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

 

 

a grapes by tractor In late August we walk through the vineyards twice a week, sampling the fruit to see whether it is time for the vindima (grape harvest) yet. We spend twelve hours cleaning the adega, washing crates, rinsing the dornas (fermentation vats) and cubas (stainless steel storage tanks), ready to make wine.

c rose

When the grapes are plump, smell fruity and taste sweet it’s time to pick them. In the unwired parts of the vineyards, despite careful pruning to make the vines taller they trail on the ground and bunches are hidden, harder to find and uncomfortable to pick. With no air movement the grapes get damp and start to rot. Alternatively if there is a tree nearby they will climb into that, and the vines have to be cut free.

d cut from tree

This year the vindima was far easier than in the past because now there are fourteen lines where I have pruned and trained the vines along wires. This gives easy access to the fruit which grows at a comfortable height, is clean and has good exposure to sun and air.

e ready to start

September is usually sunny but this year there was rain forecast, which meant a lack of the sunshine needed to make sugars. Also rain washes the natural yeast off the grapes so fermentation takes a long time to start, increasing the risk of spoilage. The day before we intended to start it rained so we had to hold off for two days to allow some yeasts to re-colonise the grape skins. A lower risk of rain was predicted for four days up to the 15th, when a week of heavy rain would start.

g esmeg 1

We started picking on Thursday 11th and by Friday lunchtime we had 23 crates of red grapes. After lunch we were mentally ready to use the esmegador (crusher), a heavy fearsome machine which we have to manhandle into position on top of a dorna. It comprises a trough to receive bunches of grapes which are pushed by a rotating screw into a large pair of 9” long serrated rollers. Everything is crushed through and the pulp splatters into the dorna. The stalks, which would make the fermenting grape juice bitter, are pushed along a sharp steel perforated trough by spiral paddles and fall out of the end of the machine into a large bucket.

esmegador

It roars, bumps and grinds whilst I’m tipping the loads of bunches in to the exposed screw then feeding them evenly to the mangle. Such a dangerous machine would not be available to the public in England ! We really don’t like the machine at all but it does in minutes a far better job than we could do in hours either with a hand-powered crusher (where you have to take out the stalks from the wet pulp afterwards) or by treading (which is very slow, cold, inefficient and hard work).

We crushed 23 crates of grapes then added some Montrachet yeast to get the Red1 fermentation off to a clean start.

k white grapes in sunshineOn Saturday we picked and crushed three hundred kilos of grapes to make Red2, and as we still had two hours of daylight we started to pick the white grapes. On Sunday 14th we finished picking the white grapes, which after crushing gave us 150 litres of must. For the fourth time in a week we washed the equipment, this time storing it when it was dry, the crates ready for the colheita in November and the esmegador until next year.

m stir wine   n washed eqpt

For the next few days Janet will stir the must three times a day, pushing the thick layer of crushed grapes into the liquid so the juice all ferments. Then whilst Janet is in England, comes the dreaded racking. We met the weather forecast deadline, all our grapes harvested in four days. Just as well, as this picture was taken from our verandah this morning (15th Sept).

p  rain on 15th