Living the dream, my Quinta do Centro Blog
"What gives our dreams their daring is that they can be realized"
- Le Corbusier
Something has happened to methat has never happend before: I have completely lost my sense of taste and smell. I caught a very nasty bug (almost certainly from one of the children) towards the middle last month and by Christmas Day, alongside all the symptoms of a heavy cold, I couldn’t taste a thing.
To Dublin for a dinner accompanied by our wines at Patrick Guilbauld’s Michelin two star restaurant at the Merrion Hotel. I just can’t visit Dublin without tasting the ‘black stuff’ so, just before dinner, I pop into one of my favourite bars, Doherny and Nesbitt near the Dáil on Lower Baggot Street.
To London: on a cold Monday evening over 300 members of the Wine Society congregate at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in the City to taste Portuguese wines. No other wine merchant in the UK, perhaps in the world, could put on such a show with 49 Portuguese wines here to taste.
It is with great honour and pleasure that I can announce that our wine, Pedra Basta 2008, was served at a dinner hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at St. James’s Palace last night. The dinner held on the eve of Remembrance Day was in aid of the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England.
There is a Portuguese saying that goes ‘no dia de São Martinho vai à adega e prova o teu vinho’ (on St Martin’s Day go to the winery and taste your wine). There is some sense in this as by São Maritinho (11th November) your wines are likely to have gone through malo-lactic and they are ready to assess.
It is nearly two months since we had any rain but, as always in Portugal, when it starts to rain it rains buckets and never stops. Today it is blowing a fierce gale as well and the roof of Faro Airport was blown off this morning.
We held our adiafa here at the winery last night. This is the traditional meal to mark the end of vintage. I drank some of the Duas Pedras 2010 which we had opened for UK wine writer Julia Harding MW who had visited earlier in the day. Despite being in bottle for just over a week it is already showing really well.
With the last two ferments slowing down, I spend an hour or so tasting through the 2011 vintage. I am excited by the vinha velha this year; deep and dense with broad ripe tannins. The Syrah / Touriga destined to make Duas Pedras also looks very good indeed. If Syrah performs this well here on a regular basis I am inclined to plant some more.
After a pause in vintage to bottle Duas Pedras 2010, we are picking our last grapes today. Baumés have risen sharply over the past week but the grapes from the deepest soils near the ribeira are fully ripe.
The equinox is upon us and there is still absolutely no sign of rain. Normally at this time of year we can expect instability and thunderstorms but this year we have been blessed by clear blue skies right the way through vintage. The nights have cooled (9oC here last night) but in the daytime the thermometer is back up to nearly 30oC.
We have more Alicante Bouschet coming into the adega today along with our small amount Cabernet Sauvignon. We have 70 cases of the latter approx 1,400 kg which is our best crop to date. The fruit looks good too; small healthy berries tasting uniquely Cabernet!
It has been so much cooler over the weekend and today. The thermometer was showing 11oC at 8 o’clock this morning and should reach a maximum of around 27oC today. A cool wind is blowing off the Serra, making life much easier for the pickers in the vineyard.
This vintage is taking place against a background of an international financial crisis. With Greece on the brink of bankruptcy, Portugal is next in line. New holes keep appearing in Portugal’s accounts, including a 1.1 billion euro debt in Madeira which had previously been deliberately hidden.
There was touch of autumn in the air this morning; dew on the car and heavy grey clouds over the Serra de S. Mamede. Thunderstorms are forecast for the north of Portugal but we should escape them. I taste through the ferments.
Duas Pedras has made it into the Feira do Vinho at Jumbo, the Portuguese supermarket chain belonging to Auchan. If they like the 2009, there is every chance they may take the 2010 which is sitting in vat ready to bottle.
Exceptionally hot today: 35oC and airless. We are about half-way through vintage and we have stopped picking. Most of the vinha velha has been harvested and is in the lagar.
We now have all the Syrah and Viognier in the winery along without half of the young-vine Aragonez.
I have a visit from João Torres, a viticultural consultant in the Alentejo for the past thirty-five years. We take a look at the corner of the vineyard that was re-grafted from Cinsault four years ago.
Unfortunately outside the winery there is another smell. I have spent much of the first two days of the harvest unblocking drains, a shitty task if ever there was one! It reminds me of the owner of an English stately home that I met at a Historic Houses Association conference.
I recall the late Bruce Guimaraens (head wine maker for Taylor and Fonseca) saying that you could tell a good vintage by the smell in the winery. I now know what he means. With two vats of Trincadeira now fermenting there is a lovely fresh smell of pure fruit in the winery.
We continue harvesting under clear blue skies with the temperature up to 29oC at midday. The heat is nothing like it was this time last year and the nights are cool and clear at around 15oC. The forecast is that this will continue into next week which will make for ideal vintage weather.
It is proving to be a challenging year in the Douro. The weather is fine but politics are once more clouding the horizon.
This is one of the earliest harvests ever. Only in 2009 (an excellent year as it turns out) did we start earlier than this. It is the same throughout Portugal and in the Baixo Alentejo the harvest is nearly over already. In parts of the Ribatejo, another of Portugal’s hotspots, they began picking Sauvignon Blanc as early as July.
The rain is not all bad, for us at least. As the saying goes sol na eira e chuva no nabal (‘sun on the threshing floor and rain on the turnip patch’). With the sugar readings on the high side and many of the grapes still tasting unripe, rain before harvest should help to balance things out.
I may have spoken too soon. Torrential rain throughout Portugal as an early depression moves in from the Atlantic. The sugar readings in the vineyard are already quite high (over 15 baumé for the Syrah) so some rain before vintage is just what we need.
We are heading for a very early harvest this year, largely due to the warm weather in the early spring. Picking should begin on Monday 5th September or possibly earlier still. At the moment it all looks very good in the vineyard. August has not been too hot and provided the weather holds into September we should have a sizable, good quality cro
After a burst of heat towards the end of June, July has been abnormally cool until this week when the thermometer has registered 30 degrees plus every day. At the start of the week there was a strong wind but today the air is still under a cloudless sky.
Today marks the launch of Duas Pedras, our new wine based on the vineyards planted in 2006. It represents the start of a new phase for our project and I am thrilled by the write up that the Wine Society have given it which I have reproduced in full below.
The pintor (‘painter’) has arrived early this year. Veraison is about ten days earlier than normal for no apparent reason. All the grapes have coloured up apart from Touriga Nacional which habitually the last.
Lunch at Sever, Marvão. We are served a seasonal dish called Ervilhas Tortas(‘Twisted Peas’). Basically this is a casserole of locally grown mange tout withchouriço, poached egg and plenty of olive oil.
We taste through the 11 barrels that will make up the lote for Pedra e Alma 2009. All the wine comes from the same thirty year old vines (a mix of Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Grand Noir) and the barrels are all new French oak but from different producers and with different levels of toast.
There will be no shortage of rain here this year. Heavy rain again this week, the barragem is brim-full and the rivers are torrents. With thunder growling nearby over the plains, I take an hour to walk round the vineyard in warm sunshine. Fortunately there is no sign of disease.
I have been reluctant to submit any of our wines to competitions until this year.
The April showers have been falling on Portugal this year rather than England. Whereas much of the British Isles have enjoyed two exceptionally dry and sunny months, Portugal has been unusally wet . The barragem is full to overflowing and the vines are sprouting in all directions. We have weeds growing knee height in the vineyard.
It is Dia de Mentira (April Fool's Day) and I am in Funchal for our distributor's annual tasting. We have recently changed our distributor in Portugal to a company called Portfolio.
The Eurovison Song Contest is a joke in the UK; a celebration of Euro-camp sneered at with amused fascination by British TV commentators and viewers alike.
It’s that time of year when we all meet up to sell our wine. Today most of Portugal’s wine makers are in London at Lords Cricket Ground, selling their wares. It is very difficult to make yourself heard when there are hundreds of wines on show and we very nearly decided not to attend this year. I am pleased that we did.
Another glorious winter’s day in the serra with clear blue skies. Temperatures below freezing at night and up to 10oC in the sunshine during the day. I spend the morning in the adega tasting my way through the 2010 vintage which has now completed malolactic. The wines are all very cold.
I have been having problems with my Achilles tendon for most of the past year which has effectively stopped me from running. Running outdoors is one of my few anti-stress mechanisms and I have felt tethered as a result.
We are starting pruning this week and have decided to save on labour costs by mechanically pre-pruning the Trincadeira 2000 and the Alicante Bouschet. The only problem is that it has rained so much over the past few days that it is impossible to get the machinery into the vineyard.
The theme of the Oporto conference is ‘Discover Touriga Nacional’, the grape that Portugal is trying to turn into its ex-libris. I have a few problems with this. While I have no qualms about the undoubted qualities of Touriga Nacional as a variety, I am not convinced by TN as a varietal or monocasta as the Portuguese say.
To Porto for a conference organised by ViniPortugal. It is unseasonably warm so, having spent the last week snowed up in the north of England with temperatures of minus 14, I spend the afternoon walking round the city. I used to visit Porto very regularly but now that my visits are much less frequent I notice the changes that have taken place.
To London for a tasting of Portuguese wines organised by the Wine Society in the splendid setting of the Merchant Taylor’s Hall.
We are enjoying an early verão de São Martinho (‘St Martin’s summer’) which usually coincides with St Martins day on 15th November. The temperature was in the mid-twenties yesterday with the clearest of blue skies all day long.
After torrential rain and storms at the end of last week we now have perfect autumn weather with clear blue skies and daytime temperatures around 18oC. The autumn colours are spectacular and from the veranda of the adega it is possible to pick out different varieties in the vineyard from the differing shades of the leaves.
With the malo-lactics just about complete we spend the day in the adega racking the wines off the lees and tasting the 2010 vintage. We have some good and some not so good wine, the result of some heavy yields in parts of the vineyard.
London, to a tasting of Noval and Noval Nacional vintage Ports at Berry Bros. & Rudd (see detailed notes to follow on the Port pages of this website).
The 2010 vintage seems to have gone on for ever, and for the last two weeks it has had to continue without me. We finally finished picking yesterday and with no space left in the winery we sold the last of our grapes to a neighbour.
Today is officially the first day of autumn and it is raining heavily in Lisbon though no rain fell in Portalagre. Listening to the radio in the car this morning they reported that this summer has been the second hottest in Portugal for the last eighty years (they didn’t say which was the hottest). We are now just over halfway through vintage.
A pause in the vintage. We have stopped picking for the last four days because the Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional are still not ripe. The crop is large (despite our green harvest in June) and with the warm dry weather continuing the vines have shut down.
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