domingo, 29 de novembro de 2020

Douro, the 2020 harvest general report

(a versão PT aqui)

A very difficult, challenging and atypical year

The truth is that in the Douro wine region no two years are the same and there is no wine year that can be considered as "normal"

The granite lagares at Quinta do Passadouro winery, Vale de Mendiz, Pinhão river valley.

    The 2019 harvest ended in mid-October with the first autumn rains, that lasted through the months of November and December, that were very rainy months, an important fact for replenishing the soil water reserves, after months of drought and none or insufficient rainfall. In mid-December, a late autumn with rainy weather, heavy, persistent and intense rain across the Douro demarcated wine region, also in the Upper Douro sub-region that usually has lower average rainfall values. The "Elsa" depression and the intense rain, caused the river Douro water level to rise (which rose 11 meters in the Peso da Régua quay), the Pinhão village riverside area was flooded, and in the Vilariça valley, at the mouth of the river Sabor, there was flooded farmland.

    In general, temperatures remained in line with average values for this time of year.


    Winter marks the beginning of a new cycle in the vineyards, temperatures drop and the vines enter a phase of vegetative rest and dormancy - silence prevails in the vineyards at this time of year. In this cycle the vineyard renovation works begin with prunning the vines, which is decisive for their growth and development and for the final result of the harvest, for the quality of the wine and even for the longevity of the vine.

    The end of the year and the beginning of 2020 without rain and with dry weather, then in mid-January rain returned to the entire Douro region.

    It was, in fact, a very rainy winter which made it possible to replenish the soil water reserves and the available water. 

    Late January wiht temperatures above average, whuch lasted until the end of February in hot and dry weather. According to the IPMA (Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute) seasonal bulletin, we had the warmest February since 1931 and by this time a drecrease in the percentage of water in the soil available to plants.


"The 2020 vintage was undoubtedly a challenging vintage. Along with the delicate sanitary moment we are experiencing, which led us to establish several preventive measures to combat COVID-19 in order to avoid any problem that could jeopardize the normal course of the harvest, also the climatic year did not facilitate. 2020 turned out to be a hot and precocious year, with very low yields, in which grape varieties like Touriga Franca suffered more from the excessive heat. The problem of lack of water combined with the high temperatures felt, put the vineyards most exposed to stress causing the grapes to ripen quickly, forcing us to speed up the harvest so as not to let escape the desidered maturation window. It looks like a year that will bring wines with a lot of concentration ans structure, robust and with potential. It remains for us to wait and monitor its evolution.".

(Ricardo Pinto Nunes, Churchill's Winemaker and Production Director)


Quinta do Passadouro winery, Vale de Mendiz, Pinhão river valley.


    It was a Spring with very difficult conditions, in which permanent monitoring, constant attention and a lot of work in the vineyards was necessary.

     In the first days of March there was some rain throughout the region.

    The first signs of life in the vineyards start to appear in early March, vines are beginning to burst, and in the Douro the vineyard landscape is reborn with nature blooming. At this stage the vineyard cycle is advanced, the bud break(1) registered on 3rd March and the appearance of the first leaves and shoot growth on the vines was 2 weeks early, the same happened with the vine flowering.

    From the moment the vines start to burst, the rest ends and work beggins on the vineyards that will only end at the end of the harvest.

    The last days of March and the beginning of Spring with hot days and then, surprisingly, on the last day of March, there was a temperatute drop and the cold painted the highest vineyards with snow, approximately at an altitude of 700 meters (in Mesão Frio, Vila Real and S. João da Pesqueira), a fact practically unrecorded at this time of year (an effect of climate change?), a situation that can damage the vines. These days there was news of some vineyards that suffered damage from frost (in the Cima Corgo Douro sub-region) with the consequent production reduction.

    At the beginning of April the works on the vineyards continue with the green prunning essential to ensure balance and control over the quality of the vine's production. In the middle of the month, the loose leaves and the first bunches begin to appear. This is followed by the control of the vigour and excessive vegetative growth and the first preventive treatment.

    An early May with temperatures well above average (some days with about 2ºC above average values) throughout the Douro wine region. In the middle of Spring, in mid-May, between the 7th and the 14th there was some precipitation in all the Douro sub-regions with consequences in the vineyards. The rainy Spring was one of the instability factors that would mark the wine year. 

    The unstable weather, heat, rain and humidity, all conditions met for the appearance of mildew and powdery mildew -  a wet Spring always means more work in the vineyards - which determined e greater need for treatments and a lot of work in viticulture, to prevent the spread of this fungal diseases and its treatment, and the inevitable cost increase and declines in production. This year there was a great pressure of mildew and powdery mildew in the vineyards throughout the Douro wine region.

    It was a year with a very low birth rate (which reflects the average number of grape bunches per branch left after prunning the vines) which was below average and the vine flowering occured in the last week of May. 

    This period was characterized by a great climate irregularity in the whole region, with high temperatures well above average in the last week of May (4 to 5ºC above average temperatures) and later in June (on the 12th) temperatures dropped and it rained across the Douro.


"The 2020 harvest started very early, in the third week of August, both for the earliest white grapes and red grapes from warmer and drier areas. At the end of the first week there was a drying grape phenomenon, especially the Touriga Franca variety, which quickly led to a high concentration of sugars in the grape berries. In quantitative terms, there was a very sharp drop in production in both the Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. The Baixo Corgo sub-region which is significantly more fertile and humid, experienced slight declines in production. Regarding quality, whites are rich and expressive, while reds will need more time to show themselves.".

(Óscar Quevedo, Quevedo Port wine Producer)


After pressing the masses (grape skins and pips that came out of the lagar) at Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhão.


    The formation of the grape bunches takes place, the berries growing and the bunches closing. On the 20th of June the first changes in color and texture of the berries, which annouce the veraison, according to the popular proverb "Santiago (on Santiago's day) paints the berry". There was an antecipation of 1 week to 10 days for some red grape varieties such as Tourga Nacional and Touriga Franca.

    The grape ripening marks a very important phase of the wine year, it is the beginning of the accumulation of sugars and the progressive loss of acidity in the grape berries, determinig factors for the wine quality. It is trough the sun that the grapes gain color, sugar and the various components that will determine the final wine aromas and flavors.

    Work continued on the vineyards with the guidance of the vine vegetation growth for aerating the grape bunches. 

    On the 22nd of June there was a change in climate, and increase in temperature and a low humidity level, an intensive, scorching and agressive sun which caused scald in the most exposed bunches (a phenomemon known in the region as the burning of Saint John (24th of June is Saint John's day)). This year this phenomenon was quite violent and even reached vineyards at a higher altitude, and along with the vine low birth rate, caused a drop in the quantity of production. Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca were the grape varieties that suffered the most from these conditions.

Global warming, the effects of climate chage in the region

    The last days of June and July with very high temperatures all over the Douro region, well above average and very low humidity levels. In Pinhão, Quinta da Roêda (Croft) there was 8 consecutive days with maximum temperatures above 40ºC and also a very high minimum temperature, the hottest day with a recorded temperature of 42,73ºC. According to the IPMA data, July was the warmest month since 1931. In general, the data recorded for the country for the period from January to July 2020, aswell as the month of July, were the hottest of the last 90 years. Still the period between January and mid-September was the warmest since there are records (1850) and of the 17 warmest years recorded, 16 have occured since 2000 until now. What beggins to be a pattern of consistently hotter years is a concern for the region.

    In the 3rd week of July, the veraison's phase is ending.

    The harvest is approaching, in the first week of August the grape bunches are in full maturation stage, in search of the perfect sugar and acidity levels. At the beginning of August the weather remained dry and with high temperatures still above average, and in some parts of the Cima Corgo and Upper Douro sub-regions temperatures were above 40ºC.


" climatic terms in was a very atypical and quite difficult year, despite having a rainy winter and spring that guaranteed us some water support in the soil, but we had a hot year, a July that was perhaps the hottest July in yhe last decades and the months of August and September continued to be hot, we had low birth on the vines, we had problems of flowering and development, we had to do more treatments, there was grape scalding, in short a number of factors that lead us to conclude that our estimate is that we have a reduction in production by about 25 to 30%, to be very positive...".

(Álvaro Martinho Lopes, viticulture responsible at Quinta das Carvalhas, Real Companhia Velha)


The harvest

    At the beginning of August early vintage signs were confirmed, a harvest that started very early with white grapes, between the  middle and the last week of August.

    Between 17th and 20th of August, it was very important the rain that fell in some quantity throughout the region and that arrived at the right moment to releive the effects of excessive heat in the vineyards and to try to manage maturation, but it also had the consequence of accelerating the ripening process.

    The very hot days remained during harvest time, causing scalding in some vineyards, and at a first stage in some cases there was a difficulty in starting the harvest, since the excessive heat and the lack of water, caused some stops and irregularities in the ripening of grapes, and then right after, the need to harvest and quickly take the grapes to the wine cellars to avoid the rapid loss of acidity, the high levels of sugar and the increase of the potential alcohol content, the consequence of the grape berries dehydration, the main concern was trying to preserve some of the ideal balance between those essential elements that will always be reflected in the wines. 

    There was a need for permanent monitoring of maturation and constant adaptations and changes in the harvest logistics and more than ever it was very important trying to achieve a perfect coordination of viticulture and oenology.

    September continued with high temperatures and with rain recorded throughout the region between the 17th and the 20th.

    It was an early and very short harvest, which ended before the last days of September. Some examples, at Quinta de la Rosa, in Pinhão, it was probably the most antecipated and the shortest harvest recorded on this property. At Quinta da Roêda, also in Pinhão, it was the second earliest harvest recorded (after 2017). At Quinta dos Malvedos, located in a transition zone between the Cima Corgo and the Upper Douro, the harvest lasted less than three weeks. At Quinta das Carvalhas, in the Cima Corgo sub-region, there was an antecipation of the cycle in about 10 days, It was the most antecipated harvest in the last 20 years.

After the harvest

    It was undoubtedly an atypical year, very complicated and difficult, of low production, with a low birth rate and a low yield on the vines, a short harvest and a reduction in production of aroud 30% and even 40% in some properties.

    Despite the general considerations that are recorde here, we must not forget that the Douro is an immensely varied region, in its sub-regions, microclimates, vineyard locations, different altitudes and exposures, the different grape varieties, in short, very diverse terroirs, that always allow the existence of particular cases that escape a more general analysis and some of the factors that characterized the wine year.

    The weather instability in spring, in the months of April and May, which favoured the severe occurrence of mildew and powdery mildew started to be decisive and forced many vineyard treatments. The vine flowering was not ideal for the bunches to thrive and there was great heterogeneity with weaker yields than usual. Also, the excessive heat and the scalding ir caused in the grape bunches, that continued during the harvest, making it difficult to achieve good  balance in the grape maturation between acidity, sugar and pH.

    However, with a break in production, there was also a greater concentration and intensity in the wines produced, with a greater structure, as well as the higher sugar levels allowed longer fermentations and greater extrations, very important when we consider Port wines. From now on it remains for producers to follow the evolution of wines in the cellars.

    Despite all the difficulties there were grape varieties that revealed all their potential in agressive and extreme conditions, as was the case with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta da Barca and Sousão, as well as the behaviour of the old vines, which, in general stood out and showed great capacity of adaptation and resistence to the adverse conditions of this wine year, with quality productions.

The harvest "remains", at Quinta de Nápoles, Tedo river valley.


(1) Bud break or budburst: the moment that marks the beginning of the vine vegetative cycle, with the emergence of the shoots.

© Hugo Sousa Machado

More information:

Douro, the 2020 harvest: a testimony 


7 comentários :

  1. Another fantastic review of the vintage. Very well done!
    As this is the first year I have missed the harvest since 2004, it was wonderful to read such a comprehensive report!

    Roy Hersh - FTLOP

    1. Thanks Roy, for your opinion. Strange times we are living. Hopefully in the next harvest everything will be over. Until then we always have Port wine... Cheers!

  2. Top class appraisal of the harvest. Well done
    Raymond Reynolds

    1. Thank you Raymond for your comments, I really appreciated.

  3. Este comentário foi removido pelo autor.

  4. I am so grateful for your blog post. Really looking forward to read more.
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