On Wednesday Graham’s started the harvest at Quinta do Tua with a small parcel, less than one hectare, of Tinta Amarela. We then moved on to harvest some young Sousão on Wednesday and into Thursday, and Thursday and Friday we picked our vinhas velhas or old vines.
The majority of our vinhas velhas are in the spectacular old walled terraces which cover 3 hectares on the south-west facing butte of land where the Rio Tua runs into the Douro. The stone walls are exceptional, even in the Douro, for being on average 1.5 metres thick, which tells us just how rocky this hillside was – obviously there was a lot of rock to dispose of, and using it in situ to build a thicker wall was easier than carrying it away. The work to break out the stones and create the terraces and walls by hand in the late 19th century must have been extraordinary.
In such a large vineyard and with such thick walls, each wall has regular breaks where steps were built into half the thickness of the wall, and these are aligned to create a rustic but elegant stairway all the way up the hillside.
The vineyard is planted with a mixture of grape varieties, as was traditional in the Douro well into the 1970s, as a way for small farmers to hedge their bets: if the weather in any given year was unfavourable for a few varieties, there were others that could produce well in those conditions, so the farmer could rely on having some crop, no matter what the climate. In the mix are a few odd vines of grapes not suitable for Graham’s Ports, which the pickers set aside to enjoy if they get hungry!
Despite the stairways which make it easier for the pickers to move between terraces, this is a labour intensive vineyard to harvest. We cannot get tractors in between the rows of vines which means the small crates used to collect the grapes must be distributed throughout the vineyard by hand, and then hand-carried back to a tractor waiting in the roadway to bring the grapes to the winery. Each crate holds at most 20 to 22 kilos of grapes, so there is a lot of carrying back and forth.
The picking team has the weekend off, and on Monday Graham’s begins the harvest full on at Quinta dos Malvedos. Henry Shotton, our winemaker since 2000, and the rest of the winery team will open the Malvedos adega, and we expect to begin picking Tinta Barroca at Malvedos on Monday.
After that, the picking team will go back and forth between Malvedos and Tua bringing in each variety as it reaches optimum ripeness for vinification at Malvedos. Stay with us both here on the Blog and on the Graham’s Facebook page for updates throughout the harvest period.