Quinta do Noval Harvest: Day 6
25th September 2006
Bright sunshine with scattered cumulus, temperatures rising to 27 degrees
Vale Tanque, Carvalheira, Corucho, Quinta da Foz and Quinta da Passegueiro
Tinta Rorica, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca
A glorious golden light permeates the ethereal fog
Monday dawns bright but misty: as a brilliant sun rises over the arched back of Corucho, a fresh blue-grey canvas absorbs the radiating light and the resultant warmth dissolves a hanging veil of cloud across the terraces. Soon, the hills on the western side of the Pinhao valley are illuminated and a glorious golden light permeates the ethereal fog. This subtle early morning light viewed from the cobbled yard of the Quinta is magical and reveals a range of nuanced tones impossible to capture with palette or lens. Never repetitive, the Douro's repertoire of morning effects is seemingly limitless and continually inspires the human spirit.
Morning sun catches the rooftops of Quinta do NovalThe day ahead promises to be full of activity: the busy weekend saw distinguished journalists from La Revue de Vin de France visit Noval and Aymeric de Gironde arrive in the Douro for the very first time. He is the new and vital commercial director for AXA Millesimes and his introduction to life at the Quinta was rapid and intense. On the Noval terrace, after a tour of the estate with Christian Seely, he took part in a candle-lit blind tasting of nearly two dozen wines ... all before dinner. The harvest continues across a large part of the estate and no less than five parcels are being picked this morning, it looks as if the Lagares will be busy well into the night.
Moving on upMany of the vindimadores will be scattered across the terraces immediately in front and below the Quinta. Soon the collection truck arrives, José Eduardo, the man in charge of the teams is animatedly speaking on his mobile phone. Minutes later the workers arrive by camion and out they pour like ants dispersing among the rows of vines. Boxes have been distributed and now the task of carrying each load back to a truck parked on the top terrace of Noval begins.
Antonio Agrellos the outstanding winemaker at Noval
The vindimadores are in full cry and the men carrying the boxes up the steep incline are stretched to keep up with the rapid picking. The sun is now high in the sky and after leaving the vines my first port of call is with Antonio Agrellos the Noval wine maker, in the laboratory like atmosphere of the tasting rooms. This is where the juice from each parcel is evaluated and first indications of how good the 2006 vintage might be are assessed. Antonio is optimistic and seems very pleased with the way Noval's harvest is progressing. The weather has been fairly steady and though there was a short spell of extreme heat in August things have settled down and it looks as though this vindima will draw to a very satisfactory close by the second week in October.
The terraces of Vale Tanque
After a superb and happy harvester's lunch in good company I return to the vineyards: much of the front terraces of Vale Tanque have now been cleared and all work in the vineyard will finish a little after 4pm, though this is far from the end of Noval's day. The grapes are pouring into the Lagares and by 5pm nearly 25,000 kilos have been harvested. This proves to be the busiest day since I arrived at Noval a week ago.
The last load before lunch
Old and young are busy in the vines
Picking in the heat of the day
I return to the Quinta and discover preparations are well underway for a very special tasting. An impressive array of vintage Port wines have been assembled on one of two large tables in the Quinta's tasting room. This is the room where many visiting professionals are received: it is adjacent to the private chapel and shares a connecting door with the vat room and chais.
This amazing vertical tasting comprises every Noval vintage (Quinta do Noval and Nacional) from the 1987 to 2004 and will be conducted by Christian Seely and Antonio Agrellos. It is an extraordinary opportunity to directly compare some of the greatest Port wines of the last two decades, several of which achieved superlative scores of 100 points from both Robert Parker and the Winespectator.
'Waiting to be opened' - a twenty year vertical of Noval and Nacional
The contrast between the 87 and 94 is marked...
First remove 23 corks
...detailed tasting notes are made
When this tasting begins the atmosphere feels special: though each of the tasters is serious about the task of assessing these fine Ports, all retain a relaxed sense of humour. Antonio and Christian are ultimately responsible for what goes into each and every bottle of Noval vintage Port and it is an enormous privilege to be present and participate on such rarefied occasions. The four tasters scribble copious notes and as this exercise is repeated time and again over the coming years, the evolution of each great bottle will gradually be charted and the knowledge gleaned hopefully improve future vintages. By adopting this fastidious approach Christian and Antonio add to the accumulation of thoughts and ideas which ultimately keep Quinta do Noval and Nacional at the top of the great Port wine pyramid.
I am in the presence of the winemakers and their wines: this is why being at Noval is a precious experience. To be part of this world, albeit for a short and transitory period makes an enormous difference to the breadth and depth of one's own fine wine appreciation. To taste differing vintages over and over again from a single monumental Port estate, familiarizes and increases one's reverence for truly great wine making. The complexity of these legendary Port wines continues to astound and when variations within any given year are identified, the conversation is animated and notes are compared. All palates vary enormously and it is endlessly fascinating when consensus is achieved on any given vintage.
This wonderful day has drawn to a close: the sun has disappeared beneath the horizon; as it did so, the reflected light cast across the ridged flanks of Corucho metamorphosed from golden-green tones to the colour of a pale Tawny Port. A fitting conclusion to such a magical day of good conversation, shared passions and a unified desire to pay homage to the fruits of so much hard work. Tonight I will continue my intensive Port wine education and tomorrow will sadly bring my final full day at Quinta do Noval.
Fittingly, Corucho turns the colour of a pale Tawny Port