Every year, on the 10th of August, we embark on our very first maturity (ripeness) control in our main vineyard, Quinta Vale d’Agodinho. Located on the very top of a hill with 360 degrees of sun exposure, it’s fascinating for us to see how the grapes evolve in varying light exposure. Under ideal circumstances, the grapes are of equal size in the same bunch. Not only that, we also want the south facing vineyards – where temperatures tend to accelerate the ripening process due to higher temperatures – to mimic the same level of ripeness as the northern vines.
Fortunately, we’ve been lucky this year! The temperatures during the day have hovered around +30ºC, while nights have been cool, with temperatures going below 15ºC and sometimes as far as 12ºC. The cool, brisk evening temperatures allow the vine to maintain higher levels of acidity in the berries which will promote longer aging in bottle.
If you rack your brain back to 2012, you’ll remember our “riveting” conversation about the important of humidity in the soil. When water levels are low, vines shift to survival mode, and essentially, quit helping the grapes. Fortunately, this is not the case this year! The water levels have been good, but could potentially use a few more buckets of water this August.
The only thing that didn’t help, as mentioned in a previous post, were the cold and humid days during fruit set, which reduced the number of fertilized flowers. Here is a table with values for the potential alcohol on August 10th of previous years and the day when we started harvesting:
- 2007 10.49%, September 19th
- 2009 11.86%, September 14th
- 2010 10.05%, September 18th
- 2011 12.07%, September 12th
- 2012 9.13%, September 28th
- 2013 10.9%, September 23rd
- 2014 11,2%, ?
We still have a long way until the harvest – five or six weeks yet – so many things can change. But at least we can report that 2014 is certainly better than 2012 and probably better than 2013. At this point, it’s just a matter of patience; which is difficult when it feels like the day before Christmas!
Inspired by an article on Western Farm Press about weeds in vineyards, we were looking at the wild plants we have in our vineyards. The idea is that by analyzing these wild plants we can understand what kind of necessities and needs the soils of our quintas have.
It is getting more and more popular in organic farmed vineyards to have cover cropping systems. These crops may help vines to better develop in a sustainable way. But that would be a topic for another post.
Today I want to talk about those random weeds that show up in our vineyards. We hate to have them in our vineyards. Well, let me explain, we love to have weeds in the vineyards, as long as they are in the right location. We don’t like to see them underneath the vines as they are hard to cut, compete in terms of water and nutrients with the vines and reduce ventilation. However, we love when they are in between two lines of vines: they create a habitat for beneficial insect as well as for wild life.
The most interesting part about the article is to understand what the weeds we have growing in the vineyards tell us about the soil. So here are some examples of weeds we have and what they say about our soil:
By knowing the weeds we have in our vineyards we can correct the necessities that our vines have. And by doing that, we can also reduce the weed population itself, and thus reducing the necessity of cutting the weeds or using herbicides.
If you know what the presence of other weeds mean to a vineyards, please share it here.
The year of 2014 may be a great year for the production of wine and Port in the Douro. Some of the critical factors that contribute for above the average harvest are aligned, but it is still quite early to be conclusive. Among the positive factors:
- Rainy season with precipitation spread during the months of Winter and Spring; we had regular rainfall in pretty much all months so far which means better penetration and irrigation of the soil;
- Cold Winter with sporadic snow;
- Smaller crop forecasted – large quantities of grapes never help quality – low temperatures and humidity during flowering this year has reduced the number of fertilised berries and thus the overall quantity of grapes;
In terms of quantity we expect to have pretty much the same quantity as in 2013, and in general, I guess there will be no major fluctuations in terms of the whole Douro valley. In terms of Port, the total amount to be produced
was not yet disclosed by the IVDP – Port and Douro Wines Institute, but our guess is that it will be in line with last year’s 100.000 pipes of must (which is slightly more that 62 million liters of Port) set to 105.000 pipes of must.
However, there are always setbacks for those working on a business that depends so much on nature. The main problem would be related with temperature: a long period of well below or well above the average temperatures could spoil the crop. In the case of the former it would mean full ripeness of the grapes wouldn’t be achieved or if the latter happens could mean sun burned grapes or severe water stress of the vine. If temperatures follow a normal pattern and if we have some rain showers in August then we will have hopefully have a very good reason to smile.
I have to confess that I have been hiding precious information from you. Not intentionally, but just today realized I have never talked about a special project that kept us busy for a couple of years. There it goes without more delay, we are converting a parcel of vineyards to organic farming! That parcel is around 5 hectares of vines located in Quinta da Trovisca. After a period of three years in conversion, this is, this is after 2015 we will be harvesting organic grapes which we plan to use to produce both Port and Douro wines.
The organic passion in the family goes back to 2006, when my father, Oscar Quevedo – from whom I get the name from, started producing organic olive oil in Valongo dos Azeites, a village 10km south of our winery. It took 7 years but eventually we dare to convert vines to organic farming. There are plenty of additional work on organic farming when compared to regular managed vineyards. One of those extra works is related to floor management. On the video above we can see weeds being removed by hand/hoe over the line where vines are planted. In between the lines we will let weeds grow a bit more and then we will use a tractor to cut them.
Hope to see you soon,
Few months ago we talked here about closures, advantages and disadvantages of using cork, screw-cap or a plastic plug to close a bottle of wine. The major disadvantage of the cork is the possibility of TCA contamination, which develops an off flavour in the wine, spoiling your experience. Recently, another research from Amorim came to the conclusion that bees can identify TCA with a extremely high accuracy. How fun that is! Nature helps nature to select. With the population of bees dropping way to fast due to the overuse of herbicides, who knows if cork suppliers shouldn’t “hire” bees to select best corks. With this extra economic incentive, there is another reason to restore bees population to a sustainable level. We all know what Einstein said about bees: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live”.
There are places on Earth where we can still travel in time. At least in the wine planet. Places where technology, chemistry and machines are totally relegate to a lower level of importance. Places where mass wine production processes are barely known. Places where every single grape berry counts, as there are very little. That place is Priorat.
Located in the south of Catalunya, Spain, few dozen kilometres from the Mediterranean sea, Priorat reminds me what was probably the Douro of the XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries. I could see it in every corner, the passion of the people for the vines, the respect for the traditions, the soils made out of schist, the olive trees on the edges of the steep vineyards.
Many of the steep hills of the Priorat look like those of the Douro. But in the Priorat, the old vines are still grown on the hillside with no terrace, making it impossible for tractors to get there and very hard for working animals or human beings to climb over. The reason for not having a terrace is because the vines are so old that growers do not want to pull up their vines and replace by new ones. The quality of the grapes from old vines, they believe -and so do I – is so much better than the new vines, that it is well worth the higher production costs. The wines turn out being elegant, rich and tremendously complex. Age worth for sure, but also great when young. Ryan Opaz from Catavino mentions in this article the similarities between Douro and Priorat wines, which is interesting due to proximity of terroir.
There is one thing missing in Priorat that would certainly enrich its landscape: a river. A wide river, and then its similarities with the Douro would be enormous. I recommend you go there and see the vines, get to know the people and enjoy the landscape with no moderation!
We are now getting to the most critical phase in our works at Quinta da Alegria. After opening the terraces and removing the stones, it finally came the moment to plant the grafted vines in the soil. In the area we are working now, on the top of the property, we are planting Tinta Amarela vines. I guess the first question is why did we decide to plant Tinta Amarela on the top? The reason for that is because this variety is very sensitive to humidity and hot temperatures. After flowering it can quickly be affected by mildew and powder mildew if there is a little bit of humidity and temperatures are in the 22º – 25º C range. The best location for Tinta Amarela is in areas with lower humidity, windy and where temperatures are not too high during the Summer.
To plant the vines the first step is to draw a line along the terrace, with 50cm to the external edge. Then, we use an iron stick to open a 80cm-deep hole. After this we place the young vine in the hole and use water to immediately irrigate and close the hole. The distance between vines is of 80cm.
My sister Cláudia made a video with all these steps. Who knows if one day it won’t help you to become a vine grower in the Douro. If you have any questions, please let us know.
Works continue in Quinta da Alegria as more land is ready to receive the new vines. In the last weeks we have been delineating terraces and revolving the soil to eliminate any compaction it may exist. Also important when working the soil is to clear it of big stones to make it easy for the vines’ roots to penetrate in the soil and for the tractors to circulate. After removing the stones from the terraces we need to find a way to put it back in a place where they do not interfere with the daily works. The location that we choose to hide the stones is on the location of the roads, creating a trench with 5-6 meters depth. After placing the stones under we cover and smooth the surface. This way we are also increasing the stability of the road reducing the risk of landslides, which often happen on rainy Winters.
In this photo we can see the trench created to incorporate the stones, within the red line. The new terraces just finished are located to the left of the blue line, and the land where we still have to delineate the terraces are to the right of the yellow line.
With temperatures warming up and with the risk of frost dropping, we are now planting the young vines. So soon we will have a video for you to see the vines planting at Quinta da Alegria.
Do you have any comments?
Spring is finally coming after a very wet Winter in Portugal. This was probably the wettest Winter of the last 80 years, which gives us quite good expectations for the harvest to come. As you all know, the Douro is one of the driest wine regions of the world and a wet Winter is key to make top quality Ports and wines. The weather is now getting warmer and clear, but we may have more rain during the next months.
The other side of the coin is that we couldn’t work as many days as necessary in the vineyards because of the rain. So the works are running a little bit late, as pruning is just now about to finish. After that we still have to crush the old vine shooting, left from pruning, which is what Paulo is doing on the green tractor.
Let us know your questions and comments.
At Quinta da Alegria we have moved to the second step of vine planting. After flattening the soil and eliminating the old terraces we are now using a bulldozer to build 2.30 meter width terraces. Due to the steepness of the land, we will only plant one line of vines per terrace. If we planted two, which is what we see most of the time, the bigger height of the terrace would increase the risk of landslide. In order to better retain the rain, we are preparing the soil with 3% inclination inward and 3% along the terrace. This inclination allows more retention of the rain, at the same time that also avoids landslides. Once the soil is saturated with water, the 3% inclination along the terrace allows the water to flow towards the road where it is then directed to the river. To precisely calculate the slope, an infrared laser is used (you can see it tied to a pole on the front of the bulldozer). The length of the terrace depends on the roads we have opened. After opening the terrace, an excavator will move the soil and remove the bigger stones at the same time that it adjusts the final leveling.
So far we have around 2 hectares of soil prepared for planting, which will start at the beginning of March. That is the next step and we will share it here with you.