2012 harvest: first maturity control

As a kind of ritual, we carry out the first grape maturity control on August 10th at Quinta Vale d’Agodinho, our main vineyard. This year was not different, and although the posting is coming few days late, I think it is still interesting for you to see how things are evolving.

2007 10.49%, September 19th

2009 11.86%, September 14th

2010 10.05%, September 18th

2011 12.07%, September 12th

2012 9.13%, ?

We had discussed this before, and is no surprise for anyone that grapes’ maturity is running later than other years. On the same date last year, for instance, the average level of sugar of the berries was 3 p.p. higher that this year. Thus, we all expect a later harvest this year, which may be a good thing. As harvest is expected to start later in September, temperatures may be lower, making grape pickers’ life easier and, at the same time, grapes will reach the winery fresher.

What is being odd this year, and confusing for vines and humans, is the weather. Very difficult to predict. Hot and dry winter, cold spring, followed by a very hot beginning of summer, with temperatures oscillating between 14º C and 45º in the last eight weeks. Last week we had around 10mm of rain, which at this time helps a lot the vines. But honestly, I don’t know what to expect from this harvest.


The most recent (not so good) news from the Douro valley

Things are not going as wished in the Douro valley. After a very dry Winter and a wet and windy flowering, now, in the middle of the summer, it was time for the hail to come. So far, we had a couple of storms that left some damage behind. The first occurred on Wednesday of last week, in the area of Sabrosa. Then, on Friday last week, another storm left a sad mark in the region, this time in the area of Horta do Douro, southeast of the Douro valley. The Wednesday one, around Sabrosa, was pretty strong, destroying not only grapes but also vine shooting, which may affect the vine for a longer period of time and which will require special attention at pruning time. Also the grapes that are left in the vine, in most of the cases, are damaged and may not get to full maturity.

But this is just the most recent chapter of a season that was never on track. We are still way to far from the average rainfall level expected in the Douro. Actually, between October 2011 and July 2012, the precipitation level did not even reach 50%. What does this mean in one of the hottest and driest (specially the Douro Superior which only has 1/3 of the rainfall of the Baixo-Corgo) wine regions on Earth? A rough time for the vines. Temperatures have been oscillating between up 20sº C and low 40sº C with overnight temperatures not always coming below 18º C. The water level in the soil is low and vines, in some cases, are not having enough humidity in the roots to carry on grapes maturity. This way, vines may leave behind some of the bunches, in order to protect its own live. Adding to this, a couple of heat waves in late June and mid July have burnt the skin of the grapes. So few days later the full berry dried and surprisingly, this happened not only in the hottest areas by the Douro river, but also in fresher and higher altitude areas.

It is a bit early to write about total production in the Douro, and I am not good doing this, but a 10% drop of grape production may be a figure not to far from the true. Port production will grow this year to 96.500 pipes of 550 liters, 13.5% higher than in 2011, which means that there will be a reduction in the production of Douro still wine.

If you are planning to have a child in 2012, maybe you won’t be able to grab and stock a top Port Wine to remember the date. And it’s now a bit late to postpone her birth for next year. Also in this field, there is not that much to do. Few words about the photo above.

The veraison or change of the grape berries, is now finished in the warmest parts of the Douro, 15-20 days later than the average. This means that core of harvest in the Douro this year shall start in the third week of September. White grapes for still wine will probably start to be harvested in late August. Leave your comments, there are plenty of questions to be made and answered! Take care,


2012 Olympic Port Wine tasting in London

The celebration of the 2012 Olympic Games was the perfect excuse to organize a tasting of Ports produced in Olympic years. Without a doubt that the right city to host this event, was the same that was hosting the Olympic Games, this is, London. And it would hard to find a better place than the Portuguese Embassy for this event to take place. So, there we were, thanks to the Portuguese Ambassador to London, Mr. João de Vallera, that gently offered the venue. Both The Port Forum and The Port Society, specially Tom Archer and Ray Cook, masterly organizing the event with a contribution from the IVDP – Port Wine Institute. Here is the list of Port Wines tasted:

Not every single Port showed great. Would be hard as some of  the years in which the Olympic Games were celebrated were very rough for Port production, like 1956, 1972 or 1988. And this is where the funniest part begins. Inspired or not by my sister Claudia’s birth year, my favorite Port of the night was a 1976 Quinta de Vargellas. I really have to find another bottle  for her to try, maybe for her birthday next August 31st! When a Port was poured, Tom Archer made a short presentation of the weather and harvest conditions and also of the Portuguese performance in the Olympics, in that specific year. Great idea Tom, valuable information. Here is a video with the view of 2008 year. But the best part of the night was when The Bishop of Norwich (the one and only!) explained the story which nowadays we still use when someone does not pass the Port decanter. A video to be posted soon! More photos of the tasting here.


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Shoot topping to improve yield

At this time of the year, in the middle of July, few weeks after grape flowering has finished, we cut the top of the shooting, sending the message to the vine to stop growing more shoots and to focus on the grapes. This way, we will improve the quality of the grapes produced. Instead of driving its energy to grow longer shoots, the vine will focus on growing better grapes. There won’t be more grapes because of this, they are the same, just works as a prioritizing message to the vine.

To better understand this, you have to look at the video above. The final result is pretty nice, the whole vineyard will look like several green and compact walls, all carefully trimmed and showing the grapes on the lower part. In the next days we expect the grapes to change color, from green to red, in a process known as Veraison. More news on that soon.


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Heat wave burns sun facing grape berries

In the aftermath of a three-day heat wave at the beginning of this week, the balance is not favorable to the grapes. The hottest period was between Monday 25th and Thursday 28th with temperatures rising up to 48ºC at noon, with overnight temperatures not dropping under 25ºC. In certain parts of the Douro valley, such as in the Douro Superior, but not only, sunshine was so strong that burned the sun facing grape berries. If at least they had some leaves protecting them… The effect was enhanced in those vineyards which had been recently sprayed with a sulphur based liquid for powdery mildew treatment.

The photo shows some of the berries green, those which did not face directly to the sun, while others are dry. Those dry/ burned ones will never recover and will look like that until harvest. This will mean extra work on the grape sorting table to remove the dry berries which will only give a dry taste to the wine.

The heat wave is over. Maybe this was only a warning sign that Summer was beginning and that anything can be expected in the Douro. Temperatures are now much lower, with thermometers showing 12º at 8.30am and forecasting a higher of 25º later today.

Take care,


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Crusted Port – the next thing from Quevedo

Have you asked my grandfather five years ago if we produce Crusted Port, he would have replied: “What is that?”. Maybe you react like him when hear the words Crusted Port. So, lets clarify what is Crusted Port: a high quality Port, that will throw a crust after a certain period of aging in the bottle. It has to age for at least three years in the bottle and has to mention the bottling year.

And guess what, we are going to make a Quevedo Crusted Port. As far as my research goes, it looks like we are going to be the first Portuguese Port Wine family to have a Crusted Port. Please correct me if I am wrong. Other Crusted Ports currently on the markets are: Churchill, Dow, Fonseca, Graham and Niepoort.

We plan to make only 1.500 bottles of it, so it is going to be a very small edition with a very long waiting time, as we will bottle it next weeks, leave it in the bottle for three years and only then releasing it to the market. I know, no one likes to wait but without all these months the crust will not develop in the bottle, and we do not want an uncrusted Crusted Port!!!


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Give me a hug!

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!


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The first shoot of a young vine after the grafting

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!


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Wine consumption: doctors and politicias have different approachs

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.


Old saying “April Showers” is almost valid for 2012

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.