Obviously wine-making is far less important in english-speaking cultures – we don’t even start the season with a sexy name!
No sooner had my flesh eating visitors departed than the neighbours had roped me in to help with the grapes. Actually I volunteered in the name of PR and buying protection from the village mafia who have it in for me again because of the dog.
Apparently (and I would like emphasise the speculative flavour of the word apparently) while my guests and I were casually enjoying a top class breakfast, little darling-wookie-dog went and bit one of the sheep. Funny really because I seem to recall him sitting with us and begging for choriço and presunto… and there are 6 other unleashed dogs in the village, with teeth. One of the neighbours and I have decided it was probably little ‘pulga’ (flea), the remaining puppy, who did the job… I’m sure with further DNA testing and forensic processing my precious will be cleared of wrong doing.
Anyway, back to the grapes. It’s not hard work, and there’s no great rush on, but by the end of the day one is knackered nonetheless, and extremely grateful to the flesh-eater who left a quarter bottle of serious scotch whisky behind. I quite enjoy the work, and I think my neighbours do too. Friends and family drop over to pitch in with the work and eat the food, and there’s a bit of a party atmosphere. They make the work a bit of fun – On day one there was singing, the highlight being a 70 yr old husband and wife love duet.
Day two was mostly farting, but there was a dirty joke which had the old girls weeping with laughter. On day three, we’ve had a great deal of discussion about her (that’s me): my unorthodox picking technique which involves ascending the dodgy vine pergola (we were short of ladders), my dog situation and how the 10m long loose leash method is not fooling anyone, and how cool my board shorts are (thanks to australian surfer brother nick). And there was a whole lot more farting, for which my dog got the blame.
Today we achieved a record 1500 kilos of grapes (the other two days we could only manage about 500-750) and now Tia Maria’s vat is full of squashed fermenting grapes, stems and bits of dirt. As I’m trying to learn a bit before I do my own, I’ll pass on the following notes:
- The predominant grape here is Morangeira, there’s a bluer grape they call Tinta and there are white grapes they call Branco. (Imaginative names (not) and are probably in village language not real portuguese). They mix everything in together.
- They don’t wash the grapes and they don’t even remove the bigger stems, let alone the little ones. Some dividing of the white grapes happened because they are being picked quite late and a lot were either eaten by bees or rotten already.
- Although foot mashing is still widely practised in Portugal as a method for making must (I was pretty keen to zip home and put on a skirt until I saw the size and depth of the vat, and realised it was more a wetsuit and snorkel situation) and they do say it lends a certain flavour to the wine, (ahem). Tia Maria has gone slightly modern and is using an electrically-powered crusher that looks like an old-fashioned laundry squeezer.
- The musty grapes will ferment for 3 more days (but six days since the first batch went in). They then listen to hear if the fermenting has gone quiet (yes, that’s what they said). If it has then the wine will be drained from the bottom of the tank into stainless steel vats (although she has some oak barrels that she got from me that she might use this year, she says). Then they’ll test it after a month but it’s meant to wait for 3 months…they’ll try not to start drinking it, but then again, there’s a lot to get through, so why wait?
I’ve asked about chemicals, I’ve asked about yeast, I’ve asked about sugar. No to all. It’s just 100% dirty grape juice. (I must say that it tastes a lot like dirty grape juice too, but it’s free and in Portugal wine is just something you drink, not eulogise, so who’s complaining?) ‘Organic’ one of the smarter neighbours said with a wink, because no one has the time, energy or money for spraying.
After the wine has been drained off, the pomace will be used to make aguardente (portuguese grappa) in a process of heating and distilling.
Then the grandchild-who-inherits-everything will be given the nasty task of removing 500 kilos of filthy mush from the 2 metre high tank, (this I would like to see) whereupon it will be dumped in the street and will flow like the rivers of blood in the streets of mafia-ruled Sicily…