Snow in the Douro vineyards

As both Britain and parts of the United States are under heavy snow, people might be surprised to know that Malvedos has also had its own ‘snow event’. It seems rather incongruous if we remember that temperatures reached 40º in September, over 30º in October and a balmy 25º in November but, after a very cold and frosty Monday and Tuesday, last Wednesday awoke with a light covering of snow on the terraces. Admittedly, it melted before anyone got round to taking a photo, but this is really quite a rare occurrence.

In my ten years in the Douro I have only seen snow settle two or three times, and never right the way down to the river. Statistically too January is quite a bit colder than December on average, making snow before Christmas therefore even more unusual.

Whilst pruning with frozen fingers is rather unpleasant, as far as the vines are concerned it does not present a problem. On the contrary, the brittle canes cut more cleanly when cold. What cannot be undertaken is of course training the vines, or tying down canes, as anything that involves bending them is bound to end in shattered stumps and stern reprimands from the caseiro. In the case of Tinta Roriz, this is difficult at any time of year because for some reason it tends to produce canes which break more easily than the other varieties.

The freezing weather brought down a lot of olives too (these drop off the trees when it gets really cold) so I think it is probably safe to say that if we haven’t finished picking them by now then we won’t have much to go back to after Christmas. It also ensured that the very last leaves finally fell off the vines. After such a dry summer it was something of a surprise to see some vineyards hanging onto their leaves for so long – it is quite rare for the vines not to be completely bare by the middle of December. I suspect the rain at the start of October and the warm autumn contributed to this late-season rejuvenation. Actually, last month something quite odd happened to some of the young Tinta Roriz vines as a result of this. They lost their leaves as per normal (Roriz always has the earliest leaf-fall) but then, a couple of weeks later, the buds on the very tips of this year’s canes began to burst. This was also the case with some of the buds on the laterals, and so we suddenly had completely bare vines with comical little bright green tufts of foliage at the ends of the canes. This phenomenon occurred only with the younger vines (that have not yet trained) and they tend to have a much longer annual growth cycle anyway. This new growth will obviously be removed by pruning when the time comes, if the frost hasn’t already burnt it off by then.

All that remains now is for me to wish you all a merry Christmas and a thoroughly festive New Year.