Harry Crowther continues his Postcard from the Douro series with the difficulties and surprising results of working with a team who speak very little English...
Like I said, harvest came early this year. Arriving half way through doesn’t really have any benefits, if you’re a newcomer, as you're thrown in at the deep end straight away. It's pretty stressful. Those of you who have worked in larger wineries before, with rigid protocol where each person has their job to do, forget it! Here you do everything!
And what of the team I'm joining? Pedro always seems to have a mixed bunch, but this year is particularly Portuguese. Oh, how I love coming to work in the morning with a team of people I can’t speak a work of English. There is always an intern from overseas who usually speaks the best English.
Thankfully, he keeps a core trio of personnel to keep things in shape year round.
First up we have Joaquim. Think Hagrid, the caretaker of the estate. He is also the vineyard manager, with a stash of tawny port tucked away in barrels older than God’s teeth! There are a couple of occasions through harvest that he will bring a bottle of something outrageously delicious to the party with nothing but a bit of tip-ex sprawled across the front, the number ‘1975’ colheita barely legible beneath a layer of dust. This stuff doesn’t exist – it’s outstanding and a true pleasure to drink.
Then we have (Cristiano) Reinaldo. The quiet guy from the next village across. He quit drinking some years ago but I have been told that once upon a time he drank ‘muito pipas’, (many barrels) in his day. This guy is the workhorse of the group. Quiet and equally as difficult to understand.
Then we have the most controversial of them all. Senhor Bernardo. I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting this gent during my first stay at Quinta da Foz because he had some time off due to illness.
Have you ever met somebody that you can't understand a word that comes out of their mouth, yet everything they say and do make you howl...? This is my guy. What a man – also a tee-total (god knows how much these guys actually drank to put themselves off the booze).
Most of the grapes have now come into the winery and are either going through a bit of pre-fermentation maceration and inoculation. Punch downs tend happen four times daily. The ferments in need of a little more body and extraction get a pump over as well. Again, doing this with a team you can barely converse with has its challenges.
Lunch is usually followed by a round of espressos, or, if your feeling a bit rogue, a two-sip Super Bock Mini!
Now and then (if you have a bit of time to kill) we will take a trip to another winery, taste their ferments and see how they operate.
After spending time in the Douro on two separate occasions, I now feel that I am part of the extended family at Quinta da Foz. This sentiment extends to just about every Quinta I visit with Pedro a testament to his growing talent, success and popularity.
Meeting new winemakers has been eye opening, and exciting to say the least. For me there are few things better than tasting unreleased vintages from tank or barrel (probably the closest to en-primeur I ever want to get), finding a few gems along the way!
As we press the grapes to tank before the first racking, it’s time for less tasting and more work.