Tag Archives: planting

A vineyard in balance – May 31st 2014

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos is pleased with the vines’ development at the Quinta; the vineyard is thriving and everything is in balance at this stage in the viticultural cycle. It is some years since everything has appeared to be developing so well — at this particular stage in the season. It is a precocious year with bud-break and flowering coming two weeks earlier than usual at Malvedos; not unexpected given the abundant winter rainfall and the unseasonably warm conditions through the spring. April brought a heat wave with temperatures at Malvedos reaching 30ºC on the 10th, 15th, 17th and 18th. During two consecutive months (March and April) the highest temperatures in the whole of Portugal were recorded in the Douro region by the Portuguese Met Office.

Fruit set is advancing very favourably with beautifully formed clusters developing evenly on the vines throughout the Quinta’s 89 hectares (220 acres) of vineyard. Given the conditions mentioned above vegetative growth has been quite vigorous and a team of 16 skilled vineyard workers has been working flat out under the watchful eye of Sr Arlindo, the vineyard manager, curtailing excessive shoot growth whilst at the same time taking the opportunity to guide the shoots (those that they choose to leave on the vines) between the trellis wires. This is an entirely manual operation and it is a testament to the labourers’ skill to witness just how speedily they progress through these tasks, which are essential in ensuring that the vines channel their energies into berry development rather than excessive vegetative growth.

The Touriga Nacional and Sousão vineyard parcels, planted during the spring of 2013 are flourishing and it seems incredible that they are just one year old. The Sousão is a heat sensitive variety and was therefore planted on one of the Quinta’s highest vineyard parcels located at 350 metres (1148 feet) altitude to benefit from the cooler conditions that elevation bestows. Besides this, the Sousão is laid out in a west facing amphitheatre-like bowl where conditions are relatively cooler than the predominantly south facing Malvedos vineyard. Furthermore, this bowl faces the valley formed by the Sibio stream which provides some additional humidity.

The view from the new Sousão vineyards at Malvedos

Facing this new Sousão parcel across the valley is the Sibio vineyard which was incorporated into Malvedos in 2012. Sibio has a combination of vertically planted and terraced vineyards, some of which are old, mixed vineyards whose organic certification is imminent. If all goes according to plan, Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker may have at his disposal during the 2014 vintage the first organically grown grapes from Malvedos. He can choose to use these together with the organically grown grapes from Graham’s Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.

On the Quinta’s western extremity on high ground overlooking the sharp curve in the River Douro, machinery is at work preparing the terrain for replanting during the spring of 2015 (grape variety/ies to be decided). The terraces here had fallen into disrepair (they formed part of the Sibio parcels) and the vines planted on them were in a sorry state. The opportunity is being taken to lay out the new terraces (known locally as patamares) using the latest techniques which involve sculpting the earth-banked terraces with a slight inward and longitudinal cant. This helps retain just the right amount of water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the ground whilst simultaneously allowing the rainwater from heavy downpours to drain off expeditiously but without eroding the soil (sometimes provoking the collapse of the terraces themselves).

Not far away a stone ‘shredder’ towed by one of the Quinta’s small tractors has been busy breaking up the larger stones and rocks on some terraces, leaving behind what looks like powdered schist soil. This operation brings with it several advantages: it avoids having to physically remove the larger rocks (saving in fuel emissions and costs); it resolves the problem of where to physically store or dispose of these rocks; the break-up of the soil top layer improves its aeration and drainage; it facilitates the passage of small tractors through the narrow terrace platforms, and makes it easier for vineyard workers to work on the vines (not to mention picking during the vintage); and of course it adds to, rather than subtracts from, the soil top layer.

Planting The Sousão at Malvedos – April 7th 2014 – Tracking the Season

The abundant winter rainfall at Malvedos, whilst desirable in terms of replenishing the much needed water reserves deep in the subsoil, has adversely affected progress in the reconstruction of the dry stone-walls at the entrance to the Quinta (see the previous two Tracking the Season posts for November and February). It was hoped that the stonemasons would have managed to conclude their task by February, after which the terraces would have been planted with the chosen variety – the Alicante Bouschet (a first at Malvedos) as well as some Touriga Franca. Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos pragmatically accepts that this will now have to be postponed for a year — at least on the upper terraces.

The Síbio stream running high

The very audible gushing sound of running water in the Síbio stream, rushing by in the gully which borders the stone terraces, is quite unusual at this time of the year and is clear evidence of just how much rain has come down over the winter months: 364mm (December 2013 – February 2014) compared to the average for this three month period which is 234mm — in other words 64% more rainfall than would be expected over the season.

On a positive note the lower section of this vineyard has sturdy dry stone-walls that have not required much attention from the stonemasons, a testament to the skill of their 18th century counterparts who originally built them. The supporting walls are quite massive; the tallest are 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) high and up to 1.5 metres (5 feet) wide. This vineyard is directly opposite the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard, the two divided by the Síbio stream, very close to where it flows into the Douro River.

Planting on these 5 larger terraces has therefore gone ahead as planned under the experienced supervision of Sr. Arlindo, the caretaker at Malvedos. He and his team of seven people have planted 1.400 bench-grafted Sousão vines over five days, starting on April 3rd. These particular terraces’ generous width has allowed for between two and three rows to be planted, the spacing between each row being 2 metres and the space between each vine just 80 cm. This planting of the vines close together is intentional, the aim being to encourage each vine to ‘compete’ with its neighbours for the scarce available resources (nutrients in the soil and water). In so doing they will generate berries with greater concentration and ultimately, finer quality wines.

The Sousão has been planted on these terraces located in the lower section of this west-facing slope because they are in a relatively sheltered area (the Sousão is susceptible to excessive heat and south-facing slopes are therefore generally avoided, unless they are planted at altitude). Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker is an advocate of the Sousão, a variety somewhat forgotten by many growers in the Douro but which is now slowly making a comeback. It is proving an important component in making our wines, principally due to its good levels of acidity and its deep colouring properties.

The stone terraces still undergoing reconstruction are higher up on a steeper section of the slope and they will each take just one row of vines and the varieties chosen are the Touriga Franca and the Alicante Bouschet, the latter a grape variety which Charles Symington has been championing in the Douro (more on the reasons for this in a future post).

Although the winter was very wet it was also quite mild, with mean temperatures above the average for all three months and this has brought forward the vegetative cycle of the vine by a little over than two weeks with bud-break occurring during the first week of March. Last year, bud-break was observed only during the last week of March.

Bud break and early leaf formation on the vines at Malvedos a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
Bud break and early leaf formation on the vines at Malvedos a couple of weeks earlier than usual.

The new Touriga Nacional plantings at Graham’s Vale de Malhadas

Against the mighty sweep of the Douro River the tiny, two year old Touriga Nacional vines in their schist nests look incredibly vulnerable. The winter storm clouds gather further up the valley, the ground is still frozen hard and the vines shiver in the wind.

This is the vineyard parcel at Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas known as ‘cento e vinte’, which means ‘one hundred and twenty’. “It has always been called this,” explains Mário Natário, Graham’s viticulturist for this property, “but no one really knows why.”

Malhadas is a very remote estate, where the majority of the land has been conserved as native wild scrub forest. This new Touriga Nacional vineyard is at the eastern extreme of the property’s 145 hectares (of which only 32 ha is planted with vines). The terraced slopes face east, situated on one side of the Murça River, a tributary of the Douro, and range from 250 to 400 metres altitude. This will give this parcel a distinct advantage when the cold winter turns into the equally unforgiving summer heat, since it will be cooler and less exposed to the full might of the sun.

These fledgling vines have already endured a lot since they were planted one year ago, proving their resilience. These vines were grafted a year before being planted out, which means they have to be regularly watered while they establish themselves.

The grapes from these Touriga Nacional vines, high in the Upper Douro, will complement the rich and full-bodied wines from their cousins in Graham’s vineyards at Malvedos and Tua, down river. Vale de Malhadas did not formerly have very much Touriga Nacional planted; but in light of successful trials, Mário discovered that this variety produced very distinctive wines when grown on this spot.

It will be a few more years before the grapes from these vines are ready to be incorporated into Graham’s Ports. When that time comes, though, it looks as if they will be exceptional. We will continue to follow these young vines’ progress with interest.