If you follow the port trade, through forums, tastings, and press, you are probably well aware of Quevedo. A family winery with properties in both the Cima Corgo and Douro Superior, they had nearly a century’s experience of producing wine, but only in the early 90’s did they decide to bottle and market their wines themselves. Now, with the charismatic, knowledgeable and enthusiastic Oscar in charge of the marketing, the wines have received a lot of well-deserved attention. His avowed goal is to bring port to a younger generation, and to that end he is doing some very innovative things: his blog is a very candid, warts (or more accurately, fungus) and all tale of winemaking which was nominated for Best Winery Blog at the 2010 Wine Blog Awards, he teamed up with Catavino to do a live broadcast of the 2009 harvest, and he made a special offer through the blog of a first, free sample of a new harvest table wine with a confirmed purchase of wines through a designated retailer.
A friend and I visited Oscar recently, and despite 46° C (115° F) heat we thoroughly enjoyed the visit, though by the time we reached the winery, we were grateful for the coolth…
We visited one vineyard, Quinta Vale d’Agodinho, which rises 200 metres up from the river near Ferradosa, in the Douro Superior. It is an incredibly vertical vineyard – as witness these photos – one looking down (the vineyard just drops out of sight from our feet, roughly 100 or 125 metres down to the river) and looking up (I’m hearing strains of “climb every mountain…”).
As we walked and examined grapes and vines, Oscar told us about the challenges of the season – the heavy rainfalls of the winter meant the vines had enough water to go a bit mad growing this year, requiring a lot of pruning to focus the vines’ attention on maturing grapes, not producing more foliage; three heavy rainstorms in June brought oidium trouble which took its toll; and now the excruciating heat – we were in the second week of it – was not helping. He’s praying for rain – but only just enough – before harvest. While his other vineyards are doing well, this particular vineyard looks as if it will yield half or less of its usual production.
When we relish the wines that Quevedo and all these producers make for us, and when we are annoyed if we can’t get any more of our favourites – we would do well to remember wine is a product of farming, not manufacturing. Which means, fundamentally, remember that the producer is at the mercy of the gods, or whatever name you assign to the whims of nature. It is incredibly hard work to try to make the best product possible against odds which are different every season, where there is no certainty that the steps you take to address the situation so far will prove to have been the wisest as the season progresses and the situation changes radically. I have spoken with other wine makers who have lost a substantial percentage of their grapes to disease, or have lost entire crops to hail, some very late in the season when they thought they were safe, and I’ve known winemakers who lost almost finished wines to bacterial infections in casks. Tending a vineyard and making wine can be as heartbreaking as it can be rewarding. Please think about that, and when you ponder the flavours of red fruits or spice in your next glass, think also about what the flavour of that wine tells you about skill, judgment, and sheer hard work.
Oscar was doing his maturity studies that day – you can read his assessment of the state of his vineyards and harvest outlook here: Quevedo First Maturity Studies
From the vineyard we went on to the winery which is set in another vineyard, Quinta Senhora da Rósario, at 650 metres altitude (and about 3 degrees Celcius cooler), near São João de Pesqueira, which is south of the river about 4 or 5 km.
We tasted many of his wines in progress – I’m not going to get into tasting notes, per se, though the wines were wonderful. What fascinated me on this tour was more the discussion of the management of the production – the juggling of wines between balseiros and pipas, the variations in development of wines, and the decisions about what to do with the different lotes of wine.
For example, he gave us two wines to taste blind. Wine A tasted younger than Wine B – it was not yet so concentrated or complex. In fact A was the older wine, harvested from a rather wet season, whereas B had had “better” weather conditions. But Oscar felt A was going to develop further with time in cask, whereas he felt B might not have much more to give, anything more still to develop.
We tasted a wine which has already been bottled and sold as an LBV, but more of that lot was still at the winery, maturing further for possible release as a colheita in another 3 to 5 years, interestingly still in balseiros to preserve the fruit style. Or another wine which has already had one release as a colheita, but more remains in balseiros for further use. What struck me throughout – digressing to tasting notes a moment – was the preservation of fruit character even in wines already 10 to 15 years old, and the consistent structure of the wines. Fascinated that two wines with the same baumé (measure of sweetness) could make very different impressions, the one with slightly higher acidity seeming significantly drier, though technically it was not.
We also tasted a couple experimental wines – last autumn Oscar made some single-varietal ports just to see what they would be like. We tasted the pure Sousão, which he described as all about structure, acidity and tannin, and warned that it tends to have not terribly attractive tasting notes early in life. Other sources I’ve consulted tend to denigrate the grape as pure acid, allude to its use in the Minho (in a tone suggesting that’s not a compliment), or not deign to mention it at all. Perhaps this is a reflection on me (uh-oh…) but I rather liked it. Very dark, yes very acidic and structured, more structure than flavour, but I felt it had some balsamic flavours, which I find appealing, and my friend suggested spiced pear, possibly pine resin. We also tasted the Tinta Roriz which was already balanced between structure and fruit – I have notes of cherry, red fruit, less assertive structural qualities, the wine was complete, but not grown up yet – very much a toddler. Oscar wrote a fun early assessment of their qualities, see his his blog entry about Single Varietals.
And finally, we tasted some red table wine, still maturing in cask. Whereas most winemakers define their wines by the blend of grapes, this wine is defined by the blend of locations: 40% from near the river, and 60% from a specific band of altitude above the river – in this way they manage the balance of tannins (lower altitude) and fresh fruit (higher grapes) in the wine. It never ceases to amaze me how winemakers know their microclimates (in Quevedo’s case, 100 ha of them) and exactly what each will produce, and are then able to translate that into flavour terms for the making and blending of the wines.
As always, very grateful for the hospitality and generosity of a busy winemaker and in Oscar’s case, marketing man as well…
Do visit Quevedo’s site, and contact Oscar about the availability of his wines in your area.