New Douro Tasting

In London to present the 2007 red wines of Quinta do Noval at the New Douro tasting at the Tate Modern. I managed to escape from behind my table from time to time and so taste all the wines there: this sort of opportunity arises rarely in the region of production, so I try to make the most of it when I can. There were some very exciting wines on show: 2007 was a lovely year in the Douro, both for Vintage Ports and for the unfortified wines.

Paul Symington gave a presentation to the assembled visitors about the Douro region, the theme of which was that it is quite possible, though unusual, for a great vineyard region to be able to produce two different world class wines: Vintage Port and now unfortified Douro wines. To re-enforce the message, we showed the 07 Vintage Ports after the red and white wine tasting.

I find the emergence of the new Douro wines, both red and white, an immensely exciting phenomenon. I have now spent nearly sixteen years working in the Douro, at Quinta do Noval, and also more recently at Romaneira, and I lost my heart to the region a long time ago. To see red wines being produced that express the Douro terroir, as Vintage Port has done for a very long time, is a huge pleasure. More than anything, these new wines have given the Douro a new vitality and dynamism, as they make it possible for small winegrowers to establish themselves independently, something that is very difficult to do with Port wine.

The result has been the emergence of a new generation of Douro winemakers, establishing their reputations on the world stage with wines produced under their name or that of their quintas, and this can only be positive for the region, and of course for wine lovers everywhere. Although I cannot claim to be very small or very young, we would probably not have acquired Romaneira for example, had the project only been to produce Port wine: one of the principal attractions of the Romaneira vineyard is its potential for the production of Douro red and white wines. At Noval, we are certainly not giving up the day job, and the production of great port wines is and will remain our principal reason for existing, the red wines of Quinta do Noval, and the Cedro do Noval play an increasingly important role in the life of the Quinta. So in general: exciting times in the Douro Valley.

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Harvest at Pichon

Harvesters in front of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron

2009 harvest of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the plateau at the heart of the Pichon Baron vineyard

These pictures show the harvest of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the plateau at the heart of the Pichon Baron vineyard. Very old vines on deep beds of gravel give Cabernet of wonderful finesse and purity. With the very low yields that we practise here, and the precision of the work that takes places in the vineyard, beautiful wine is made from these vines every year, but some years are more special than others, and it looks as though 2009 will be one of those. Summer was hot and dry, and by the beginning of September we were beginning to be just a little worried: was there enough water in the soil for the vines to continue to do their all important work in the last few weeks to bring the Cabernets to full maturity? And then we had a weekend of rain, that put everything right. Slowly and steadily over the past few weeks the Cabernets have been ripening before our eyes. We knew that the Merlots were spectacular, but to make it a great vintage the Cabernets had to come round. And they did. You will see the results in the 2009 wines, which I think will be among the greatest of Pichons.

Grapes being harvested on the Cabernet plateau with the towers of Pichon in the background

 Grapes being harvested on the Cabernet plateau with the towers of Pichon in the background

Here you see the grapes being harvested on the Cabernet plateau with the towers of Pichon in the background. Watch this space: the 2009s will be something special.

2009 harvest at Pichon

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To Suduiraut for the first day of the Sauternes harvest

We have already been through the vineyard for a first trie of unbotrytised grapes to make the S de Suduiraut, but today was the first day of the main event, the picking of the botrytised grapes.

First day of the 2009 harvest at Château Suduiraut

Here is a picture of the first bac full of partially botrytised grapes, with, if you look carefully, the chateau of Suduiraut in the background. We have one of the finest potential harvests on the vine that I have ever seen, with wonderful ripe grapes, beginning to turn golden brown, just ready for the arrival of the botrytis. These first days we go through the vineyard to pick the bunches where botrytis has arrived early, but we are still waiting for the main event, the full blown arrival of Botrytis Cinerea, provoked by misty autumn mornings followed by clear cool sunny days, ideally with a good wind in the afternoon to dry things out! A lot of things need to go right in Sauternes to make a great year, but so far 09 is shaping up just fine.

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Romaneira visit to check up on our white wine grapes

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.

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

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

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