Planning a New Vineyard at Quinta da Vila Velha

Most of the vineyards at Vila Velha are sited on west facing hillsides above the river
Quinta da Vila Velha from the river - Quinta dos Malvedos is around the bend of the river beyond

In addition to his work as research viticulturist, Miles Edlmann has responsibility for the maintenance of Graham’s Quinta da Vila Velha.  Situated around a bend just downriver from Quinta dos Malvedos, Vila Velha is spread out over 140 hectares of land, with just 57 hectares under vine.  The balance is olive groves and wilderness.

Along with the usual vineyard maintenance tasks, Miles has another major project on hand this year:  the planning of a possible new vineyard at Vila Velha.

Over the years a number of small adjacent quintas have been purchased and added into the Vila Velha holdings.  As a result, there are many small parcels of vines at the perimeter of the property, separated by large tracts of wilderness or olive grove from the main area of vineyards.  For years we have enjoyed the grapes from these mature vines, but now a number of these parcels are past their best and need to be re-planted.  On the other hand, it makes little to sense to re-plant in these locations.  The logistics of managing these small parcels are awkward and expensive:  as old vineyards with rows set too close together to allow a tractor to pass through, all the work of pruning, spraying and canopy management must be done entirely by hand, and during the vintage moving the picking team around to work in a series of small remote parcels is time consuming and inefficient.

Artur, Arménio Lopes (the caseiro) and Miles discussing the best placement for road access and the layout of the new vineyard

Instead, we are looking at the possibility of tearing up the old vineyards – four small parcels which total about 2 hectares – but planting the new vines elsewhere, in a newly created, consolidated and more accessible plot.  The proposed site for the new vineyard is what is known in the Douro as a mortuario: an old vineyard that was abandoned after the devastation of phylloxera in the late 19th century.  It is a hillside riddled with ruined and half-buried stone walls, now planted with mature olive trees.

Our proposals must be worked out and documented very carefully and then approved by several different authorities before work can begin.  Among the restrictions and considerations to be reckoned with:

  • we cannot create more vineyard than we already have – so the new planting must be no larger than the total of the old plantings
  • we will need planning permission to move and re-plant the olive trees we take out of the hillside to create the vineyard
  • some of the old stone walls are intact and will of course be preserved and worked into our plans, but we would have to be granted permission to remove the remains of walls which have fallen into ruins and are now half buried under the soil
  • our plans must include access roads
  • we need to plan for drainage, and work out how heavy rains might be channeled down the hillside to avoid damage to the new terraces

With all this in mind, the first work of the day was to have another good look at the hillside and decide the best position for the vineyard.  Miles was joined by Artur Moreira, another of our viticultural team who works with many of our mapping and planning projects and has expertise in the use of GPS systems.

Artur Moreira and Miles Edlmann setting a stake to take a GPS reading to define the limits of the proposed new vineyard

Miles and Artur placed stakes along the proposed lower edge and side of the vineyard, and after much lively discussion and adjustments to create an optimum contour, Artur took GPS readings.  Whilst most of three sides of the proposed vineyard are already easily visible on photo-maps, they had to establish these other edges quite clearly in order to produce a new photo-map to  include with our proposals.  To do this, the stakes were placed and Artur was then able to use his GPS device to get the satellite readings to define the perimeter of the vineyards.

Planning for the management of run off was pretty straightforward – you can see quite clearly on the hillside where the water naturally courses down now.  That will be taken into consideration as we define the  contours of the terraces and the placement of the access roads, as the best way to manage water runoff is along the back of the terraces and into channels alongside the roadways.  We can design the vineyard so the natural runoff from the crest of the hillside will easily enter this channel system, rather than cascade down and potentially damage the terraces and soil banks.

The next steps in the planning will mostly happen in the office, as we complete the necessary applications for permission.  If all goes well, and permission is granted, then the work of moving the olive trees and creating the new terraces will begin this winter, after the harvest.

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