You really have to love this country to work here. I have just learned that my request for the refund of a not insubstantial sum of IVA (VAT) that I am due from August last year (see diary entry for 3rd September 2007) has just been turned down, this time because the bank didn’t manage to file its guarantee in time. Quite why the bank needs to provide a guarantee when it is the Ministério das Finanças that owes me money is beyond my comprehension but it has taken two months for the bank to issue its guarantee!
My Vineyard Blog April 2008
By train to Oporto and then on to one of Portugal’s best wine shops, Garrafeira Tio Pepe, to promote Pedra Basta. Torrential rain (which usually brings the city to a standstill) hasn’t prevented good turnout, with an encouraging number of Symingtons dropping by to taste our wine. The next day I take the train to the Douro for dinner at DOC, a restaurant built on stilts over the river at Folgosa. The chef Rui Paula has laid on an ambitious evening with food to match the wine. Pedra Basta 2005 is paired with partridge with molho de vilão (‘villain’s sauce’*), a combination that works well.
I arrive early at the winery to taste the 2007s. A fabulous smell of orange blossom pervades the spring morning air. The wines have settled down well in cask and vat over the winter. The Trincadeira both from the old and new vines lacks substance and still tastes quite herbal which is worrying. We are going to have to do something radical with this variety if it does not perform. The lote made up of wine from the young Alicante vineyard together with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon is looking better than I dared expect: dense, naturally sweet and succulent with fresh acidity.
I have bought a mountain bike to get myself speedily from one end of the vineyard to the other. It will be particularly useful during vintage. I recall the difficulties that I had trying to buy a bicycle in Portugal when I was a teenager in the late 1970s. This was post-revolutionary era of strict import controls when the only bicycles that were available were second hand and had to carry local registration plates. The lack of availability together with the bureaucracy forced me to give up my quest and I continued to walk or take the sporadic bus service instead.
The fine weather couldn’t last and a deep depression has passed over Portugal bringing much needed rain. A tornado has destroyed houses and a factory near Santarém and, more worryingly, 500 azinheiras (holm oaks) have been felled by the wind at Castelo de Vide, only 15km from Quinta do Centro.
To London for the annual Portuguese tasting, held this year in a big marquee- like structure overlooking Lords Cricket Ground. This year I am on the ‘other side of the fence’ for the first time, or more correctly the table that separates me from the potential buyers and journalists all of whom, I am convinced, must taste Pedra Basta. It is a very different experience from previous years when, as a journalist, I have been the one doing the grazing. So I walk briskly round the room trying to haul in the people who I think should taste the wine. The turnout is not that good.
Summer weather this weekend with the thermometer rising to 28oC (it is snowing again in England). I have a team out in the vineyard picking up stone.
The vines are bursting forth but this is a dangerous time when hail or a spring frost can inflict withering damage on the tender shoots. More worryingly we still haven’t had any substantial rain this year. I feel myself turning into a seasoned farmer with my complaints about the weather.
Pedra Basta is given a good billing in the Wine Society’s April – July list: ‘we are delighted to introduce a rather special new wine to this List. Richard Mayson is a wine writer who will be known to many members, an award winning authority on Port and Portuguese wines, and, incidentally a former Wine Society employee. Pedra Basta is the first release from his own Alentejo estate, and his first vintage is, appropriately, exclusive to us’.