My Vineyard Blog - September 2012
Quinta do Centro – Blog Diary
Living the Dream
‘What gives our dreams their daring is that they can be realized’ Le Corbusier
Heavy rain. Fortunately all the rot-prone Trincadeira has now been picked as well as our old vine fruit for Pedra e Alma. We all desperately need the rain but perhaps not just yet. It will be interesting to see the effect it has on the grapes still remaining in the vineyard. Inevitably the vines will take up the water quickly after such a dry summer.
The last day of summer. It is still warm but overcast and, as if on cue, a few drops of rain land on my windscreen as I drive south to the Algarve to conduct as tasting. In the evening I show our range of reds (alongside Quinta do Ameal Vinho Verde - ‘last of the summer wine?!’ – and Blandy’s Trophy winning Malvasia Colheita 1996) to a receptive audience who are members of the Wine Mine Club. The tasting is takes place at a wonderful restaurant / garrafeira (wine shop) called Veneza in Paderne. I have never seen a restaurant anywhere with such a comprehensive range of wines on offer. Anyone with an interest in wine, both Portuguese and foreign, should make a b-line for Veneza.
I drove over the serra this morning to see a large black cloud hanging over the plains to the north. My first thought was a change in the weather but I later leant that this came from the fires that have been burning all night in the Beiras. We desperately need some rain to dampen things down and the weather is forecast to change this weekend. Saturday is Dia de São Mateus (St Mathew’s Day) and there is a saying round here that goes águas verdadeiras, São Mateus as primeiras ('the first true rains fall on St Mathew’s day'). It looks as though there might be some truth in this.
It has taken five years to register the gift of some land from Quinta do Centro to the Câmara Municipal de Portalegre. It started when the bulldozers moved in, 'by mistake' to widen a corner at the bottom of the quinta before my permission had been given. Today I spend an hour at the notary drawing up and signing the deed. At the end of the official reading of the document the notary asked if I had any doubts about the it. I replied that my only doubts were as to why it had taken five years to get to this stage. No one thought this was very funny!
Our vintage finally got underway this week, with Syrah, Aragonez followed by vinha velha today. It rained for a few minutes last night and thunderstorms are threatened this afternoon. It was 33ºC at 3.30pm and as I write this I can see huge thunderclouds looming behind the serra. It is so parched here that a little rain won’t make any difference at all. The main risk is hail which wiped out a whole swathe of vineyard near Pinhel last week and at Celeirós in the upper reaches of the Pinhão Valley. I saw where the hail had hit at the weekend and there was barely a grape left on the vines. So far so good here: our fruit is ripe and healthy and we have good levels of acidity. It may be well a year for Pedra e Alma. I go through the vineyard with Rui tasting the grapes. Tomorrow we will pick Touriga Nacional which, despite a relatively low Baumé tastes sweet and ripe with a nice streak of acidity. With the vines so stressed, I don’t think the Touriga will ripen any more.
To Porto (for a tasting of Cockburn’s vintage Port back to 1896 – see Port pages), then to the Douro for the weekend. It is striking whilst travelling through Portugal just how many construction projects have come to a complete standstill. The motorway tunnel being built under the Serra do Marão has come to a halt leaving some spectacular half-finished bridges. There are also plenty of small turismo projects which are left half built, the owners having run out of finance. Yesterday there were demonstrations in Lisbon and Porto against the new austerity measures being imposed by the Government and the so-called Troika. The ‘manif’ in Porto was the largest in the city’s history, larger even than during the revolution thirty-eight years ago. There is a real sense of anger here and a feeling that things will get worse before they get better. Vintage starts in the Douro tomorrow and at least the benefício has been raised after last year: some comfort for small growers.
Vintage is going to be about ten days later than last year. The drought has delayed ripening and with no rain in prospect at the moment there is no hurry to pick. Fortunately it is nowhere near as hot as it was this time last year when the thermometer was reaching 35ºC. This year it is a good 5-10ºC cooler during the daytime with the thermometer down to a cool 12 - 14ºC at night. I take a walk through the vineyard, tasting the grapes on the way. Overall the crop looks healthy but some of the vines are very stressed and are losing their leaves due to the prolonged drought. The barragem is no more than a puddle and we have had no water for irrigation since July. The young vines have suffered the most with the Syrah looking worse for stress and the berries are small. The Syrah is now up to 13.5 baumé and we will pick this first (probably later this week) followed by the Aragonez planted in 2006 (already 14.1 bé). Touriga Nacional is the most backward of our varieties but the vines are looking stressed and it is questionable whether we will get an even ripening this year. There is a tiny crop of grapes on the vinha velha but fortunately there are few raisinised bunches. Even the Viognier (which usually shrivels first) is looking super-ripe but healthy. A little rain earlier this month would have been welcome to swell the grapes but provided the weather holds a promising vintage is in prospect.