That’s what Vladimir Nabokov said about the rain, and it should be also the way we feel. But it is not easy just to be indifferent. After so many weeks praying for a good week-end of rain some weeks before the harvest started, it comes right now, when all Douro producers were harvesting the best grapes for the best wines.
The year hasn’t been amazing climate-wise and the fact that now we have rain is just complicating things a bit more. On the top of that, it is not only one night of showers, it shall be a full week of wet weather that threatens our plans for the wines of 2013.
So far, grapes are resisting but it will be a challenging test to see how many days can grapes handle of this humidity without braking the skin of the berry and it starts to get rot.
Harvest is now underway. We were waiting for quite some time until having the feeling that grapes were in perfect conditions to be harvested. And finally we started harvesting the red grapes from our most important vineyard, Quinta Vale d’Agodinho.
As I am writing, on Tuesday noon, the weather, which has been clear and quite warm during the last weeks, is now a bit cloudy. Temperatures started to drop this last night and forecast brings rain for the next days. Unfortunately, it does not like we will have few showers, but a long period, with more than one day of rain.
In case the wind does not dry out the vines, grapes can stay in precarious conditions, which eventually can evolve to rot.
Well, but the good news is that the grapes that are now arriving look beautiful, and enjoyed a long and slow maturity, which is something that we always wish to have but not always happens. And who knows if we will be able to make a single quinta VIntage…
The harvest of 2013 is revealing quite interesting. After several weeks with very little rain, the long showers we had last week-end changed a bit the expectations for this harvest. If until late August we could expect an average vintage (or even below), this rain, which helped vines and grapes to rehydrate, is rising the hopes for a good vintage.
The point now is to take the decision on when to start harvesting the grapes for Port. White grapes for still wines are almost all harvested all over the Douro. Red grapes for still wines start now to be harvested by those winemakers that look for freshness and elegance in wines (others that prefer more ripened and concentrated flavours are still waiting few more days).
And for Port, the potential alcohol level of the grapes (sugar found in the berries) is at this stage higher than last year, but the phenolic ripeness is not complete yet and few more days waiting shall help to improve the quality of the grapes.
Of course we can wait for the best time for harvesting because the weather has been clear and sunny. If it was forecast rain for the next days, more people would be harvesting and getting the grapes to the winery soon. But the weather is helping and therefore we will wait. We expect to start harvesting Monday next week, September 23rd, with a small team of pickers as there is no rush to get all quickly to the winery. Grapes are improving each day and we can still safe the 2013 harvest.
September 4th marks the beginning of the second edition of the Port Wine Fest. This is an event dedicated to celebrate Port in the heart of Vila Nova de Gaia, the twin city of Porto, from September 4th to 8th 2013. Historically, the Vila Nova de Gaia docks embraced the aging of Port wines. Nowadays, we can still see and visit over a dozen of houses that age their Ports in this area, located over 60 kms west of the Douro valley.
The Port Wine Fest will take place at the riverside of Vila Nova de Gaia, right on the dock area and it will be a good opportunity for the Port lovers to try the recently declared 2011 Vintage Port. Few dozens of producers will be there to share opinions, ideas and to convert even more visitors into Port.
Besides Port, visitors will also have the chance to try dishes prepared by renowned Chefs, to participate in workshops about Port and Douro and to attend tastings of the producers’ Ports. To take full advantage of the Port Wine Fest I recommend you to check the full program of the Port Wine Fest.
After visiting the festival, we encourage you to visit Quevedo’s lodge in Rua de Santa Marinha 77, 200 meters away from the festival and listen to the Portuguese traditional Fado music while enjoy a last glass of Port.
See you there,
With more than half August gone, grapes in the Douro valley are in the last stage of growth. While in the higher lands there are still some grapes changing color, as veraison is not finished yet, in the lower parts red grapes are now fully colored.
We carried out the first maturity control on August 10th, as usual, and actually we got some unexpected values for the sugar level. Contrarily to what we would expect, the current sugar level in the grapes is already getting close to 11%, around 4-6 weeks before harvest. Therefore, this year we can expect grapes with higher alcohol levels than in 2012. The seed is now changing color from green to gray/ brown and the shooting of the vine starts to get harder with color changing from light green to light brown. Hard to forecast the beginning of the harvest in Quinta vale d’Agodinho, but would guess around the 18th of September. Here are the figures for the past years:
On August 10th of the following years the potential alcohol at Quinta Vale d’Agodinho was as mentioned; harvest started on the day stated.
- 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%, ?
One of the things that is not so good right now is the fact that within the same bunch, different berries show different levels of maturity. This is a signal of low homogeneity of the grapes. The fact that we haven’t had a sufficient amount of rain during the last weeks/months is making it more difficult for the vines to handle maturity. Temperatures have been between 34-38ºC at noon and if it stays this high for few more weeks without rain, the vine may shut down and stop maturity. If this happens, the vine will protect itself but it will damage the quality of the grapes. The vine would stop accumulating water, sugar and nitrogen compounds in the berry. And this would lead to a bad crop.
We will have to wait and see, with loads of patience!
Over the last centuries the Douro has built up its reputation as a top quality wine region due to the huge success of Port, more specifically Red Port. Since 1756, when Marquês de Pombal started delimiting and regulating the Douro, people are aware of what is allowed or not when growing grapes and doing Port. In 1947 Moreira da Fonseca suggested a rating system for the vineyards in the Douro, from A to I, revolutionary and cutting-edge for the time. This system, which is still being used, measures 12 criteria and gives a rating (also known as letter) to the plot. The basic idea was to have more Port being made from the vines located in the best areas. So if your one hectare is located in an area by the river, with very poor schist soil, in a steep area, well protected from the winds and planted in terraces, the rating of your vineyard will be higher than mine, which is located at higher altitude, where it rains more, the soil is sandier and mostly granite, with a small slope and quite far away from the river. With a better rating you will be able to make more Port out of your grapes than me, and I’ll end up making still wine with the remaining grapes. Maybe, at a certain point, you may want to ask, “and are you planting red or white grapes?”. Well, I think no one made this question at that time, as ratings are given regardless of the color of the grape. We have to say that at that time around 60 or 70 years ago, production of white grapes was very small.
With this system implemented, my one hectare, which is located in a great area to grow white grapes, but a bad area to grow red grapes, would have an authorization of less than 50% of yours to make Port because the punctuation system does not take in consideration the color of the grape. Some time ago we wrote an article about how does the “Beneficio” system works. The criteria with the highest relative punctuation on the final classification of a vineyard are altitude, location and kind of soil. The highest score of these three elements will be given to the areas better adapted to produce red grapes, not taking in account the color of the grapes produced. So if I want to rise my revenues and make (more) money, instead of planting white grapes in the best area to plant white grapes I may try to find a place, where the rating of my block will be higher but with less potential for white grapes. And instead of growing white I will grow red grapes. During the last decades, this is how people allocated their licenses to grow vines in the Douro. With no differentiation between areas to grow white or red grapes, the Douro is not optimizing its potential to grow white grapes. Normally, we plant white grapes in areas that most of the time are too hot and dry ending up with white wines with lower natural acidity and higher alcohol. A confusing dislocation of resources.
I can see some of you, more purists, sharing the view of Mr. Ernest Cockburn, who said “The first duty of Port is to be red (..)” and thus the system is perfect. Well, we all know some lovely young and old White Ports as well as delicious and fresh still white wines that surprise us every harvest.
In 2001, the law mentioned the necessity to revise and update the classification system but nothing was implemented. In 2008 Eduardo Abade and Joaquim Guerra from Centro de Estudos Vitivinícolas do Douro suggested some ideas for the revision of Moreira da Fonseca rating system. However, the question about using different ratings for red grapes and white grapes was also not revised.
I know this is certainly not an easy task, but the sooner we start discussing it and working on it, the sooner this misallocation will end and better White Port will be produced. This is a win-win situation for everyone.
August has arrived, vines are greener that ever and humidity stays at very low levels. Last Sunday, on July 28th, a couple of hours of rain helped to refresh the soil and the vines. It didn’t rain again since then. Actually, temperatures have been rising, which helped to ignite a couple of fires around the region.
The buzz about the upcoming harvest barely started. That’s maybe because many people are enjoying the last days of holiday and want to think as little as possible in what will keep them busy for the next two or three months. And so don’t I want to talk about that as my 10 days off will start tomorrow, as my sister Claudia returns from holiday.
In the vineyards, after a cold and rainy Winter (which was absolutely necessary), Spring was dryer than usual. Fortunately, average temperatures remain bellow the long term average in the Douro valley, which help the vines and the grapes.
With veraison not yet completed in the warmer and more premature areas, we could expect harvest of red grapes for Port to start after the 20th of September. This means the cycle of the grape is late. Lets see how grapes evolve during the next weeks. A bit more of rain would be heaven.
The total volume for Port production was set for 2013 by the Conselho Interprofissional in 100.000 pipas, or 55 million liters, an increase of 3.6% from the 96.500 pipas set for 2012. There will be a bit more of Port this year. In terms of crop, we may expect a growth in the yields of the vines of around 15%. This means that the region may produce around 11 – 12% more of still wine than last year.
Soon we will share more info about the 2013 harvest as, as we always do, we plan to carry out the first maturity control on August 10th.
This week was my 30th anniversary, and maybe because 30 is a round number that ends with a zero, I felt I needed to share with you some thoughts I had before going to bed on this July 24th.
I spent the day in S. João da Pesqueira, my home town, where I was born and I grew up, the place where I come whenever I can. From the window of my house I can see the small town center of S. João da Pesqueira and I am thinking in what way has changed the life of the people living here for the last 30 years. One of the things that surprises me the most and that I really feel sorry for is that children don’t play freely on the streets anymore. One of the most exciting things that I remember from my youth was to go with my friends to the street for a couple of hours before dinner. All we needed was a ball or a random toy we found in our houses. At the end of the game, we would be dirty and scratched, with our clothes totally nasty, but our mums would still receive us with two open arms.
The second thing that I miss is respect for elder people. I think new generations doesn’t respect elder people as much as we did. I will tell you why. S. João da Pesqueira is a small place with a high percentage of elder people. I remember, when I was younger, that we would always say hello or good morning or just hi, when we saw an elder gentleman or lady walking on the street. Thirty years later, it looks like elder people are more a kind of a burden rather than the inspirational chiefs of our society. And that’s a shame as we are all on the way to get elder and if we don’t educate our society to respect elder people, we can’t expected to be respected when we are older.
A third thing that stands out for me tonight is to see that my town is not creating enough jobs for everyone that wants to live here. In 1983 we had a very generous percentage of the population working on agriculture, mostly vine growing. During these 30 years, people tried to find a job out of agriculture, where they would have easier working conditions, not as cold in winter or hot in summer, not as intense and exhausting. S. João da Pesqueira needed to attract imigrants during the last decades to work on the vineyards, as locals did not want to. And at the same time these imigrants were arriving, the natives were not finding a job in the secondary or tertiary sectors. And from time to time I was aware of a friend from school that needed to leave town to find a job in the city. I would love to see, during the next thirty years a more developed town, where eveybody out of the 8.000 people that live here, would have a place to work if they wanted to stay here.
To finish this list of four thoughts on my birthday, I am very happy to realize that Pesqueira is a great place to live. It’s quiet, beautiful, people are nice, genuine, authentic. People in general tend to be modest and conservative, as they were used to hard times during many decades. It’s true that we live far away from urbans centers, but in Pesqueira people have fun on their own way and, what I think is the most important thing in life, we know what happiness is.
Temperatures in the Douro valley are now close to normal levels, at around 30º C, after the heat wave of the beginning of July. Short periods of very high and unusual temperatures are not rare in the Douro. What was strange was that not only the Douro but all around Portugal, people were taking off their clothes and looking for shade and beaches.
As almost always happens in such a dry wine region, heat waves leave their mark in the vines. Even if this year’s wave was not as strong as the heat wave at the end of June 2012, some grapes were also burned out merciless. Nevertheless, we managed to reduce slightly the damage thanks to our learning from last year. One of the actions we took was that instead of topping the shooting in late June we waited until the end of July, when the skin of the grape was already more robust and thicker. If we cut some of the leaves of the vines later in the growing cycle, we will have the shadow of the leaves to protect the grapes, reducing the risk of sunburn. The side effect is that the vine will be growing more shooting instead of keeping the focus on the grapes. There is no absolute answer for any question, but top shooting in July is a good idea.
The grape on the photo is a Gouveio white grape from Quinta da Trovisca, at 600 meters above the sea level. Here grapes were not burned out, but I can assure you that these vines, like most of the Portuguese people, didn’t enjoy such high temperatures sometimes above 45ºC.
Let us know if you were in the Douro or Portugal during the heat wave and how did you experience that.
Have you noticed, during the last time you visited the Douro valley, a fast growing evergreen tree with yellow flowers that may remind you of big bunches of white grapes? This non-native tree, Acacia dealbata (Portuguese nickname is Mimosa), loves to grow on the berms of the roads, also on more humid areas, such as the banks of streams and rivers. Its origin is from Australia and it quickly conquered the Mediterranean region due to the combination of humidity and warm temperatures.
Some weeks ago I was driving east, from S. João da Pesqueira to Foz-Côa when I stared at the number of mimosas growing everywhere. As the weather gets dryer and more austere towards the eastern Douro Superior, there is less vegetation growing, bushes are smaller and few native trees grow. I suppose that this lack of strong native vegetation makes it easier for mimosas to take over the soil. This tree was already catalogued as the most invasive specie in Portugal. But action need to be taken on the ground to stop the development of mimosa.
My grandparents used to have one big old mimosa at their place in Linhares. The smell and colors of the flowers were nice, and the tree was already part of the house. But at that time, there was only one mimosa, and only there. We don’t want you to only see mimosas and vines next time you come over.