Graham’s wine maker, Charles Symington, reviews the conditions and outlook for the harvest at our five quintas in the heart of the Douro.
Fundamentally, we continue to be well placed for a good year. The vines are in fine condition and not suffering either noticeably, in the vineyards, or analytically, in the lab results of our weekly maturation studies. The grapes are healthy and continue to show a well balanced development. We anticipate an average crop size, which we will begin to harvest between 16 and 20 September.
At this point in the season, our viticulturalists have done all they can to ensure a good crop, and the ultimate quality of the harvest is now wholly dependent on the weather.
Whilst we had a useful amount of rain (12 mm) at Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior, there was no rain at all at our three quintas clustered on the river banks near Tua, or at Quinta das Lages on the Rio Torto. On the 1st September there was heavy rain and some hail at Alijó, which is only 8 km (5 miles) north-northwest of Tua, but we didn’t get a drop of that on the river – a good demonstration of micro-climates in the Douro.
As at this writing, a few millimetres of rain are forecast to fall on the 7th of September – but note the forecast is based on conditions at Vila Real, about 22 km (13.5 mi) northwest of Malvedos. Whilst the forecasts are a good indication of what might come our way, we know that Vila Real enjoys considerably more rainfall and temperatures usually at least 4° C lower than we experience ourselves down on the river near Tua.
Although we have had no rain since June, and we might reasonably expect some vine stress by now, the vines are in fact in good condition, helped by several factors:
- First, the extraordinary rains over the past winter mean the vines have good reserves of water deep in the ground to draw on.
- Second, and very helpfully, the temperatures have come down from near 40°C (104° F) for much of July and August to lower 30°s C (upper 80°s F) and we had some good overcast at the end of last week. For the week beginning 6 September the forecast is for temperatures which won’t exceed 30° C (86° F) until Friday. The cooling of the air and the overcast together help to bring down temperatures in the vineyards.
- Finally, recently we have not been experiencing the hot winds coming up river at the end of the day, which are typical of a Douro summer and can feel as if the whole area is getting treated to a blow-dry at the hair salon.
If you wish to keep an eye on the local forecast, bearing in mind adjustments for local conditions at Malvedos as described above, follow this link: http://www.accuweather.com/en-us/pt/vila-real/vila-real/forecast.aspx
Looking beyond the Douro, keep an eye on the development of the Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricanes form as tropical cyclones over the ocean off North Africa, and tend to move north-west towards the Caribbean and eastern coast of the USA. Cyclones spin counter clockwise and can throw off scrappy storms from their northern edges that may drift back towards Portugal. These can make for odds and ends of rain in Porto, and potentially in the Douro if the system is strong enough to get across the Serra do Marão, the mountains that mark the western boundary of the Douro DOC area. Needless to say, we wouldn’t wish these cyclones to develop into hurricanes affecting the Americas, but occasionally we’re grateful for the little rain systems at this time of year.
The maturation of the grapes is progressing well, we have seen an increase of 1 degree of baumé per week, versus the usual progress of 1 degree every 10 days. As we started with slightly lower than normal baumé readings, this means the grapes are catching up a bit. Baumé is a measure of dissolved sugars in the grape must, and is indicative of ultimate alcohol and sugar levels in the wine (prior to fortification of course, in port wines).
In terms of the development of the key grape varieties, 2010 is shaping up fairly typically. We expect to begin our harvest with the Tinta Barroca, as usual, then Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and bring in the Touriga Franca last of all. At the moment, the Roriz is more advanced than the Touriga Nacional, which is the reverse of the usual pattern, but all of this will be monitored closely throughout the harvest period and decisions will be reviewed and either confirmed or changed day by day.
In the lab, the berry weights and liquid extraction are good, and the colour extraction is coming along nicely, an indication of phenolic ripeness. Taken together, the baumé, acidity, weight and colour readings all continue to show a nicely balanced progress; we are well placed for a good year.
Charles fell silent for a moment, and then began chuckling. “Of course, this can all change in 24 hours…”
But we will hope not.