Living the dream, my Quinta do Centro Blog
"What gives our dreams their daring is that they can be realized"
- Le Corbusier
A foray to Spain to visit Charlie Allen (see entry for Wednesday 20th January).
Summer has reached its final fling. As we have delayed picking until next week I spend the first part of the weekend in the Douro. The temperature this afternoon reached 36oC, high for this time of year. The prediction is that the warm weather continue until the middle of next week with rain forecast for Wednesday.
We spend the morning walking round the vineyard tasting grapes. There is considerable stress with some of the younger vines, especially the Viognier, but many of the red grapes just don’t taste ripe yet. I don’t think that the grapes on the young vines will ripen much more.
Òn the main road from Lisbon between Ponte de Sôr and Alter do Chão there is a Roman bridge over the Ribeira da Seda dating from the second century. It has been in continual use ever since and has carried generations of traffic until it was deemed recently unsafe for heavy good vehicles.
The warm weather has continued with daytime temperatures in the low 40s at the start of the month, falling now to the mid-high 30s. We carried out our first pre-vintage analysis of the grapes today and found that the sugar levels were still surprisingly low (11 – 12.5 baumé) along with relatively low levels of acidity.
The thermometer onn my car reached 43oC this afternoon. Everything is tinder-dry and forest fires have been breaking out all over Portugal. There have been over 1,000 in the last week, including one here on the serra yesterday afternoon.
The heat has returned and we have temperatures in the high 30s. Driving up from Lisbon yesterday the car thermometer registered 41 degrees centigrade near Ponte de Sor. Last night I went to the birthday party of an English neighbour and when I left at 3.30am the thermometer was still registering 29oC.
O pintor chegou. ‘The painter has arrived’. In local parlance this means that the grapes are changing colour and we have veraison in the vineyard. First the Aragonez and now the Trincadeira grapes are just starting to change colour.
After a blast of 40 degree heat at the start of the month, the weather is now thankfully cooler. The vines have weathered well and it looks as though we will have a large crop this year, especially the Alicante Bouschet. We have just finished our monda(green harvest) with around one third of the Alicante cut to the ground.
Charlie (‘Carlota’) Allen pays us a visit from over the border in Spain.
It feels more like March than May. A cold north wind is blowing over the Serra. Heavy, thundery showers alternate with bright sunshine and the temperature was just 6oC at the end of the afternoon. After a spell of warm weather at the end of April, the vines are busting forth but so are the weeds!
Relentless rain, but fortunately it is still abnormally cold (5oC this morning) so vegetative growth is limited.
It has taken nearly two months to prune the vineyard this year. The weather has been so wet that our team of eight pruners have not been able to get into the vineyard for days, sometimes a week at a time. The rain has been relentless since early December. Streams are full to overflowing, and the barragem on the Quinta is overflowing.
I hear that Tim Atkin is the latest victim of the recession, downsizing, dumbing down - call it what-you-will. Tim is one of the UKs more readable wine writers and his weekly column in the Observer was always worth taking in.
Since my January detox I have reduced my consumption of alcohol considerably and almost totally cut out sugar apart from its natural manifestation in healthy cool climate fruit: apples, pears, blueberries, raspberries.
I am just back from a week on the road, promoting our wines. We started in Oxford with a tasting in a former jail (a first for me), followed by Birmingham, Manchester and London. Tastings in the first three cities were at the instigation of ViniPortugal, the generic body promoting Portuguese wines.
To London and the annual portfolio tasting of our UK distributors Richards Walford. This is always a good event for us as we meet our existing customers and potential new customers although the number attending was down a little on last year due to the bad weather. One person who had made it was Charlie Allen.
It has been a hair shirt start to the year. I have been on a self-imposed detox since 4th January with no alcohol, coffee or red meat and some fairly wicked herbal supplements which make things move, if you get my meaning. Another three days and it comes to an end so I am really looking forward to a glass of wine.
Quinta do Côtto are running an advertising campaign in Portugal’s national newspapers for screwcap bottles. Much as I appreciate screwcaps for everyday wine, it takes real guts to place such an ad. in a country that produces most of the world’s cork.
To Vilamoura in the Algarve to show Pedra Basta to the Algarve Wine Society. I hadn’t been to the central part of the Algarve for fifteen years or more so I was struck by the all the changes than have taken place. Vilamoura is a high-rise new town that merges almost imperceptibly with nearby Quarteira.
To Lisbon, or more specifically Quinta de Beloura near Sintra, for a meeting with our distributors in Portugal, Vinicom. Thirteen of us squeezed into their small boardroom. Their team included all the regional representatives for the country including the Alentejo, Algarve, Lisbon and Setúbal.
There are no lemons on our tree this year. I usually rely on two trees near the adega to provide me with enough fruit to make my liver-cleansing cup of lemon tree in the morning. But the warm, dry weather in late September, and October caused the flowers to wither and fall to the ground.
I presented Pedra Basta at two very different tastings in the UK in the past ten days, both for the retail customers of independent wine merchants. The first was for Hanging Ditch wine merchants in Manchester where a large and noisy Friday-night crowd packed into a music-filled room above the Albertshed restaurant in Castlefield.
These days the construction of a museum seems to be emblematic of a sector of the economy on the brink of collapse.
Back to Quinta do Centro to taste all the wines from this year’s vintage. The Cabernet Sauvignon is simple, raw and unbalanced – to be expected given we picked it at the end as an afterthought. The young vine Alicante Bouschet blended with some Aragonez is fresh, sappy, peppery and spicy with slightly green tannins underlying.
Down river to visit Niepoort’s new winery at Quinta de Napoles in the Tedo valley. This is a masterpiece of modern architecture. Designed by an Austrian, it is built into the hillside and looks from a distance like a giant wall of schist.
With our vintage already drawing to a close I make my way up to the Douro to stay with Paul and Jane Symington. I arrive there to find everyone blogging their way through vintage.
It feels like autumn today, much cooler and threatening rain. We leave the winery at 10 pm in cool drizzle and dine on snails, accompanied by a strong gin and tonic at the Pizzeria in the Jardim Publico. Vintage makes you do the strangest things.
I spend much of the day in the Câmara Municipal discussing the still unresolved curva de Biquininha at the bottom of the quinta. I lose the will to live! With local elections due in October, there will be a new câmara and I fear that my submissions over the past two years will go to the bottom of the pile.
The vintage is not yet complete. The pickers have gone but we still have some Cabernet Sauvignon left to harvest. The quantities are minute this year (tiny bunches and tiny berries) but four of us assemble at 7.00am and spend the best part of a morning picking.
Great excitement in the centre of Portalegre this morning. It is the second day of the election campaign and Manuela Ferreira Leite is in town. She is the leader of the opposition PSD and is type cast as Portugal’s iron lady.
With vintage coming to an end, we decide to hold our adiafa (the meal that you give to the workforce to mark the end of the vintage). I open a bottle of Pol Roger non-vintage to celebrate and it tastes especially good in the sticky late summer heat.
I like to hear singing in the winery and we have a very happy atmosphere this year. It revolves around two young estagiários, a Portuguese winemaker named José Daniel Soares and a French-Portuguese girl named Melanie. José Daniel has already worked a number of vintages in Portugal (Quinta do Roriz), Australia and Napa.
Thunderstorms breaking out all around us tonight. Whilst driving through Ponte de Sôr the heavens open and the temperature, still 36oC, falls by ten degrees for about ten minutes.
With the heatwave continueing we have to start picking and I miss the start of vintage. This is the earliest we have ever picked (we would normally expect to start around 15th September) after one of the hottest Augusts in memory.
The heat is not letting up and we are already seeing some damage to the grapes, especially among the newly planted vines and the Trincadeira 2000, much of which is planted on relatively shallow soils. If the grapes start to raisinize the sugar levels rise rapidly which will make for unbalanced wines.
I made a promise to myself that I would not talk too much about the weather but this year is proving to be unusual to say the least. Up until the early part of this month the summer has been relatively cool and not without rain but now the thermometer has shot up into the high 30s.
We have made it to the Fat Duck (ranked as the second best restaurant in the world after El Bulli in Catalonia, although it beats me how you separate the best from the second best in the world).
No ribbon to cut, no plaque to unveil just 50 or so people and an afternoon party.Boda molhado, abençado. A wet wedding is blessed, so goes the saying in Portuguese. The rain just let up in time for everyone to see the vineyard but the Serra de São Mamede remains semi-shrouded in dark grey cloud.
All hands required today to spruce up the quinta for the inauguration of the adegatomorrow.
I met a regular reader of this blog the other day who said that I am forever talking about the weather.
I speak to my elderly neighbours about the obras (building works) on the azinhaga.You would think that they might be grateful that the câmara are lavishing so much money on widening the only access to their houses.
Fine, warm early summer sunshine after a cold April. The flowering is just commencing and, fortunately, stable weather is forecast. There are potentially huge yields on some of the new vines (planted in 2006 and due to crop for the first time this year). Some sort of green harvest looks likely.
Election year in Portugal with the country revving up for the European elections in June followed by parliamentary elections in October.
Easter weekend. Unseasonably cold with snow on the Serra da Estrela.
Funchal, Madeira. Pedra Basta is now listed in Les Faunes at Reid’s Palace Hotel so we are getting friends in high places
We spend the day in the adega making up the final lote for the 2007 Pedra Basta which is to be bottled next month. It comes down to a choice between Lote A (which represents approximately 16,000 bottles) and lote B (nearly 14,000 bottles).
After a cold and thoroughly sodden January and early February we have spring in the serra and temperatures have already reached 25oC. Budburst occurred nearly a month ago, at least two weeks earlier than is normal. Fortunately the thermometer has now fallen by around 10 degrees and it is down to 5oC at night.
London. The Annual Portuguese Tasting at Lord’s Cricket Ground. We are sharing a stand with Quinta do Passadouro who incidentally have a beautiful minerally 2008 dry white alongside their impressive Douro reds. We are perfectly placed opposite the main entrance so I can see who is coming and going.
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