Romaneira visit to check up on our white wine grapes

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I was thrilled when we bought Romaneira to discover that we had nearly five hectares of white wine grapes planted on serious terroir. Mostly Malvasia Fina and Verdelho (or Gouveio as it is called in the Douro). This is actually quite unusual, as white grapes have not been taken very seriously in recent decades in the Douro, as their destination was white Port. But some of these varieties have fascinating personalities, with high natural acidities, and are capable of making very fresh and complex white wines even in the extreme heat of the Douro Valley. My wife Corinne, who is an oenologist specialised in white wines, has taken on the project of making white wine at Romaneira. Here she is checking out the Malvasia Fina in the vineyard, one week before harvest.

Corinne Seely is checking out the Malvasia Fina in the vineyard, one week before harvest

After the initial success of the Romaneira Verdelho and Vinho Branco blends we decided to plant out some hectares of Noval with white grapes, so Noval will be entering into competition with Romaneira soon as a serious Douro white wine producer.

White wine grapes arriving at the winery

And here, one week later we see the same grapes arriving at the winery. The most perfect white wine grapes we have seen here.

A visit to the vineyard of Noval with António Agrellos, technical director, and Jose Eduardo Costa, agricultural engineer

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Harvest is approaching, and although we take regular analyses from the various different parcels, this is a time of the year when a daily presence among the vines is necessary, to see how they are progressing, and most important, to taste the grapes. Analyses in the lab can tell you a lot of things, but they do not replace the winemaker’s feeling, derived from tasting the grapes in the vineyard. Noval is now 145 hectares under vine, so there is a lot to visit.

Checking out the grapes at Noval
António and Jose Eduardo checking out the grapes at Noval

This is in the Roncao parcel of the vineyard, which overlooks the Douro river. We tried experimenting here a few years ago with cabernet Sauvignon grapes, just to see what it might do for making unfortified Douro wines. I have a very open mind about trying varieties from elsewhere, but I do think it is vital that they adapt well to their new circumstances and fit in as Douro grapes. For example, Syrah works very well in the Douro, and takes more of a Douro personality than a strictly varietal Syrah character. Cabernet Sauvignon however, does not fit in at all, and remains stubbornly varietal, sticking out like a sore thumb in blind tastings. So we decided to graft our Cabernets last year with Touriga Franca, a beautiful Douro variety that makes great Port and red wine. This photo shows how successful grafting can be. This vine was grafted only last year and here it is, laden with Franca fruit.

Touriga Franca Fruits on a successfully grafted Cabernet vine-plant

You can see the bandage on the base of the vine where the grafting took place.

To return to Syrah, which I love in the Douro, so much so that we released this year our first pure Syrah Douro wine (2007) from Noval, which we called Labrador after António’s dog. Here is a picture of some Syrah, strategically placed to show that it really does grow beautifully beside the Douro river…

Syrah bunch on schistous patamare plantation, overlooking the Douro
Syrah bunch on schistous patamare plantation, overlooking the Douro