Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua were looking beautiful on the day before the summer equinox.
As has been the case most of the past month, the weather was clear, with slightly cool (for the Douro!) temperatures – mid to upper 20ºs C – and a warm sun. Alexandre Mariz, our viticulturist, said there have been a few warmer days, and we have had one or two insignificant showers, but the trend so far this year of being generally a bit cooler than normal has continued. That said, the outlook for the coming weekend is for plenty of sun and a rise in temperatures.
The flowering which was in progress when we last visited the quintas concluded well, we have seen a minimum of desavinho (abortion of fruit set) this year, and the young grape bunches look healthy and promising. When we visited Quinta do Tua Alexandre stopped to walk through the Tinta Amarela plantation and was closely examining the grape bunches and foliage deep in the canopy. He explained that this variety, which has compact bunches of thin-skinned grapes and lush dense foliage, is particularly susceptible to mildio. Alexandre was pleased to find no sign whatsoever of disease. This parcel of Amarela is planted at the top of the hill just behind Tua’s famous walled vineyards, and the site is quite level and airy and well exposed to the south and east, all of which is ideal for minimising the risk of disease. Regular readers may remember that this plot of Amarela was the first to be picked for the 2012 harvest.
The other news at Quinta do Tua is in the old walled vineyards. Many of the vines really are very old and reaching the end of their productive lives. After some discussion over the past year Charles Symington, our head winemaker, and Alexandre agreed to renovate the vineyards gradually, to maintain as much as possible of the old vines mixed-vineyard character. To that end, 3,000 pés (literally “feet” – the root stocks) were planted this winter, replacing missing or too-old vines. These are American root stocks which should settle in and grow well this season so that next winter we can cut them down and graft in scions of our Douro varieties (learn more about field grafting vines).
Over at Quinta dos Malvedos the new plantations are settling in well, and we have begun the first irrigation. In the Douro wine growing region irrigation is generally not allowed, the only exception being in the first year of a new plantation to help the young plants get established. When the vines are planted, they are individually watered, which is labour intensive. For subsequent irrigations we have a system of hose pipes which drip feed the water along the row of vines, and one man and quite a lot of black tubing can irrigate a hectare in a day. The water is taken from a water tank at the western end of Malvedos (home to an immense golden carp that proved camera shy), which in turn is fed from a natural watercourse that comes into the property from a ravine further west.
Viticultural work continues steadily on several fronts. We are just finishing the last of the ampara – the arrangement of vines into the trellis system – and next week we will begin the desponta – trimming the growing ends of the vine. This will redirect the vine’s energy away from putting on more length and foliage towards maturing the grapes. The “lawn has been mowed” in our organic vineyards to provide compost for the soil there, and in July we will finish the job of establishing the new vineyards by crushing the remaining large rocks on the terraces (see how that was done at Tua last year) and setting up the trellis system.
This weekend is the festival of São João and Alexandre said there are several traditional guidelines for viticulture to do with this date. One is to do the desponta about this time, and another is that by São João you will know if your newly planted vines have “taken” or not. On that score, our newest plantations at Quinta dos Malvedos seem perfectly safe, as we could see clearly the lines of green along the new patamares all the way down the hillside.
Overall, Alexandre is pleased with how the season is progressing, and he personally is optimistic about what kind of year this will be – he said we had a good winter (which in the Douro means a rainy one), the vines have been growing slowly and steadily and the fruit has set well, “muito semelhante dos anos antigos” which translates roughly as “very like the good old days.” Given Graham’s two century old tradition of superb Port wines, that can only be a good thing.