Its September and up and down the length of Portugal the vineyards are a hive of activity. After months of weeding and pruning the culmination of all this care and attention is an explosion of frantic activity.
In wine making hygiene is paramount and in the adegas (wineries) the stone lagars, tanks, barrels and pipes are being thoroughly cleaned and sterlised. Out amongst the rows of laden vines oenologists anxiously pace up and down, inspecting, picking, squeezing grapes, testing for sugar, acidity, just waiting for the right moment to announce the ‘vindima’ or grape harvest.
Timing is everything – pick too soon and there is not enough sugar to turn to alcohol and pick too late and the wine can be lacking in that all-important acidity. After a wet spring followed by a long dry summer with very little rain there has been a drop in yields.
It’s a mixed picture as you move up the country. In the plains of Alentejo temperatures have been hitting the forties and Sonia at Quinta da Pinheiro reports their vindima is in full-swing but with lower yields while in the high lands of the Dão region to the north Luisa at Terras de Tavares describes how the heat in the last week (up to 35 degrees) triggered an early harvest to ensure that the all-important acidity in the Jaen grapes is not lost.
Further north in Douro valley Rui at Secret Spot wines has made a tentative start with small patches of old vines. Hugo at Pinalta wines advises that grape ripening is slow because of the high temperatures and lack of rain over the Summer. They are holding out for some rain before they start the harvest. Meanwhile further down the valley Francisco at Aneto wines has already harvested all his white grapes and is now starting to pick his red grapes. He notes that production is down due to the wet start to the season and the attacks of mildew.
Way up north in Minho, home of vinho verde wines, the vindima is yet to start. It usually takes place towards the end of September but runs the risk of the Autumn rains diluting the flavours or damaging the grapes. Richard Ashton near Ponte de Lima describes his grapes as very well advanced with high sugar levels but also confirms that spoilage following rains at flowering time has resulted in lower yields all over north of Portugal.