Our Douro grapes are looking very good. Despite a rather dry year so far the vines have not suffered any undue water stress, only enough to actually be good for the wines. As always at this point in the season, we were wishing for just a bit of rain, and this year we got it. Sunday evening, after a weekend of dark and stormy clouds, a good thunderstorm swept across the Douro and as of Monday morning we had recorded 17 mm of rain at Quinta do Vesuvio, next door to Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, and it had not finished yet. Far more rain fell at Malvedos and in the Pinhao and Rio Torto valleys. The family are very happy, saying this is a very useful amount of rain, almost ideal in fact. Depending of course on the weather now clearing up, the forecast is looking promising…
Last week’s baumés (measure of sugars in the grapes) were well above average for this time of year, but we expected high readings given the rapid development of the vines and grapes this year. Ideally you want phenolic maturity to be balanced with the development of the sugars, and with the rain, the grapes can continue to concentrate and develop their phenolic compounds (which give wines flavour and colour) by photosynthesis, rather than dehydration. Rain at this time of year is always welcome to help pace the final stretch of the maturation process. For a few days the baumés will drop as the vines absorb the welcome rainfall, before rising again. In particular, the rain will soften the skins, allowing for much better colour and flavours in the must. This is how great wines are made.
Right now the forecast for the near future is good: not too hot, in fact pretty nearly ideal. Charles said the conditions are very similar to 2007 – and if you have tasted Graham’s 2007 Vintage Port, that should be very cheering news. We had an unusually cool July, and though he has not yet seen the statistics for August. Charles said we certainly did not have any excessive heat, though it had been dry up until Sunday’s rain. Paul, Dominic and Johnny, who all spent their entire August summer holidays at their Quintas in the Douro, confirm that August was warm, with some hot days, but certainly nothing too exegarated. So conditions have been close to ideal so far.
The Touriga Franca is looking particularly promising. The Tinta Barroca production is much reduced, we lost as much as half our crop in some quintas due to either hail or sunburn (see Miles’s June Douro Insider report for more details), and this actually lead to a more rapid ripening for what fruit remained on the vines. It is even possible that some quintas may harvest the Barroca and then stop and wait a bit before harvesting the other varieties. The Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz are both candidates for harvesting next after the Barroca, Charles will be watching those closely in the next few weeks to determine the right picking order between them. Overall, we anticipate yields to be average to low.
Early indications suggest that Malvedos, Tua and Vila Velha might start the harvest in earnest some time during the week of the 12th September. In the Douro Superior, some of the south-facing quintas for our sister brands may begin picking as early as the first week of September (for example Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais or Warre’s Quinta da Telhada), but Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, with its north-facing aspect, probably won’t begin picking until the week of the 12th as well, and Quinta das Lages, in the Rio Torto valley south of Pinhão, may start picking as much as a week after that.
To learn more about how we conduct our maturity studies, you might like to read this article.