A vineyard in balance – May 31st 2014

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos is pleased with the vines’ development at the Quinta; the vineyard is thriving and everything is in balance at this stage in the viticultural cycle. It is some years since everything has appeared to be developing so well — at this particular stage in the season. It is a precocious year with bud-break and flowering coming two weeks earlier than usual at Malvedos; not unexpected given the abundant winter rainfall and the unseasonably warm conditions through the spring. April brought a heat wave with temperatures at Malvedos reaching 30ºC on the 10th, 15th, 17th and 18th. During two consecutive months (March and April) the highest temperatures in the whole of Portugal were recorded in the Douro region by the Portuguese Met Office.

Fruit set is advancing very favourably with beautifully formed clusters developing evenly on the vines throughout the Quinta’s 89 hectares (220 acres) of vineyard. Given the conditions mentioned above vegetative growth has been quite vigorous and a team of 16 skilled vineyard workers has been working flat out under the watchful eye of Sr Arlindo, the vineyard manager, curtailing excessive shoot growth whilst at the same time taking the opportunity to guide the shoots (those that they choose to leave on the vines) between the trellis wires. This is an entirely manual operation and it is a testament to the labourers’ skill to witness just how speedily they progress through these tasks, which are essential in ensuring that the vines channel their energies into berry development rather than excessive vegetative growth.

The Touriga Nacional and Sousão vineyard parcels, planted during the spring of 2013 are flourishing and it seems incredible that they are just one year old. The Sousão is a heat sensitive variety and was therefore planted on one of the Quinta’s highest vineyard parcels located at 350 metres (1148 feet) altitude to benefit from the cooler conditions that elevation bestows. Besides this, the Sousão is laid out in a west facing amphitheatre-like bowl where conditions are relatively cooler than the predominantly south facing Malvedos vineyard. Furthermore, this bowl faces the valley formed by the Sibio stream which provides some additional humidity.

The view from the new Sousão vineyards at Malvedos

Facing this new Sousão parcel across the valley is the Sibio vineyard which was incorporated into Malvedos in 2012. Sibio has a combination of vertically planted and terraced vineyards, some of which are old, mixed vineyards whose organic certification is imminent. If all goes according to plan, Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker may have at his disposal during the 2014 vintage the first organically grown grapes from Malvedos. He can choose to use these together with the organically grown grapes from Graham’s Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.

On the Quinta’s western extremity on high ground overlooking the sharp curve in the River Douro, machinery is at work preparing the terrain for replanting during the spring of 2015 (grape variety/ies to be decided). The terraces here had fallen into disrepair (they formed part of the Sibio parcels) and the vines planted on them were in a sorry state. The opportunity is being taken to lay out the new terraces (known locally as patamares) using the latest techniques which involve sculpting the earth-banked terraces with a slight inward and longitudinal cant. This helps retain just the right amount of water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the ground whilst simultaneously allowing the rainwater from heavy downpours to drain off expeditiously but without eroding the soil (sometimes provoking the collapse of the terraces themselves).

Not far away a stone ‘shredder’ towed by one of the Quinta’s small tractors has been busy breaking up the larger stones and rocks on some terraces, leaving behind what looks like powdered schist soil. This operation brings with it several advantages: it avoids having to physically remove the larger rocks (saving in fuel emissions and costs); it resolves the problem of where to physically store or dispose of these rocks; the break-up of the soil top layer improves its aeration and drainage; it facilitates the passage of small tractors through the narrow terrace platforms, and makes it easier for vineyard workers to work on the vines (not to mention picking during the vintage); and of course it adds to, rather than subtracts from, the soil top layer.

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