Another gloriously sunny day, warm but not quite as hot as yesterday, a good breeze helped to keep things a little more comfortable than yesterday.
Quinta de la Rosa
Had the tour of the wine making process at Quinta de la Rosa, beginning at the stone lagares (imagine wading pools) where the grapes are trodden (after sorting and de-stalking). These are also fitted with a mechanism for doing the remontage – imagine a steel bar across the width of the lagares on tracks so it can be drawn and positioned over either of three lagares. The bar is rigged to draw up the wine into the bar and spray it back down over the cap, forcing the cap back down a bit to extract more colour and tannins. After the wine has fermented partially (leaving a lot of natural sugars), the aguardente (a grape brandy of 70% alcohol) is blended with the must in the lagar to arrest the fermentation – hence the combination of high sugar content but also high alcohol levels of ports. Then the whole lot is tranferred to stainless steel tanks for final pressing, and then the wine is run off into a variety of oak barrels called pipas (barrels of typically 550 litres, used for tawnies and potential vintage ports) and balseiros (immense standing barrels to hold 40,000 to 100,000 litres – used for rubies, typically) in the armazem (cave or store room) downstairs.
Two things about Quinta de la Rosa – one is, as an independent quinta, they age all their ports in the Douro, at the quinta – no tankers trucking it all down to Gaia in the spring after harvest like Taylor’s et al. Thinking about our access to the lagares and then going down a ladder into the armazem, it must be built into the hill on three sides, if not totally underground – so cooler conditions than many who age wines in the Douro above ground. Second, perched in between the immense pipes were a half dozen smaller casks. You may have bought a case of name brand port to put down for your child or godchild the year it’s born – the Berqvists MAKE a designated lot of port with the name and birth year of the grandchild painted in beautiful calligraphy on the cask end, which will rest in the armazem till time to bottle. How wonderful.
Another type of container for aging the port are balões – there were none at Quinta de la Rosa but I spotted a nice pair as I was walking through Pinhão:
After the tour of the wine making process, I had another wander round some vinyards – this time the ones nearest the house, Vale Grande, for starters. The pruning and training of the vines is exquisite:
At first glance it looks as if one vine is trained all along the lower wire. In fact, from each vine trunk one cane is bent to the right and tied down along the lower wire – and the cane is cut just abutting the next vine. From these canes, pairs of shoots are trained up between the upper wires in overlapping V formations.
Here is a more detailed shot:
And, of course… my trip would not be complete without…
The cutest little tractors you ever did see. I mean tiny – that one with the little red wagon behind it would fit inside the cab of a french tractor. These things are necessarily miniature here, as they are designed to work in between rows of vines, and keep a low centre of gravity, which is much safer on these steep hills than the very high vine-straddling french models. The tractors are used for ploughing and spraying only, all pruning and harvesting are done by hand – and that is true throughout the Douro. The landscape just doesn’t permit any alternative.
To the left is a miniature bulldozer – for sculpting and maintaining the taludes (the angled banks between vine plateaus) and doubtless access roads too. Yesterday I was thinking that vinyard maintenance here is a sort of triathlon – not only are there the actual vines to maintain all year round, but the landscaping and road and drainage works must also need year round attention.
I went for a walk into Pinhão, then across the bridge and along the south shore of the river, opposite Quinta de la Rosa. From the bridge I got a good photo of the area where I was walking yesterday:
In the centre you can just about see two white buildings – the one on the right says Cálem – another port shipper (see Turista entry from July). The Cálem family used to own Quinta de Foz, which basically is that hillside vinyard. On top of the middle shoulder of hill above those buildings you might just barely be able to make out another house against the trees behind – Casa Vedeal – which is part of Quinta de Foz. Yesterday I walked up past the two small white buildings and then zig zagged up that hill along the patamares, walking back and forth from south-facing to east- to north-facing sides (the right-hand folds of hill in this picture) all the way up to Casa Vedeal. And back down again. The very first picture posted on yesterday’s blog was taken from most of the way up that hill, looking south to the opposite bank of the river.
When I got to the south bank myself this afternoon, I had a marvellous view of Quinta de la Rosa:
Above the two long red roofs you see the line of six windows with black shutters – that’s the guest house – my room was the third window (actually french door) from the right. To the left of the roofs are two small houses that are let to larger groups. Under the roofs are the lagares and presses, and below them are the cellars where the wines are stored, which extend under the two guest houses as well.
The family’s own house is a bit further downriver, to the left of the buildings above:
The beautifully trained vines described above are from the patamares just below the house. If I am understanding the information sheet in my room correctly, that vineyard above the house, tucked into the fold of the hill, is the Vale do Inferno, and was planted by the great grandfather of the present generation owner before the First World War.
Still further down river are some wonderful and very steep socalcos:
Looking at the hills all day, and at the photos again this evening, I keep thinking of the challenges of managing the harvest from the different microclimates. Because of the height of the hills, you get very different conditions from top to bottom, due to sheer altitude (up to 450 metres at Q de la R). Then there’s the fact a single row of vines can wrap around a hillside from south facing over the river (think about the mists rising from the river in the autumns, and the varying degrees of effect from bottom to top of the vinyards above) to east facing to north facing (differing degrees of sun all around the curve of the hill, effects of proximity to the facing hillsides). And then the fact that most vinyards are a mixture of grape varieties – so each vine reacting differently, according to the inherent qualities of the variety – greater susceptibility to heat, to damp, etc. etc. Look at the folds of hills and the shadows cast (hours of sunlight on any given vines), just in the photo above, or the first photo posted yesterday. Mind boggling.
Going back to the first photo of the quinta, the left most tall skinny pine marks the eastern end of a long, narrow slightly curved pool built into one of the patamares – where I had a lovely swim to cool off after all the walking, and then dozed in the sun on a long deck chair. Bliss.
Was up and out and walking to the train station this morning at 7:00 am – still deep blue night skies but only two planets showing and the crescent moon on its back above the hill opposite my window. As I walked, I could hear fish jumping in the river and a rooster crowing from somewhere above Pinhão.
Coming back in the train, paying closer attention to landscape – you can definitely see the change from the Cima Corgo to the Baixo Corgo – in the Cima Corgo around Pinhão it is visibly drier, rockier, and the plants besides vines and low scrub are really only olive and pine trees. Once past Covelinhas, the village that more or less marks the dividing line between the two, though you are still in hills, it all feels much more green, there is a lot more land that is simply forest – a mixture of deciduous and conifer. Much more fertile – the visible effects of the generally higher rainfall in that area. Fascinating. This photo taken Monday from the train when we first came down to the Douro, so Baixo Corgo – I think if you compare this to all the other photos of the area around Pinhão you can see what I mean.
As with my first visit to Burgundy, things I have read about and understood intellectually now made visible make so much more sense to me. It’s like connecting the dots – seeing all these things I’ve been told affect the flavour and quality of the wine, now I can really comprehend the connections. When I drink the wine now, I picture the landscape.
At the train station in Pinhão are wonderful azulejos – the tile panels painted with a variety of scenes, mostly to do with the harvest, and inside there is a little museum like display of photos and texts about the vinyards and history of the region. I copied down this wonderful quote – Miguel Torga is the nom de plume for a 20th century portuguese writer of poetry, short stories and a diary. He died in 1995, no date was indicated on the placard with this quote. I think this is wonderfully apt.
Pinhão, September 25th. Impossible to imagine a more beautiful thing in the world than the Valley of Pinhão when the first autumn colours visit the place. The people take a look from the top and seem not to be on earth anymore.
They lean forward over a precipice of colours and, deep down, see two rivers which still their thirst with one another. But there has never been dropped a line about this, no legend embedding such splendour, never ever a poet travelled through with his lyre.