In his first Postcard from the Douro, sommelier and former M Restaurants' wine store manager Harry Crowther talks about.....
Land. Drink. Stomp. Eat
There is something to be said for going back to the same place to do another harvest with a set of people who already know you.
Last time I was picked up by that guy with a sign you can barely recognise because he wrote it during his walk from the car park to the arrivals terminal whilst squeezing his phone between his shoulder and cheek. No. This time I was treated to a much warmer welcome to the 2017 vintage.
I’m back at Quinta da Foz, in the small town of Pinhão, about a two-hour drive east of Oporto. Back in 2015 I worked at this Quinta with the current winemaker, Pedro Branco but for a different producer (watch this space). However this time I chose to come back & work for Senhor Branco. In my opinion Pedro is one of the more exciting prospects in the Douro renaissance. Still not even 30, he has half as many harvests under his belt including a fair few with Taylors! So, to be back with him is exciting to say the least.
We are looking at one of the earliest harvests in the last half a century; landing in early September would usually be timely. Instead, grapes are already being sorted & stomped so I'm pretty late to the party.
Step up the welcome brigade
Back at the Airport. No illegible signs, just a 'Herrie, over here!', if I hadn’t of seen the half pint of Super Bock floating above a sea of heads I would have been truly lost. But through the crowd I could see Pedro’s friend awaiting my arrival.
It’s about a 90-minute drive to Quinta da Foz from the city through the winding roads that hug the Douro River. We made a pit stop to pick up a new fitting for the winery, this was naturally met with an obligatory ‘fino’ (30cl Super Bock lager) – a mere sip for the seasoned British drinker – but a cornerstone in the diet of a Portuguese native.
The first week was all about remontage/pump overs and stomping on grapes in the traditional open top, stone fermenters, lagares.
Every year the first treading is a family affair, it's not uncommon to have three generations of family knees-deep at any one time – with the older ones usually sporting a tankard of something fortified…
Working at Quinta da Foz is special not only for its tradition, but because it’s a small operation, so you don’t get stuck doing one thing, you sort, de-stem, stomp, punchdown, pump over and so on.
A particularly funny moment for me this year was when we had finished a shift at the Quinta. I went up the mountain the Alijó (next to Favios, home of the famous Moscatel) to Pedro’s family operation. Here some of his whites were already fermenting. We added a nutrient to the mix to give the yeasts some ‘Red Bull’. Being a mid-ferment full of active yeast the tank instantly foamed over resulting in a frenzy of draining wine from the bottom valve into another tank in order to avoid a catastrophic ‘bubble bath’!
So we are a week or so down and things are looking good. It’s been a really hot year with little rain through the summer. Potential alcohol levels are a little higher than desired. Let's see how things pan out in the following weeks.
For now, it’s time for the first of the harvest dinners. Winemakers from around the region are coming on a BYO basis whilst team Foz mans the barbeque.
Stay tuned – pressings, rackings, tastings and more Super Bock to come!
Follow Harry's blog Grape Times for more on his Douro journey.