Tag Archives: Touriga Nacional

THE 2014 DOURO HARVEST: THE YEAR OF THE FOX

Paul Symington sums up the 2014 Douro harvest. From the Douro, October 13th, 2014 —

This was a challenging year in the Douro. We had a very wet period from December through to February with 44% more rain than normal. Apart from the difficulties encountered by those engaged in replanting vineyards, this rain was most welcome. It was coupled with mild temperatures that encouraged early bud-break in the first week of March at Malvedos. The weather remained unsettled through the early summer and on 3rd July a huge rainstorm hit parts of the Douro, with over 80mm falling in a few hours, mainly around Pinhão. This caused extraordinary damage, flooding the local railway station and precipitated an avalanche of rock and mud that destroyed the car of a well-known wine maker in the village (fortunately nobody was in the car at the time). Many farm roads were ruined and for a few days the River Douro ran golden yellow with the large amounts of precious soil that had been washed off the hillsides, once again highlighting the challenge of farming in the largest area of mountain vineyard on earth. Thankfully no hail fell and the vines themselves were largely unharmed, but the farmers had the unwelcome added expense of getting JCB’s in to re-build their farm tracks.

Clouds were a common feature in the skies over Malvedos during this harvest.
Clouds were a common feature in the skies over Malvedos during this harvest.

Once the mess caused by this July storm was cleaned up, it became clear that the vines were enjoying the cooler weather which persisted through August. In fact we all began to think of 2007, when an equally cool August delivered some stupendous quality grapes to our wineries.

The maturation continued some two weeks ahead of last year and picking started on 11th September at Malvedos, earlier at our more easterly vineyards. The grapes were in really lovely condition; soft skins, full berries and balanced sugars and acidity, perfect for making great Port and very good Douro wines. But Mother Nature was not in a mood to help us and the weather remained unsettled. In some areas this caused problems, in others the rain made little impact. It is clear that some extraordinarily good wines were made in the Douro Superior which had only occasional rainfall and that was of short duration and therefore ran off quickly.

Parts of the Alto Douro had an excellent vintage, other areas less so, and unfortunately parts of the Baixo Corgo had a difficult time. Charles Symington commented: ‘It has been an extraordinary vintage, the difference in rainfall between Pinhão and Tua being almost hard to believe’.

Touriga Nacional was consistently good this year, showing its undoubted class. But what was surprising was how very well Touriga Franca performed. This variety ripens late and its tight bunches and thin skins are a recipe for danger in a year like this. Nevertheless some wonderful wines are emerging from this variety. Souzão was also a star of this vintage.

Inevitably our wine makers had to make difficult choices, so the less blue-eyed varieties had to take second place and some suffered. Various vineyards located near water courses and in the tighter and lower valleys were damaged, as was predictable. The hand-picking that predominates in the Douro, with increasingly heavy cost implications on producers, delivered a huge advantage to us in our winemaking in 2014 as a crucially important selection is made by the pickers, something that is impossible in a machine-picked vineyard.

In a region that is over 90 km long and with an average annual rainfall that varies from nearly 1,000 mm in the west to under 400mm in the east, it is simply not possible to give a blanket assessment of any year and in particular this year. What is certain is that it was not a glorious harvest right across the region as it might have been if the weather had held during September and overall yields will be down, possibly by a significant amount. But equally certain is that in such a diverse region some real gems will have been made as the grapes were in such lovely condition at the outset. The vineyards that were lucky enough to escape the rain, and many did, will have made some really lovely Ports and Douro wines.

Winding down at Malvedos; the last trailer load of grapes of the 2014 vintage is emptied at the winery reception.
Winding down at Malvedos; the last trailer load of grapes of the 2014 vintage is emptied at the winery reception.

Furthermore those winemakers lucky enough to be able to get grapes from various locations across the Douro will certainly have made some brilliant Ports and wines. It was a year to take full advantage of judicious vineyard investment in the best sub-regions.

As if to force home the point about the weather and just as the harvest was being wound up, another astonishing rain storm hit at about 7.00 AM last Wednesday 8th October. In just two hours over 80mm of rain fell in parts of the Douro, again causing extensive damage to farm tracks (some just recently rebuilt after the July storm) and causing great difficulties to those still harvesting and making the river run golden yet again.

Why ‘The Year of the Fox’? The fox is a wily creature and this year it was necessary to be wily (and lucky) and also because our wine maker at Malvedos, Henry Shotton, was fast asleep and alone one night on a mattress in the darkened winery, waiting for a lagar of must to be ready to run off sometime in the night. He awoke to feel something tugging at his boot laces. His fear can only be imagined, and when he sat up he saw that a small fox was trying to steal his boot. Very early the next morning the fox returned, this time to try and eat the fresh bread just delivered by the Tua baker that was hanging on the vineyard trailer…

The 'Malvedos Fox' caught in the act of trying to grab the winery team's breakfast (freshly delivered bread in the bag hanging from the trailer).
The ‘Malvedos Fox’ caught in the act of trying to grab the winery team’s breakfast (freshly delivered bread in the bag hanging from the trailer).

ON THE HOME STRAIGHT BUT IT’S STILL TOUCH AND GO WITH THE WEATHER

We thought that we were almost home and dry (literally) but following a welcome spell of three days in a row with no rain and quite a lot of sunshine, the rain put in an appearance again yesterday (Saturday). Thursday and Friday started off with crisp, sunny conditions, the maximum temperature reaching a balmy 28ºC on Friday and although yesterday was still quite warm (26ºC) the rain returned, dashing our hopes of a final stretch of harvesting under completely dry conditions. We were counting on no more rain in order to give the late ripening Touriga Franca a chance to dry off and ripen completely. Alas it was not to be.

Picking the Touriga Franca from parcel 15 at Quinta dos Malvedos.
Picking the Touriga Franca from parcel 15 at Quinta dos Malvedos.

On Thursday, as planned we started bringing in the Touriga Franca (TF), initially from Quinta do Tua and then from Malvedos as well. The first lagar of TF from Tua gave 12.5º Baumé, evidently reflecting some dilution resulting from the wet as well as humid conditions of the last week or so. Subsequent loads began to show improved Baumés of around 13 and 13.5º. In the vineyards our pickers have been quite selective and this has meant we have been receiving good fruit in the winery. Objectively however, we have to accept that the rain that arrived about halfway through our vintage here at Malvedos did have some adverse effects on the Touriga Franca. But we count ourselves lucky because we have faired much better than many other Quintas, particularly downriver from us.

Picking the Touriga Franca above the house at Malvedos, while clouds laden with rain loom overhead.
Picking the Touriga Franca above the house at Malvedos, while clouds laden with rain loom overhead.

Charles pointed out that Malvedos has had by far the least amount of rain of any of the vineyards owned by the Symington family and he can categorically say that the wines made so far (in particular before the Franca was harvested) here at Malvedos have been exceptionally good. The weather really has been totally unpredictable and the fact that Malvedos has had comparatively less rain is indicative of just how localized some storms have been. And then there’s rain and there’s rain…Charles explained that whereas at Malvedos and further upriver into the Douro Superior the rain has come mainly in the form of sudden concentrated downpours which run off quite easily down the vineyard slopes, the persistent rain in the lower Douro that has fallen on and off has created a situation of continuous humidity with inevitable results. In Charles’s opinion, this difference in the way the rain has come down in certain areas will almost certainly prove decisive in the outcome of this vintage.

Quinta dos Malvedos looking towards the West.
Quinta dos Malvedos looking towards the West.

Johnny Symington, one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors came by Malvedos on Wednesday on his whistle-stop tour of some of the family’s Douro wineries. Johnny tasted the newly made wines at each Quinta visited. He started at Vesuvio and wound his way down the valley to Senhora da Ribeira, Canais, Malvedos, Bomfim and ended up at Sol. He was accompanied by Paula Pontes, who was reviewing the telecommunication systems at the various adegas (wineries), ensuring the systems were functioning well and seeing what improvements can be made for the future.

Johnny and Paula tasting a Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented wine.
Johnny and Paula tasting a Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented wine.

Johnny was especially impressed with the excellence of the wines from Malvedos and from the Douro superior Quintas. Of exceptional note, were the Touriga Nacional wines, some of them fermented together with Sousão grapes (including some of the lots vinified at Malvedos). They were very impressive. “It is certainly a great Touriga Nacional year from what I have seen”, said Johnny.

Paula and Johnny joined Charles Symington, Henry Shotton and the winery teams from Malvedos and Tua for lunch in the Tua canteen. They seemed equally impressed with the excellence of the lunch.  A healthy black bean stew with grilled pork, rice and plenty of vindima banter round the table. It was a welcome break during their whistle-stop tour. Johnny said it was magnificent to see the Bomfim lagar winery up and running and making some excellent wines. Again, it was two Touriga Nacional wines that won the day from this impressive new facility.

Finishing off at Sol, presented an opportunity to taste the Douro DOC wines the Symington family also produces. Pedro Correia tasted with Johnny three beautiful Vesuvio lots that show real potential. A quick visit to the Sol canteen (not to eat this time!) to see how the cooks, Filomena and Adelina, were coping with the 120 meals served at breakfast, lunch and dinner each day to the winery and administration teams. As usual, they were full of beans as were the extra-large cooking pots. The excellent aroma of the evening barbeque was proof enough that the old military adage “An army marches on its stomach” is equally applicable to the good functioning of a winery team.

 

THE RAIN MAKES AN APPEARANCE AT MALVEDOS

BlogLagarRunOffGiven the continuing atmospheric instability it was almost inevitable that the rain finally caught up with us at Quinta dos Malvedos, namely over the last two days with 12.4 mm recorded on Monday and 4.4 mm recorded yesterday. However, picking up from where we left off since the last post (on Saturday), the decision to halt harvesting on Sunday proved correct because just a light shower was felt (insufficient to record anything in our weather station) besides which it was one of the hottest days of the month thus far — the maximum temperature reaching 30.1ºC (86.18º Fahrenheit). This is precisely what was required to help dry the Touriga Nacional grapes still remaining on the vines at Malvedos and Tua. In the evening a Touriga Nacional lagar was run off (above right) and Henry was extremely pleased with the amazing colour of the must: “fantastic colour!!!”

BlogSpiritChartwellAs planned, picking was resumed first thing Monday morning (Touriga Nacional from Malvedos) and although it did rain, most of it came down during the night thus making life easier for our roga (grape pickers) in the vineyards. We had some visitors on Monday; the first was the “Spirit of Chartwell” (see above), the Royal barge in which the Queen and other members of the Royal Family sailed down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012 — the highlight of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The vessel, which cruised by at half past seven in the morning, is now owned by a Portuguese company operating cruises along the Douro River carrying visitors from all around the world, attracted by the Douro’s magnificent scenery and wines.

Paul and Henry taste the superb Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented wine.
Paul and Henry taste the superb Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented wine.

The second visitor was Paul Symington, Graham’s Joint Managing Director, cousin of Charles, our head winemaker. Like Charles, Paul farms his own vineyard privately and he was interested to compare the grapes from his own Quinta with those being harvested at Malvedos. Henry showed Paul a selection of the recently made Ports and Paul was especially impressed with the wine made from a co-fermentation of Touriga Nacional (80%) and Sousão (20%). Henry agreed with him that this is a fine example of good balance in a wine; combining the vibrant aromas and compact fruit of the Touriga Nacional with the freshness provided by the characteristic acidity of the Sousão.

Fernando Alves, our R&D viticulture specialist looks at a Touriga Nacional fermentation with Henry
Henry and Fernando Alves, our R&D viticulture specialist discuss a Touriga Nacional fermentation in one of the three Malvedos winery lagares.

Blog24Set_Featured4On Tuesday we started off again with overcast conditions with most of the day’s 4.4 mm falling between 11am and noon. During the afternoon the weather improved and scattered clouds allowed the sun to show itself again. Better to have the rain in more concentrated showers like this than spread out and falling persistently all through the day. This was in fact demonstrated — rain notwithstanding — by the very good quality of the (Touriga Nacional) grapes coming into the winery. The first trailer load of the day gave a reading of 14.2º Baumé and the last 14.65º. No dilution of the grapes here! Henry is well pleased by the excellent, deep purple colour displayed by the latest TN fermentations. Our research and development viticulturist, Fernando Alves, paid a visit during the afternoon just as this last load was coming into the winery and he was pleasantly surprised to see the grapes with such quality, despite the rain we’ve been having (see picture above left). Fernando commented that the fruit is still largely in fine condition. We shall see if we’re as lucky with the Touriga Franca which we hope to start picking from Thursday.

The rain that fell on Tuesday between 11 am and noon is represented by the Portuguese Met Office's radar picture (see top centre in blue)
The rain that fell on Tuesday between 11 am and noon at Malvedos is captured by the Portuguese Met Office’s radar picture (see top centre the large blue patch).
Rupert (left) and Peter Scott of PPW from the US taste the wines at Malvedos.
Rupert (left) and Peter Scott of PPW from the US taste the wines at Malvedos.

Wednesday, September 24th: Quite a chilly and overcast morning with mist hovering low over the Douro. Today we aim to conclude picking the remaining parcels of Touriga Nacional from Malvedos: block 70 (planted 2005); block 88 and block 97 (both planted in 2000). Later in the morning Rupert Symington, one of Graham’s Joint Managing Directors came round to the winery with a group of visitors from the United States, including a team from our US importer and distributor, Premium Port Wines.

Rupert and Henry guide the visitors from the US through a tasting of recently made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
Rupert and Henry guide the visitors from the US through a tasting of recently made Ports in the Malvedos winery.

HOLDING OUR BREATH HOPING THE RAIN STAYS WELL AWAY FROM MALVEDOS

Whilst some other areas of the Douro Valley have been visited by frequent showers over the last few days, at Malvedos we are into our third consecutive day with no rain at all. It is not infrequent for vineyards just 5 or 6 kilometres downriver or upriver from us to record downpours while this stretch of the valley remains largely dry. Still, we aren’t letting our guard down as the continuing unsettled conditions mean the winemaking team at the Quinta have to be prepared to change tack at a moment’s notice; nothing we aren’t used to.

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Thursday September 18th: An uneventful day during which we continued picking the Tinta Roriz, biding our time and allowing the welcome sunshine to dry the valuable parcels of our Touriga Nacional grapes. We heard that in Porto, about 100 km to the west where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the city had been deluged with showers all day long. It is fascinating to many of our overseas visitors how a country as small as Portugal can have such climatic variations, not just in terms of rainfall but air temperature as well. In our case this is easy to explain; between the humid Atlantic coastal plain to the west and the Douro wine country there is a mountain barrier running roughly north to south (1,415 metres/4,642 feet high), which effectively acts as a weather divide. Most of the rain transported by the prevailing westerlies tends to fall on these mountains (the Alvão/Marão/Montemuro ranges) resulting in gradually drier conditions on the lee side where the Douro wine region begins. At Vila Real, the regional capital on the sheltered side of the Marão range, average annual rainfall is 1,074 mm whilst at Malvedos it is virtually half that figure (624 mm). The distance between the two in a straight line is a mere 25 km (15.5 miles).

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Friday September 19th: Another mainly sunny day and during the afternoon some more welcome wind, very useful in helping to dry things out. We moved on to picking the Tinta Barroca and after lunch, Charles, Alexandre and Henry walked around several vineyard parcels and were relieved to find the grapes remaining on the vines still in fine condition (thus far we have harvested 45% of the grapes from the Malvedos vineyard and 58% from neighbouring Tua). The decision to restart picking the Touriga Nacional was confirmed and harvesting should continue during Saturday. Back in the winery Charles decided to co-ferment in one lagar some Tinta Barroca (showing high Baumé readings) with Touriga Franca. Charles and Henry then tasted the recently made Port from the Stone Terraces parcels of ‘Port Arthur’ and ‘Cardenhos’ (harvested Monday morning). Their smiles of satisfaction mirrored the evident quality of the wine in the glass; very floral nose and intense concentration in the mouth.

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View from the Malvedos winery, early Saturday morning, September 20th

Saturday September 20th: we awoke to a cool, fresh morning with clear blue skies and have therefore continued to bring the Touriga Nacional grapes into the winery. The first load of TN that came in this morning revealed a very satisfactory 14º Baumé. However to take maximum benefit from this spell of improved weather it has been decided to halt picking tomorrow to allow the remaining parcels of Touriga Nacional to fully ripen — the “compasso de espera”, as Alexandre put it, i.e., marking time. We’re in no hurry, what we want is to realize the grapes’ full potential to continue making the finest possible wines at Malvedos. The plan is to resume harvesting the Malvedos Touriga Nacional from Monday and on Tuesday to continue with this same variety but from Tua as well. Then on Wednesday the first Touriga Franca grapes (which show great promise) will be harvested at Tua.

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Henry explains the particularities of the Port made from the Stone Terraces at Malvedos. Nigel Barden of the BBC and other visitors listen intently

Later in the morning we were visited by João Vasconcelos, Graham’s market manager for the UK, who brought along a party of visitors from the UK, including Nigel Barden, the Food and Wine BBC Radio 2 Presenter. Henry treated them to a tasting of the magnificent Stone Terraces Port and this had everybody asking questions as to what the future prospects for this wine might be. The quality really is very good but it’s early days yet.

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NEW VINEYARD TERRACES TAKE SHAPE AT MALVEDOS

The surriba (terrain preparation) begun almost two months ago at the western extremity of Malvedos is making good progress. Men and machines are at work on the steep slopes expertly carving the terraces on which vines will be planted during February/March 2015. Due to the gradient of the terrain (50% inclines in some sections) these new terraces or patamares have a relatively narrow platform and their supporting earth walls have to be quite substantial in order to support the platforms adequately. Given their narrowness, each terrace will have only one row of vines planted, meaning lower plant density. Thus, adding to the very high cost of building the terraces and replanting vines in this unforgiving topography, one has to factor in lower production as well. Ultimately though, the return will come in the form of high quality grapes to make high quality wines.

The area being worked on amounts to 5.85 hectares (14.5 acres) and is part of the Síbio vineyard that was incorporated into Malvedos two years ago. Almost half of the terrain abuts onto a pronounced shoulder of land, which follows the sharp bend in the River Douro below and forms an east and southeast facing aspect, in visible contrast to the predominantly south facing aspect of Malvedos. This will influence the choice of grape varieties planted; according to Alexandre Mariz (the viticulturist in charge of Malvedos) these are likely to be Touriga Nacional on the east / southeast facing terraces and Touriga Franca on the south facing terraces (as a late ripening variety the Franca handles the extra heat well). Virtually the only other established east facing vineyard at Malvedos is the ‘Port Arthur’ traditional stone terraced vineyard whose grapes contributed to the outstanding Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port. It is hoped that the vines planted on this newly laid out vineyard will one day deliver grapes of similar quality.

The Douro has the largest area of mountain vineyard in the world and over the last couple of decades in particular, advanced techniques have been developed to best address the challenges posed in laying out vineyards in such intractable terrain. Laser technology is employed to ensure that the earth-banked terraces are constructed with the required slight inward and longitudinal cant (3%), which has a twofold purpose: water retention and combating erosion. This double cant of the terraces helps retain sufficient water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the soil whilst simultaneously allowing excess rainwater to drain off gradually without washing away the valuable topsoil or causing erosion, which — if left unchecked — can provoke the collapse of the terraces themselves. It’s very much about striking the right balance between the volumes of water one wants to retain and allow to drain away.

New Terraces Malvedos July 2014

The only other activity at Malvedos at this quiet stage of the year (from a viticultural perspective) is the ongoing rebuilding of sections of the old stone terraces at the main entrance to the property. As commented in previous reports, this undertaking has taken much longer than originally envisaged. In hindsight, this was to be expected because unlike the construction of patamares, the socalcos (stone terraces) have to be rebuilt in very much the same way they were originally built two centuries ago, i.e. entirely by hand. Furthermore, experienced stonemasons aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but fortunately for the preservation of the Douro landscape there is still a school in the region which continues to teach this age-old skill.

Weather wise, July has been an unusual month at Malvedos inasmuch as the rainfall for the first three weeks (18mm) was almost double the monthly average for the Quinta which is 10mm (July is the driest month of the year in the Upper Douro). Fortunately this part of the Douro Valley was spared the sudden deluge which hit some areas on July 3rd: 80mm fell in just one hour in parts of the Pinhão Valley and 26mm in the village of Pinhão; both locations just 8km downriver from Malvedos (where 5mm was recorded over the same period). This rainfall has proven a boon for Malvedos as the previous four months had registered well below average rain and there are no signs of hydric stress in the vines. August can be — and usually is — a make or break month for the grapes’ final ripening stage but Alexandre and the caretaker, Sr. Arlindo, feel this extra water in the soil (coupled with relatively cooler temperatures throughout the month, thus far) has provided the vines with good conditions to stay the course.

This time last year, Véraison (known locally as pintor) at Malvedos was running about a week late. This year and in step with the generally precocious 2013 – 2014 viticultural cycle, the pintor gave its first signs 10 days earlier than average at Malvedos and most of the grapes on the vines have now changed colour. The berries look very healthy with good even ripening of the grape bunches boding well for the next few weeks.

Malvedos Véraison "pintor" July 2014 Photos: Filipe Potes

 

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.