It’s the most important day of the year on the quinta. The grapes are ripe and it’s time to make wine. It’s a lovely job, handling those luscious heavy bunches of grapes that took three pruning sessions and lots of sunshine and hand-watering to produce.

I wanted to start on the first of September but there was a thunderstorm the night before and the grapes needed to thoroughly dry before we picked them. Also, according to biodynamic methods or phases of the moon (last quarter, when the sap is falling) now is the best time to harvest. Our land is hotter than most of Central Portugal, so we’re the first to have our vindima. In Coimbra they pick in mid-October! We made a good start and by lunchtime had picked two hundred litres of grapes. It was 34°C in the shade but we worked in full sun – hot!

We looked at the chunky bunches of grapes then walked around the un-picked vines to estimate our crop. The 280ℓ dorna looked far too small for it all, and we decided to go and buy another, slightly larger. We drove to Fundão and bought some more crates to place the picked bunches of grapes into, and our friends at Remagril supplied us with a 350ℓ dorna.

Janet with esmegador

Two years ago Janet trod our grapes, and spent many hours removing the stalks and squidging by hand all the grapes that had escaped her toes. This took over ten hours, helped by her mum who was staying with us at the time. When she saw an esmegador she wanted one! It is like an electric mangle for crushing grapes, with a system for separating the stalks out.  Our helpful assistant was rather surprised that both of these very large items would fit into the car.

Back at the quinta we managed to lift the esmegador onto the new dorna and to transfer the grapes through it.  This brilliant piece of kit squidged every grape, letting no stalks through and all 200ℓ were done in an hour including clean-up time.

Why is it that it takes hours to peel and core pears? On 1st September we spent a whole day picking the rest of the pears, preparing them, preserving some in sugar(five hours cooking) and making pear chutney with the remaining three pounds (three hours cooking).

Nearly two years ago in January a two-week-long freeze almost killed our fig trees. Last summer I cut away a large amount of remaining dead wood, which was over half of every tree. In April I pruned each tree a little more, and cleared the ground around eight previously-hidden trees. Now we have a bumper crop of figs – as of 7th Sept it was 58Kg, with well under half harvested.

Unfortunately they coincide with the vindima, and we have decided the wine is more important than fig chutney. Having said that, after several days work related to wine we had two days of making fig, pear and Port wine chutney. In this way we are able to handle some of our surplus, and next year we’ll be better at it.  The problem is, what to do with hundreds of kilos of delicious fresh figs. I did my best, eating them steadily whilst harvesting. We’re now sun-drying our second 25Kg load. Over the weekend I developed toothache and on Wednesday had to go to the dentist. After discussing what could have caused this sudden onset of pain she was certain it was caused by eating too many figs! The sweet juice gets into any slight crack in fillings and causes pain, she said, after showing me the X-ray of where the problem was.

She said the problem is unusual but not unknown, especially if one’s diet is not sweet normally. Then she drilled and filled to cure it. So now it’s less fresh figs for me – I confess, I was on at least forty an hour for two whole mornings! They are not a laxative, either, take it from a reformed fig addict. For that, eat ripe elderberries – intense delicious flavour fresh or cooked, gorgeous as a sauce with ice cream, but more than one bowlful is purgative. We know, we used to take the kids foraging for them in autumn, to make wine. Janet once over-indulged when she couldn’t resist them whilst picking!

I found my limit for grapes too –  only one 1½lb bunch !