Tracking The Season – 3 September

Touriga Nacional silhouetted against the river at Quinta do Tua 2 September

The past two weeks or so at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua have brought no surprises.  No rain, either.  Weather has continued clear and dry with temperatures generally in the mid 30’s – yesterday was typical, 36ºC and not a cloud in the sky.  The past few days we have had quite strong breezes, however, which not only stir up the dust but make conditions just a little bit drier.  Not what we could wish for, but again perfectly typical at this time of year.

Throughout both quintas the grapes are ripening, and there is little we can do now except watch the weather and monitor the maturation of the grapes, hope for the best and prepare for harvest.  We expect the aguardente, the grape spirit used to fortify our Ports, to be delivered to our wineries at Malvedos and Tua later this week and Joaquim, who is responsible for the adegas, was cleaning and organising the pumps and hoses necessary to take the delivery.

Life of a Viticulturist

Yesterday was a typical “day in the life” for Alexandre Mariz, our viticulturist for Malvedos and Tua, and we followed him most of the day.  Of course the first responsibility of our viticulturists at all our quintas is monitoring the progress and health of our vineyards throughout the year, and working with the caseiro (the property manager) to plan and carry out the vineyard maintenance tasks such as pruning, planting, shoot thinning, hedging, weeding, and treating any fungal or insect attacks if necessary.  But there is much more involved in the responsibility for a property.

Joaquim, Alexandre and Arlindo at Quinta do Tua

We maintain meticulous maps of all our quintas, and routinely review and update these using GPS and aerial photography.  Monday morning the first task was to “beat the bounds” of Quinta do Tua to double check boundary markers and update our maps with the details.  In other words, Alexandre, together with Arlindo (our caseiro at Malvedos) and Joaquim, spent two hours walking the circuit of the property, much of it through uncultivated areas of the quinta, to locate the actual paint blazes and boundary stones and double check our maps.

As we climbed through the brush, Alexandre took a few moments to point out rabbit burrows and the evidence of partridges nesting – all of which are good signs of the ecological health and diversity of the quinta environment.  We also passed an old tungsten mine which was abandoned in the mid 20th century.

One result of this rather unusual tour of the property is that this week’s view of the new plantation at Tua has been taken from the eastern end of the quinta, looking west.  Just above the centre of the photo you can see a red roofed building set amongst a few trees – our usual photo of the Quinta do Tua plantation is taken from there, looking east.  You can see clearly the road that divides the plantation roughly in half horizontally along the hill face – we have planted Touriga Franca above the road and the Touriga Nacional below it.

The next job was to visit the works at Quinta dos Malvedos, where we had torn out an old plantation of Tinta Roriz earlier this year.  Last week we began the surriba – the re-sculpting of the hillside to create new terraces.  Since the the first plans were made for this work, we purchased the adjacent property which was known as Quinta do Sibio, and have added it into Quinta dos Malvedos.  Immediately adjacent to the planned new plantation was a parcel from Sibio which was very old and not terribly productive, so the decision was made to take up those vines and add that parcel into the new plantation.

First step to sculpt new terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos – and a good example of Douro dust
Alexandre and Arlindo at Quinta do Sibio

So yesterday while one bulldozer worked on the first step of the surriba, smoothing out the hillside to erase all the old terraces and remove any large rocks, another back hoe was working to dig up the old vines from the small parcel.  The photo gives you a good idea how dry and dusty the Douro is these days.  Alexandre spoke with the foreman to discuss how the plan for the shape of the terraces would be adapted to include the additional small parcel.  Besides sculpting the patamares for the vines, the works of course include access roads and plans for drainage and managing the flow of rainfall so it will benefit the vines and not damage the terraces.

While there, Alexandre and Arlindo paused to discuss the olive plantation at Sibio, and plans to plant some more olive trees this winter, lining the road into the quinta.

After lunch Alexandre Mariz was heading up to Vilariça in the far northeast part of the Douro where he is also responsible for the three quintas we farm organically for our Altano Douro DOC wines.  There he needed to check on another new plantation project which has also just begun the surriba.  Afterwards, he was going to head to Regua to meet with the agricultural department authorities about the paperwork and permissions for our various plans and projects.

Five quintas, two large vineyard re-planting projects, olive trees, mapping, paperwork, and about 200 kilometres round trip from one end of the region to the other.  Typical day for a Douro viticulturist.

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