Have you seen pictures of the steep terraces of the Douro valley? Very dramatic, yes?
The WSET textbooks I began studying in 2006 had snapshots of the Douro region, with the terraced vineyards, yet nothing compares to seeing this region on a gorgeous clear, warm fall day just after harvest.
My guide today is the lovely and energetic Ana Morgado, who works closely with Adrian Bridge, CEO of Taylor Fladgate. The adventure starts on a train from Porto to the Douro valley ….
Porto to Douro Adventure
… easily one of the most gorgeous scenery in the world, with the Douro river running right next to the tracts. You can see the vineyards on the impossibly steep slopes.
Arriving at the Pinao train station, the weather is warm and sunny. Ancient white-washed hotels and trees so old they need support make up the half-block of this “town.” One can’t help imagine that at key points throughout the last few centuries Pinao was an active area of trade.
Driving along the scenic winding roads one feels as if in a postcard, with the Douro river (or one of its tributaries) on one side and the terraced vineyards above. One particularly interesting vineyard is called “Hell’s Vineyard” because it is so steep.
We arrive at the Taylor Fladgate Yeatman winery called Quinta Cruzeiro and take in the incredible view of the vineyards. On the other side, a terraced vineyard is being bulldozed and replanted. It’s a powerful moment – 200 years ago (or more) people spent incredible energy building this structure by hand and now a machine they could never imagine is taking it down.
Key Points About The Vineyard
Vineyards have a variety of influences in this region. For example, the Douro has a few tributaries, and some of the best vineyards are located in this area. These smaller rivers help keep humidity in the area during the very hot summers, and also reflect light to the vines.
Quinta Cruzeiro supplies grapes for the Fonseca brand. It achieved the top classification status awarded to a Port vineyard in 1761. Most of the 47,000 vines are planted on the south and west facing side, and include Touriga Francesca and Tinta Roriz, which give good results in the full sun. You can also find Touriga Nacional and Tina Amerela. The northern terraces provide ideal conditions for Tina Barrocca which needs a cooler shaded environment.
Grapes are hand harvested, with workers putting the grapes in shallow plastic baskets with perforations. Each vineyard has its own winery, where the grapes are very gently crushed and co-fermented together in the lagares (treading tanks)
For example, Quinta Cruzeiro has five of these tanks. Each tank has a capacity of 10 pipes (about 5,500 litres). I always visualized a “pipe” in the literal way, until I saw that a “pipe” is simple an old wood barrel of 550 liters.
The first day, the grapes await the feet of the workers who will arrive around 8pm and begin to stomp on the grapes.It is hard work, as at this point the grape has little water and the stacks are attached. The goal is even distribution.
At 10 pm, the party starts (meaning music begins to play to give the workers energy), as the grapes have been mixed well, the juice is arriving, and it just needs two hours more work to get the right extraction.
Day 2 the manager inspects each of the lagares and assigns a number of “stompers” depending on how much more extraction is needed. After alcoholic fermentation, it is too dangerous (with CO2) to be in the tanks, so the workers use long wooden sticks to punch down the cap (skins).
On the third day, when fermentation reaches between eight and nine percent of alcohol, the must is drained by gravity into a sort of stainless steel fermentation vessel. Neutral grape spirit of 77 percent alcohol is introduced so that the “mix” is 4/5 must and 1/5 spirit. This mix is then pumped into the casks for maturation.
Visiting Quinta do Panascal
I visit another Taylor Fladgage Yeatman property, Quinta do Panascal. Visitors are welcome here , which was voted the “most romantic” winery by Decanter. You are able to take an educational audio tour in the vineyards that explains the grapes and the winemaking process.