I was in the Douro recently for a magical five days. I don’t often get the opportunity to spend so long there, so it was a real pleasure to have several reasons for being there.
First we had the team of Domaine de l’Arlot, whom I had invited to spend a couple of days at Quinta do Noval for their annual outing.
For all of them it was a discovery of the Douro Valley, and for most a discovery of how wonderful great Port wine can be.
It is true that most people in France know only Port in its most basic guise as cheap Tawny sold in large supermarkets, and the first taste of a great Colheita or a mature Vintage Port can be something of a revelation.
We also had some fascinating tastings with them of our recent Douro red wines, and I much appreciated their Burgundian insights on what we are doing here with the great terroirs of Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira with red wines made from the noble Port varieties.
For Burgundians the notion of a sense of place is primordial, and they quickly seized the clear distinction in style between the red wines we make at Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira, confirmation if any were needed that terroir is every bit as important in the Douro Valley as it is in Burgundy.
I have to confess that our researches into the pleasures of old Tawny Ports went on rather late into the night on Friday, so felt that an early morning run was in order to clear the head on Saturday.
This is the view from the promontory of Roncão, which is a few kilometers from the Quinta do Noval, but where we grow vines that produce Vintage quality Ports.
Looking East from this wonderful spot you see the sun rising over the Douro River and over Quinta da Romaneira, which is more or less all the hillside that you see on the left hand side of the river.
It was an exhilarating moment, not the first time I have seen this life enhancing phenomenon: for many years I would see the vineyard of Quinta da Romaneira early in the morning in this way and dream about what might be achieved with this extraordinary vineyard. Now we are realizing that dream.
Those of you who like Tawny Port and also like to run it off in the morning will understand that after a few kilometers up and down in the Douro I was beginning to feel a little thirsty. The prospect of a few more kilometers to get back to Quinta do Noval with no relief was a bit daunting.
Luckily as I came round the corner I saw this marvelous sight.
Almost exactly at the half way stage, a restoring orange tree, as if by design. It was a rather special moment. So I picked a couple and ate them, and then ran back to join the Burgundians for breakfast at Quinta do Noval.
I took this short video clip also.
If you have trouble watching this video, view the web version here
The next day I was visited by Joe Wadsack and Chris Orr at Quinta do Noval, and we had a great day visiting the Quinta on foot and a certain amount of enthusiastic tasting of Quinta do Noval’s range of Douro reds and a Port wine or two.
On Monday morning the Berry Brothers team came for a tasting and we watched Sr José João Lopes working the traditional terraces of vines below the terrace and cedar tree of the Quinta with Bonito the mule. In common with the Nacional parcel on the other side of the Quinta, this is a small part of the vineyard which we have not modernized or mechanized.
Almost all the other old terraced vineyards of Quinta do Noval have been replanted with noble Douro varieties in such a way as to keep the walled terraces but also to render them mechanisable, which greatly reduces the backbreaking work that manual maintenance of these vineyards requires.
But just here we decided to keep a little bit of the past, to show how it was, and as you see, we work it in a very traditional way. It is true that the photograph is like something out of a previous century, but nothing wrong with that: Quinta do Noval was making great wines in previous centuries with such methods.