Last week I was in London for the London International Wine Fair, a wine trade exhibition that is declining in interest but which is still visited by some clients and friends. So, there we were. I had a dinner on one of the days I was there with someone that I had only met once before. We went to a French restaurant, a nice Brasserie, and at the time he arrived I was already at the venue. When he arrived I stood up and, surprisingly, he gave me an unexpected hug. At the beginning I thought there was something wrong, maybe he was only waving to someone on the table behind me, so I was not very convincing when giving my hug. I was surprised by the warmth welcoming I was receiving. I was in London, where I thought busy people would rather shake hands or even say “hello” when welcoming someone. But a hug? A emotive and lasting hug? I was stunned.
This hug worked like a honest and simple way of making the welcoming easier and simplify the conversation, for that that was a business dinner. I never expected an almost unknown Londoner receiving me with such a friendly hug. I do hug my friends in Portugal, we need to touch people to show our attention and satisfaction for those we have around us. But I thought in England it would be different. Fortunately it was not, so let me just ask you dear reader of this blog post, next time we see each other, please, give me a hug!
On February 2nd 2012 I have posted an article with a video about how to graft grapevines. After grating hundreds of vines and three and a half months on, the first shoots and now showing up. It is still a very tender shoot, but if it has enough humidity around the roots it will prosper.
If you look carefully at the photo, you will see that one of the leaves is dry, likely due to frost. But fortunately, the second bud also broke and this vine may be safe!
We all know that the current economic situation is not as favorable as we would hope. Private and public consumption is weak; families, companies and Governments are all over indebted. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) if growing is moving at a very low pace and politicians do what they can to protect their economies while reducing their debt, by dropping expenses, but mostly, increasing taxes.
The wine consumer is also suffering with this, not only because VAT is rising in many countries (from 2010 until 2012 14 out of 27 of the EU countries rose VAT) but also because politicians are trying to further rise tax on alcohol consumption.
Politicians still ignore the merits of wine, treating it as heavy alcohol. Brazil has a Machiavellian plan to reduce the imports of wine in order to protect local production, which actually is tiny, mostly of table grapes and when for wine is very expensive. England is also preparing a new bill to increase the alcohol tax, as points the Economist magazine in a recent article. More countries may come next.
I find it hard to understand. We know that too much alcohol is not good for our health. Alcohol may create addiction, leading to further problems in case of too severe consumption. But, many of us who drink fine wine (putting spirits and other rough stuff apart) do it to complement a meal. On the table we have bread, rice, meat, vegetable, fruit and a glass of wine. That is the so spoken Mediterranean way of drinking wine. One or two glasses of wine a day, almost every day and almost always with food and it just helps or blood and heart. That is what the World Health Organizations suggest when says “(…) the pleasure and health benefits of moderate wine consumption have to be recognized.”
If at least we would see some economic relief, politicians’ tax hangover would finish and the merits of moderate wine consumption could be recognized also by the bureaucrats.
P.S. One day after posting this text, found an article from Harvard Medical School about the benefits of resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine.
Quick update about the weather situation in the Douro. After a long period of sunshine and clear sky, clouds came back to the desperate-for-water Douro valley and gave us some relief. The situation looks a bit better now, with April presenting 2/3 long-term average levels of rainfall. The big question still remains: will rain continue to fall catching-up on the very dry Winter or will this be a 1/3 average rain year. Hopefully it continues to rain for few more weeks but as soon as flowering starts we better have dry weather in order to increase the number of fertilized flowers, which later will be grape berries. Heavy winds and rain are not welcome at the time of pollination, or the potential crop will be largely reduced. Then, in June, we will get into deceases period, which will be better avoided with dry weather.
So the best case scenario would be a two or three week period of rain to help increase the level of water in the soil followed by a period of dry weather. These are just wishes and sometimes they are accomplished, but not always.
For the first time in my life, I have visited Japan. I was not there in a personal trip, as I had wished. Actually, I’ve spent only three days on business, as we are determined to find distribution for our wines in the land of rising sun. I had a lot of expectations for this trip. I was waiting to find a very different culture, a different society and a different way of thinking. And, not surprisingly, Japan did not frustrate my expectations. This was one of the richest, most interesting and unforgettable experiences I have had (and I only visited the capital, Tokyo).
It is not only the food, the language or the houses, but it’s the people, the way they think and the way they behave. It is hard to describe. I read several things about the Japanese culture before arriving, but nothing can really transmit what you feel once you get there. I mean the way the Japanese say hello or goodbye, it’s the way they speak and drive or the bowing tradition. Japanese are tremendously polite, respectful and focused, and always want to make sure that you are feeling good. Streets are always perfectly clean and ordered and people walk on the crowded streets in an organized and expected way.
Although what I am about to say may be not so valid for the younger generation, Japanese always think in the well being of the group rather than on the individual. They work to reach a certain goal for the company or for the country, always putting the social interest over the personal. This may be explained by the outcome of the World War II in which Japan was defeated. To overpass the destruction, Japanese needed to tight efforts and work together in the reconstruction of the country. Everyone was necessary in this huge task and working hard for the group’s interest always came first than anything else. And it actually worked miraculously well, as Japan was the second biggest economy to USA in the beginning of the new century. It was only passed last year by China but that is a subject for another story.
Staying in a ryokan, the traditional Japanese inn, may be a good way to help you better understand the Japanese. The room may be small and the floor a bit hard, but the public bath or the delicious breakfast is something that you won’t forget! I want to go back, soon!
After the big changes witnessed last decade in the regions of Algarve and Madeira, during which these two Portuguese regions became appealing places for tourists, now is the time for Lisbon and Porto to embrace the second phase. For Porto, one of the most important attraction for the tourists is the Port Wine history, and of course, the possibility to visit cellars and lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. In spite of the long way to achieve perfection, the overall quality of the public facilities, such as restaurants, hotels, shops, museums and Port lodges included, is increasing quickly, as more and more people are visiting Porto. Porto’s airport recorded in 2011 a total of 6 million passengers. During the first two months of 2012 the number of passengers in Porto’s airport increased by 6.3%, when compared with the same period of 2011, with thousands more expected to arrive by ship and by car. If you have not visit Porto for over 5 or 7 years you will find a much different city, for better!
Last year a new transport – cable car – started operating in Vila Nova de Gaia, right across the Luiz I bridge, connecting Jardim do Morro to Cais de Gaia. The whole trip, which last for some minutes, gives us a wonderful view of the old Porto area, the Port Wine lodges in Gaia as well as a view of the remarkable Luiz I bridgefrom 1886. I’ve recently made a video inside of a cabin in which I try to show a little of what you can find. Sunset time is, in my opinion, the best period to ride the cable car. Not sure whether you can take your glass of Port on board, but I’m sure it would taste so good!! Also, the upper entrance of the cable car is connected to the metro, which stops at Jardim do Morro, right after Luiz I bridge. And the lower entrance is a couple of hundred meters away from Quevedo’s lodge, in Rua de Santa Marinha 77. Come to say hello when you are around!
It does not matter whether we are talking about prunes, almonds or apples, bud break always means the beginning of a new cycle for the crop and is now starting in our vineyards. Not surprisingly, the first vines to break are the young vines located in Quinta das Mós, Douro Superior, where we have been irrigating for over one month. As you may know, in the Douro valley irrigation is only allowed until the fifth year of life of the vine. After this period, only under special circumstances, which have to be previously approved by the IVDP – Port Wine Institute, which it is not the case for these vines.
Temperatures this Winter have been in line with the long term average, actually, in January and February warmer that the average, as we can see on Portuguese Meteorology Institute. At the end of March, bud break arrived, maybe a little bit earlier that it uses to come. With a growing curiosity about how generous are vines going to be, we have now to wait few weeks to see the number and size of grapes of the crop. However, this could be already checked with the help of a microscope. Anyways, I will keep you posted about new developments.
After over two months without seeing rain, we had finally a week-end of rain in the Douro. It was not enough to offset the long period of drought we have been facing, but it is a nice beginning for what it can be the next weeks. As the saying puts it “April showers”, it is not yet to late for the vineyards and soil to rehydrate should we have a long period of rain in April.
I have recently heard on the Portuguese press that this has been the driest Winter of the last 80 years. If you look at the numbers, you get a better impression of what is happening: from October till March it rained in the Douro valley one third of the long term average. Fortunately, we had a wet November, raining 71mm, when the long term average is 65mm. But we are still 250mm of rain below the average and this can be a big problem should we have a Summer as hot as it normally is. It is certainly not fully explained by the drought, but wine prices are already rising, and quickly.
We have spoken few times about how dry the weather has been this Winter. The lack of rain has been harmful not only for the vineyards but also for the rest of the crops, mostly olives and almonds trees, which are the most grown in the Douro.
Additionally to these cultures, thickets surrounding the vineyards, which are spread out through all the valley, are also facing the severe drought. In one of my trips to Porto, few kilometers after leaving S. João da Pesqueira, getting to Ervedosa do Douro, a small thicket was on fire. The firemen were already there and probably had controlled the situation but is astonishing to see flames as early as March. Something goes very wrong this year.
Humans have always used nature to take advantage for their own interests. For many centuries that the Douro river was used for Port Wine transport, from the area we know as Douro valley to Vila Nova de Gaia, where Port would then be shipped for exports. The boat people used was the rabelo. With the arrival of the railroad first and better roads latter, the boat stop being used for transport of wine to be used for touristic purposes. There was another thing created by humans that changed the landscape of the Douro valley as well as all the path of the Douro to the mouth on the Atlantic Ocean. Although these new constructions made the journey safer, reducing the risk of sinking, they created concrete barriers not only to the water but also the boats. We are talking about the five dams that were constructed 36 years ago, three of each are in the Douro valley vine growing area.
Besides domesticating the Douro river, the dams generate energy. A lot of energy that makes the region grow, reducing the Portuguese dependence on imported power sources. But they also changed the landscape for ever. I did not seethe Douro valley before the construction of the dams but I can imagine it was not that much bigger than a little stream, as we can still see it today in one of the best wine regions of Spain, Ribera del Duero.
This was about 36 years ago, but now more dams are being planned for the Douro valley. There one in the Côa river that would submerge most of the cave painting of the area, as well as a considerable extension of vineyards, olive and almond yards, including Quinta de Ervamoira, property of A. Ramos Pinto. No one knows whether this in Côa is going to be constructed. But another one, in Tua river, at 1,1km from the Douro river, is being expected to start generating energy in 2014. EDP, the Portuguese virtual monopolistic energy production and distribution company is once again, was it was almost four decades ago, the winner of the contract.
Some people are against the project, saying that this way the Alto Douro Wine Region UNESCO’s Heritage Center is being modified by planting a huge mass of concrete. I don’t welcome the dam, but it will bring some development to an area that needed investment and which was missing population every year. It will bring tourist to the banks of the Tua river as well as few restaurants and hotels that so far were not seen.
As you can see in the picture on the top, works are going quickly as nothing stops man’s wishes to take advantage of nature.