The harvest is the highlight of the oldest demarcated and regulated wine region in the world and culminates a year of hard work in the vineyards. "We are at the beginning, but the first indicators are highly promising", said Lusa Rui Soares, president of ProDouro - Association of Professional Wine Growers of the Douro, to the agency. The official speaks of a “relatively calm” viticultural year, especially when compared to 2020, which he classified as “challenging” and in which it was “much more complicated to produce grapes”. Last year, diseases, grape scald and water stress resulted in a drop in production, which was fixed at 200,000 barrels of wine (550 liters each).
"We had a mild spring and a very mild early summer, with normal temperatures for the season, without excesses, and this meant that, now, at the beginning of the harvest, we see, in general, the vines breathe health, we see the vines, from a health point of view, and from the point of view of the foliage, are green, lush and with the grapes in an excellent state of ripeness”, said Rui Soares. As a result of all this, for this year, an increase in the order of “10 to 15 percent in production” is expected.
The harvest forecast of the Institute of Vine and Wine (IVV) points to a 20 percent increase in wine production in the Douro. “A year of normal development, with very localized hail phenomena. Downy mildew and powdery mildew had no significant impact on production. Good quality of production is expected”, pointed out IVV.
Álvaro Martinho, director of viticulture at Quinta das Carvalhas, from Real Companhia Velha (RCV), focuses on the vineyards that stretch from the Douro River to the top of the slope, in the municipality of São João da Pesqueira. Lusa said that this “is a good year”, with a good water regime that makes the vines “comfortable”, and that he foresees an “average production level” and of “excellent quality”. However, he points out that the next few weeks are “determining”.
At this time, some varieties are cut for white or red wines, leaving the grapes for Port wine for later. “There has to be a selective or surgical collection of each variety for this type of wine”, explained the responsible. It's a homeless job, done under the hot sun, which starts early in the morning and will last through the month of September. In a vineyard that is around 100 years old, with a steep slope and flanked by traditional schist walls, Dina Barroco, 29, cuts the grapes and proudly says that this is the result of the entire year of work. She left her job in a cheese factory for agriculture because she said it was more rewarding and has been working in Carvalhas for three years. “I like it, I am used to it, so it doesn't cost,” she said.
Maria José, 48, said that there are times when the work is “a little hard”, but she says that she “holds up well” and that she likes to do “a little bit of everything”. “There are lands that cost a little more and everything has to be done manually, with men taking care of it. In other vineyards, the tractor is already on and it's easier”, she said. Célia Gomes, 45, has been working on the farm for 15 years and said that her favorite job in the vineyard is pruning, although she emphasizes that the harvest “is the fruit of the whole year”. “We have to harvest it, it's our livelihood”, she stressed.
Arcindo Ferreira, 45 years old, was born “under the vines” and, therefore, enjoys working on the land and says he drives the tractor “with extreme care” over steep terrain. “It takes a lot of brains to know what we're doing here,” he added. Quinta das Carvalhas has around 40 people working annually, the majority of whom are women. “We were pioneers in equal treatment by gender”. Since 2002, wages have been paid equally for men and women and this, for Álvaro Martinho, is a matter of “equality and justice”. The property has 150 hectares of vineyards, a third of which are traditional vineyards and 30 hectares are between 70 and 100 years old. “These are vineyards that we stubbornly and strategically will preserve because the vinous masses are used to make extremely quality wines and are a historical heritage”, he stressed.
In 2021, the harvest is again marked by the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficulty in recruiting workers. “Lack of labor is a recurring structural problem in the region. Historically, the Douro has never had enough labor for the harvest, we always needed to recruit from outside the region, in neighboring areas and this year it is no exception to the rule”, said Rui Soares. Recruitment is carried out in “increasingly distant” areas and there is also recourse to foreign labor and because the grape does not wait, prevention of covid-19 is the watchword in the vineyards and wineries. This year, procedures already implemented in 2020 are repeated, such as the prohibition of visits to wineries and, according to the president of ProDouro, vaccination also provides “another comfort”.