Tag Archives: Douro

2016 Douro Harvest Report

A Year With a Special Rhythm

This was the year to really know your vineyard in the Douro; each location and each variety developed at its own individual rhythm and winemakers had to be constantly in the vineyards. Deciding to harvest on a hunch or following fashion was definitely not a good idea in this special year. Intimate knowledge of the vineyards combined with patience has delivered the just reward of some beautiful Ports and Douro wines.

The viticultural year started well with a good wet winter, bringing more than double the rainfall of the previous 2014/15 winter and some 80 mm more than the average of the last 30 years. Warmer than usual temperatures advanced the vegetative cycle by 10 days in most areas. However, the challenge came when unexpectedly the wet weather continued into April and May, with three times the average rainfall for these two months. Locals were presented with the extraordinary site of the Douro in full spring flood. This made the river unnavigable and all boat traffic was stopped, resulting in countless tourists being unable to board their hotel-boats and cruise up the valley to Spain.

The wet and cool April and May made it absolutely necessary to work intensively to protect the vines. The Douro is not well suited to such a challenge, with its incredibly steep vineyards and its highly fragmented land ownership. The largest area of mountain vineyard on earth has 17,000 farmers owning less than one hectare of heavily inclined hill-side vines. Many are elderly and have neither the time nor the resources to undertake the necessary measures to protect the vines in such conditions, and it is estimated that the Douro will have produced at least 25% less wine than in a normal year. Those that were able to care for their vines during this period, emerged with a fine and healthy crop of grapes, although the lower temperatures slowed development.

June and July brought a return to more normal weather but August was unusually hot and this further slowed the maturation and put considerable strain on the vines. The miraculous, rare, and much-desired August rainfall fell on the 24th and 26th August, but was localized with little evident in the Pinhão valley. Useful amounts fell at Malvedos (18mm), Vesuvio (7mm) and Ataíde (12mm), exactly where it was most needed.

September started with an intense heat wave and a high of 43.0 ̊C on Tuesday 6th measured at Quinta do Bomfim. The Douro has become very busy with tourists this year and they could be seen crowding into the few air-conditioned locations to escape the heat, mixing with worried looking farmers in the cafés of Pinhão, Pesqueira and Tua. The stress on the younger vines, with their less developed root systems, was clear. However, the older vines were coping well, with fine green leaves and healthy looking fruit, their deep roots drawing on the humidity from the wet winter and spring. But ripeness for the vines was still some way off as they coped with the special conditions of 2016, and it was clear that a late harvest was desirable in order to bring the vines to optimal maturity. A hasty rush to harvest early for those who were not aware of what was really happening in the vineyard following weeks of intense heat, would be to miss a golden opportunity.

From 7th September the temperatures began to reduce and after weeks of careful monitoring of the vines, using modern analytical methods but also the ancient but utterly reliable method of tasting berries in each vineyard, Charles Symington set the picking dates for the 15th for some of our more easterly Quintas, and the 19th for the others. On the 12th and 13th rain fell across the entire Douro region, with 18mm at Cavadinha, 16mm at Bomfim, 20mm at Malvedos, 15mm at Canais, 12mm at Vesuvio and 13mm at Ataíde. Charles suspended picking of the best varieties, either sending the pickers home, or switching them to the younger or less important varieties. Following this well timed rainfall, the harvest resumed on our vineyards on Monday 19th once the vines had accommodated these refreshing showers and had adequate time to rebalance. Charles took another important decision on the 22nd September and delayed picking the Touriga Nacional until the 26th, as the vines were taking their own time to reach maturity. Since then the vintage has proceeded with perfect weather and cool nights. It is rare to be finishing the Douro harvest during the week of the 10th October having had four perfect picking weeks under blue skies.

With this year’s special conditions, the vines chose their own rhythm and it was absolutely necessary to understand what was happening in the vineyard after the hot summer. There is no doubt that this year the vines took far longer to regain their all-important balance. This knowledge could only be acquired by many hours of careful analysis amongst the vines. It is only necessary to see the lagares of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and of old mixed Douro vines, currently ending their fermentations, to see what an exceptional result awaited those who did the essential work and had the necessary patience.

Paul Symington,

12,10,16

“The weather throughout the vintage has been exceptionally good and this has allowed for maturations to develop perfectly. We have been able to decide when to pick without the concern of the weather changing, having stopped the vintage at different properties to allow for ideal ripening to be achieved when necessary. The lagares have been giving balanced Baumés and exceptional colour and the Touriga Franca may well be the best wine of the vintage. The wines have wonderful freshness and elegance as well as structure.”

Charles Symington,

Pinhão, 12.10.16

A YEAR IN THE VINEYARDS – PART 10

In this tenth video of ‘A year in the vineyards’, the last in the series, we look at traditional treading at Quinta do Vesuvio, where the grapes are foot trodden in granite lagares.

The vintage · Traditional treading

The time-honoured traditional foot treading in large, shallow tanks made of granite called lagares, survives in just a handful of properties in the Douro Valley, among them the Symington family’s Quinta do Vesúvio. Inside the winery built in 1827, teams of 50 people, known as rogas, tread each lagar. The first stage is called the corte during which two to three rows of men and women, arms interlocked, march up and down the lagar with military precision, their discipline ensured by the head of the roga who resembles a drill sergeant as he bellows, ‘left-right, left-right, left right’. After about two hours, once the grapes have been thoroughly trodden, the treading team break up the rows and tread at random to their own rhythm, often dancing and joking to the sound of the local village band. This stage of treading is termed liberdade or liberty – for obvious reasons.

A YEAR IN THE VINEYARDS – PART 9

In this ninth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the winemaking at Quinta dos Malvedos, whose winery is fitted with three modern lagares.

The vintage · Winemaking

Once grape harvesting gets under way it is a non-stop marathon of round-the-clock activity in the vineyards and in the winery. At the Malvedos winery as in all our other specialist wineries, the grapes are still trodden; today in modern stainless steel lagares, which are simply an evolution of the time-honoured traditional foot treading in large, shallow basins made of granite, called lagares. The modern variants of these at Malvedos were installed in time for the 2000 vintage and they have worked extremely well ever since, making consistently outstanding wines. The lessons learnt here were then used in our other wineries up and down the valley where modern lagares have also been installed, namely at Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.

A YEAR IN THE VINEYARDS – PART 8

In this eighth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the start of the vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos, the culmination of a year’s work in the vineyards.

All grapes have to be picked by hand in the Douro as the mountainous topography with its very steep gradients renders mechanisation impossible. Teams of pickers, known as rogas, gather at the Quintas, some travelling from other areas of Portugal to supplement their incomes. In some vineyards, the same rogas return year after year, sometimes over several decades, through a sense of belonging and pride towards ‘their’ Quinta.

The grapes are gathered into small, shallow tray-like boxes and swiftly transported to the wineries on small tractor-drawn trailers. In the wineries the grapes are sorted, de-stemmed, gently crushed and conveyed to the lagares — traditional or modern — in readiness for treading and fermentation.

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 7

In this seventh video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the maturation studies carried out in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos, which will guide us in determining the vintage starting date.

Maturation studies, which normally begin around mid-August, are of great importance in setting the vintage starting date and in preparing an optimum picking sequence, this being determined by the different maturation rates of each grape variety, as well as other influencing factors such as the vineyards’ location, altitude and climate. Carefully devised picking schedules ensure that the grapes are picked at their optimal point of ripeness.

Whilst nowadays, several advanced techniques are employed to assess berry ripeness, these do not replace frequent field sampling by our viticulturists and winemakers. In the vineyards they sample the berries for feel, taste and colour. As grapes ripen they become softer to the touch and taste sweeter, revealing the desirable accumulation of sugar as the grapes’ organic acids gradually diminish through the ripening period. They will also check for colour by squeezing berries in the palm of their hands to reveal the pigments on the skins and the appearance of the juice. The seeds or pips will also be checked for colour, as this is another reliable gauge of fruit ripeness; yellowish-green means unripe, whilst dark brown means ripening is on track.

To get the full picture of balanced fruit maturations it is important to also screen phenolic ripeness. The phenolic compounds, which include tannins and anthocyanins — the pigments responsible for colour — are a prerequisite for balanced and well structured wines with fresh aromatics. This year, when our maturation studies began on August 15th, it became apparent that phenolic ripeness was evolving very well whilst sugar readings were lagging behind. However, these have since caught up and we are looking at evenly balanced fruit maturation — a good augury for the forthcoming grape harvest.

 

 

 

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 6

In this sixth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at versaison in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos.

Veraison, known in the Douro as pintor — literally ‘painter’ — is the process by which the grapes gradually change colour — in the case of red varieties from a bright green to a reddish colour, and eventually to deep blue/violet. The berries start to lose chlorophyll and acquire red pigments in the skins, hence the change in colour. Veraison marks the transition from the vines’ growing cycle to the maturation and ripening stages where rapid berry growth takes place. The pintor begins in the Douro around the middle of July. From this point on the berries soften and their sugar content steadily increases whilst the concentration of organic acids declines. Aroma and flavour components also begin to accumulate in the fruit.
During the month of July, some further vine canopy management is often required and this involves shoot-topping, in other words trimming back the tips of the vine shoots, important on various counts: it helps to redirect the vines’ energy away from gaining further unnecessary shoot length and towards maturing the fruit instead; it results in a better aeration of the vine canopy thus ensuring healthier vines; it keeps the space between the vine rows clear for ease of passage — essential for keeping a constant check on the vines’ health.SFE_Pintor_02

Victory for Symington Family Estates in the 1st Great Douro Vineyard Run

Yesterday saw the Symington running team take part in the first edition of the Great Douro Vineyard Run. Formed by members from diverse areas of the company, Symington Family Estates won first place in the team event and saw every member placing highly, with second place in the women’s race going to Mariana Ameixieira, and third in the men’s to Pedro Silva, the team’s invaluable trainer.

IMG_20160619_153339
The winners of the women’s race (from left to right): Mariana Ameixieira, Tânia Fernandes, Irene Monte
IMG_20160619_153759-2
The winners of the men’s race (from left to right): Abilio Ribeiro, Joaquim Lopes, Pedro Silva

The event, which was one of the first of its kind in the Douro, saw almost 300 runners compete in a gruelling trail half marathon through some of the most beautiful vineyards of the Douro. From the starting line on the banks of the Douro in Pinhão, the course rose and fell through the vineyards of Quintas Junco, Cavadinha, Terra Feita, Cruzeiro, Noval, Bomfim and finally Roeda, before crossing the finish line on the riverfront in Pinhão.

DSC02134-2
A view from the top of the final steep descent towards Quinta do Bomfim

The half marathon was also accompanied by a 12km walk, which saw almost 1000 participants take part.

IMG-20160619-WA0017
The SFE team at the podium

With high temperatures and a total elevation gain of 1000m, the race was not easy, but the determination of the 10-man team from Symington Family Estates, and the support of everyone at Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Cavadinha, meant a great overall result. Congratulations to all involved!

Master of Wine Candidates Visit Porto and the Douro

For the third consecutive year, candidates for the title of Master of Wine have once again paid a visit to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia before travelling up the Douro Valley to visit some of the regions most famous vineyards. While an important visit for the students, the fact that the Demarcated Douro Region has been recognised by the Institute of Masters of Wine as an important part of the curriculum of such a distinguished qualification, also makes the visit very important for Port, and the Douro Valley as a whole.

Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is one of the most prestigious communities of wine professionals in the world. To become a member you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the challenge of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 343 Masters of Wine worldwide.

The first stop for the 18 MW students from all over the world who arrived in Porto on the 19th of April was Vinum, the restaurant located in Graham’s 1890 Lodge, for a dinner hosted by Paul Symington. Finishing with Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, it was a fitting start to what would be three days immersion in the world of Port.

DSC_0306
Henry Shotton, Quina dos Malvedos’ winemaker

The next day saw the candidates participate in a tasting of Graham’s, and other leading producer’s, wines.

DSCN7210
The tasting in the Factory House

They then departed for the Douro Valley, where they visited Quinta do Bomfim, another of Symington Family Estate’s prime vineyards, where Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos’ winemaker, Henry Shotton (also a MW student himself), gave an in-depth explanation of the winemaking process, before being shown around the vineyards.

Douro visit 3
This year’s Master of Wine students 

Once again, it was a pleasure to spend some time with the Master of Wine students, and we wish them the very best of luck in their studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Injured Peregrine Falcon Recovers

At the beginning of December 2015, the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, Portugal, received into care a young injured male peregrine falcon. Shot, presumably by hunters, near the town of Esposende on the Northern coast of Portugal, the bird was making his first migration south for the winter.

We are happy to report that the bird has made a full recovery and will soon be returned to the wild in time to return to Northern Europe for the summer, this time fitted with a state-of-the-art GPS tracker in order for the centre’s dedicated team to follow its journey.

In this video, filmed several months ago, you can see the recovering bird making use of the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel.

Symington Family Estates supports the work of the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre and shares with it the values and commitment of protecting and preserving the wildlife and natural habitats of the Douro. We will be following the release of the falcon into the wild at a Symington Family Estate’s vineyard in the near future.

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 3

In a series of video clips to be shown throughout the year we will be exploring the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the third of the videos, documents bud-break.

Bud-break marks the end of winter dormancy and the start of the vines’ new vegetative cycle.

With the arrival of spring, buds begin to sprout during March; the timing varies with each grape variety and air temperatures.