To produce a wine it is not enough to take the grapes, crush them and let the must ferment. Throughout the year, the vineyard must be treated very well and it is from these operations that depends essentially on the quality of the wine.
It is customary to hear that "without good grapes, there are no good wines". The statement could not be truer. Until the grapes that give rise to the wine that accompanies us to the meal are born, the winemaker must follow a strict schedule of tasks that will bring to him, as a reward, the quality of the wine produced. Thus, the good management and execution of the work in the vineyard throughout the vegetative cycle, becomes essential. The vineyard's operations follow throughout the year, almost like the seasons:
- Between October and November, after each harvest, the vineyards are mobilised in many regions to prepare them for the new cycle and to better receive the waters of autumn and winter rains. A few years ago, in areas such as the Douro, the excavation was carried out, which consisted of the opening of graves around the vines so that this accumulation was more effective. There are currently disagreements about these practices, and many winegrowers leave their vineyards without mobilization as a way, for example, to avoid erosion.
- Between November and February, it is the time when the new vine cycle clearly begins, with the pruning and empa of the vineyard. This operation is carried out when all the leaves have already fallen and the plant has gone into dormancy. Pruning consists of cutting a part of the vine branches. Its objectives are to provide better production and balance conditions between the plant and its vegetation, otherwise the vine produces many bunches of small and low quality berries. However, there are also those who prune when the vine already has leaves, which is called pruning in green. This pruning weakens vegetative expansion and plant resources are more directed towards curls. The empa consists of folding and tying the stick resulting from pruning to a tutor (usually a wire) and is usually carried out at the same time as pruning. The tutor supports the vine and allows sap to reach the entire plant. The stick is folded so that the vine leaves are well distributed.
- With the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the plants burst, beginning the treatment cycle. The vine is subject to diseases (bacteria, viruses or fungi that attack the plant) or pests (when animals, for example insects or birds, wreak havoc on the vine). Some of the most common diseases in Portugal are mildew and ovid that attack the green organs of the plant. Some of the most common pests are grape moth (it reaches berries at all stages of development), green cicada and red aranhiço (cause damage to foliage). Phytosanitary treatments aim to protect plants from these diseases, varying not only according to the region, soil and type of caste planted, but also in the number of sprays and in the type of fungicides applied, extending until maturation. In the vineyards that are mobilized, crops and excavations are also begun to free the lands of the infesting herbs.
- Between April and May, before the plant goes into flowering, pruning is done in green, increasingly current practice. Thus all shoots that do not matter to the plant are removed, leaving their vegetative part more balanced and able to produce in better conditions. The vine trunks of all the "thieves' branches are also cleaned, which have in the meantime burst.
- Between May and June, vines bloom, forming the berries that grow until July/August, when they begin to change colour sprees and enter the 'painter' phase. At the end of this period, more and more winegrowers prune bunches, removing any excess production and concentrating the quality of those who remain. Plant treatments - where necessary - and soil continue throughout this period.
- Finally, between August and October, depending on the regions, the grapes mature and the grape feast begins, the harvest. The time to start the harvest is determined according to the maturation state of the grapes and the weather conditions. As bunches mature, the acidity of berries decreases and sugar levels increase. It is possible to do sampling analyses and seek to determine the date of the harvest depending on the acidity and the degree of alcohol foreseeable. In relation to weather conditions, it is desirable that it does not rain, since the water and moisture absorbed by the curls is transmitted to the wine.
The harvests are one of the main tourist promotion posters of various regions. Municipalities and companies related to wine production try to make each one their best, with varied programs of cultural animation, musical shows, dances, wine tastings, gastronomy and art exhibitions. There is no shortage of proposals for those who want to make contact with everything that concerns a harvest, accompanying the whole process, from cutting and transporting the grapes, to bottled, filling kites and serving wine. A magical time full of activities representing the culmination of a year of work.
Photos (wonderful) of Domingos Alvão (great photographer Portuguese of the 19th century. 1872 - 1946)