Carving a New Vineyard Out of the Douro

Charles Symington recently purchased a quinta of his own in the Douro Superior.  The property had been abandoned for years, and whilst some vineyards are still producing good grapes, other areas had been neglected and needed to be cleared and re-planted.  The quinta includes virgin land and an area of mortuario, or graveyard, the word which is rather poignantly used to refer to vineyards abandoned after the devastation of phylloxera in the late 19th century.

At this moment, with works in progress, Cachão de Arnozelo presents an extraordinary opportunity to see and appreciate just what it takes to plant a vineyard in this region of solid schist rock.

This first photo is of the mortuario – the original schist dry-stone walls are pretty well broken up and hidden under vegetation and rockslides after a century and a quarter of neglect.

The bulldozers came in to try to clear the scrub, then dig up and smooth out the contours of the land.  Where bulldozers can’t work, our only recourse is judicious use of dynamite to break up the rock.

In some cases we may leave a particularly solid, sheer wall of rock in place which will form the basis for the talude – the angled “wall” supporting the level terrace where the vines will be planted.

Once the face of the hillside has been cleared and the rock broken up somewhat, the bulldozers can then sculpt the patamares – the taludes and the terraces for the vineyards which are in fact not level, but slightly angled back down into the face of the hill so any water will lie on and settle into the soil, rather than just running off the face of the hill.

The soil, as you can see, is just rock broken up into a slightly finer tilth than the immense solid sheets and boulders of rock nature gave us to start with in the Douro.  In this photo, taken from the top of the vineyard, you can just about discern the undulations of the patamares – hard to spot without vines to define them

Finished vineyard – all but the vines – as seen from across a valley.  Charles will plant Touriga Nacional this coming February.