a balance between holding the rain on the terraces so it will sink into the hillside, and managing the safe run-off of excess water in a heavy rainstorm, without eroding the soil-banked terraces. For this reason every line of terrace is subtly canted into the hillside, so water will gather at the back and sink in, but they are also arced so excess water can run down to one end and enter a system of drains which run alongside the access roads.
In addition we incorporate drains into the hillside to capture some of that flow and direct it safely into the river. The pipeline is buried under the terraces and will end in a stone covered cascade further down the hillside, in a place which is a natural run-off. As we have re-built the patamares massive slabs of unearthed schist have been set aside, and ultimately will be used to build that cascade and mask the end of the pipe.
And speaking of run off, the Douro is showing the golden-bronze colour for which it is named, a reflection – quite literally – of light off the silt from the schistous soil which has run off into the river during the recent rains. Paul Symington was recently telling visitors it has been some years since he last saw the river this colour. The river is high and running quite fast, with white water wakes streaming from the buoys that mark the safe channel.
So far, so good!