This time last year almost to the day (tracking the season August 30th, 2013) the temperature by mid morning had already reached 33º Celcius at Malvedos. The highest temperature recorded during August 2013 at the Quinta was a sweltering 42.6ºC. This year it’s a different story, the summer thus far has been appreciably cooler than in recent years and this morning it was 28ºC, and by way of comparison the maximum temperature recorded during August this year was 36.3ºC. During the night there was some negligible rainfall which the farm manager, Sr. Arlindo, reported as barely having registered in the Quinta’s weather station. If nothing else though these few drops do seem to have ‘cleaned the air’; the light is beautifully clear and visibility is pin sharp even into the far distance. Normally in August due to the very high temperatures, heat haze rapidly develops and such crisp, pure light is very rare.
Thus far, only 4mm of rain has been recorded at Malvedos during August and this figure is unlikely to change with only two days of the month left and no rain forecast. July was wetter than usual at Malvedos (18mm compared to the mean of 10mm) and this has helped to redress August’s lower than average precipitation (4mm against a mean of 13.6mm). But more important for the grapes’ maturation cycle have been the unseasonably cool temperatures, this being — at least thus far — the coolest summer in recent memory. The impact on the vines has been very beneficial; there has been very little hydric stress and the berries on the vines are looking very healthy. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, often points out that air temperature can be a more critical factor during the grapes’ final ripening cycle through the summer than rainfall (i.e., the lack of it).
Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist who oversees Malvedos as well as Graham’s neighbouring Tua vineyard is very encouraged by the balanced maturation evident in the berries. He has been sampling the berries in both vineyards and is particularly impressed with the progress of the Touriga Franca, which makes up 28% of the Malvedos vineyard and 20% of Tua. When the Franca has reached such a favourable state of maturity at this stage leading up to the vintage, then results tend to be very good. All experienced Douro viticulturists and winemakers — and Douro farmers generally — know that when the Franca shows signs of developing its full potential then a very good year is in the making. Charles agrees with Alexandre and is upbeat about the prospects for a very good quality harvest. Last year at this stage, sugar readings had not achieved expected levels and phenolic ripeness was also lagging behind. Inevitably this lead to a delay in the vintage, which only kicked off at Malvedos and Tua on September 23rd.
Based on maturation studies carried out over the last couple of weeks Charles has indicated September 8th as the likely start to this year’s harvest at Malvedos and Tua. Besides resorting to sophisticated vineyard mapping technology which uses infra-red aerial photography to reveal the ripeness of the various vineyard parcels (row by row), Charles — like his winemaking ancestors before him — also uses the well proven method of berry sampling in the vineyard. Over the last few days he has been able to confirm that sugars, phenolics and acidity in the berries are all showing an even and balanced development. The berries taste sweet with correct levels of acidity (showing no astringency) and when the berries are squeezed the juice already reveals good colour. Accordingly, a tentative picking order has been drawn up and is likely to be as follows: old mixed vines from Tua, followed by the Sousão and Tinta Amarela (also from Tua) and then from Malvedos the Barroca, Roriz and finally (from both vineyards) the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca.
As we bide our time with confident anticipation to get the vintage under way, the only other activity at Malvedos at this time is the ongoing surriba (terrain preparation) in the western boundary of the Quinta where 6 hectares will be replanted next winter, most likely with the two Tourigas, the Franca and the Nacional (see the previous tracking the season post, published a month ago). Some final work also continues in the rebuilding of the stone terraces (a section of the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard) at the other extremity of the Quinta.
In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing daily coverage of the harvest at the small Malvedos winery, where the winemaking team’s clear remit is always the same: to realize the Malvedos and Tua grapes’ maximum quality potential. Henry Shotton, the resident winemaker at Malvedos will keep readers up to speed with regular news on how the harvest is progressing.