quarta-feira, 1 de dezembro de 2021

Douro wine region, the 2021 general harvest report

(versão PT aqui)

The record and analysis of the most significant facts that marked the wine year (includind exclusive comments)

Pinhão river valley (Cima Corgo Douro sub-region). Photo by Luís Machado.


    In the Douro, right after last year harvest, Autumn began with dry weather, no rain and average temperatures a little below normal, followed by rain in late October and early November 2020, but in insufficient quantity, that in any case was in acordance with precipitation records for this time of year. In general, in the country, the IPMA (Sea and Atmosphere Portuguese Institute) considered November a hot month.

    When the vines begin a dorment period that will last until the beginning of next Spring and while waiting for the vine leaves to fall to start pruning works, work takes place in the vineyard soils, which are plowed and turned to mix organic matter and oxygenation. December takes place with temperatures within the average records and with some rain in all the Douro sub-regions. Still the record of the "Dora" depression passage (4th - 5th December) that brought rain and a cold air mass, falling temperatures and snowfall at higher elevations above 600/700 meters on the highs of Sabrosa and Ervedosa.


     In early winter the rain stoped and the weather was dry. At the end of December, temperatures drop suddenly with the passage of a polar air mass, temperatures recorded 2ºC to 5ºC lower than average values. On 12th December minimum temperatures of 0,2ºC in Pinhão, 0,2ºC in Adorigo and -3,2ºC in Vilariça, that was followed by rain in the last days of the month.

    The new year started with a harsh winter, a persistent cold dry weather, temperatures droppen far below average records by 5ºC to 6ºC. In Cambres (Baixo Corgo sub-region) the minimum temperature recorded was -2,8ºC, on Pinhão (Cima Corgo sub-region), -2,7ºC (8th January) and in Vilariça (Upper Douro sub-region), -6,4ºC (7th January), a situation that lasted until the 18th of January.

    "Persistence of low minimum temperature values", according to the IPMA, and average and minimum temperatures well below the records of recent years throughout the Douro region, (approximately 6ºC to 7ºC less, and some areas with an even higher difference, for example Soutelo do Douro (Cima Corgo) and Vilarila valley (Upper Douro), Cambres (Baixo Corgo), Canelas, Adorigo and Pinhão (Cima Corgo)) and maximum temperatures that did note exceed 4ºC to 5ºC in Sabrosa, Alijó, Pinhão and S. João da Pesqueira.

    Ice and frost on the vineyards. Normally low tempetures and dry weather play an important role, during thisn period of dormancy and vegetative rest, acting as an effective agent that helps to reduce the likelihood of vine disease incidence.

    It is under these conditions that the first act of the restarting of the vineyard works cycle begins, the general maintenance work and pruning takes place, a meticulous and demanding work in which experience is very important. Pruning is fundamental for the healthy life of the vine and will begin to define the next harvest, since it is one of the most important operations for the balance and quality of the future production. The vine is prepared so that it will burst again when temperatures start to rise. 

    By this time in the Douro landscape we can see the winter smokes that result from the burning of the vine branches left by the pruning workers.

    Then, at the end of January and beginning of February, temperatures (maximum and minimum) rose well above the region average values, at aroud 4ºC higher, and rain returned to the all Douro region and remained until the end of the month with some intensity variations. At this time of year rain is important to replenish the soil's water reserves to prevent the hottest and dry summer weather.

    Precipitation became strong, intense and persistent, for several days, causing the significant rise of the river Douro water levels at Peso da Régua and flooding the river banks, pier and marina, requiring constant monitoring. On the 6th February a flood warning was issued for several dams in the Douro river basin (Crestuma, Carrapatelo, Bagaúste, Valeira and Pocinho), that recorded water reserves above 90%. On 9th February, a flood warning for the riverside areas of the city of Porto. The water flows of the Douro river and its tributaries run high, with the consequent water levels increase along the entire lenght of the river. Rain and bad weather also caused constraints on the Douro railway line, in Covelinhas, due to the collapse and fall of stones on the line, which forced the interruption of trains circulation between Régua and Pinhão.

    The weather records: November, December and February the recorded temperatures were above the historical records. February was one of the hottest months of the winter period with deviations of +1,3ºC in Baixo Corgo, +2,1ºC in Cima Corgo and +2,5ºC in the Upper Douro sub-region. February was also the month that presented high precipitation values in all the three Douro sub-regions, with deviations between 56% and 108% above the historical records.

     At the beginning of February the temperatures are in line with average records, and from 19th onwards, maximum and minimum tempertatures begin to rise. An early Spring announcement. In the Upper Douro, the winter landscape animation, the almond trees begin to bloom.

     The first days of March, calmer days, without rain and temperatures rising, the vines are about to come out of their dormant period, and the first news of life in the vineyards appear, the signs of the vines awakening after the cold and winter dormancy and a new vegetative cycle is about to start, with the weeping of the vines (10th of March at Quinta do Noval, at the Pinhão river valley), when the sap drips out from the pruning cuts and stops as soon as the wounds are healed. 

    Soon after, the budburst, the first buds are born, a sign of Spring in which the small vine buds erupt from the knots left by the winter pruning (on the 14th March at the Quinta do Convento de São Pedro das Águias, in the Távora river valley, and on the 16th March at Quinta Vale D. Maria, both in the Cima Corgo sub-region) and then a green tip and small leaves emerge. The green will soon return and spread to the Douro landscape once again, a true "bio-blitz"...

    After a winter with a lot of rain, March was a dry month, with practicall no rain in all the Douro region.

    It is also at this time of year that vine grafting takes place, the time to bring new life to the vineyards...

"Renova" vineyard, at Quinta do Noval, Pinhão river valley.


    At the end of March the vines are in the free leaves phase. Temperatures increased above the average record for this time of year, between 2ºC to 6ºC. Some rain in early April.

    In early April, news of the apperance of the first grape bunches and a good birth (Quinta de la Rosa, in Cima Corgo), promising a production at least higher than the previous year. In mid-April rain returns and temperatures now drop to average values.

    The vine continues its cycle, the leaves develop and grow from day to day, they are a fundamental element of the vine as they start photothyntesis, producing the energy necessary for its growth. With the first grape bunches, the critical period of flowering approaches (on 14th at Quinta do Convento de São Pedro das Águias).

    The rains returned on 21st to 26th April, at regular intervals, and temperatures above average. April was a month in which the recorded precipitation values where higher compared to historical records in all the demarcated region, with deviations of +7,7% in Baixo Corgo, + 22% in Cima Corgo and +50% in the Upper Douro.

     Desbuding and suckering take place in the vineyard, essential to ensure the vine balance and control production by eliminating excess shoots, since excessive sprouting will steal the plant's natural resources, such as water and other nutrients, it will also allow aeration and thus control diseases, such as downy mildew and powdery mildew. The low pressure of diseases in the vineyards is noted, as a result of a dry month of March, especially after recent years in which there was a higher vine disease pressure.

    Nature takes its course and the vine shoots begins to take shape.

    Flowering occurs (4th May at Quinta Vale D. Maria, 17th May at Quinta do Vale Meão and 25th of May at Wine & Soul) and the future of the next harvest begins to be defined. At this time, it is essential that weather conditions remain calm and balanced, without extreme phenomena, so that pollination can take place without incidents, and so far the vegetative cycle was going very well.

   Temperatures in general according to average values, then declining throughout the Douro from the 9th of May, and rain appeared until the 13th of May and after dry weather returned. In any case, May was a month with precipitation values below the climatological normal.

    After a good birth, the periods of rain, humidity and heat, that usually appear at this time of year, potentiate the inevitable appearence of vine fungal diseases, downy mildew and powdery mildew, advising the ideal preventive treatments anticipating their appearence. 

    Until the end of May, the maximum and minimum tempretatures increase above the average (approximatly + 3ºC). Between the 31st May and the 1st of June, news of some hailstorms, thunderstorms, intense hail and rain, very localized but causing serious damage to the vineyards, in the territory of Vila Real (covering the parishes of Guiães, Abaças, Andrães and Constantim) and in vineyards within the Douro demarcated wine region. 

    The affected vines already had the bunches formed and only the sticks were left. There was talk of a "catastrophe" and there were areas in which the harvest was done at this time. Hailstorm were also registered in Pinhão and the Cima Corgo region, at Quinta de la Rosa some vineyards were affected and it was expected that some could recover, others less so...

    From the 9th of June onwards, temperatures increase, approximately 3ºC above average records, with maximum values recorded of 37,7ºC in the Cima Corgo. Then, for the second time in twoo weeks, on the 13th of June, there was a sudden and violent storm, bringing intense rain, thunder and hail, which has been a frequent phenomenon in the Douro in recent years. The damage caused in the vines was high, and in some cases it will take around three years to recover. In the area of Vila Real, in the Douro demarcated region, once again there was a talk of a "catastrophe". Calcium treatments were carried out to try to save, conserve and heal the vines. In this area there are locations where the vineyards are the main economic activity and where 80 to 90% of the vines were destroyed. In some areas, hail covered the vines in white.

    There were also some occurrences across the Douro region, in Pinhão, S. João da Pesqueira and Tua, affecting many farmers who supply grapes to the large houses. 

    It was a dramatic end of Spring with the constant threat of very unbstable weather, storms, rain and temperature fluctuations. Until July, the big challenge was the climatic accidents that occured.  Generically, an unstable and dramatic Spring with milder temperatures and a cooler begining of Summer.

    Rain returned later in the 15th to the 18th of June and , in general, June was characterized by great climatic instability with a great heterogeneity in precipitation in the different Douro sub-regions, Baixo Corgo registered +70%, the Upper Douro +224% and in the Cima Corgo it rained less 41% in relation to the climatological normal. The average values of the temperatures recorded were lower than the historical value, between -1,1ºC in the Upper Douro and -0,6ºC in Baixo Corgo, an Cima Corgo remaining without differences.

Red grapes arriving at Quinta do Vallado winery. 


    From 21st June, dry weather, according to average temperatures and without execesses. On the 30th of June, the veraison appears in the Touriga Francesa grape variety in the Upper Douro, one week later when compared to 2020, as a result of the cooler weather. The veraison explosion, from the 9th of July, at Quinta da Soalheira (S. João da Pesqueira), and on the 12th of July at Quinta do Noval (Pinhão river valley). Mid-July with high temperatures, in Pinhão the maximum temperature recorded was 38,2ºC, in Adorigo, 39,5ºC, and in Soutelo do Douro, still in the Cima Corgo, 39,1ºC. Despite these temperature peaks, July was a dry and cool month. From the end of July to the begining of August, the grape ripening intensifies. An early August with cooler temperatures than usual, in all the three Douro sub-regions, 2ºC to 4ºC less than average, with thermal amplitudes of 9ºC to 10ºC.

    The harvest is approaching with some apprehension with the unknown of the weather and fear of excessive heat, which ends up not happening. The Instituto do Vinho e da Vinha (Wine and Vineyard Institute) publishes a forecast that referred an increase in the Douro production of around 20% this year, in a "year of normal development, with very localized hail phenomena. The downy mildew and powdery mildew did not have a significante impact on production...".


    In mid-August, the pre-harvest days, monitoring and control of grape maturation are carried out on the vineyards by the viticulture teams. This constant filed work is essential to evaluate a series of parameters that no other method can replace, such as tasting the grape berries, to assess flavor and grape skin consistency and if the garpe seeds are brown or not and whether the grape berry detaches easily from the bunch.

    In the last days of August, harvest begins all over the Douro region. The trend of the harvest starting earlier is confirmed once again this year. Currently, the harvest generally begins earlier than fourty years ago. The following weeks are decisive. At this moment all options are open, there was no execessive heat in August, tempetatures were less intense and the nights were cooler, which was great for D.O.C. Douro wines and we could also say, even for Por wines.

    The harvest of white grapes began at Quinta Vale D. Maria on the 16th August, at Quinta de la Rosa on the 20th, the same at Quinta do Vallado harvesting the Moscatel Galego white grape variery. At Quinta do Crasto on the 23rd, the following day at Quinta do Noval and at Wine & Soul on the 26th. These days temperatures were very high throughout the Douro, however the nights were cooler, which turned out to be very favorable for white wines. 

The traditional granite lagares at Quinta do Noval Port wine winery.

    Churchill's began red grape harvest on the 26th August as well as Viera de Sousa (Cima Corgo sub-region) and Conceito Wines (Upper Douro). Quinta Seara D'Odens and Quinta do Passadouro on the 27th and Quinta da Côrte, Quinta do Têdo and Wine & Soul on the 31st August, Quinta de Vargellas on the 3rd of September.

    Then, in the middle of the red grape harvest, the problems started with the first of three different periods of rain that occured throughout September, on the 1st and 2nd and then on the 7th and 9th of September all over the Douro demarcated region, which generated apprehension and anxiety between producers and some harvests were interrupted for a few days. The rain returned later on the 13th and 14th of September, in a significant quantity which, must be said, in some cases led to the halt of work for the vineyards to recover and in other cases for condemning some harvests, and the last period of rain on the 23rd to the 25th.

    The nightmare of September rains during the harvest, the cool temperatures below average, resulted in a delay in grape maturations, with more sensitive red grape varieties such as Tinta Amarela and the late ripening red grapes such as Touriga Francesa being also affected, even in warmer areas such as the Upper Douro.

"When nothing predicted, the 2021 harvest presented a huge challenge for the Douro wines oenology, but especially for Port wines. We started harvesting on the 24th of August and for two weeks we had excellent conditions for wine production. From the 10th of September onwards, a period of rainy days began, which only ended at the beginning of October and which forced the harvest to be accelerated to reduce the risk of a drop in the grape sugar levels. It was a year in which the Tinta Francisca and Touriga Francesa grape varieties especially needed a lot of attention due to their compact bunch and thin skins. I believe we are in a position to produce a small quantity of 2021 Vintage from our vineyards at Quinta Vale d'Agodinho and Quinta da Trovisca. For now, we need the next two winters to help clean and clarify the wines."

(Óscar Quevedo, Quevedo Port wine producer)

    Decisions about harvesting red grapes were very difficult, as they did not have the ideal maturation levels and in the third week of September many of the best grapes had not yet entered the wineries. In general, the harvest lasted until the first week of October. At Quinta de Vargellas (Taylor's) and Fonseca Guimaraens, ended on the 24th September, at Graham´s on the 27th when the last Touriga Francesa grapes arrived at the winery. At Wine & Soul (Pinhão river valley, Cima Corgo), Quinta do Vale Meão (Upper Douro), Quinta do Bom Retiro and Quinta da Ervamoira (Ramos Pinto), the harvest ended on the 1st of October. At Real Companhia Velha it lasted until the 15th of October.

At Quinta do Vallado winery.

"Quinta das Carvalhas... the last harvest days (11th October). A long and "wet" harvest, in addition to other mishaps... lack of labor is limiting the opportunity to harvest at the optimum of maturation... and for that reason wine growers, but especially serious winemakers waiting for the vine prunning...there will be more nest year...".

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

    To sum things up, the 2021 vintage produced excellent quality white wines in the Douro region, the white grape harvest conditions were great. Then followed the case of the red grapes in a long lasting harvest, there were numerous climatic difficulties, several periods of rain in the middle of harvest and lower temperatures than usual, hampered the regular grape maturations which ripened later and in many cases did not reach an optimal point of flavor and sugar levels. In general, it was not a good year, we cannot count on great 2021 red wines. Obviously, in an immensely varied region such as the Douro, there are are always exceptions, cases of producers who managed to harvest before the rain at a good grape maturation point.

    It should be mentioned that, once again, it was a harvest marked by the covid-19 pandemic and the persistent difficulty in recruiting manpower for vineyard works.

   In  2021 production was slightly higher than average production of the last ten years.

    As the main characteristics of this year's Port wines we can highlight the aroma intensity, fresh fruit and a good acidity.

"In my opinion, 2021 harvest proved to be extremely challenging. Not considering the excessive heat that normally plagues the Douro during the summer, I would say that there was a tendency to delay the start of cutting compared to previous years in an attempt to find a better balance between sugar content and acidity, as well as a better phenolic maturation. In my view, the first rains benefited the evolution of the grape's maturation and their qualitative potential. Thus, it was the most intense period of the harvest. With the advance of the harvest season , a new wave of rain came, in my view, to decisively influence the final third of the harvest. Personally, I decided not to harvest some of the Toutiga Nacional vines at the expense of Touriga Franca and older vines, because I felt that the grape skins would be in a better state to withstand the rain impact. Overall, despite the difficulties felt due to both the unstable weather conditions and the shortage of labor available to harvest, I think we are facing wines that will surprise, in a fresh and elegant style but with high intensity and character.".

(Ricardo Pinto Nunes, Churchill's Production Director)

©Hugo Sousa Machado

more info on previous Douro harvest reports, here: 

Douro, the 2021 harvest, a first hand testimony