Early in the week Henry and his team at Malvedos heard the weather forecast with some apprehension. Tropical storm ‘Henri’ was gathering strength over the Atlantic and fast approaching northwestern Portugal. On Tuesday, as predicted, ‘Henri’ hit the coast at Porto and quickly progressed inland where it buffeted the Marão mountains with strong winds and heavy rain. Vila Real, the district capital on the lee slopes of the range received 90mm of rainfall in just a few hours. As the front moved up the Douro Valley it lost some of its strength but it still delivered 54.8mm of rain over Malvedos on Tuesday alone, making September the wettest month at the quinta thus far this year. To offer some perspective, mean rainfall for September (30 year average) at Malvedos is 33.4mm.
But there’s rain and there’s rain, as any viticulturist knows. As the day wore on, the initial sense of foreboding gave way to a sense of relief; the rain did come down in buckets as forecast but not in the form of intense, damaging downpours. Rather it came down steadily, spaced evenly throughout the afternoon and the evening, allowing the soil to gradually absorb what it needed and permitting the run-off to drain away without causing any damaging erosion as so often happens in the Douro. Furthermore the strong winds, which came hand in hand with the rain, continued well after the rain had stopped in the early hours of Wednesday having the very positive effect of swiftly drying the grape bunches on the vines.
Once conditions became more settled Graham’s head winemaker Charles Symington, with Henry and Alexandre, took stock and decided that it was better to have had this rain rather than not have had it. Whilst the team at Malvedos initially feared a rerun of the 2014 harvest when the prospect of an excellent year was partially derailed by persistent rain halfway into the harvest, this year the situation is different. There was increasing concern that the hydric stress and consequent dehydration (following one of the driest springs and summers of the last half century) was beginning to take its toll on the vines.
Charles feels that this rain may well prove opportune, stopping further dehydration and allowing the unpicked grapes to get back into balance and fully ripen. There are still some very good parcels of Touriga Nacional to come in, and of course the whole of the Touriga Franca to pick. At this stage only one third of the Malvedos vineyard has been harvested. This timely rain, combined with the fact that the weather forecast for the rest of the month points to dry and sunny conditions with warm, even temperatures, means that ideal conditions should be in place for realising the full quality potential of this year’s harvest.
To allow the finest grapes to dry fully and benefit from the favourable conditions developing in the vineyards, for the next few days at Malvedos the pickers will resume picking the Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, mixed plantings and younger plantings, leaving the Touriga Nacional for later. Meanwhile in the winery some exceptional lagares are being made from grapes brought in before the storm arrived; in particular two outstanding ferments of Touriga Nacional, which showed spectacular Baumés of 14.3º and 14.35º with amazing colour. Henry is impressed by the exceptional colour of the musts he is seeing in all the lagares so far this vintage; without exception all are displaying the maximum ‘A’ colour grading in the chromatic range of ‘A’ to ‘F’.