Symington Family Estates: “first half” Douro vintage report

I received an email yesterday from Quinta do Crasto’s Miguel Roquette with some pics (above and below) of Quinta da Cabreira in bloom. They contrast nicely with my starker images of the Douro Superior estate from February (see here).
He reported that temperatures in the Douro were very high (normal for this time of the year) but, this week, severe thunder storms had affected some properties located at higher altitude (apparently in Sabrosa and Alijó, some lost most of the crop).  Not that he’d mind a few drops of rain – as the Symington family’s detailed report of the vintage thus far reveals, drought conditions mean it will be a challenging vintage if there is no rainfall. Roquette must be grateful that, at Cabreira at least, drip irrigation is on tap.

Here is Symington Family Estate’s “first half” report, couched in suitably sporting terms – here’s hoping the Douro’s Olympians rise to the challenges of the second half.
“Irregular climate patterns are not uncommon in the Douro, but this year has been most unusual. Observing the lovely green vineyards in the valley in June you could have easily been forgiven for thinking that all was well. First impressions however, are not always right.
 The data at Quinta do Bomfim indicates that the 2011/2 winter has been the driest in the Douro in the last 40 years, as well as the third coldest since 1931. Readings taken at various depths in the Douro show that soil humidity has been at very low levels throughout this winter.  In June and July the readings have been at levels only normally seen in August and September, the region’s very driest months.

The viticultural cycle starts in November, and to the end of June there has been a cumulative rain shortfall of 274 mm or 48%, about half the average water. In the 4 months from December to the end of March, a total of just 54 mm fell at Pinhão. The average for the single month of January is virtually double that, at 104 mm.  As a result, by early April we were preparing to water our one-year-old vines, an unheard of requirement at that time of the year.

Thankfully April and May brought normal rainfall and even more important, the average temperatures have been below average for most of this year, hence the fine looking vineyards in June. But the Douro has missed out on a substantial part of the important winter water reserves. The spring rain was not enough to reverse the rapidly declining soil moisture levels, whose steep downward curve commenced last November. The Portuguese Meteorological Office has now classified over 50% of the country as being in ‘extreme drought’ conditions, mostly its central and southern areas. The situation is not so dramatic in the Douro, but even here, most of the region — as of the first week of July — is now classified at the next level down from ‘extreme drought’ to ‘severe drought’, which is hardly comforting.

Overall, these conditions have resulted in poor fruit set in some varietals and this will result in a smaller than average crop. This will be advantageous as there will be less demand on each vine to ripen its fruit. The next 6 to 7 weeks leading up to the harvest will be crucial; we are hoping for some relatively cool weeks and hopefully even a little rain in August. An absence of rain and very high temperatures will create conditions for a very challenging harvest. Although this is nothing the Douro’s hardy farmers and their indigenous vines are unfamiliar with.”

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