Living the dream, my Quinta do Centro Blog
"What gives our dreams their daring is that they can be realized"
- Le Corbusier
The 2016 vintage has finally come to a close. We had our adiafa (end of vintage feast) on Monday night having picked the last of our grapes (Alicante Bouschet) the previous week.
I have just returned from a weekend in the Douro where harvest is just getting underway. Most people began picking yesterday but a few quintas were already picking last week.
There is a bottling party here today. Rock music is blaring out bottling line, cutting through the still rain-laden air. All hands are diverted from the vineyard to the mobile bottling line where we are bottling Pedra Basta 2013.
It is 8am and the pickers are gathering for the first day of vintage at Quinta do Centro. The temperature is 10 ºC with a cool north wind blowing off the Serra and light clouds scudding through the blue sky.
I have not been blogging this summer, not from the lack of anything to write but because of continual internet / IT problems and (though no connection) my website has been redesignd and rebuilt. We are now on the cusp of vintage after a long hot summer.
There is a saying in Portugal that goes: e próprio do mês de abril, as águas serem às mil. It translates very roughly as follows: it is right that in the month of April the rainfall comes in thousands (it rhymes in Portugese). That certainly seems to be the case this year and the rain (which also fell in March) continues to fall.
You may have noticed that I have become a bit of a weather obcessive so it is with some delight that I have been invited by the BBC in Leeds to take part in a programme called the Weather Show.
I woke up to the sound of a cuckoo this at 5.30 this morning but it does not feel very spring-like here. It is a national holiday today (Corpo de Deus) but it is all hands to the pumps (literally) as we prepare to bottle Pedra Basta Branco 2015 and Pedra Basta Parcela Granito 2014 tomorrow.
I heard the first first cuckoo of spring this morning whilst walking round the vineyard. The air is cool but the sunshine has warmth. The buildings still hold on to the deep cold of winter.
There’s a saying in Portugal that goes em Fevereiro, chuva; em Agosto, uva (‘in February rain, in August grapes’ – it rhymes in Portugese!). This winter has been very wet and it continues to rain in March.
There has been an unprecedented demand for grapes in Portalegre this year. Suddenly the region seems to be fashionable with producers from further south looking to the Serra de São Mamede for the essential freshness and definition so often lacking on the plains.
Our 2013 Pedra e Alma has recently been bottled so I took the opportunity to drink a bottle at the weekend. Looking back at my notes from the 2013 vintage, it was a late harvest that began in searing heat and ended (in early October) in the rain.
We filled our last vat with grapes yesterday, Syrah and Touriga Nacional for Duas Pedras, which came in a 14 baumé and pH 3,57. Ideal. This has been a near perfect harvest and I only wish that we could make more wine in a year like this.
The sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky today. A cool north wind is blowing through the vineyards, drying out the vines. Having dipped last night to single figures, the thermometer is back in the low 20s. In short this is perfect harvest weather.
The equinox always brings atmospeheric instability to Portugal. Yesterday a virulent storm hit the north of Portugal and brought wind and heavy rain to us overnight. This morning the Serra is shrouded in grey cloud and temperatures are down in the low teens. We have stopped picking.
The heat came early this year and thankfully we have enjoyed moderate temperatures despite the continuing drought. Yesterday, with the sun still shining, we are picked the first red grapes, Syrah and Viognier, followed by the vinha velha (old vines) today and tomorrow.
To London for the launch of the fourth edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine at the wonderful Vinoteca near St Pancras Station. I contribute the entries covering Port and Madeira having relinquished coverage of Portugal ten years ago when I started producing wine myself.
Despite the continuing drought, August has been relatively cool with very few days when the thermometer rose to 40oC. The maturation of the grapes has been relatively slow and even and the early harvest that I predicted back in July is looking to be more like a normal, mid-September harvest for the reds.
Eighty percent of the country is suffering from severe or extreme drought at the moment after a hot, dry July. There is a map showing a huge orange blob at the centre of the country where the drought is most severe and forest fires have broken out all over Portugal, fanned by warm winds.
Being an Englishman I am never reluctant to talk about the weather but I am aware that this diary sometimes risks repeating itself. However least week we experienced some of the highest springtime temperatures ever with the thermometer approaching 40oC.
This is my sightseeing morning in Detroit, the most dysfunctional city I have ever encountered but a captivating place.
I am spending the day in Ann Arbour, a small city in the south of the state that is home of the University of Michigan as well as Domino’s Pizza. I am looked after by Joe from Woodberry Wines who clearly knows the local market well. ‘This is a funky, left wing city with an international perspective.
I am in New York with the purpose of tasting some of the greatest Malmsey Madeiras of nineteenth century (see http://www.richardmayson.com/Madeira_Wine_Notes/2015/04/15/The_Majesty_o...).
With temperatures in the high twenties this week, the vineyard is bursting forth and looking very good. (see facebook photos on https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sonho-Lusitano-Vinhos/158423754186455).
With spring in the air we are looking to bottle new vintages of our wine before the onset of the summer heat. Pedra Basta 2010 is coming to an end and will be replaced by the 2011, a warmer, altogether riper year which has produced a soft, structured red.
Today is the last day of ProWein, the world’s largest wine fair. It takes place in the capital of trade fairs, Dusseldorff in Germany. I was a ProWein virgin when I arrived on Saturday and the size and extent of the fair has taken me aback.
I have been in purdah, writing a book on Madeira, the Islands and their Wines. This is a labour of love which began over a decade ago then faltered with the financial crisis and the collapse of a publisher in Portugal. Late last year I dusted down the manuscript for my UK publisher, Infinite Ideas in Oxford.
The following three wines were served blind over dinner on the eve of the 1994 Vintage Port tasting. I made short notes a follows:
We harvested the last of our grapes today: the late-ripening Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional and the Cabernet Sauvignon, all from the deeper soils. It has been alarming to see baumés fall this year due to the amount of rain that has fallen.
This has been quite a week. Not since 2002 have we had so much rain during vintage. Our saving grace is that we picked the Trincadeira early – if not it would have been thoroughly infected by bunch rot by now. We have sold off most of this year’s Trincadeira to another producer.
We decided to hold our adiafa / jantar de vindima today. This is a little bit premature as the vintage is not finished yet. It is the first time in nine vintages that we have had to eat inside, the weather being too cool and damp for us to dine outside on the varandah.
Portugal maybe a small county but the Alentejo is a huge region. This week I have driven the length and breadth of the region taking about two hours to drive east-west and four hours north-south.
Up early to accompany the picking of our vinha velha, brought forward by two days due to the weather forecast. Fortunately the sun was shining brightly and it was a cool, clear morning.
As I write this on the winery verandah at three in the afternoon, the sun is shining and some very unthreatening white clouds are passing slowly overhead. This vintage has become a race against time as more heavy rain is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
SIC, one of Portugal’s most watched TV channels, have come to film us today. We were lucky to get 20 minutes of sunshine for them to film in the vineyard and as soon as they finished grey clouds blew in from the west and it began to rain, not heavily but enough to dampen everyone’s spirits.
As soon as we flew over northern Spain, the tell tale signs were there. Tired and slightly worse for wear after the previous night’s celebrations I was woken but a few sharp jolts. Turbulence. This always means unsettled weather and as we descended into Lisbon through tall cloud formations we landed in a deluge.
It gives me great pleaure to report that I won the Louis Roederer Intenational Wine Feature Writer of the Year Award tonight for a series of articles in The World of Fine Wine on setting up, owning and running a vineyard and wine- making business in Portugal.
We have had a summer without extremes and after a burst of heat at the end of August, everything is looking good in the vineyard. Today we conducted our first controlo da maturação which shows that everything is ripening well.
I have just heard that I have been shortlisted for The Louis Roederer International Wine Writer's Award 2014 - Features Category - for a series of articles the I wrote over the last two years for The World of Fine Wine magazine.
We were so impressed with the Syrah-Viognier lote last year that we put four barrels to one side to see how it evolves. Syrah was one of the first grapes to be harvested and, picked before the rain, the wine has developed beautifully with a restrained, Rhone-like character.
I was in Castelo de Vide today in time to see a statue of S. João being paraded solumnly round the town accompanied by the local brass band. A much more sober event than in Oporto where, on the eve of S. João, they go round hitting each other on the head with squeaky plastic hammers!
After a very damp winter and a relatively cool spring we have had our first burst of heat with the thermometer rising close to 40oC for a couple of days earlier this month. I notice that a few exposed pea-sized berries have been scorched.
I pulled the cork on a bottle of Duas Pedras 2009, our first vintage of this wine. It was the first crop from our Syrah and Touriga Nacional vines planted in 2006 and was made by almost by accident when we didn’t have sufficient quanity of either grape to fill a vat so they were co-fermented.
To New York, for a tasting of pre-phylloxera Madeiras (see Madeira tasting notes) and a visit to our NYC / East Coast distributors to deliver some samples. 2013 was to have been ‘The Year of Portugal’ I am told but it didn’t happen. I spend a day walking around the city visiting independent wine stores to look at their range.
The serra has been shrouded in grey mist for most of this year but when it lifts there is a large red and white crane on the ridge for all to see. They are mounting a wind farm.
Supermarkets love wine. Unlike heavily branded products (soap powder or razor blades for example), the wine sector is very fragmented. It means that no one knows what the bottle they are drinking is really worth.
19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)
17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)
15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)
13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)
10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)
8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)
Below 8 Faulty