"Weather cycle normal" = 3 months of winter and 9 months of inferno!

Parcel Frente da Quinta with thriving Touriga Nacional,   Touriga Franca, Sousão vines. According to winemaker Jorge "weather cycle normal" so far for 2014, as I inquired about the 3 July rainfall of a whopping 4.3 cm/1.75 in when the average for July is 1.2 cm/½ in for the whole month.  Could this support the climatic changes in the Douro region, as in the rest of the world?  Perhaps the extreme rain on this one day, but so far precipitation and temperature are within 30-year average parameters.

Hard work to repair walls.

Filling in with smaller rocks for strengthening walls.

Our walls average 1 m deep x 2 m high.

All the same, there are walls to repair; impossible to hold the rain’s hammering intensity on 1 day.  Portuguese tradition says "the more you lose walls the more wine you will make", at least that is comforting.  Every year there are walls to repair, we have 4 km/2.4 miles total of traditional dry walls on our property of 14 hectares/34 acres, and this is a good time to repair.  The soil is dry and light and consequently easier to work.  The jugs of fresh diluted wine,  nestled in the soil, are always helpful to the workers.

2012 - before planting.

2014 = 2 years after planting.

The 3.22 hectares/8 acres of replanted vineyards are thriving after the 2012 planting.  Here are photos of  2012 and 2014.  As much as we wanted to maintain the old vines, they were just not producing – due to age and the more rock vs less soil in thèse terraced vineyards.

Tinta Franca - photo taken 20 July

Too early to predict 2014’s quality, the grapes are turning color and are healthy and following the normal ripening phase.  Vincent tells me that according to vigneron tradition "the hidden quality of the coming harvest is always better than the previous one" - is that a Burgundian saying?  Towards the end of August, when we sample on a daily basis for sugar content, is when we can confidently predict the quality of the approaching harvest.

All roads lead to Quinta do Tedo!

This marks the first year that I can spend more time at the quinta, instead of a month here and there. I am now an "empty nester", as my 3 children are off to their post-highschool studies. The Quinta, the Douro region and Portugal continue to captivate me.  Seems to captivate others as well, as evidenced by the visitors at the quinta, enjoying the dramatic beauty and traditions of the Douro and, of course, the quality port, Douro Doc wine and olive oil that Quinta do Tedo produces.

Vine survival at Quinta do Tedo

The definition of weather in the Douro valley is “3 months of winter and 9 months of hell” (!), to describe the short winters and the intense heat and drought the rest of the year. At Quinta do Tedo we dry farm* and, with annual rainfall being 50cm or 19.5in, the maximum amount of rain needs to be saved for the vine’s survival.  At Quinta do Tedo we achieve this, thanks largely to our schist soil and terraced vineyards supported by our beautiful stone walls. Our vineyards are classified “A”, Douro D.O.C. appellation’s most prestigious rating on a scale of A to F, equivalent to Grand Cru in Burgundy (my husband keeps me abreast of the similarities between Burgundy and the Douro!).  Schist soil is de rigueur for the best Port, and simply put is flaky decomposed slate.  Our vineyard’s 20-30cm/8-12” schist topsoil, with a smattering of rocks, blankets the deeper slate layers growing obliquely down to the earth’s center.  This powdery topsoil acts like a sponge during the short and intense winter rains, allowing the rain to slowly descend between the schist and slate layers to the water table.  The ancestors of Quinta do Tedo, to prevent erosion during the rainy season, used extracted schist rocks to build strong wide and high “dry” walls (no cement to reinforce).  These walls allow for the rainwater to gently seep down from one terrace to the next, replenishing a water table that plays such a vital role in the vine’s survival.

Vine at work

The vine’s roots grow deep down between the cracked slate to access the water table’s humidity.  Some of our older vines go down as far as 25m/80ft!  It is during the intense and long hot summer months that the water table comes to the vine’s rescue, and the humidity pushes upwards through the slate’s crevices, a respite to the vine’s thirst, explaining how our vineyards can possibly survive and even remain green in the Douro, without rain for months at a time and when sweltering temperatures over 40C/105F can be routine in the summer.

In the past 15 years many traditional stone walls have been torn down and replaced by “patamares”, the wall-less wide terraces put in by enormous earth- moving caterpillars, that were largely funded by the World Bank after Portugal’s entrance in 1986 to the EEC, in hopes to find a mechanized and cost-effective way to “tame” the challenging steepness of the Douro. No thought was given to the resulting erosion that is found today in many of these patamares vineyards.  At Quinta do Tedo we continue to rely on our 4 km/2.4 miles in total length of traditional stone walls, that need an upkeep of 300m/930ft in manual labor every year.  Oftentimes traditional ways survive for a reason and cannot be replaced by modern practices introduced by man’s hunger for fast return on investment.   Our vines know how to survive in the infernal conditions that Mother Nature can stow upon us, and thanks to her we have the ingredients to make world-class port and wine.

*Dry farm means no irrigation.  Vineyard irrigation is illegal in the Douro, as in other prestigious European appellations, except to establish new vines for the first 3 years.  At Quinta do Tedo we practice “emergency on-demand” manual watering, only during the hottest summer days for our young vines until  they are established.

PS Thanks Gretchen for the photo!

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