September 2015


As the grapes near ripeness it is not easy to decide when to harvest them. The best wine comes from the ripe grapes; too late and the grapes shrink to raisins and the rabbits, birds, wasps and ants would take more of the crop. Also there is always a risk of a surprise storm in September, which washes the natural yeasts off the grapes, so increasing the chance of spoilage when the wine is made. We can estimate the sweetness of the fruit but this year we have bought a saccharometer, a specialized refractometer.saccharometer
To use it I simply squeeze a drop of grape juice onto a glass window at the end of the device, flick over the cover slip to spread a film of grape juice over the window, then look through the eyepiece. I see a scale backlit with blue and white, the boundary shows the scale reading in percent sugar in the juice.

Janet and I went sampling lots of grapes with it for two evenings before deciding it was time to pick them.

The next morning at 8am we heard a diesel car pulling up between our farm buildings, then the crunch of footsteps on the gravel. I ran out and greeted “our” shepherdess Manuela and her son Bruno (who was ten years old when we bought the quinta and is now a strong young man of eighteen). “We are helping you with your vindima (grape harvest) !” she declared with a broad smile. “When is it?”

“Lovely ! That would be really great!” we said, “How about Friday?”

“Decided. Friday morning at seven. We’ll be there in the vineyard,” and after a short chat they left. Bruno came round again a couple of hours later to say he forgot he had another job on Friday so would tomorrow Thursday be good? “Yes, fine,” we agreed, “See you at seven.”

ManuelaP1040661 BrunoTo cut the story short, with all the vines on wires and crates already out, four of us on the job and a lovely morning, we had the entire crop stacked in the adega by 11:30.

Bruno and I hoisted the nasty esmegador (crusher) onto the big 320 litre fermenting vat and as a team we had all the grapes crushed into three vats before noon. P1040663 dornas 2015a tilt

They declined our offer of lunch, insisting their family eat together at home, so we had a quick meal before spending a couple of hours cleaning up. Once washed, everything dries quickly in the hot sunshine and we had the crusher and crates put away by afternoon tea on 3rd September, ten days earlier than our average date.

eating grapesWe racked the wine ten days later and it’s now fermenting out in three plastic barrels, 250ℓ of red and 60ℓ of white wine. Although this is less than last year after such a dry summer the new irrigation of the vines has served us well, and we still have eighty litres of red and fifty of white wine in the cubas (it tastes very good too). We’re really pleased about this because we never add sulphites to preserve the wine, it is totally organic, so it is food and medicine to us. The downside to this is that it doesn’t travel well – sorry, folks!

 

 

 

charca full

Charcas (storage pools) are on most farms in this country. They are spring-fed but they almost dry out during the arid summer. Willows tend to grow in the moist soil and can survive having their roots in water during the winter. Now is the easiest time to cut them. To get rid of this brushwood the trees have to be cut into pieces which Janet and I can drag out, then I recover the thickest pieces for firewood in winter.

empty charca

Inside the dry charca

Inside the dry charca

 

 

Advertisements

The bus to Fundão

Early one Tuesday morning Janet drove me to the bus stop beside the café ten minutes early for the bus to Fundão – there is one at 06:40 and another at lunchtime. As we drew near the bus began to move off but stopped when I waved at the driver. Once aboard I asked why he was leaving early. “Ah,” he said “On schooldays it is at 6.40 but in the school holidays it’s at 6.30am. On market day it’s always at 6.30 because there’s another bus at 8.30am. On schooldays we detour through a local village but we miss that bit in the holidays. If it’s a Holy Day . . .” and so on.

There was plenty of loud banter – very entertaining and a bit coarse, lots of naughty gossip, as we rushed along the narrow roads. Speaking this odd language is a real advantage if part of the banter is about you. I discovered that by now all the passengers had worked out exactly which farm is mine and the chap sitting behind me knew my neighbour really well, he’d even worked on my farm years ago. Twenty minutes later, in the middle of a little village we stopped and the driver got out of his seat. “Café!” he announced, and six of us went to get a coffee at the bar opposite the bus stop. Having swigged my shot of hot stimulant I was pleased to find that the man I was talking with, from the seat behind me, had paid! The trip to Fundão continued – for a hundred yards. A passenger was allowed off at the bread shop and our journey was paused again until she returned with two bags of bread and cakes.

Passengers swap garden produce on the bus, and a lad paid an old lady who had gone to the chemist for his medicine and gave him a dose there and then. Nearer to Fundão our road was blocked by a car left outside a village shop and our driver had to go and get the car moved so we could pass. This is pretty well the norm for the one-hour journey.

 

Knickers

On 12th April whilst Janet was in England I ordered some silk knickers for her from China, as a surprise present when she came back. After two weeks the company said the goods been despatched. On 6th May they had still not arrived and as I was writing an email to them the postman arrived with a registered letter. It said, “Your goods do not have the required documentation and are being held in Customs” so I deleted the email and rang the phone number from the letter instead. A functionary replied and demanded I send the original order form for the goods and proof of the price paid. He eventually agreed that electronic documents were OK so I sent pdf’s of them. They replied like this:

Exmo. Senhor(a),

Gostaríamos, desde já, de agradecer o seu contacto, que mereceu a nossa melhor atenção. Aproveitamos para informar que o mesmo está já a ser analisado, pelo que contamos enviar-lhe, o mais brevemente possível, uma resposta sobre o assunto em questão.

“Most excellent Sir or Madam, We should like, in advance, to thank you for your contact, which will merit our best attention. We inform that the very same is already being analyzed, concerning which we count on sending you, as soon as possible, a response on the matter in question.”

On 7th May they requested a scan of my tax number i/d card, to prove I am registered to pay tax, which I sent. A week later Customs sent an email demanding the same documents, again. I replied in a borderline snotty manner attaching them as photos this time. A week later they emailed me to say they had been in contact with the Chinese company in Zhenhai, to verify the order and to obtain the import documents. The value of the goods had been understated to avoid import tax. They now knew the real cost and required me to pay €34 (!) to release the knickers from Customs (Aduaneira), and from 1st June they would charge me an additional €5 a week warehousing. On 22nd May our postman arrived with The Knickers and a bill for €34.Unders P1040601 small

I would have to pay this before he would give them to me.

We hadn’t the cash handy so he took them away. The Post Offices closes for weekend on Friday lunchtime so we couldn’t go to collect them until the following Monday, and pay and sign for them with my passport as proof of identity. There remained one last matter, which is obvious after reading the label.

Unders P1040600 smallI had to ask the postman and the Post office lady if knickers are prohibited in Portugal. Were the classed as dangerous? Maybe silk knickers are? So could I believe they were not “Dangerous articles or articles prohibited by legislation . . .” ?

After waiting six weeks for sexy knickers could we care? !

And when we got them home, there’s the romantic little extra from the Customs to say they were “verified” – so that’s alright then.