Quinta do Noval Harvest: Day 2
19th September 2006
Sunny and bright with temperatures rising to 30 degrees
Roncão Valley and Corucho
Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca
Looking south today from the splendid terrace of Quinta do Noval one can clearly see the mighty Douro river and the small ‘town' of Pinhão perhaps 2 kilometres distant. A tiny opaque stream the colour of raw umber lends this cluster of nondescript buildings their collective name. The Pinhão valley contains a large portion of Noval's 140 hectares under vine and the narrow ribbon of water at its base acts almost as the spine to a great and learned volume of vine covered pages. From this marvellous elevated vantage point one can trace the grey road below as it follows the stream to its confluence with the parent river and every now and then another heavy load of Touriga Nacional grapes wends its way south, ultimately, no doubt destined for yet another deep and brooding vintage Port.
The Beautiful Roncão Valley
Today we are visiting the Roncão valley due east of Quinta do Noval. Here there are many Noval hectares under vine, in this case the grape varieties are Tintas Roriz and Barroca. By mid morning the sun is beating down and as Rute Monteiro drives me to our first location I am able to admire the glorious scenery and handsomely rugged stone buildings which dot the hillsides. We are perhaps twenty minutes from the Quinta and decide to stop alongside the dusty road. A truck is parked hard against the earth and stone parapet adjacent to the steeply terraced vineyard. The sun is almost directly overhead and a team of pickers are hard at work in the vines below the road. Rute explains these are sub-contractors who work for Noval and supply much valued labour. They work at a fast pace, some of the ladies, though pleasantly round, appear agile and dextrous with their secateurs. Laughter abounds amid these ancient stone terraces, unfortunately known as ‘Mortuaries' - a reference to the original vines that perished from the terrible phylloxera plague in the 19th century.
Ancient stone terraces known as 'mortuaries'The authenticity and warmth of the workers makes one feel entirely at home, though some are undoubtedly shy, their reticence soon fades and we are all laughing together. This all too brief and spontaneous experience is rounded off when one of the men pulls a large wicker covered wine bottle from the truck, extricates its cork and in an attempt to consume at least part of the contents deposits a dappled deep crimson pattern across his shirt. Though I have enjoyed many encounters with vendangeurs from Spain and France including the hard working Gypsies, once so popular at harvest time in Bordeaux, this particular day will stand out as something quite special.
Grape picking in the heat of the day
We travel further down the Roncao valley and find ourselves standing high above the magnificent Douro river gazing towards Quinta da Romaneira, it is very bright and visibility is far from perfect, the atmosphere feels almost as if the air is filled with dust particles.
As the picking of the Tinta Barroca continues we witness various river craft travelling up and down stream, one wooden boat with a dark green canvas awning momentarily catches my eye and as it steadily makes its way upriver this sleek and rather elegant craft seems to symbolize the slower pace of life found in this magical corner of Portugal.
Heavy back breaking workOccasionally a very steady diesel train appears and moves slowly along the railway line that hugs the riverbank. There are many small stations along the track and certain Quintas have their own halts, making it perfectly possible to travel up the Douro by train from Oporto stopping at many obscure locations.
The picking progresses under a cloudless sky, by 4 pm the truck is fully laden and ready to return to its Noval base. It has been a good day in every sense and a further 16,000 kilos of Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz contribute to the steady flow of grapes entering the Lagares at Noval.
Busy with the secateurs
A lesson in terroir from Antonio Agrellos
Gnarled Nacional vinesThe ancient terroir of the Douro valley is unique: Antonio Agrellos the exceptionally talented wine maker at Noval explains to me in his softly spoken manner just why the vines planted across this untamed valley are able to survive and prosper in a climate which at best might be described as inhospitable. Extremes of temperature play havoc with the equilibrium of any vineyard, in the Douro, the hardy vines which include Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz amongst their number, have their roots safely implanted many metres beneath the sun-baked terraces.
Scanning across this unforgiving landscape of splintered stone one wonders how on earth such vines might penetrate more than a foot or two beneath the scorched and dusty surface. The answer lies in a quirk of nature: the Douro valley is composed of a fragile pre-Cambrian stone schist - ordinarily this type of terroir would prove impenetrable to a mere vine root, but here we have a geological phenomenon - the schist has been ‘upended', rather than the rocky strata running horizontally, the whole Douro valley forms a perpendicular filling between a sandwich of hard Granite and blue-black slate. Instead of obdurately resisting the probing tentacles of the gnarled vines, the near vertical schist encouragingly channels them tens of metres down to where the temperature remains constant and moisture steadily feeds their growth.
The Touriga Nacional grape:
Upon my return to Quinta do Noval a charming Norwegian camera crew have arrived, they are planning to film the harvest at Noval tomorrow for a home-based television programme. They could not believe their luck in finding Michael Broadbent as a fellow guest, nor could they have anticipated the excellent sense of humour his wife Daphne might exhibit. Dinner was hugely enjoyable with a superb variety of noble wines accompanying the home-grown produce that is de rigeur at Noval. Subsequently, we all retired to the Quinta's drawing room for coffee. One member of the team, a Swede named Christer Berens who lives in Norway (and hosts his own wine and food radio show), is quite a tall fellow and though not particularly overweight he does carry a considerable bulk on his 6 feet 4 inch frame. Whatever his exact proportions it now seems clear that very large visitors are not particularly commonplace at the Quinta. Michael and Daphne were already seated around the small table as were the other two members of the Norwegian triumvirate...
The charming and witty Norwegian film crew (Christer Berens is on the right)Christer drew up his antique (and no doubt priceless) Noval chair and without so much as a backward glance lowered his large torso onto the plushly upholstered seat. Under normal circumstances when posterior meets sprung cushion a satisfying accommodation is reached, in Christer's case he had clearly failed to read the instruction manual. Rather like a pile driver on a pancake his downward momentum made short work of the upholstery. Suffice to say he ended up wearing the chair frame around his bottom which by now was making intimate contact with the floorboards beneath. For the remainder of this jovial evening, Daphne Broadbent took every opportunity to gently remind Christer of his rapid and untimely descent... accompanied by fits of laughter from us all. Tomorrow I will continue my intensive Port wine education and the Noval Harvest report will carry an explanation of just what the mysterious chanting sound was emitting from the Noval Lagare late in the evening.