February 2009 Douro Insider

Global scale climatic aberrations meant that February got off to a very bad start in Europe, although the ill-effects of this strange weather system were felt far more keenly in the north of the continent than down here in the south. Unusual disturbances in the stratosphere resulted in strong easterly winds bringing cold Arctic air into the UK over the North Sea, and London experienced its heaviest snowfall for 18 years. At over a foot deep, the snow was sufficient to put planes, tubes and buses all out of action, close roads and schools and effectively paralyse the city. Whilst many there enjoyed a ‘mass skive’ (in the words of the Mayor) we also had one or two unofficial ‘feriados’ in the vineyards of northern Portugal. In this case they were due to rain however, not snow, which on some mornings fell with such intensity as to make working outside quite impossible. The rain was by no means unique to Portugal, and London’s snow was immediately followed by torrential rainfall leading to widespread flooding in southern England around the 10th of the month. Full Report

January 2009 Douro Insider

In many respects it seems that Portugal got off lightly in January, even if it didn’t appear so from our perspective. The truth of the matter is that for all the bad weather we experienced, there were extreme weather patterns right across Europe, and by comparison we were lucky to have escaped the worst. The problems started right at the beginning of the month, with a mass of polar air that was caught up by the circulation of an anticyclone hanging over the British Isles. This meant that the UK suffered its longest cold spell in 10 years over Christmas, the New Year and early January and it remained remarkably dry, an effect of the clear skies. It was so cold that even the sea froze in Dorset. The knock-on effects of this weather system brought us exactly the same scenario here, albeit to a lesser degree, with clear skies and extreme cold taking over after the damp end to December. Full Report

December 2008 Douro Insider

The month awoke to a scattering of snow on the high ground and ice almost everywhere else.  There were actually quite heavy snowfalls on the Serra do Marão and even significant amounts on the Alto de Quintela.  It wasn’t just the north of the country that was affected as the bad weather caused chaos on the roads in other parts too, and played havoc especially with the daily commute when people returned to work after the first long weekend.  Roads were closed in some of the higher mountain ranges, and the main road between Porto and Vila Real was shut for some time when the peaks of the Marão became impassable.  It even snowed a little on the very tops of the hills in the Douro, reaching one or two quite high vineyards, but it didn’t quite stretch down as far as the river quintas. Full Report

November 2008 Douro Insider

November got off to a very grey start and, although the air was decidedly damp, nothing of any consequence in the way of rain was forthcoming.  Thick, wet and very clingy fog hung in the lower-lying areas.  To begin with, at least, it appeared not to be too cold, but towards the middle of the month the mornings chilled down considerably, especially for those right in the thick of the murk at the bottom of the valley.  Then as the foggy spell finally lifted the insulating effect of the blanket of low-lying clouds was no longer felt.  The skies cleared, and with this came an increase in of the range of daily temperatures: when the days were clear sunshine warmed up the earth pleasantly (albeit briefly) but the nights were distinctly icy as there was no cover to prevent this meagre heat from being radiated back into the night sky.  Thus began a downward turn, and winter started to take hold. Full Report

September and October 2008 Douro Insider

The final stretch of a remarkable agricultural year brought similar patterns to those we had been experiencing almost from the start.  It was cool and it was very dry.  But the weather differed from the rest of the year in one critical aspect too – in that the months of unsettled or overcast weather finally gave way to one long, calm spell of perfect harvesting weather, with day after day of bright sun, clear skies and not even a whisper of a breeze.  Without a doubt this serene autumn saved the harvest.  It had been a difficult year thus far, and the potential for a disastrous vintage was looming ominously.  Had it rained significantly all would have been lost, and another year like 2002 would have ensued.  As it turned out, we were blessed by an excellent harvest.  If any criticism could be made, it would be that some rain right at the start of September brought about dilution of sugars and, especially, acidity.  This of course had to be corrected in the winery.  Unfortunately there was none of the intensely hot weather required to initiate dehydration – a factor which is essential for producing really concentrated wines.  Phenolically the skins were also a little hard to start with, although they understandably softened up as the vintage progressed. Full Report

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

Crafting one of life's great traditions