Quinta do Noval Harvest Diary
Arrival at Noval: Sunday 17th September 2006
Christian Seely had told me Noval was special: in some ways you get to know a man through the wine he drinks and having shared many great bottles in Bordeaux it was clear that Port wine had stolen a very warm piece of this Englishman's heart. When asked to make my first visit to Portugal's Douro valley, I somehow felt as if I had already watched the sun set from the terrace at Quinta do Noval...
So vivid were Christian's descriptions of big luminous skies, rugged terrain and a warm good natured race of people, that having traversed an arid Spain by car from my home in St Jean de Luz, I finally approached the Portuguese frontier with a knowing sense of deja vu. I had never before visited Portugal and passing through the countryside west of Braganca I was reminded of rolling Scottish lowlands. As I continued along the auto-route towards Vila Real the landscape metamorphosed into a splendid melange of faded pink and ochre punctuated by dense evergreen woodland and dry river beds unfolding beneath an infinite Cobalt sky.
Row upon row of vines turned a ruddy plum-like hueThe sun was easing towards the western horizon as I turned south off the IP4 on the final leg of my journey. By-passing Alijo my car radio falteringly lost reception of the station to which I had been curiously tuned; the language had seemed familiar, I assumed that ‘Russian' transmitters were so powerful they reached all the way to Oporto, only later did I discover I was listening to the Portuguese language and not Radio Vladivostok!
If great wine were blessed with a musical voice then fine Port might sound like a deep mellifluous Cello: unlike Champagne whose effervescent personality is echoed by a silvered flute, or the reed like elegance of a St Julien evoking a finely tuned violin, great Port wine is emotionally warm, deep and harmonious. As I re-tuned the Motorola selecting ‘Antenna' radio on the LCD display, I approached the small and careworn village of Vale de Mendiz and at the very moment I began my topographical descent into the Douro, YoYo Ma unexpectedly embarked on Bach's Cello Suites. Apposite and profound they provide the perfect soundtrack for Quinta do Noval and as these glorious tones issued forth, a golden sun sank beneath the distant hillside and row upon row of terraced vines turned a ruddy plum-like hue.
Shadows on the long drive at Noval This is the best part of day to arrive at Noval for the very first time: the sun shone blindingly through my fly-spattered windscreen and inadvertently I drove past the wrought-iron main gates. Above and to my left I read the massive painted white on black letters proudly spelling ‘NOVAL': sitting four-square amid a verdant escalier of Touriga Nacional vines, rising vertiginously perhaps 100 metres above the winding narrow road. I had unknowingly arrived at my destination.
Doubling back I turned right on the apex of a blind bend and began my ascent of the long vine encased drive to the Quinta. The magnificent approach through a tunnel of gnarled vines, offering much needed shade to those on foot during the heat of the day, creates a deep violet tracery of sharply delineated shadows at which to marvel in the early morning and late afternoon sun. The long cobble stoned drive at Noval is one of the property's greatest features and is unique, it supplies the perfect overture to a visit punctuated by good company, hard work and some serious Port wine tasting. Quinta do Noval is the high-altar of great Port and such a grand and prolonged entrance seems fitting for this legendary vineyard.
My first impressions of Noval fulfilled all expectations: standing on the dusty terrace beneath the protective canopy of the vast and venerable Cedar of Lebanon I surveyed the scene. The terraced rows of vines fall away beneath the whitewashed stone wall which abuts and supports the drive. As the sun descends it illuminates the grey-green Olive trees which be-speckle and punctuate the vine-clad hillsides, enhancing the attractive and often geometric patterns. As the light continually changes, so do the colours and contours which describe the great estate of Quinta do Noval, from the deepest purple shades to the fluorescent Cinnamon stick tones of stripped cork trees. The Douro wears a coat of many colours: Chameleon like it changes appearance not just seasonally but momentarily - minute by minute you are entranced by a procession of cloud formations and shafts of sunlight. The great virtue of such an elevated Quinta within this undulating landscape enables one to appreciate the ever-changing light on vines and earth; it is simply mesmerising and captures your attention from the very first.
The terrace at Quinta do NovalTo arrive at such a sublime moment, be met with a cooling aperitif of extra dry Noval white Port and tonic poured over a tall tumbler of ice and lemon, makes modern life seem bearable and once ensconced in this world far removed from the hustle and bustle of commerce and enterprise, one might be forgiven for feeling nothing else in life matters. The next ten days would provide the perfect opportunity to acquaint myself with the Noval Christian Seely knows so well and in compiling this account of the harvest I begin to comprehend just why his vivid descriptions of this special place were so meaningful and evocative.