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

 

 

May and early June is the time of year when the olive trees are flowering. Their pollination is not done by insects but carried in the air because the flowers are tiny, so each tree makes thousands of them. The pollen is a common cause of an allergic reaction with symptoms like a bad common cold – sneezing, runny eyes, lack of energy and so on. Janet has developed this allergy so for about six weeks she tries to stay in and can’t do much; she is fine in the morning but deteriorates until in the evening she really suffers.

mowing 1

I have to mow the grass in our olive groves because it dries out to become a fire hazard. When I do it the pollen and grass dust fill the air – I can only cope with it for a couple of hours before I have to quit, come indoors, sneeze and have a shower to wash off the dust. I have mown only half our fields and groves up to now, because other jobs have become more urgent.

The weather here becomes seriously hot and dry, and I have to be out early to get in four hours work before lunchtime. It is very easy to become dehydrated so I come up to the house and drink half a litre of diluted fruit juice every hour.

P1040617 C hair abefore

P1040617 C hair afterNow I know how the vines feel – I spend a month at this time of the year watering them and giving them a haircut – removing excess shoots and tying the good growth to the wires installed over the past two years. The pictures here are of the vines beside our house, bordering the veg plot, before and after trimming.

Last year half of my vines were on wires and the vindima took only three days compared to well over a week in previous years; it was much easier as the grapes were more accessible.

vines after cropLast summer I had two men put a hundred posts in the vines abefore croplarger of our vineyards to make twelve more lines of wiring. The large vineyard is now all wired so this year all the vines are tied to the wires, getting them off the ground, making pruning and watering easier. Watering used to take at least two hours a day under the hot sunshine, lugging around seventy metres of hosepipe, from May until September.

irrig 1 tubingDrip irrigation is the way forward, which is what I’ve been installing for the last couple of weeks. This is what a hundred metres of irrigation tube looks like, and I’ve used quite a few of these!

irrig 3It required digging a trench in the hard baked earth and laying a heavy supply tube into it. Then I had to drill holes into it, fit connectors and a fifty-metre drip tube for each line, clip each 16mm tube to the bottom wire, and finally put in a dripper above every vine.

For over a hundred vines it took many hours, and there are two blank lines ready for planting more vines in the autumn.. The system had to be tested once the pipework seemed finished – a third of a mile in total – before refilling the trench. All this would be only a few days’ work if I didn’t have my basic jobs to do first – making the irrigation is what I do when I’ve finished watering those same vines with a hose! Now it is all done, watering the vines is almost as easy as turning on a few taps, and the pump is solar-powered and silent. It is lovely to work slowly in the vineyards, carefully pruning each vine, tying the best growth to wires to train and support it, listening to the water dripping and knowing the vine will use it to give us lots of lovely wine!

Red, orange, green and chocolate peppers

Red, orange, green and chocolate peppers

We went out one afternoon in September and when we returned two of my tractor tools had been stolen – a big heavy chain mower and a scarifier – winched onto a trailer and taken from right beside our house.  After weeks of waiting the insurers said they wouldn’t pay my claim because the tools were five years old so worth half their cost, and they would put an excess of a thousand euros on my claim, which was €985. This was not in the policy, they made it up and put an annex onto the policy. Because they have in-house lawyers my legal bill and stress to contest it would not make it a worthwhile exercise.

When we discussed the theft everyone said the same, the thieves were waiting for an opportunity and watched us go out. It is someone local. We were upset at the theft but more upset that someone whom we know would betray our trust in them. Eventually their karma will rectify matters.

Janet cutting cucmbersWe have a broker trying (feebly) to get us a better policy with a lower excess but he is dragging his feet, having taken two months so far to provide one quote which was not acceptable.

In the meantime we are reluctant even to go shopping lest another window is smashed and more is stolen, especially with a €1000 excess on a claim. I won’t replace these essential tools until they can be insured, so much of my farm work has ground to a halt.

 

Clive boden, Dominic PlattIn October I had the vine-wiring team from Technicova over to complete the wiring of our vineyard with an additional fourteen forty-metre lines. This gives space for four hundred vines.

Laura and her family have been to stay with us during Dominic’s half-term break from school. He helped me to plant a few dozen vines in the newly-wired section of the vineyard, and Toby had a go too. We racked 350 litres of our wine whilst they were with us. We had a lovely time together.

Dominic helping with the transfer of 150 litres of red wine

Dominic helping with the transfer of 150 litres of red wine

 

 

Further demotivation came five weeks after the tools were stolen. I started to back up all my main computer files onto a USB stick, when the message “Unable to find files. Format the disc?” came up.  I tried the USB stick on all our computers with the same result, and internet searches said this fault sometimes occurs and there is no solution, either re-format it or bin it. Either way the files are lost. So I formatted it, and resolved to do the backup a day later.

The following day an isolated bolt of lightning struck the ground beside our house. Once the electric company had replaced two main cartridge fuses and Portugal Telecom had repaired the wires and replaced the modem, we found the bolt had burned out our telly, my computer, the new printer, and my lovely stereo amplifier. With no current backups to put onto my laptop I had to fall back on my three-month old secondary backup. All new blogging photos were lost. Disheartened, I lost the motivation to blog.

peppersThe veg garden has given us a large crop of cucumbers and we have nearly half a freezer-full of peppers, orange and brown in addition to the usual red yellow and green. The Bartlett bonnet chillies which Janet sowed in February grew tall (up to Janet’s shoulders) during the summer but only started to ripen in October and are now, in mid-December, still cropping well.

Bartlett bonnet chillies

Bartlett bonnet chillies

 

I met up with Samuel and Kate, her sister Nicola and my third grandson Leo in Lisbon for a long weekend, which was very enjoyable and was another tonic to me. Janet and I are both healthy and happy, and now I’m able to get on with pruning olive trees and vines I’m finding myself again. The claim for lightning damage has just been resolved well and we can now replace the damaged goods. We’re past the negative phase and are getting back to such normality as we previously enjoyed.

Toby Platt and grandad Clive

Toby Platt and grandad Clive