In the final stretch

The last remaining block of Touriga Franca, Nº15 was all picked by mid morning and for the rest of the day the ‘roga’ have been picking for the last lagar we will make of the 2009 Vintage. A small block of Tinto Cão from 1987 was picked next (small bunches with thick skinned juicy berries) and they are now picking Tinta Roriz.

Charles has deliberately left these blocks for the last lagar as they resisted well the recent hot weather and indeed continued to ripen nicely. It will be an interesting fermentation of two of the Douro classic varieties. Arlindo and the ‘roga’ will finish picking the rest of the Roriz sometime tomorrow, although I’m not sure exactly when yet.

With the picking over Arlindo will be off the hook and effectively on holiday for a few days so I’m sure he will be driving them hard up there in the vineyard tomorrow to finish asap!

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Noémia – a forgetten vineyard is brought back to life

I wrote this on Wednesday morning just after midnight but have only now had the chance to post it.

DSCN2546Today 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.

DSCN2545DSCN2550Although 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.

DSCN2548My 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.

DSCN2540Next 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.

DSCN2553We 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.DSCN2552

It’s getting late now but there is one lagar that I’m going to sit up watching for a while tonight. Goodnight Noémia.

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A wet start at Malvedos

I woke up with a start at 0640am this morning with what sounded like someone banging on my door. It took me a few moments to realize it was a heavy downpour of rain that had woken me. The spell of summer weather since we arrived on the 14th September has at last been broken.

Then at 0720am just as I was finishing shaving there was a power cut – &$#! This often happens here when there is rain, with a clap of thunder and lightening taking out the local electricity grid. This was worrying to say the least as wineries and power cuts do not exactly go hand in hand and everything, pumps, robotic lagares, crusher etc just grinds to a halt. If you have to to fortify a lagar and the pumps don’t work you have a problem…

Fortunately at 0755am electricity was restored and we were back in business.

Now at 0830 there is still a light drizzle. At this late stage in the harvest with picking finishing tomorrow this rain will not affect the quality of the grapes either way, but it has cooled down the temperature and settled the dust at least.

 Arlindo came down in the lorry to borrow some waterproofs for the pickers.Arlindos lorry in the rain

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Time for AD (pure grape spirit) corrections

After the wines are fortified, a sample is sent to the lab at Quinta do Sol. They analyze the samples and email us back the results and we then make any corrections that are necessary to the alcohol level.

TN and ADPure grape spirit or ADAs I mentioned in a previous post we are normally conservative when adding the brandy at fortification in order to avoid adding too much, so often we need to make a small adjustment to the AD (a very pure grape spirit) in order to get it up to precisely 19% v/v.

The Vintage is only over for us at the winery once all the wines that need it have been corrected and we therefore deal with the corrections as they come in so that there is no backlog at the end of the Vintage – which would prevent us going home!

An aside on the AD that we use for fortification it is very carefully selected  by our tasters in the months leading up to the harvest to ensure the best possible quality and charcterisitcs, and must have the Port Wine Institute’s approval. It is neutral in terms of aroma (serving only to fortify the Port and not influence the aroma of the wine), colourless and in terms of alcohol has 77% v/v.

Its proportion in Port is roughly 20%, so every bottle of Port is made up of 80% wine and 20% AD.

Despite 20% being colourless AD, just take a look at the opaque purple black colour of the Malvedos Touriga Nacional in the left hand glass. It’s a tribute to the efficiency of the robotic lagares that we can get such fantastic colours!

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A Busy Week in and around Malvedos

I’ve just returned to Porto after spending a few days at Malvedos. With fantastic weather, it was a great opportunity to visit all our various winemaking operations, and some of the outlying Quintas which I visit less often.   Here are some snaps of the action.  Funny how much of it revolves around lunch ! My dog Chili was my faithful companion throughout, suffering windblown boat rides and dusty farm tracks in the back of beaten up landrovers.

lunch at solTuesday – I picked Bruno Prats up from the airport in the morning and drove straight to the Douro, visiting the Sol winery and Quinta de Perdiz in the Torto valley.   Charles, Pedro and Alexis joined us for lunch.

brunorzIMG00053-20090922-1434Charles’s Ridgeback Masai and Chili discuss the 2009 harvest.

Up to Malvedos by boat for dinner.

riverWednesday – Bruno and I tasted some newly fortified Barroca ports with Henry at the Malvedos winery in the morning.  We then went over to Roriz by boat, calling in on my parents James and Penny at Vila Velha.   Brunio and I spent a useful morning touring the Roriz vineyard with Luis Coelho to determine the picking order, and then lunched in the caseiro’s kitchen with the winery team.   Paul’s son Rob is now sporting ten days’ worth of beard.

Lunch at Roriz

I visited Vila Velha after lunch (to have a look at progress on a home I am trying to build) and then returned with Bruno to Malvedos.   Paul came up for dinner and Henry joined us for a magnum of Chryseia 2003.

PDS LEAVES IN STYLEThursday – Bruno left early by taxi at 6 am.  In the morning Paul and I spent some time in the winery with Henry.   Dom and Joao Machete joined us for lunch on their way down from Vesuvio.   In the afternoon I went down by boat to Bomfim and visited the winery there, and then went up to pay Miles a visit at Cavadinha.   Five out of the six robotic lagares were full at the same time, which is the most I have ever seen.    Back to Malvedos in the evening.

Friday – My old friend Iain Richardson of the Mouchao winemaking family in the Alentejo spent the day with me visiting some of our properties in the Douro Superior by boat.   Harvest is pretty much over in the Alentejo having started quite early this year.

iainWe passed through the Valeira dam at 10 am, called in briefly at Quinta dos Canais, and then stopped at the dock at Senhora da Ribeira.     Ian and Cynthia Symington were at their weekend home and kindly offered us a welcome cold beer on a surprisingly hot day.  We visited Ricardo at the Ribeira winery up the hill and tasted some excellent 2009’s from the wooden vats.

After lunch at the Senhora da Ribeira restaurant we crossed the river to Vesuvio.   Things were quite quiet, as Charles had decided to postpone picking Monday to allow the Touriga Franca to get a bit riper.    After visiting Mario Natario at the winery, we went on by landrover to Vale de Malhadas next door, where Ze Maria the caseiro was supervising the penultimate day of picking at the Pombal vineyard.   The Franca grapes were looking really good despite the general dehydration of grapes in this part of the Douro this year.   Dona Helena presented me with a sack of onions and another of garlic, probably the only the annual dividend this year from this Quinta which I own along with my cousins Paul and Dom.

DSC_0083Back downriver to Malvedos, passing through the dam at 6.  Iain left before dinner, having to check malolactics in the Alentejo the next day.  My wife Anne and daughter Polly drove up for dinner, as did Henry’s wife Priscilla and their two boys George and Freddie.

Saturday –  Tasted with Henry in the winery in the morning.   Anne, Polly and I and Henry’s family went upriver for the day by boat, taking a picnic to Senhora da Ribeira which we shared with Peter Symington and some friends.  Back at 6, and the winery team all came up for a drink before dinner.DSC02246

We were joined for dinner by Dan Carbon and his wife Shannon and children Jack and Bess.

Sunday – A quiet day with the pickers and winery team taking a day off to vote.   Quite satisfying to finally get the gate open!DSC_0066DSC_0101

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Receiving the grapes

DSC_0037Some of you have asked about how we receive the grapes and what we do before they go into the lagars. Most of this happens in the reception area, so I thought I might give you a quick overview of what happens there.

The reception area is where the vineyard meets the winery.

DSC_0040This is how it works. The tractor brings down the grapes from the part of the Quinta that is being picked. The grape bunches are picked into small plastic boxes that take between 20-22 Kgs each. They stack one on top of the other on the tractor in such a way that the box above does not crush the grapes in the box below. The tractor can bring up to 92 boxes maximum with between 1800-2200 Kg depending on the variety being picked.

DSC_0039The boxes are carefully unloaded and weighed. At the end of the Vintage we can then work out how many Kilos (pipes of grapes) the property has produced, the yields per vine per variety and also the yields of each different block.

The boxes are then unloaded slowly onto the triage / selection carpet where leaves and any bunches that don’t make the grade are removed so that they do not compromise the quality of the lagar being filled. A pre-selection process takes place in the vineyard itself where Arlindo has given orders to the pickers that any unsuitable bunches are cut and left to lie where they fall so that they never even make it to the winery at all.

Juca at the crusher - destemmerThe selection carpet is tilted at a downward angle, so that any juice (which might already be fermenting) simply runs off backwards and never makes it to the crusher where again it could compromise quality.

Grapes into LagarHaving passed through the selection process the grape bunches then fall off the end of the moving carpet into the crusher de-stemmer below from where they are pumped to the lagar being filled in the winery itself.

The boxes once empty are carefully passed through our box washer where a system of shower heads washes them clean of any juice before being stacked and sent back to the vineyard for more grapes.

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Exciting discovery in the experimental vineyard

Tuesday sept 009I got all excited this afternoon in the experimental vineyard. A small block of Alicante Bouschet that I planted a few years back has come into production for its first proper harvest. For a while now we have been running trials with some of the slightly more obscure but traditional Douro varieties such as Souzão and Tinta Francisca too. All this takes time and so it is very rewarding when the vineyards finally come online. Once we have taken the decision about what we are going to grow, we first need to source good planting material. Often this comes from the vineyards of our competitors – we might be commercial rivals but we are also friends, and viticulture is a common passion that transcends sales figures. Those might be an important issue for the sales team in Gaia, but here in the Douro we are united by a common responsibility as guardians of the most unique and beautiful viticultural region in the world.

DSCN2454But I digress. Once we have found a good source we send the canes to a local nursery to produce ready-grafted rootlings for us. By supplying them with the vegetative material we have perfect control over what we are getting back, not some possibly inferior selection that the nursery has had to find for itself (in fact there are several nurseries who collect canes from our vineyards every year to supply their other customers – they seem to like the quality of our prunings). As it happens, this Alicante originally came from my father’s vineyard in the Alentejo. John, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s looking fantastic!

DSCN2455By the time the vines are finally in production several years have passed, and that is why today was so rewarding. Alicante has big tannins, a massive potential for ageing and, being one of very, very few varieties that truly have coloured pulp, it makes wines with an astoundingly deep colour. It’s the bunch on the right in the photos, obviously. Although it has existed in the Douro for ages and it is a permitted variety for port, it has been scandalously overlooked by almost every other producer. I predict an increasingly important role for this fascinating grape in the great ports of the future.   – Miles Edlmann

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The ‘Vinhaço’ truck is called in

7000Kg of Bagaço to load
7000Kg of Vinhaço to load

I called in the ‘Vinhaço’ truck in this morning to take away the marc from the press.

Every time we fortify a lagar we take out the free run must first and then the skins are passed through the press in order to get the ‘press wine’ which can then be added to the free run, according to Charles’ instructions.

The compacted skins or marc that comes out of the end of the press is packed into plastic ‘vindima bags’. These bags are heavy and each lagar gives around 50 bags.  Loading these in the truck to be taken away for distillation is as you can imagine not one of the most popular jobs in the winery.

Much to my surprise the 7000Kgs worth of bags were loaded in just 45 minutes – the day off yesterday must have done them some good!

Loading the bags onto the truck
Loading the bags onto the truck
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The Malvedos gate opens

DSC_0064We passed a very pleasant weekend at Malvedos. The perfect weather that we have grown accustomed to stayed with us, and made my family’s visit all that much more pleasant. We started the weekend on Saturday with Rupert, who invited the winery team up for a beer at the end of the day.

I took full advantage of the election day pause in the vintage on Sunday and enjoyed the day with my family and friends who were also visiting the quinta. First order of business was to weigh the children using the scale in the reception area.


There was still work to be done however, as Rupert had not forgotten about getting the old original Malvedos gate open. We set off together, dogs and kids in tow, on this very serious endeavour, and with a little effort, were rewarded with the squeak of rusty hinges, as one of the doors swing open, for the first time in some (many?) years. It was a very satisfying way to start the day (the second door, however, thwarted all efforts. The tractor was not employed).





Another beautiful Douro sunrise on Monday morning. My family has departed for Oporto. Soon the Franca will be coming in and we will be back in business.


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