Living the dream, my Quinta do Centro Blog
"What gives our dreams their daring is that they can be realized"
- Le Corbusier
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.
Over dinner at Sever, Marvão, Rui provides three mature red wines from the 1989 vintage. The first from the Portalegre co-operative is still deep in colour, fresh on the nose, slightly dusty and leathery but with full, savoury-sweet berry fruit still evident although drying out mid-palate.
It has been so torrentially wet (and cold) that I have been unable to venture outside for the first two days of this week. Now it is hailing and 2oC. At 9.30am group oftecnicos from Real Companhia Velha in the Douro come to see the vineyard.
January has been wet and cold. Driving up to Portalegre I cross rivers that are stagnant pools in the summer and are now in full flow. At least the rain is falling at the right time. This time last year the ground was bone dry, then torrential rain fell in April and May during the flowering just when we didn’t want it.
London and Richards Walford Annual Portfolio Tasting. This is the first time that our wine has been on show to the trade, something which makes me proud but slightly apprehensive. There is a good turnout of people from all walks of life: restaurateurs, sommeliers, wine writers and assorted members of the wine trade.
A cold and deeply depressing start to the year. We have snow in the vineyard at Quinta do Centro and yesterday it snowed in Oporto for the first time in 25 years. The viticultural year has already begun and the pruning is well underway.
I receive an all-important piece of paper from the local câmara which is the Licença de Utilização for the adega. This makes us official. Although the building has been finished for over a year we have had to jump over the hurdles of Portuguese bureaucracy for this.
Bitterly cold in the serra. Bright sunshine by day (I don’t think I have ever seen such brilliant blue skies) and a hard frost by night. I get up early and go to the adega to taste both our 2007 and 2008 from barrel while my senses are at their keenest. The ‘07s have settled down well.
Quinta do Centro: the world feels a very different place since I was here last.
At Patrick Grubb’s Madeira Tasting in London I run into the head buyer for one of the UK’s leading independent merchants. He tells me that due to the current economic uncertainty they have a complete moratorium on buying more wine.
Pedra Basta 2006 is one of over 50 Portuguese reds in a comparative blind tasting for a UK consumer magazine. I am on the tasting panel (although the marks I give our wine don’t count). I find that when all is revealed at the end I have given it an embarrassingly low mark. My note reads ‘good structure but overbalanced’.
With vintage now over, I think it is fair to say that 2008 looks to be our best yet. We have just 12,000 litres (less than in 2007) and the new Trincadeira vineyard, which has performed so poorly since I bought the quinta in 2005, has shown its true worth this year (see diary entry from Monday 14th April 2008).
Isabella Maria Mayson comes into the world at 8.30am. The cup of milky NHS tea that I am served in recovery ward is the best I have ever tasted, such is my sense of euphoria following the birth of our daughter, a ‘Yorkshire lass’ to coin a local phrase.
Trouble at the adega. Our estagiário stayed for just a day. He agreed with Rui Reguinga that he was not suited to work in the winery and left. This leaves us understaffed (thank goodness it is a small harvest) and, sitting back in England waiting for the baby to arrive, there is nothing that I can do.
Vintage is now underway and, by all accounts, conditions are perfect. I say ‘by all accounts’ because, for the first time in 20 years I am missing out on vintage altogether. Our third child is due in six days time so I am swapping the Serra de São Mamede for the maternity ward of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.
Our parish is in festa. It is encouraging to see the main street in Reguengo (increasingly suburbanized due to its proximity to Portalegre) decked out for the traditional festival of Nossa Sra de Remedios and the village patron saint of São Gregório. There is a token religious element: (a solemn mass at 17.00 on Sunday.
I wake up to depressingly grey skies and driving drizzle. It looks as though the first of the deep Atlantic depressions is moving in early this year (although in England it appears they never left).
At this time two years ago we had unseasonal heat with temperatures in the low 40s. This year it is relatively cool (low to mid-20s) and dry. There is no disease in the vineyard apart from in one corner where oidium seems to have spread across the road from my neighbour's untreated vines (no doubt a member of the local co-op who has given up).
A quiet, uneventful month with everyone taking longer for holidays or so it seems. With August already now to a close, autumn and vintage are nearly upon us. The prospects are good. There has been no real heat this month: plenty of warm clear days around 30oC but the thermometer has yet to exceed 40oC.
The new roundabout at Carvoeiro - near the entrance to the Quinta - has suddenly sprouted 25, mostly unnecessary, road signs (see diary entry for 10th September 2007). In the meantime the road-widening scheme at the bottom end of the estate is still incomplete, the câmara having taken the land from me without any legal agreement in March 2007.
Funchal, Madeira. We are hosting a dinner together with our local distributors, Paixão de Vinho, to promote Pedra Basta. The restaurant ‘O Molhe’ is situated on top of a rock that forms part of the molhe (breakwater) of the port of Funchal. It must count as one of the most spectacular locations in Europe.
Relentless heat. The thunderstorms forecast for the middle of the week failed to materialize and the thermometer has climbed steadily into the high 30s (40oC down on the plains). With so much water in the ground the vines are well placed to withstand this heat.
The first real heat of the year with daytime temperatures rising above 30oC for the first time and remaining above 20oC at night. Thunderstorms are forecast so the heat wave may not last long.
The 2006 Pedra Basta is supposed to have arrived in the UK by now but it has been held up by fuel protests in Portugal and strikes in Spain. I was hoping to have it both in the Wine Society and with Richard’s Walford by now but international events have delayed the launch.
My cork trees have been stripped. They look naked and slightly embarrassed. An ‘8’ will be painted on each tree, signifying the 2008 colheita (harvest). The next one will be in nine years time; the spring of 2017. With the advance of the screw cap, it is hard to predict how the market for cork will look then.
I feel increasingly like a farmer, forever complaining about the weather. But at last it has improved, just I time for the flowering. The days are warm (mid-20s) but the nights are cool which means oidium is still a threat and we have to be vigilant. This is proving to be a very costly year in the vineyard.
I can now put in writing that we have appointed Richards Walford as our sole distributors in the UK. I have long held this company in high regard, both for the calibre of the producers they represent and for their professionalism in the UK market.
An offer arrives from the Wine Society, entitled Buyer’s Favourites. It reads ‘every year The Society’s buyers swirl, sniff, sloosh and spit thousands of wines.
Unstable weather forecast for next week. The Alicante Bouschet is just starting to flower (about ten days later than last year) and the other varieties should follow quite quickly. The poor outlook does not bode well.
It has rained on and off all week but fortunately it is still quite cold with a drying breeze blowing down from the serra so there are no signs of oidium. One benefit of the rain is the profusion of wild flowers growing in the vineyard. When the sun shines between showers the colours are spectacular.
I spend the day in back-to-back meetings, first with the accountants then at Quinta do Centro with a charming, petite chemical engineer called Cristina discussing the construction of our ETAR (Estacão de Tratamento das Aguas Residuais) or sewerage plant.
It has rained here all week, more than making up for lack of rain over the winter. The barragem, which was half empty at the end of the winter, is now full to the brim. Fortunately it is also cold and so oidium and mildew are a threat rather than a problem. Nevertheless we have had to spray three times since March as a precaution.
London: the grand, verging on pompous setting of the Great Hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers for tasting organized by The Wine Society.
Pedra Basta 2006 is finally in bottle, labeled and ready to be shipped. We have orders waiting to be fulfilled both the UK and Portugal. The Wine Society in the UK have helpfully followed up their consignment of the 2005 with a substantial order for the 2006.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Easter in Madeira. It is snowing in England and on the Portuguese mainland but here it is 25oC.
The same day as Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, presents his budget raising the duty on wine marks budburst in the vineyard. It takes the tax on a bottle of wine to over £2. Who knows how much tax we will have to pay on a bottle of the 2008 when it makes its way to the UK?
We tend to think (especially those of us in the wine business) that vineyards are a good thing. Those neat parallel rows of vines marching away into the distance bring order to the countryside.
At last some heavy rain but not enough to make up for the autumn and winter shortfall. We are going to need plenty more rain to fill the barragem for summer irrigation of the younger vines.
To Santarém for the Revista de Vinhos Melhores do Ano dinner. I take the train from Portalegre. The single track railway crosses the northern Alentejo plain then snakes alongside the Tagus. I have to change trains at Entroncamento (Portugal’s answer to England’s Crewe). The journey takes me takes nearly three hours but costs only €9!
We spend the morning tasting the 2006 with the intention of making up the final lote for bottling in the spring. The wines have plenty of fresh, crunchy fruit but some vats are slightly lacking in structure compared to 2005.
Early spring in the Serra. The mimosa looks spectacular against the clear blue sky. A cold wind blows off from the mountains taking the temperature down to 4oC. But the sun has some warmth in it and we manage to lunch outside at Tomba Lobos restaurant.
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