Late Summer and beginning of Autumn means it’s vindimas, what we Portuguese call the harvest season. In the main wine-making regions, such as Douro, Alentejo and Dão, producers and local workers are busy cutting the grapes from de vines, bunch by bunch. It’s hard work, but as we start preparing the delicious and world-known Portuguese wine it’s also time to celebrate!
How do we know it’s harvest time?
After the temperatures rise and the sun works its magic throughout the Summer months, Autumn arrives and paints the landscape with warmer colours. When the grapes reach the target of acidity, weight and colour they’re ready to be picked from the vine. Nowadays there are advanced instruments and techniques to understand when the time is right, but old-school and traditional methods still work. When the vines start to wither and the grapes’ skin shrinks slightly locals know it’s time to get to work.
The morning routine
In each homestead the alarm rings at dawn and work starts early in the morning. Workers rise up and grab a fulfilling breakfast to sustain them throughout the physically demanding work. Before leaving to the vineyards each one grabs a hat, a pair of scissors and baskets and buckets.
With their backs tilted and gentle hands, each pair works alongside and repeatedly cuts bunches of grapes. During the whole morning workers cruise the vineyards tirelessly, filling buckets after buckets. From time to time the truck drives by and takes the baskets filled to the top to the wine house.
When the sun is at its peak, it’s time for some well-deserved rest: everyone takes a break, heads to the shade and fills up the stomach!
What happens at the wine house?
These are the 5 basic steps of the wine making process, during which the grapes become wine:
1. TRIAGE: After the grapes are unloaded from the truck they go straight to a conveyor belt where the bad ones are put aside.
2. DESSTEM: The stems are separated from the bunches by a machine, which then grinds them. The powder is used as a compost back in the vineyards - nothing is wasted!
3. PRESS: The grapes are compressed so that the juice is squeezed out and the skins and seeds are separated. At this stage we obtain what we call mosto - the non-alcoholic liquid.
4. MACERATE: Only the red wine goes through this process, which basically consists in mixing the grapes' skins and seeds with the mosto. This gives the mosto a stronger colour and a more complex flavour.
5. FERMENT: The sugars start to turn into alcohol. All the parameters are carefully measured and sometimes indigenous yeast is introduced. Only at this stage we can call the liquid mix wine.
Nowadays the big wine-making companies have efficient machines, modern labs and professional enologists that ensure a rigorous control of the overall process. However, there are still small sized producers making wine the old-school way.
Mostly in some quintas and country houses in the northern region, where the Douro and Port wine is produced, the old traditional methods have been carefully preserved. Instead of using advanced machinery the grapes are crushed and pressed with natural utensils: feet. This method is commonly known as pisa das uvas, which literally translates to “stepping on grapes”. After the grapes are destemmed and taken to the press, lines of men and women march from one side to the other to crush the grapes and squeeze all the juice out. This routine includes traditional music and lots of laughter so hard work can actually be fun! Discover more about the Douro valley here.
When does the wine end up at the table?
After the wine ages and develops, either inside inox - unoaked wines - or wooden barrels, it is bottled. Some wines can be consumed shortly after, others age for many many years. That has to do with its type, quality and other specific characteristics.
Witness and take part in this annual tradition
If you’re curious and want to learn more about the wine making process and the different types of wine there are many homesteads that have been converted into wine tourism retreats. You can take part in the vindimas and even pisa das uvas, or just sit back in the porch and taste some of the best wines in the country.
If you’d like us to help out planning an unforgettable wine-related experience whilst discovering some of the hidden gems in our country, drop us a message!
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