January 2008 Douro Insider

After an extremely cold spell over the festive season normality returned in January.  Some considerable rain finally came at the start of the year, and with it a welcome increase in temperatures.  Typically unsettled winter weather was definitely the flavour of the month with a little of everything – morning fogs, showers and also a bit of sun delivering quite pleasant daytime warmth.  Interspersed with all of this were some seriously blustery and rainy days with decent downpours and also a couple of really stormy winter nights bringing strong gusts and driving rain.  There was plenty of mud about but not enough to interfere with the machines that were cutting the terraces for this year’s new plantations.  Oddly enough, it appears that we still haven’t had sufficient water to germinate the cover crops yet, and these were markedly lagging in terms of their development.  It is unfortunate to note that from mid-January onwards the rain almost totally dried up and it seems that the drought may have returned.

Often a common feature of January in the Douro is the heavy capacete (helmet) of opaque fog at mid to high level, shrouding the tops of the hills in zero visibility conditions for several days, and sometimes even weeks at a time.  This year was no exception and only the lucky few who live and work on the really high ground escaped it.  From their privileged perspective above a sea of white, crystal blue skies overhead were accompanied by bright sunshine.  Those lower down were constantly cold and damp and the fog was so thick that it dripped off the branches of trees and condensed on one’s skin.

In spite of the varied conditions, the monthly averages actually turned out to be very close to the long-term means, if fractionally warmer and wetter.  Pinhão registered 94 mm of rain, which is almost exactly on the average of 89.5 mm.  In terms of temperatures, the 8.3º C average was just a little above 7.9º mean value.  Note that virtually all the precipitation fell during the first two weeks of the year so it really was a very wet start to 2008.  During this spell the buffering effect of the humidity was apparent as this was when the highest temperatures were recorded.  The first two weeks gave maximum values above 15º most of the time, but in a cold third week the maximum was unable to creep above 10º.

Activities in the vineyards are normally restricted to a relatively few jobs in January that differ little from December.  It goes without saying that pruning was still going on everywhere, and in virtually every case it is accompanied by cane collection and destruction, either by burning or shredding.  Where trellising permits, the prepruner may also come in useful although, admittedly, there are some doubts as to how much time it actually saves.  The mechanical prepruner does not get on especially well with vineyards where the trellis posts are made from the traditional schist (see the photograph) because they are extremely brittle and they tend to shatter if knocked by any sort of heavy machinery.

January is perhaps the peak time each year for surribas (terrain preparation for new plantings) and this was a constant activity that ran in parallel with the pruning.  In general the dry weather during the autumn has meant that progress has been rapid and the plantations were relatively advanced.

The only other point of note was that we finally finished the olive picking at the start of January.  It can be difficult to find time for the olives as they always ripen during peak pruning season.  Unfortunately this year was not a good one for the olive crop: yields were down considerably (perhaps less than half of last year’s in many places) and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, quality was also compromised quite severely.  There had been bad attacks of flies and much of the fruit was therefore not in a very good condition.