This was the view we had last Wednesday from the tasting room over the vineyards of Quinta Senhora do Rosário. All happened during a couple of hours of very intense snowing. I woke up early in the morning to see a vine planting machine working in Quinta do Ataíde, in Vila Flor. When we got back to S. João da Pesqueira this is what we found. I think we never had some much snow in the Douro. If I recall well, it was over 6cm which would justify to take the skis out of the closet.
On Thursday morning there was still a little bit of snow left in the vineyards, but with the sun back to the valley it quickly melted down. As David Spriggs said on facebook about this photo, “So hot in the Summer and so cold in the Winter”.
While ants work on warm months to store up food for winter, we work on winter expecting to collect grapes on summer. And now is that time of the year when we are working on the next crop. But in the case you will see today, we are also preparing many more crops to come. We are working the soil, making it arable so vines can live and be happy, while produce good grapes. Being this a not so recurrent moment and very important for our future, I want to share with you how we prepear the soil of Quinta da Trovisca for a new plantation of white grapes. So please play the video above.
On the video you can see a bulldozer pushing the soil. In this land, nothing was ever planted before. At the same time, an excavator is grabbing bigger rocks dropping it deep into the ditch so the roots of the vines won’t shock with big stones during the first years of their lives. New vines will be planted during the next weeks so stay in touch!
One of the key elements, if not the most important after the grape in the winemaking process, is the yeast. Why is yeast so important? Because despite its small size (around 0.003 mm), this microorganism has the very important task of transforming fructose into ethanol, the form of alcohol present in wine. Yeast is present in the surface of the grapes and in the vines. Once the grapes are crushed, yeast starts its mission: it immediately begins transforming the sugar of grape into alcohol. Broadly speaking, it can tolerate temperatures between 10 ºC and 35 ºC; higher the temperature, the quicker yeast works and reproduces itself.
But are all yeasts the same? No. Different vineyards within the same country or region have different yeasts. And which are the best? Probably there is no answer to that question as it depends on the kind of aroma and taste the winemaker prefers. Once grapes arrive to the winery, the winemaker has two options: rely on the native yeasts that have been adapted to the local terroir or add a selected yeast, that is very likely brought from another wine region, possibly in another country, and was developed in laboratory to drive the fermentation into a certain kind of flavours and tastes.
In the Douro we have two realities, depending if we are talking about Port or still wine. From what I see, I would say that most of the Port is made with native yeast. On the other hand, for the Douro wines, a generous number of producers use selected yeast. The fact that, within the same region, this is the Douro, for a kind of wine we usually use native yeast and for other seldom, is curious, but not difficult to explain. Port is a worldwide reference, it is copied, imitated and even faked in several and respected wine regions in the world. But looks like no other place but the Douro can make something as fantastic as Port. And besides grape quality and winemakers’ skills developed through centuries, yeast plays a very important role. Thus, Port winemakers trust that the best yeast they can use is in the Douro vineyards.
And why using selected yeast in the still wines? It’s like buying an insurance, you know that if all goes right the insurance is not necessary, but if it goes wrong, insurance guarantees you don’t lose everything. In our case, as I guess you want to know, we use native yeast for all our Quevedo Ports except the Quevedo Rose. And for the Douro wines, we do sometimes buy an insurance!
In the future I think very commercial wines will continue to use selected yeast. But as yeast research develops, the number of selected yeast available will rise and more wine regions will use their own lab selected native yeast.
Is there any question about winemaking that you have been keeping for sometime and want to make now?
Some years ago my sister came home and said do my father: “Hey dad, why don’t we convert the olive grove into organic production?”. My dad looked at her and replied with another question: why should we do that?”. And Claudia said something like this: “if we stop using chemicals to grow the olives it won’t take us too much work, and I’m sure a lot of people would appreciate it. Moreover, more and more people are looking for organic grown food. In the end all of us want a more sustainable and less manipulated environment.”
And this is when all started, back in 2006. The olives trees are located in Valongo dos Azeites, which in English means “Long Valley of the Olive Oil” – which better name could the village have?!? Valongo dos Azeites is located 14km south from S. João da Pesqueira, where we live. This is the place where our ancestors were based, several decades ago. Few hundred meters from the olive trees, we still have the house where our great-grand parents grew up. Valongo dos Azeites is a small village, with 227 inhabitants (2011), which embodies the word olive oil in its name. I’m sure this is not random, but actually because the village has extraordinary conditions to produce golden colored with amazing taste olive oil.
In total we have 25 hectares of olive trees and most of them are over 50 years old. As there was some land with no crops planted, in the last years my father decided to plant some more young olive trees. In total we have now over 4.000 olive trees, producing around 5.000 liters of olive oil.
We are very happy with the organic project. It is true that organic production consumes more time and resources as if cultivated in a conventional way, but in the end we maintain a diversity of weeds, insects and small animals that if we used herbicides would not survive.
Here is a post I made some years ago in case you want to know more about the harvest of the organic olives. This video shows you the harvesting machine.
Let us know if you feel as excited as we do about organic olive oil and share with us what you know about the second most important culture of the Douro valley in Portugal.
There is still some confusion on people’s heads about Port winemaking. The basic details are not difficult, but when we talk about the spirit we use to fortify the must, sometimes explanations complicate what is easy simple. So very often I receive emails from people asking what wine spirit we use and how strong it is. I hope I can help you better understand this particular point about Port.
What makes Port Port when compared with the regular wine is the spirit we add during the fermentation. The first half of the fermentation, this is, the convertion of the sugar of the grape into alcohol, is similar to wine. What really changes is when half of the sugar is transformed into alcohol. At this point, for each four liters of must we add around one liter of 77% abv spirit, made from distilled wine. When this is happening, we still have around 7% of potential alcohol unfermented. And unfermented it will stay as the yeast that is eating the sugar of the must and transforming it into alcohol dies. Once the spirit is combined, the alcohol level rises to around 19% and at this point yeast can’t survive. Quick note to remind you that when we talk about sugar, we are referring to the natural sugar of the grape, known as fructose. Contritely to other wine regions with cooler temperatures and consequently lower sugar levels, in the Douro no sugar is added to the must as our grapes have plenty of sweetness and ripeness. Later, during aging in pipes or tanks, some alcohol adjustments may be necessary, but most of the time these corrections won’t be higher than 1 percentage point.
Currently, some research is being conducted to check whether using stronger wine spirit to fortify the must (+90% instead of 77%) would have similar effects on Port quality. To reach spirit with 77% abv the starting level is near by 100% and then water is added to dilute the spirit. So, is this water really necessary to dilute the spirit?
Let me know your questions and comments.
Happy New Year!
With the Christmas sale season almost over on our side, what keep us busy now is grape vine pruning and new plantings. All the orders that were scheduled to be delivered before Christmas are on the way. So it is time to look to the vineyards with more attention. These vines that you see on the photo are located at Quinta da Trovisca. This is an old vineyard, where mechanization is not possible due to the narrow space between the vine lines. Also some olive trees in the middle of the vines did not really help the tractor to move around.
After removing the stays and wires that help vine shooting to climb, we are now pulling off the old vines. After this, a big tractor will move and refresh the soil and young grafted vines of white grapes, Gouveio and Viosinho, will be planted. During the next two to three years these vines won’t grow any grapes, or very little. But in five to eight years they will produce abundant quantity of grapes, keeping a high yield until they are as old as 15 – 20 years. After that yields drop and better quality grapes are produced. Because of this quality/ quantity management, we can’t replant a full vineyard in one year, doing instead small fraction of the entire property, ensuring that we get a mix of vines with different ages and qualities.
Questions and comments as you know are always welcome!
During this last week I have been actively participating at the For the Love of Port forum. I was answering questions and comments at the Guest Corner, a section of the forum that from time to time brings someone from the Port trade to share views and ideas, for a full week.
I’m very please to be invited by Roy Hersh – a leading voice in the US talking about Port – to be part of this section of the forum and I had a great time as some questions made me think and reflect about a bunch of things!
Some of the questions were related with using social media to promote our wines, others related with the last harvests we had in the Douro and about the quality of Douro and Port wines. Among others, a question included strategies to launch our wines in a country where wine consumption is just now emerging. And more.
If any of these questions grabbed your attention, open a bottle of Port and visit For the Love of Port forum.
Those producers who participated at the Portvins Festival, or Port Wine Festival, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, Monday last week, were certainly excited with the motivation and interest that the Danish people put on this event. The XX edition of this Festival, organized by Mr. Henrik Oldenburg, and solely dedicated to Port, counted with the participation of over
600 1200 people, among retailers, press, but mostly consumers, or better said, Port Wine lovers. In most of the tables there were not only the importers but also the producers that came from Portugal. We were together with our importer, Haller Vine.
Despite the rain, and it rained a lot for some minutes, nothing made those enthusiasts move away from the long lines outside. Neither even reduced the excitement they showed at the moment of the tasting, where most would show interest in Colheitas and Tawnies with indication of age. But also in Vintage Port. And all these people that were moving from table to table, from Port producer to Port producer, make us, Port producers, feel special. Special because they share the same love for Port we Portuguese have and the same excitement every time we are pouring something special in the glass. The fact that this event was held in the gorgeous Old Stock Exchange of Copenhagen, or Børsen, certainly helped to make it even more charming.
Denmark is a special market for Port, for the passion, knowledge and education that people devote to Port. But other countries could also dare to organize an event like this. And we all Port lovers would enrich with it. Devotion and knowledge is something that Port requires in generous quantities but I’m pretty sure that out there there are plenty of people spread out in many countries, ready to participate in another Port Wine Festival. And the tasting that Axel Probst from World of Port, organized in Leverkusen, Germany, on November 9th, this time dedicated to 20 Year Old, 1991 and 1992 Port, is a great example of it.
Port Wine is surrounded by myths and traditions. There are plenty of them from Port production to Port consumption. One that we can still experience today in terms of Port production is the one that forbade ladies to step into the lagar to tread grapes. Old people say ladies can spoil Port if they tread the grapes. Of course I don’t buy this one!
On the consumption side, there is an interesting tradition that I couldn’t explain until a few months ago. This tradition invokes the Bishop of Norwich when you want to have more Port. So imagine you having dinner in a long table, your Port glass empty and the Port decanter stuck near someone that is falling asleep. Instead of asking for the decanter or for more Port, you would go for a more subtle and polite way, asking that person “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” And hopefully he will say “No”, and then you will say “Awfully nice fellow but never passes the Port”. Smart way to avoid offending people and to get the Port moving
Do you know where that tradition is coming from?It dates back to the XIX century, to the Bishop Henry Bathurst. We had the current Bishop of Norwich in person explaining it to us in the video above, recorded in July 2012 at the time of the Olympic Port Wine tasting for the celebration of the 2012 London Olympics.
Do you know other traditions related with Port? Share with us!
With the harvest finished, it si now time for celebration. This time I bring a suggestion for an event this weekend, October 27th from 10am to 19pm, at our tasting room in Vila Nova de Gaia. I know that most of our readers live abroad, but couldn’t miss this opportunity to share something dedicated to the locals. This is another edition of Urban Market, a fair dedicated to present products crafted by Portuguese makers.
Unfortunately, this week-end, I will not be there. This time the family takes priority. But Manuel and Ana Paula, along with Cynthia Woodcock, Filipa Moredo and Filipa Vale will be there to liven up the day.