You might be forgiven for thinking that wine makers spend the year kicking back watching their grapes ripen on the vine but in fact there is always work to be done. Winter pruning to control the number of buds for the next growing season, applying treatments for mildew in the wetter regions like the rain lashed Vinho Verde region, repairs to the steep terrace walls of the Douro valley, cutting back the foliage during the summer (canopy management) to control the vigour or to allow breezes to pass through and dry the vines after heavy rainfall.
Vines are incredibly vigorous and grow fast and far if not kept in check. This happens at the expense of the grapes. To get the vines to concentrate their energy on the fruit rather than growing the foliage the greenery needs to be cut back.
At this time of year the vines are flowering and this is followed by the appearance of the fruit (known as ‘fruit set’). However, in much of northern and central Portugal a wet Spring has left behind mildew, a fungus that rots the leaves.
Near Viseu in central Portugal João Tavares da Pina of Terras de Tavares described the heavy rains in the Dão region. The vines have now started to flower. At Secret Spot vineyards in the northern Douro the winter and early spring were also wet but finally the sun appeared causing an explosion of growth in the vineyard, and the appearance of mildew and weeds. Workers have been busy in the vineyards cutting back the canopy and foliage to remove excess leaves and vines allow the air in between to dry out the vines.
Down the hill, closer to the Douro river at the Pinalta vineyards Hugo Guimarães reports similar conditions in his vineyards, the heavy rain causing outbreaks of mildew which the vineyard workers are working to clear. The Pinalta vineyards cover a range of altitudes with the fruit just at pea size down by the river while higher up the vines are still at flowering or fruit set stage.
Over to the east, up against the Spanish border in the normally arid Douro Superior, Mateus Almeida of Xisto wines remarks that the last time it rained this much was in 1988. There they are treating the vines affected by mildew with eucaplytus oil as well as copper sulphate.
Despite the wet start to the growing season Gonçalo Lopes, viticulturalist at Secret Spot wines, was upbeat ‘We conclude that the soil has a lot of water, that is very important for a perfect growing season with a perfect maturation’.
It is quite a different story down in the south of Portugal on the gently rolling Alentejan plains. Sonia Sebo of Quinta Pinheira is basking in warm sunshine (36 degrees) and reports pea sized fruit and very few problems with mildew !