When you look up at the quinta from the river or the house, you see a high hill and blue sky beyond – but it’s a false horizon. If you trek up to the top of that hill you find that there is a broad dip behind that crest, deeper on either side than in the centre, and then it all rises again, even higher.
Blocks 4 and 5 of Touriga Nacional cover that saddle on the left hand (western) side behind the visible hill top. At the highest point the vineyard is narrow and faces more west than south, then widens out as it descends the slope, and wraps around from mostly west facing to fully south facing. That sign is up in the more westerly section, where it gets wonderful sunshine but also takes the brunt of incoming weather patterns. Planted in 1988 and 1989, the vines are now over 20 years old, so are mature and becoming more complex and intense with each passing year.
The ride in Arlindo’s lorry to that area after lunch was a bit like a ride on a bucking bronco – bumping and crashing over the exposed schist lumps in the road with tail end momentarily airborne, or spinning wheels a bit on slurries of small stone or deep Douro dust and then suddenly getting traction and spurting ahead, all good fun. If ever you think your roads are bad – look at our photo and think again!
The pickers had started at the absolute top of the uppermost triangle before breakfast, and were working their way down, slowly. The vines have produced a good array of bunches, but most of them very small, they could fit in your hand, which means the harvesting is a lot of work for relatively few kilos. Arlindo and Henry were afraid we’d get rather less than a full lagar from the day’s cutting.
On each terrace there are two rows of vines – one perched on the edge which drops down sheer to the next terrace below, and the other backed up against the talude (the sloping wall) of the next terrace above. This means a picker has to strip away leaves and reach through to locate and cut the bunches on the outside of the vines, also a time consuming process. Though the sun was brilliant and warm, the air was not very hot, and in the afternoon a breeze came up to keep things comfortable.
Parts of the vineyard are incredibly steep, with the terraces rising probably 3 metres each. On the other hand, the views are spectacular, all the way to Graham’s Quinta da Vila Velha and Quinta do Roriz (another Symington family estate) several kilometres down river. Well worth the bruising lorry ride or even a long vertical walk to see. And the grapes seem to like it up there, too.