Life in the Winery Part 3 – The Winemaking

There is more to do in the winery than just receive the grapes.  In between deliveries we need to start, manage or finish lagares full of the grapes received in the past two days which are in some stage of turning into Port wine.

Fonseca and Carlos taking the baumé - a measure of sugars which will indicate alcohol levels and progress of fermentation

Once we have a lagar full of grapes – around 11,000 kilos typically – Henry will start the treading of the lagar, which usually runs four hours.  This will kick start the fermentation process and over the next two days as the wine ferments the liquid must will sink to the bottom of the lagar and a “cap” of skins and pips will rise and form a thick layer on top.  Periodically we will use the treader to punch down the cap, which helps to extract more colour and flavour from the skins, as well as helping the fermentation process to continue.  Throughout this period Carlos or Fonseca will take the baumé every four hours to start, then as we approach the desired level for fortification, every hour and finally every 15 minutes.

António hard at rest between tasks

As the fermentation continues Henry will need to make some decisions regarding the run off and fortification processes.  He will usually try to fortify by running off the must into a tank where the aguardente is waiting, and moving the cap material directly to the press.

But if we have to juggle space a bit – if we need the lagar emptied sooner rather than later to keep up with the pace of the incoming deliveries – he may choose to run off both must and cap into an empty tank, where it will finish its fermentation.  When ready to fortify, the must will then be moved into a new tank with the aguardente, and the cap will then go to the press from the first tank.  The problem with this scenario is that we have to manually shovel out and clean the tank of the last of the cap – not a popular choice with the winery team.  It goes to Henry’s great credit he has not had an outright rebellion in 12 harvests!

António cleaning the lagar after run off

Running off a lagar is an all-hands-on-deck job, with some of the team opening the pipe and lagar doors and monitoring the pumps and pipes either at the lagar or downstairs at the receiving tank end.  As soon as the lagar has been tipped up and emptied, António usually takes the lead in washing it out and getting it ready for the next lot of grapes.

After the must and aguardente are thoroughly mixed, we have young port wine, which is then moved into storage for the winter in one of our wooden toneis or another tank here at Quinta dos Malvedos.

Everyone helps bag and shift the vinhaço out of the press

The final steps are for the pressed out remains of the cap to be bagged up for removal by the distiller, and for Henry to send a bottle of the finished wine to the lab.  The lab will analyse the wine, and if necessary, suggest some minor corrections to the brandy levels.

In any given day, we may have any combination of these steps to complete, with three lagares of wine on the go in various stages of the process.  Despite our temperature control system, the fermentation process cannot be managed to a precise schedule, and sometimes we need to run off and/or fortify the wines in the middle of the night.  Whatever happens we have to clean up afterwards, which can make for a long night and very little sleep.  The team take it in turns to stay up with the fortifications when this happens.

The paperwork is intense and important - we can track all our wines back to the parcels, as well as contributing valuable information to research databases

The days and occasional nights are long, the team work hard when there is work to be done at whatever hour of the day or night, and Henry has his hands full with the planning and direction of all this activity, as well as his paperwork and frequent visits to the vineyards with Charles or Mariz to check on the state of the grapes still waiting to be picked.

At Malvedos, we plan on about three weeks to get all the grapes from the Malvedos and Tua quintas picked and vinified.  We are lucky we work with just two relatively small quintas: at some of our sister brands’ adegas the harvest period can run up to five weeks, whether because the wide range of altitude means a more drawn out picking time, as at Warre’s Cavadinha, or because the quinta is simply so immense it just takes that long to pick and vinify everything, as at Quinta do Vesuvio.

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