9 meses de inverno, 3 meses de inferno

The title is a colloquial Portuguese saying that translates to “9 months of winter, 3 months of hell”, referring to the harsh climatic conditions that can often be found in the Douro.

It seems churlish to be writing about a harsh winter in the Douro when there have been appalling earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and very serious rain damage in Madeira. So what we have faced in the Douro is nothing compared to the suffering in these places, but this blog is about what is happening in the Douro, so this is what we will tell you about, although we do not forget others when we write this.
When I wrote about the deluge of rain on the 6th October, I mentioned that we wanted rain after three very dry years, but not like that. Since then the Douro winter has been really tough and the rain has been incessant. Everywhere in the Douro you see and hear water running, every little stream is flowing at full tilt and the main tributaries like the Pinhão and the Tua are raging torrents. The only thing that has stopped a full scale flood down river in Porto and Gaia has been careful planning by the river authorities and some lucky lulls in the rain. The authorities have timed the opening of the dams with the ebb tide in the Atlantic, so allowing the flood waters to escape into the sea. We have been very lucky in that it has usually stopped raining for a few days just when it looks like the river will burst its banks. But last night the water flooded the lower roads in Afurada in Gaia (where Dan lives).

The data speaks for itself; the average rainfall for December at Quinta dos Malvedos is 94 mm. But we had nearly three times that with 278 mm in December, and in January the average is 82 and we have had 118 mm. So with the ground very wet anyway, more rain just runs off. In our vineyards around Pinhão, the situation has been even more extreme; in one vineyard we have had 829 mm in the last 4 months (October to end January). This is more than the entire annual rainfall for this vineyard in each of ’04, ’05, ’07 and ’08. This volume of water cannot but cause damage in mountain vineyards such as the ones we farm.

Little wonder that we and all Douro farmers are concerned; the erosion in our mountain vineyards can be very serious in these conditions and each farmer tries to protect his own land, not appreciating water flowing down from his upper neighbour. This sadly can become a matter of some friction, especially round some of the old traditional towns like Provesende, where there is a patchwork of small vineyards owned by many people.

Pruning has been delayed because of the rain as has other work such as planting of new vineyards. But we are not too concerned about this because it has been so cold and the vines are still in their winter slumber.

These last few days have been even more extreme with incredible winds approaching 150 kms per hour. We were without power for hours over recent days as power lines came down.

The Douro winter can be very harsh. Many people visit us in the spring and summer on a warm, still and balmy day and enjoy a nice glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old with Quinta roasted almonds on the terrace at Quinta dos Malvedos. They think that we live in an earthly paradise, but they have not seen a real Douro winter!