Douro valley; remote, hot, ridiculously dry, absolutely stunning and I was fortunate enough to go back to experience a second harvest there.
Vastly different to the peninsula, vines are mostly grown in steep terraces in an incredibly dry, dusty ground, making me very thankful I’m in the cellar not the vineyard! A slow start to the season meant I was still in time to see the first of the whites picked and learn the art of ‘patience’, not an easy task! But when a press can take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to turn over, I didn’t have much choice. After the first week, the reds started to trickle in so there were plenty of inoculations and pump-overs to keep the boredom away.
The cellar level of the wine industry is still very traditional and predominately male, so it took a day or two of pure kiwi stubbornness before it was accepted that I was more than capable of holding my own. Big mistake! This left me open to endless pump-overs, bâtonnage (lees stirring) not just on barrels (easy) but also big 10,000L tanks (ouch), operating basket presses and for my last two weeks physically digging out, using a plastic white shovel, on average 15tonne of reds a day. Fortunately while this particular cellar had three traditional lagar (large concrete open top fermenter, typical for port) the grapes were no longer trodden by foot. Instead a robot with mechanical ‘human’ feet was set up for the hours of gentle pigeage required. It may sound romantic to stomp the grapes but it’s actually incredibly hard work and I was more than happy to let a robot do it for me!
Thanks to the dry summer the first half of the season saw typically small berries highly concentrated in flavour; a freak thunderstorm midway saw a slight dilution in concentration. Overall the 2012 wines were looking quite fresh, aromatic and fairly concentrated, I look forward to returning in a couple of years to drink them.
After seven long hard weeks there was one final and well-earned week of port tasting/drinking before saying farewell.
- Written by Hannah File – Assistant Winemaker