Category Archives: Viticulture

August 2008 Douro Insider

Another month goes by, and with it come more strange climatic patterns.  All across Europe reports were pouring in of appalling weather so in many respects we were lucky that the worst the Douro suffered was one wet weekend and some rather cool temperatures.  The month kicked off with a freak tornado in northern France which killed three people on the 3rd, and then another one hit Poland 12 days later with the same death toll.  In the UK they were also having a horrible time with one of the worst summers on record.  Over there August was phenomenally wet and the sun barely appeared. Full Report

July 2008 Douro Insider

As one would have expected for a Portuguese July, it certainly got off to a hot start, but less predictably it was also rather muggy.  Proximity to the river increases evaporation and obviously exacerbates the humidity.  Meanwhile, as the  water warms up, algae gradually turn the Douro a  slightly sinister greenish shade.  But the summer that we all thought had finally arrived at the end of June turned out to be fairly short-lived or perhaps yet another false start.  The high temperatures soon evaporated and we then had another few days of what can only be considered very cool weather for the time of year.  One or two days barely crept above 20º C, and the nights were, frankly, cold.  Daily minimums below 10º are not usually part of the script.  In spite of the cool temperatures it was still an exceptionally dusty month (much worse even than the usual gritty situation) as the rain held off and some gusty winds desiccated the topsoil.  After the second week things began to heat up again, peaking around the 20th when southerly winds brought some real African heat to Iberia.  It then began to tail off once more, and we had a dodgy end of month, especially the last day.  This gave us a rough pattern of one cool week, two warm weeks, and then another cool week to finish off. Full Report

June 2008 Douro Insider

For those involved in agriculture in the north of Portugal, it has been hard to know what to make of the weather so far this year.  And for regular readers, it must be becoming tiresome to read every month that things are not following predictable patterns.  Thus it may come as some relief to hear that in June it appeared that things are more or less returning to normal.  What June typically brings us is generally fair weather, dominated by hot and sunny days (although not usually featuring scorching temperatures) that might be interspersed with one or two overcast days.  There are two common features of June, however, which make it different from just a cooler version of July.  Firstly, the amplitude of the range of temperatures is normally far greater, principally as a result of relatively cool nights.  Secondly, although rainfall would not usually be expected, it is still fairly common to have one or two major downpours.  Thus precipitation figures for the month are either very low (when there are no thunderstorms) or really quite high (months with total precipitation in excess of 70 or even 100 mm are by no means unheard of).  As this talk of thunder should imply, humidity can often be high. Full Report

May 2008 Douro Insider

May started a little curiously, with the weather still undecided (as it has been for most of the year so far) but it was changeable in a different way from April.  Rather than fluctuating from one extreme to another from week to week, there were a number of days that, at breakfast time, appeared to have little idea as to what they were going to do until dinner.  There were often spells of overcast skies bringing with them some light showers but these gloomy patches were broken up by sticky, sunny spells that tempted out the  first snakes of spring.  Whilst precipitation was not especially high by the usual standards, it trickled in consistently throughout the month (particularly in the second half), a slow but steady stream that ensured that the air remained decidedly humid and, coupled with the cloudy conditions, might have favoured powdery mildew had precautions not been taken.  Unfortunately things didn’t really clear up in time for flowering and by mid-month a heavy depression could be found camped broodingly over the Iberian peninsula for about a week or so.  Thus things remained variable but thundery, basically quite grey but with plenty of showers.  In any case, it is turning out to be quite a challenging spring as far as the treatments go. Full Report

April 2008 Douro Insider

April got off to a very fine start – indeed, April 1st was the first day of the year which could reasonably be described as hot.  Seriously, it was.  What with the changing of the clocks a few days before, the golden evening light hung on until much later, joined by warm, soft breezes that insistently whispered the words ‘gin and tonic’ until their demands were satisfied.  The impression that summer was creeping upon us was further enhanced by the onset of the hay fever season, another of the annual rites of passage.  The evenings were hot too and plenty of people were seen wandering around in shorts and T-shirts at night as if on holiday.  All this occurred, oddly enough, when much of the UK was still plagued by snowfalls.  The early summer was somewhat short-lived, however, and the second week of the month changed dramatically for the worse with some torrential and long-lasting rain.  This then set off a four week long cycle of completely polarised weather fluctuations.  With great precision, hot and sunny weeks were interspersed with cold and wet weeks for the rest of the month. Full Report

March 2008 Douro Insider

March in the Douro was certainly interesting enough because there was plenty of the variation that is so typical of the spring to keep everyone entertained.  The month got off to a bright, sunny and warm start although the clear skies ensured that the nights were still very cold.  This produced a bit of a scare when we woke up to a heavy frost on the morning of the 7th.  The concern stemmed from the fact that younger vines (before they enter into production) characteristically have earlier budburst than adult vines.  By this date there were already young vineyards with two or three leaves unrolled but fortunately the frost was not intense enough to damage the new shoots.  It is fair to say that at this time of the year frosts usually only occur on the cooler high ground, where budburst of course comes later on.  However, if budburst progresses uphill faster than the risk of freezing temperatures tails off for the respective altitude, the possibility remains of a potentially dangerous combination occurring whereby frosts and green plant tissue are present simultaneously.  Frost damage of the primary shoots has serious implications for yield because, although the vines would still be able to burst again from the secondary buds, these back-up shoots are noticeably less fertile. Full Report

February 2008 Douro Insider

February brought a very welcome relief from the somewhat depressing winter weather that had preceded, with the heavy fog finally evaporating after all these weeks.  There was actually a very bright start to the month with fantastic blue skies and really quite warm sunshine, especially in the afternoons.  But, as we well know, clear skies also mean cold nights and there were still some frosty mornings.  Admittedly, the frost was quicker to melt away when it was no longer shrouded in fog but in any case consumption of firewood remained high across the Douro. Full Report

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. Full Report