Aug 08-Feb 2009

In June 2008 the builders had excavated some of the site, and put foundations in the wrong place (they said it looked OK). Next they dug out more earth (two feet deeper, as agreed with our architect) and put the foundations in the right place . The original sketch had been for a 5m by 16m structure to include a single bedroom apartment, an adega (a room for making and storing wine) and a garage for the tractor. But when I drew detailed plans it quickly became clear that any apartment needed to be bigger than I’d allowed, so we made the building longer. In discussing the roof structure with José, I pointed out that a pillar inside the car port would not be convenient; he agreed to make the building longer and suggested enclosing the car port, requiring even longer foundations. They started building in late July, then promptly stopped as August is a month’s holiday.

The building method here is different from that in the UK; they make a timber mould of the whole structure, put steel reinforcements in the mould, then fill it with concrete and leave it a few days. After removing the mould, they lay breeze blocks to fill the gaps. If you (the bricklayer) don’t look carefully at the plans, you end up with a concrete pillar where the bedroom window should be, so you make the window where it will fit. Then the boss (me) comes and points out that the built-in wardrobe has to go there, so you have to brick up the hole and make another where he will accept a window. And so on.

We sometimes ate a barbecue lunch on the patio with the builders – in close-up Adelino, José and Mario. Happy days!  They would bring a five-litre carafe of wine made by a friend or relative, and we would all drink some and rate it. On the left is the boss of the business, Jacinto (Hyacinth)! Not really, a jacint is a hard semi-precious stone.

Delivery of polystyrene roof insulation.

What started as a tractor shed became a building with a double-slope roof, double garage, and double-insulated apartment.

The bathroom materials were easy to choose – we went into Spain and in a town called Valverde del Fresno (green vale of the Ash tree) we ordered lovely warm beige kitchen tiles, beige and green for the bathroom, and an ivory bathroom suite; Luís took us out for coffee at a café with a green shaded terrace.  All was tiled by the end of November, but the bath wasn’t delivered until January.

The kitchen corner in mid October, late November, and end of Jan09.

José made beautiful ceilings in all three rooms of the apartment.

Unlike in the UK, water doesn’t just arrive in the house. Ours comes from the dual boreholes system that we installed over a period of six months last year. It is soft water, untreated, straight from the rock. It is stored in a 1000ℓ (220 gallons, one metric ton) tank in the loft. It has to be, as the supply is only 80ℓ per hour. However, when we first tried the bathroom tap the flow rate was too low; the pvc pipes used are less than 1/2” internal diameter, so we had to go and buy a pump to increase the pressure. Off to Fundão where we discovered a shop where a man would come out to advise us.

The choice was a €200 basic pump where the pressure would vary a lot, or a €660 stainless pump with five turbines. In due course the man arrived at the quinta in a brand new BMW. Janet rang the builder (as we arranged) so he could come over and discuss what would be best. The guy made it clear that we needed the expensive pump, and if it were his place he would extend our system with an extra tank in the roof and a split irrigation tank for the garden, and so on. He would do an estimate for us, to include the extra materials and labour. Then the builder arrived to discuss our needs. The water man spent two minutes saying it was all in hand and ten minutes admiring the builders new lorry before zooming away in a cloud of dust. José said “I don’t like him.” and advised us to look around and get other prices. The next day we visited one of our tractor shops and they helped us choose a good system – total price €200 complete, and José’s man installed it.

So there we leave the apartment, lacking windows and doors, unfurnished but looking promising, and bearing little resemblance to the tractor shed and simple bedroom and bathroom that was planned. You’ll see in the next blog how it looks when its done J

November 2008.

The traditional hand-picking method requires a ripador, a small hand-held rake to comb the olives from the branches of the tree onto a net spread on the ground. After I returned from a visit to England in mid-November, we sought one each. None were available at the market, one shop had sold out, a second was out of stock, a third hadn’t had any for ages and as they are hand-made by oldsters they didn’t have a source. We abandoned the search and looked instead into pneumatic palmetas, mechanical clappers to shake the olives (drupes) from the twigs. We bought a good-sized net (Ecocampo recommended eight metres by eight) to spread under the tree, for catching the olives, and crates to carry them in. A week later we were “mooching” in the old town and found two little shops which merit the appellation of Emporium or Aladdin’s Cave; we bought sacks and when we asked about ripadores, they had them! The first time we opened out the net it was obviously far too big, so we swapped it for a 6x6m (20ft square), which was manageable for two of us.

Although it was cold in the morning, the sun always came out and warmed the day to a comfortable 13°-20°C. We were in the olival just after 9am, stripping the drupes then lifting the net to pour them into a crate. At the end of the day we put the olives through a winnowing machine to clean the leaves from the fruit – when we bought the quinta we paid an extra €500 for farm equipment; the only piece that was of any use or value turns out to be the winnowing machine. The Portuguese have no word for this important machine; to them all machines are “maquina”, which covers anything with moving parts. A hand drill, electric drill, pneumatic drill, cement sprayer, car engine, JCB digger, all are “maquina”. To name each, you have to say what the maquina is for.

selecting and cleaning olives for preserving.

Now, once the olives are cleaned and bagged, you take them to a lagar to be pressed for the oil. Our nearest mill, Orca, is closed again this year, and JJ the JCB man suggested one in Vale de Prazeres (Valley of Pleasures). We visited, and found a grim-looking old warehouse mounded six feet deep in tons of bagged olives, lying sullen and forlorn in a thin river of black juice which trickled into the ground outside. No sound of action. A bored bloke shuffled out to “greet” us, fag in mouth and wearing a beret and boiler suit, waiting for us to speak first. Disheartened, it wasn’t worth the effort so we hardly bothered, deciding that any other lagar would probably be better.

Our first sacks of olives

We  were told that 200kg is the minimum acceptable weight for pressing,  so we needed to gather more olives and weigh them;  back to Ecocampo for more sacks and crates. They had sold out of our size and the rest would not stack on ours – typical. However, they did have a weighing machine on sale, so we bought that. And in a typical serendipitous conversation we met Julio the olive farmer, who suggested a lagar called Loca, beyond Fundão, 40mins drive from the quinta.

Two days later, on the way back to our villa, we went to find Loca. There was a queue of fifteen trucks and tractors with trailers right along the access road and onto the main road. Good news though, we stopped to look round the place and met Julio again, a mutual pleasure.

Working most of each day, we harvested 201kg in one week. We took our olives to lagar Loca where we were sixth in line, and only had to wait two hours for our turn – we felt sorry for the farmers who were in the long queue a few days ago!

There we emptied them through what looked like a cattle grid in the floor. They were washed, weighed as 201kg (yeah!), and pressed; we were looking forward to having our own oil but discovered that we were in fact adding to this year’s stocks of “Português” oil and would get one tenth of the weight of our olives as communal oil !

This was a blow, as we had taken over the 200kg  minimum, and their own lab had assayed our olives  as 8.3kg of olives to give a litre of oil.  At least the “extra virgin cold pressed” is VERY fresh and delicious, full flavoured with a hint of lemon.


The sun is beating down and the grape vines are loaded full with ripe fruit. The adega is where they are taken to be fermented into wine; the alcohol preserves the fruit flavours, vitamins and minerals for medicinal consumption during the long hard winter (yeah, yeah . . .). However, the builders are still on holiday and we have neither an adega nor equipment. We decide that we will have to forego this year’s harvest. But half the point of owning a Quinta is to make single-estate wine, and the thought of wasting this opportunity is unbearable, so although we are late in starting, we have to go out and buy a 280 litre dorna (60 gallon fermenting tank) – it is the biggest that we can fit in the car with the back seats removed. Friday is hot and sunny (like the previous hundred days) so we get out there with a couple of borrowed builders buckets and polythene bags, harvesting and enthusiastically showing each other what massive fruits / long bunches / lovely colour grapes we have, happily munching samples from our vines as we go.

We  reverse the car onto the land so we can put the full bags in ready for sorting back at home – yes, we did take the whole lot over the mountains and back to the villa, where we have clean dry space and indoor taps.  In the hallway at our villa, Janet trod the grapes in the traditional way. With slightly-warm grapes and fruit-mush squidging between her toes, she trampled them for over an hour before we could simply cover the tank with a table-cloth to keep out the fruit flies and leave it to ferment on natural yeast (one of our local ones rejoices in the Latin name for bee-anus mould, nice!). The sugar content, as it tasted very sweet, was high – 15%!!  That will give a medium wine, full-bodied, with maximum alcohol!

The next day, we visited the Agricultural Co-op in Lousã and bought a 120 litre barrel with a tap, and asked about buying wine yeast – nobody uses it, but the man said we should visit the chemist’s shop for tartaric acid and bisulphite. We did, and I asked the helpful girl at the counter for a hundred grams of tartaric acid. She went off to the back of the shop and then I realised that although I am used to cheap lab reagents, she may charge us a small fortune! She came back with a neat hand-cream container and the acid (powder) weighed out into it, sorry about the cost of the container – it is half of the £1.50 total – relief!

A few days later back we went over the mountains, on the way buying a 250 litre stainless steel tank for storing the wine in, and a couple of cestas (40 litre tubs) to harvest grapes into. A week later, after another treading we needed more fermenting vessels, so we bought a 65 litre and a 30 litre barrel, and transferred the first brew into the 120-litre barrel. Well, I thought, that should be easy, just siphon it off to rack it, but no, too many pips in the mash. OK, open the tap – no, it blocks up with the solids. Ah, blow them back up the pipe away from the tap – no, in come more solids when the tap is re-opened. So I eventually use a litre jug, carefully filling it to avoid collecting grape stalks and flesh, then pouring the liquid into the barrel through a filter in a funnel. Next year we will consider investing in an electric esmegadora, which squeezes the grapes and separates out most of the stalks and pips.

Whilst I went to see Samuel in Athens for six days, Janet and her mum went over for a third harvest, armed with new little secateurs just for harvesting bunches of grapes. When I returned there was wine fermenting in the two big barrels, in a swing-top bin and even in the mop bucket, a fridge full of concentrated grape juice, and Janet telling me that we have only gathered in one third of the crop! Goodness, whatever shall we do next year?!

Pic: nightfall, bunches of grapes hang over the patio.

Another week passes by and it is now October, back we go to the quinta – just look at all those grapes!! So we harvest more, bring them back over the mountains, buy another 65 barrel, tread them, and move all the brews into new vessels. The hall smells like a brewery. The remaining grapes on the vines are starting to turn into delicious sultanas and raisins now; it’s the end of the vendima. At last.