Tedo in the Vineyard

Visiting the quinta and taking in the beautiful view of the Tedo river, you may have noticed a horse grazing down by the river, undoubtedly moving his tail back and forth to keep the flies at bay, content and  oblivious to everything else except for the next mouthful.  That is our 18+ year old horse, Tedo.  Not only is he one of our loved animals here, he is an integral part of the biological viticulture practiced here at Quinta do Tedo, all linked to sustainable agriculture.  What is that all about, you may ask yourself, as I have asked myself many a time....? Let me back up 50+ years if I may, when in the shift to maximize agricultural production for the growing population and to develope big business, some not-so-friendly practices inevitably resulted: depletion of topsoil and groundwater contamination, the plight of the individual farmer unable to compete with agro-business, the exploitation of the worker in the field....a general disconnect on so many levels.  Advance 50+ years and we are all more aware of the land, and we want to leave the world a better place for future generations (ie our children), and to somehow slow down global warming and the list goes on as we make concerted efforts to become stewards of the land.   Sustainable agriculture is one answer to improving our planet and  integrates three main goals-environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity.   Thank goodness!

We proudly practice sustainable agriculture here at Quinta do Tedo, and are in the  3rd year of a 4-year process to convert from conventional viticulture to biological viticulture.  Biological viticulture is the application of sustainable agriculture in the vineyard, and principle goal is to find equilibrium between viticulture and the environment.  How significant are the differences between conventional and biological viticulture?  Whereas in conventional viticulture +/- 200 products can be used in the vineyard with many preventive treatments to result in a large crop, in biological viticulture we use only 5 to 6 products, (believe me, we have never used even a fraction of the 200 products when we did practice conventional viticulture!), we spray only on demand and our crop is 35% less than in conventional viticulture.  We don't use any type of herbacide, and the weeds (a positive term here, not a despised growth as in one's flower garden) must grow and are cut back after 3 to 4 weeks, because we need the roots for moisture and for erosion control.   We only use certified non-genetically modified grape vines, each time we replant a grape vine that is too old (our oldest vines are around 75 years old!).   We have 26 different grape varieties planted in our 13 hectares/29 acres of vineyard, partly out of tradition, but also in keeping withTedo in his chalet biodiversity.

So, where does our beloved Tedo fit into the biological viticulture picture that we boast?   Simply put, Tedo eats the weeds, and in his manure are the weeds' seeds that reseed in the vineyards, that nurture the soil, that result in healthy grape vines and reduced soil erosion.  Instead of 5 to 6 types of weeds in conventional viticulture we have 40+ different types of weeds, that Tedo helps us to proliferate, simply by munching so contentedly day in and day out.  Some of the weeds of the leguminosae (pea) family, via symbiosis, incorporate atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, further enhancing soil quality and reducing erosion. Since Quinta do Tedo is dry farmed (no irrigation here) and not mechanized (too steep are the terraces and also out of philosophy) Tedo also pulls the plow in the winter months, when we apply organic-based fertilizer.

Not so bad of a life for a horse, eh?  Viva Tedo!

PS  Thanks Gretchen for the photo...

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Replanting the vines, one at a time

Visitors at Quinta do Tedo usually start a tour under the welcome shade of the beech trees, with an exquisite view of our vineyards by the Tedo river.  Some have asked why portions of the terraced vineyard in the distance look “spotty”, when compared to other portions that are “thriving”…..are these vines unhealthy?  Not at all the case and I would like to explain why.Tedo and vineyards Our established terraced vineyards are planted very closely together – 1.6 meters between rows, 1.6 meters trellised in height and 1.1 to 1.2 meters between each vine.  We do not want the vine’s vegetation to be vigorous and to overlap from one vine to the next.  We maximize the number of vines per hectare to create competition between the vines, to actually stress the vines to produce less but more concentrated juice (less is better!).  This high density plantation is more expensive to plant and to maintain because there are more vines, more rows of wire support, more labor for pruning, etc.  Since we do not use heavy machinery in our vineyards that would destroy the beautiful stone wall terraces (we have our faithful horse Tedo to do the plowing), we replant by hand, and even more, only the missing plant and not the whole row.

These “spotty” areas in this terraced vineyard in question are of vines that range from 40 to 60 years in age, with recently planted vines starting to establish, thus the “spottiness”.  We even have some 85-year old vines in our highly-acclaimed Savedra parcel, that produce grapes of intense and very concentrated flavor, only in very small quantities.  Our vineyards are a remarkable mix of 18 different varieties, that is the tradition in this part of the world.

No instant gratification here in our replanting process!  When the old vine is no longer bearing fruit and shows a lack of vigor, we pull out the vine and inspect the root (that are sometimes as much as 5 meters deep but we pull out only 1 meter), to understand the reason it stopped bearing fruit ---mold, virus or just age.  If there is mold or infection we add a calculated amount of organic-based disinfectant to the hole where the vine was.  We let the hole lay fallow for one winter, to let nature’s rain cleanse the hole, and then we replant with American root stock.  After 2 to 3 years, when the rootstock is established and vigorous we graft 1 of our quinta’s 18 varieties, selected by enologue Jorge Alves, onto the rootstock.   This way we control our traditional grape blend that is what makes our port and wines flavor constant from year to year.  We start to pick the grapes after 3 to 4 years.  Total turn around is 6 to 7 years, and that is patience for you!

By opting  for the “slow road” to replanting, we preserve the historic terraces and walls, and use minimal disinfectant only when needed to keep the resulting run off into our water table and into the Tedo as pure as possible, keeping in tune with biological viticulture.   We are looking for quality here not quantity, and actually we are legally limited by the Douro appellation to produce only 5500 liters/hectare or about 3 tons/acre.  So we can have these old vines, up to 85 years, to balance with the more vigorous young vines.  So, these “spotty-looking” vineyards are keeping with our philosophy here at Quinta do Tedo – less is better, take care of the land and respect tradition, to create beautifully crafted ports and wines.  As my husband Vincent has reminded me time and time again “Rome was not built in a day”…….

2 comments need to be added here referring to past blogs.  I thank once again Peggy, entrepreneurial owner of St. Helena Olive Oil Company, for nudging me to start a blog (and actually unbeknowngst to me setting it up for me).  Also, thanks to winemaker and buddy Francoise, for enlightening me that “biological viticulture” is synonomous with “organic”.

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