Graham’s head winemaker, Charles Symington, has updated us once more on the state of play coming into the start of harvest in the Douro.
Overall, grape maturations have progressed in a regular if somewhat slower manner over recent weeks. We enjoyed another “useful amount” of rain, 15mm at the end of last week, which will help the vines as maturation continues. With a forecast of at least 10 days ahead of fine weather, we are in a very good position.
The weather pattern is actually turning into what Charles called a classic vintage pattern: useful amounts of rain at the end of August or early September is a classic pattern for declared years, something which we have not seen for a few years now. No promises yet, but it is encouraging to observe this! He did add, “We are very well placed for an excellent vintage, with average to low yields.”
Despite an unseasonably cool July and August, September looks to shape up as fairly normal, with cool nights which is also beneficial to the development of the polyphenolics in the grapes.
Turning to technical aspects of the grape maturation pattern, sugars have been reasonable to high from the start of studies, and the phenolics (the flavour and colour compounds in the grapes) which had been delayed relative to sugar, have been coming along steadily the past few days. Everything suggests we will reach the levels we want, and now we are simply watching and waiting for the perfect moment to begin the picking.
The upshot was the decision taken last Friday to push back the dates for the start of harvest from earlier estimates. Where before this was looking like quite an early harvest, we are now looking at fairly normal dates, with the winery at Quinta dos Malvedos set to open on the 15th September, though Charles pointed out he will have no qualms about changing that date again if we need to. Quinta do Tua, where we receive the grapes from premium quality small farmers in the surrounding area, will also open on the 15th.
Right now, it appears the picking will progress in a classic sequence through the varieties, namely Tinta Barroca first, followed by the Tinta Amarela. Right now Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional are in contention for third place, and Charles is continuing to watch the maturation studies closely on those grapes and will decide closer to the time exactly which gets picked first. As in most years, The Touriga Francesa (also known as Touriga Franca) will be the last to be harvested.
The Vinha Velha grapes from Quinta do Tua are looking very good, and if Charles decides to go ahead and pick those before we are ready to open the wineries at Tua or Malvedos, the grapes would go to the Symingtons’ Quinta do Sol to be vinified. Though that winery is used primarily for the Symington table wine production, we do have four lagares there in order to handle exactly this kind of situation, where a small parcel is ready before the boutique wineries can be opened, or if we need to manage production capacities in excess of the usual at the smaller wineries.
Similarly, Miles Edlmann will be picking some Tinta Barroca at Quinta da Vila Velha this week. Barroca is naturally an early ripening variety, and with the reduction by almost 50% of the crop by meteorological disasters across the Douro in June (hail, lightning strike, and sunburn, depending where exactly the poor vine was located) the berries have matured even more rapidly than usual. Once the Barroca is done, we will wait until later next week to begin the rest of the picking.
Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior, east of Vesuvio, will begin picking on the 12th. Finally, Quinta das Lages, in the Rio Torto, looks set to begin harvest on the 19th of September – this narrow, steep, twisted valley which runs south from the Douro near Pinhão has a unique microclimate and typically runs a little later than our river quintas.
Of course this can all change again… but right now, this is the plan. Stay tuned!