Grape Expectations

Sunday, October 13, 2019, 15:07
Friend L treading black grapes in a huge vat

Living the dream: it's what most of us plan to do at some time in our lives, isn't it? That is, we tell ourselves we'll do it when we retire or if and when we can afford it without disadvantaging the family or... well you get the drift. Actually putting the theory into practice, though, takes real dedication and lots of us chicken out. We make excuses about being too old – "My knees are not what they were..."; no longer having the energy- "Just look at those young folk! How I envy them their get up and go!" Or just needing to be sure we can access healthcare.... and so on.

Above you can see someone who, along with her husband, has had the courage of her convictions and taken the plunge. To see more of L and R's adventure and to investigate what the locals do during the grape harvest in the Minho, click here.

Our good friend L and her husband R have tended their vines all year. In spring and summer they pruned them, tying in the tendrils to allow the sun to penetrate and the air to move freely. Later they sprayed the foliage against pathogens; and, this autumn, they have picked the fruit ready to make their own wine. Now L is treading the grapes, squidging the little black globes beneath her feet and feeling them popping while the juice seeps up between her toes.

Two bunches of grapes, one red and one white

These are some of the grapes L and R have been growing on their small holding in a village to the south of Ponte de Lima. The north of Portugal is rightly famed for its white and red green wine. That mixture of colours is not a mistake as green wine, vinho verde, is made from both green and black grapes. The 'verde' bit refers not so much to the colour but to the relative youth of the wine which is drunk usually around 6 months after bottling. (You can get bargains in the supermarkets at this time of year as they move to sell off the excess of the last vintage.)

Though the Minho is vinho verde territory, L and R are growing different varieties. Why grow what everyone else is growing and you can buy for pence in the local shop?

And here is L, picking the fruit of their labours.

L picking grapes in the vineyard

Don't the grapes look good? You can eat them raw instead of turning them into wine if you like but, though the flesh is sweet, the skins are thick and tough. It's better to stay up all night sorting and de-stemming them as R is doing here in order to make wine.

R sorting and de-stemming the grapes

R is a perfectionist and is hoping that this year's vintage will be better than last year's. I thought last year's wine tasted wonderful but, as R would readily tell you, I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to wine, especially as I drink almost none since being diagnosed diabetic. All the same, I think he may be a bit too self-critical. His wine is very good.

Though there are still people around us who make their own wine, most now take their grapes to the co-operative. When you register with Ponte de Lima co-operative you are given a date on which to bring your fruit to an enormous 'Adega' – wine cellar/lodge – in town and woe betide you if you try to come on a different day. Rain or shine you must keep to your day or chaos will ensue.

A man in a tractor is bringing in his family's grapes

Here, the son of the man who built our stone walls is bringing in the family's green grapes in vast aluminium tubs. Watching the fruit arrive gives you an insight into the hidden wealth of this region. Many folk may be cash poor but they are asset rich, owning several vineyards and pine plantations. One local landowner we know can bring in his white grapes on five days of the week and his black ones on three days the following week. That is a lot of grapes and wine! Picking needs all the extended family to rally round. Even so, he laments that he planted traditional vines which produce half the vintage that the new varieties provide.

 Truck with old fashioned barrels and aluminium tanks

Many people have a mixture of old equipment and new. At the front of this truck are the modern aluminium tubs and at the back the old fashioned, wooden barrels known as 'dornas'. The latter are the ones I love to see being brought in. I realise that aluminium is much easier to keep clean but wooden barrels are traditional and much more romantic.

Transferring the wooden barrels known as 'dornas'

Here the 'dornas' are being swung on heavy chains over the gap from the lorry to the chute down which the grapes are poured before they go on to be processed.

The barrels are being up-ended and the grapes tipped into a chute.

Down they go and now the owner can rest easy till he/she picks up their allocation of bottled vinho verde.

When the grapes have been squashed and their juices released, the liquid is left to ferment and the skins ejected down a chute outside. Just look at those piles of waste and that is only a portion of it. A tractor with a scoop was constantly loading it up onto trucks to be taken away.

Two large fermentation chambers and the left over skins being discarded

Finally, when fermentation is complete and the grape juice has been turned into the lightly sparkling vinho verde of the Minho, this is where the it will be stored.

Storage chambers for wine

This year the co-operative adega is 60 years old as this sign proudly proclaims: more than half a century serving the needs of local vineyard owners. Ponte de Lima isn't alone in having a co-operative. Other towns in northern Portugal have their own adegas. To give you an idea of how important they are to the community and the economy, consider how many small producers there are: in 2014 there were said to be 19,000 of them.

Ponte de Lima adage celebrates 60 years of existence

By the way, we are not the only visitors who have enjoyed visiting the place where vinho verde is produced. Etched into the granite of the adega wall is the date, 22nd February 1992, when one of Brazil's most famous writers, Jorge Amado, called by. (One book he wrote was Gabriela, Cravo e Canela – Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon.)

Stone commemorating the visit of the Brazilian writer Jorge Amado

If you haven't tasted vinho verde, why not come to the Minho? I don't care for red vinho verde. I find it astringent, with too much tannin but the white... ah the white! This is nectar from the fields of paradise and - whisper it low so it doesn't get overwhelmed - the Minho truly is a little paradise.

Red vine leaves in autumn

Lightly sparkling, low alcohol vinho verde is wonderful at any time but it's especially good with sea food. Why not try it out in Vila Praia de Âncora ( If you come in autumn, you can also see the vineyards turn red as the old leaves prepare to fall. What better excuse can you have for a visit than gastronomy and beauty?

Do you have any stories of vinho verde or any recommendations of when to drink it? (If you are Portuguese, please feel free to write in your own language. You don't have to write in English. Lembre-se: o que é importante não é a língua mas a contribuição.)


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