quinta-feira, 23 de novembro de 2023

Douro, the 2023 general harvest report

 EN (versão PT aqui) 

Quinta do Bom Retiro, Torto river Valley.

"2023 was a very intense harvest. The climatic conditions during the year allowed the vines to reach harvest with sufficient resources to ensure the correct grape maturation. We started harvesting on the 23rd of August with the white wines and on the 24th of August with the reds. The grapes for Port wine began to arrive on the 1st of September. At first, the harvest began with very hot and stable weather at the end of August, but during the month of September, we had periods of inetnse rain that caused difficulties in more sensitive and fragile vines. The cutting pace was adapted depending on climatic instabilaties. We finished the entry of grapes on 29th September. On balance, I am very excited about the potential of the wines this year, especially those harvested before the second wave of heavier precipitation."

Ricardo Pinto Nunes, Churchill´s Winemaker & Production Director.

"Initially expectations were promising, but during the first weeks we faced a major challenge: abundant rain. The green leafhopper (a vineyard pest) for the first time appeared in our vineyards next to the Douro river, Quinta vale d'Agodinho and Alegria. Still, without ever giving up, we managed to produce wines that leave beautiful memories, albeit in smaller quantities.

(On October 12nd) We recently finished the harvest, a few days ago, and we still have some presses and tanks with fermentations going on. It was a very challenging harvest, in which once again the best vineyards were those located at the highest altitudes, perhaps not so much those at the top of the mountain, at 700 meters, but perhaps those at an altitude of 400/500 meters, these vineyards were not so affected by the rain or by the green leafhopper, which is a small fly that begins to eat the vine leaves, which happened at the beginning of July and at a certain point stopped the ripening process ate the vineyards located at low altitude in the Upper Douro and towards the Cima Corgo area and then all the way up to Tua.

It is also interesting to see that climate change is also changing the way we are making wine in the Douro. I think thos trend will continue, we will increasingly have the best wines coming from vineyards at higher altitudes, and we can feel it at the winery.

At the beginning of the harvest I hoped for the best and because of the rain at the middle of the harvest I was a little concerned, but now that we have all the grapes picked I think we have several batches with a lot of quality but we need to be very selective with what we produced."

Óscar Quevedo, Quevedo Wines producer (text from an audio version)

Torto river valley, EN222 road.

    After an extremely dry and hot year cycle - 2022 was the driest hydrological year since 1931 - the September rain, although in greater quantity than normal, was still insufficient to increase surface or underground water availability because the soils were extraordinarily dry.

    At the beginning of autumn, the anxiety among Douro winegrowers is well expressed in the words of António Magalhães, Viticulture Director at the Fladgate Partnership: “Last year we went through an absolutely arid year, unthinkably arid, the grapes, the vines protected themselves from this dryness to the point of exhaustion, it was absolutely necessary to have an autumn and winter with rain, but we lived in this anguish for a long time, and we had the best autumn and winter we could have after the year 22, last autumn and winter was a happy moment.”.

    The much-needed rain, essential for the region's agriculture, finally arrives from the 10th of October onwards, then in greater quantities throughout the Douro, from the 19th until the end of October and also during November, which was also a rainy month, with intense precipitation. Temperatures in October and November were above average values (between 2,5ºC to 4ºC higher).

    In any case, there was a worsening of the meteorological drought situation across the country (32,2% of the territory in a severe drought situation) and the Douro region in a moderate drought situation.

    Autumn sets in, the vineyards change colors, the green gradually disappears and the landscape is dressed in beautiful Autumn colors, temperatures drop and the vines get ready for winter.

    The rain returned to the entire wine region in December 5th, resulting in a situation of meteorological instability with persistent and heavy rain accompanied by thunderstorms. It was recorded that on December 14th, the Douro river bed rose by around 2 meters to the usual level at this time of year.

    Flood. Precipitation data recorded on December 13th: Cambres (35,8mm) – Pinhão (35mm) – Vilariça (29mm) – Canelas (39mm). The flood forecast led to the activation of the flood plan in the Douro river basin. The flow of the Douro river and its tributaries has increased significantly. According to the Portuguese Environment Agency, the Autumn rains once again filled the water reserves, some to the limit, as was the case in the Douro basin.


    The beginning of Winter was also rainy and since mid-December temperatures have been above average (between 3ºC to 4ºC) throughout the region. Then, in the last days of the year and the beginning of the new year, the entire northern region was most affected by bad weather, storms and a lot of intense rain, as a result of the passage of a cold front with strong activity, temperatures remained well above average at the end of December. 

    In the vineyards, the period is now one of rest and recovery for the next season. Many of the annual pruning activities continue and take place during the month of January, in a long, laborious and important task to which the pruning teams are dedicated, for the balance between vegetative and productive functions and the future of the quantity and quality of the vine production.

    From mid-January onwards, temperatures drop below average values (less 3ºC to 4ºC), it snows in Serra do Marão and Serra do Alvão. On January 22nd, very low temperatures were recorded in the districts of Vila Real and Viseu, as a result of a cold mass of cold and dry air. Dry weather and very cold winter days, with blue skies and sun, minimum temperatures very close to zero or even negative in some areas of the region (the record of minimum temperatures on 24Jan.: Cambres, -1ºC – Adorigo, -1,6ºC – Pinhão, -0,5ºC – Soutelo do Douro, -0,5ºC – Vilariça, -4,3ºC – Canelas, -0,4ºC, on 31 Jan., - 2,0 in Adorigo, on 5Feb. and -3,8ºC in the Vilariça valley).

    In the great Douro landscapes, the typical January cold covers the vineyards with a white blanket caused by frost. Until the first week of February, the weather remains dry and with low temperatures throughout the region, then in the mid-February, temperatures begin to rise to the average values for this time of year, with higher maximum temperatures that remind us of Spring.

    Nevertheless, Autumn and Winter were very rainy seasons, in contrast to the last winter which was very dry. With days of winter sun, on the 7th of February and throughout the month, the first news arrives of the “crying of the vine” or the lacrima vitis, the natural phenomenon that marks the end of the vine's vegetative rest and that consists of the sap flow in the plant that accumulates at the ends, reaching the winter pruning cuts and marking the beginning of a new vine vegetative cycle announcing the end of winter.

    In February and March, the landscapes of the Upper Douro, in the Vila Nova de Foz Côa district, are covered in pink and white with almond trees in bloom. Dry weather and low temperatures in March, with minimum temperatures reaching negative records in many places (for example, -3,6ºC in Vilariça on 28Feb and 3Mar), followed by some rain and temperatures rising to average values.

    The vines begin to emerge, coming out of their long winter sleep and come to life, the bud break phase begins (the news of the first shoots on 17Mar, in Canelas, in Baixo Corgo sub-region – 19Mar., at Quinta Seara D' Orders, 21Mar. in Quinta da Roêda and on 22Mar., in Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Manoella, in the Pinhão river valley, 23Mar., in Quinta da Romaneira and on 25 Mar. in Quinta da Gricha). With an increase in average temperature and more daily hours of sunlight, the buds left by pruning increase in size and then a green tip appears, the first shoots and small leaves are recognizable. There are more precocious grape varieties in which bud break occurs earlier and others that bud break later.


Grape reception at Van Zellers & Co. winery.


    Nature follows its course with a new cycle and a dry start to Spring (with only some rain on the 24th of March) and temperatures increasing above average values throughout the wine-growing region (by 2ºC to 3ºC). From the moment the vine buds, it usually takes 6 months until the next harvest.

    The Douro spring days, between the end of March and the beginning of April were sunny and with hot weather, average and maximum temperatures increasing and higher than average values (on the 28th March, in Pinhão it was recorded a maximun temperature of 28,5ºC and a minimum temperature of 7,2ºC). Despite the rainy winter, the month of April was hot and dry with very little rain, which meant that 80% of the national territory reached a drought situation and in the Douro the situation also evolved into a weak to moderate drought, according to with IPMA (The Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere) data.

    In the vineyards, at the end of April, the leaves develop quickly and take on their definitive appearance and the shoots change their initial pinkish color to green tones, the first flower buds appear and the appearance and separations of the grape bunch. The vine flowering begins during the month of May, on the 10th of May at Quinta do Crasto separate flower buds can be observed and in some cases, in the Upper Douro it is already possible to observe flowering in most grape varieties, which in the case of Touriga Francesa is further ahead. It is an important and sensitive vine cycle phase, in which climate conditions have a direct influence, for example, if it rains, pollen is carried away from the stamens and flowers which, without pollination and fertilization, result in fruit not appearing what will affect production.

    The vines are beautiful and grow at a good pace, the first non-individualized bunches appear, which eventually separate and determine the birth (each vine branch holds 1 to 4 bunches). In May, temperatures were high and above average values (e.g.: on May 23, Pinhão recorded a maximum temperature of 29,6ºC, as well as Soutelo do Douro and Canelas, 30,2ºC).

    At the end of May, from the 28th to the 31st, imponderable weather conditions appeared, the weather became uncertain and dangerous with the occurrence of violent rains, hail storms, thunderstorms and strong winds, which in a short time caused extensive damage in some areas of the Douro (in the districts of Alijó, Murça and Carrazeda de Ansiães). The intensity of the hailstorm left marks on hundreds of hectares of vineyards and olive groves. Winegrowers try to minimize losses (phytopharmaceutical treatments) and save the vines and there was talk of losses of thousands of euros.

    At the beginning of June, with strange weather patterns, the clusters begin to form, a warm spring was followed by a rain storm and the threat of hail and a rainy end of May. Despite the conditions at the end of May, in mainland Portugal, the month of May was the eighth hottest since 1931 and most of the Douro region was in a moderate drought situation.

    Changes continue in the vineyards, between May and June, after flowering, the initial phase of the grape bunch growth takes place, the result of flower pollination and fruit set that now gives rise to grape berries.

    On the 12th of June in Murça, Freixo de Numão, Mêda and Vila Nova de Foz, records of damage caused by inclement rain and hail, which is one of agriculture's worst enemies, destroyed many of this year's production and compromised next year's (the vines' canes were badly damaged – treatments with calcium for faster healing were necessary to the affected vines). The damage caused to the vineyards was considered catastrophic by the wine sector of the municipalities, which is the main source of income of this territory in the Upper Douro sub-region. These are storms that, in addition to destroying the grapes and vines, also cause the collapse of vineyard terraces and support walls that are difficult to repair. In the past, these storms normally occurred every few years, but currently they can happen several times in the same year. As a result, there was an enormous incidence and pressure of diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew that were very difficult to control and which required several preventive phytosanitary treatments.

    There was also an unusual occurrence, a large attack by the green leafhopper, as rarely seen in the region with such intensity. It is a vineyard pest, an insect that destroys the vine's leaves and its photosynthetic capacity at a fundamental moment in its development cycle, causing damage and production losses (weakening of the plant, difficulty in ripening the branches and affecting the quality of production).

    Despite all the events described, the rain that fell allowed the vines water stress to be alleviated and normalized.


    The grapes begin to color. All over the region, the first news of the veraison arrival, especially the earliest Touriga Francesa grape variety.

    A very hot summer start, with temperatures high and above average (e.g. maximum temperatures recorded, 24Jun. in Pinhão, 38,2ºC and 39,1ºC in Vilariça), the hot and dry weather continued, the temperatures quite above average values (between 4ºC to 5ºC) at the beginning of July and high maximum temperatures.

Worldwide, the month of June 2023 was the hottest on record, one more indication of rapid changes in climate.

    July is a month of changes in the vineyards, which is commonly known as the month of the veraison, the grapes begin to change color, ripen and accumulate reserves. The vines are beginning to show the various shades of the color of the grape berries and the harvest is expected to arrive earlier than expected.

    The 2023 harvest production forecast released on 12th of July by ADVID (Association for the Development of Viticulture in the Douro Region) - which mainly considers the flowering potential based on the method of pollen collected at this stage in the three Douro sub-regions and does not take into account all the factors that may occur after this phase that could change this forecast, such as storms or vine diseases - it pointed to an increase of 10% compared to last year.

    In mid-July we had “full grape bunches, healthy berries with good development conditions”.

End of July and beginning of August: dry weather and temperatures in accordance to average records, to monitor the grape ripening, the first maturation tests are carried out, with the collection of grapes in the vineyards or several vineyard parcels and the objective is to determine parameters such as weight, probable alcohol, acidity and pH values.

Quinta da Gricha lagar (Churchill's).

The harvest

    It's time for the routine to tour the vineyards and evaluate the grapes maturation process.

    Until mid-August, always dry weather and very hot days, average temperatures close to 30ºC and maximum temperatures above 40ºC (e.g.: on the 22nd August, 45,4ºC in Adorigo and 44,4ºC in Pinhão), then at the end of the month temperatures dropped to values closer to the average records for this time of year.

   The harvest in the Douro demarcated wine region generally lasts approximately 6 weeks to harvest the 42,000 hectares of vineyard and around 20,000 people are involved in this work.

    It was a very early harvest which in general started in mid- August, in some cases it was anticipated two weeks compared to the previous year.

    On the Ramos Pinto quintas, on the 3rd of August, the harvest had already begun, with the white Viosinho grape variety being the first to enter the winery. At Quinta do Vallado, the white Moscatel Galego grapes are always the first to be harvested, this year on the 8th of August. At Quinta de Ventozelo the harvest began on the 9th of August.

    On August 12, the first phase of the harvest at Vieira de Sousa, with the Tinta Francisca and Rufete varieties. At Quinta do Vale Meão, on August 13, the Rabigato grapes from the “Janeanes” vineyard were harvested. Quinta do Crasto began harvesting white grapes of vineyards at higher altitude on the 15th. Adega de Favaios began harvesting Moscatel Galego and Moscatel Roxo on the 16th of August and then followed the remaining white grape varieties. Quinta do Noval began harvesting Viosinho and Gouveio white grape varieties on the 17th of August. On August 18th, Quinta de la Rosa started harvesting white grapes from the highest areas of Quinta das Lamelas. On the same day, at Kranemann, the early variety Bastardo grapes were harvested, around two weeks earlier than last year. Van Zellers & Co. began harvesting white grape varieties on the 23rd of August and concluded this first phase on the 30th, the vines produced a large quantity of good quality grapes.

    Harvest startet: 22Aug, at Quinta de Cottas, in Alijó – 23Aug., in Vallegre and in Ervedosa do Douro, Churchill's and Quinta do Pessegueiro – 25Aug., at Quinta dos Lagares, in the Pinhão valley – 28Aug., harvest of the Tinta roriz red grape variety, at Quinta do Têdo – 30Aug. at Quinta do Cume and Duorum, in Vila Nova de Foz Côa, harvesting Códega do Larinho and Rabigato white grape varieties. On the 5th of September the harvest began at Quinta do Panascal, a quinta owned by Fonseca Guimaraens (The Fladgate Partnership) in the Távora river valley, which ended on the 4th of October.

    The weather was very hot at the beginning of the harvest followed by milder temperatures. In general, white grapes arrived at the wineries in perfect conditions and there was greater production, the musts were rich and intense. The year's good potential for white wines was unquestionable.

    Then, in the middle of the harvest, from the 2nd and 3rd of September, there was a period of weather instability that began throughout the northern region of the country, with the irregular occurrence of heavy rain, thunderstorms and hail. Localized phenomena occurred and intermittent rain and hail, which affected the beginning and generally the entire planning and course of the red grape harvest, which turned out to be intermittent with frequent stops and starts.

    It ended up being a long harvest, that had started with very good prospects and ended up seriously affected by this period of weather instability.

    In general, the harvest was finished at the end of September, and now all the attention and actions turn to the incessant work in the cellars…

General comments

    When the harvest began, the forecast was for an excellent year throughout the wine region, until the scattered and aggressive rains that appeared at the end of the white grape harvest and beginning of September and then throughout the month, dramatically changed this scenario.

    The harvest period can be divided into two very distinct moments: the grapes harvested before weather instability and rain, which included all the grapes for white wines, sparkling wines and some red wines. In a second phase, the grapes that were destined for the best Port wines and the superior quality DOC Douro red wines were those most affected by the rains.

    There was a high production, well beyond the 10% initially predicted and the problem intensified with the harvest. Many winegrowers tried to sell their grapes to private operators, but without success and the possible solution was to send the grapes to cooperative wineries which, with the excess of grapes received daily, were at the limit of their capacity, compromising logistics and storage capacity (at the Vila Real winery, on September 28th the harvest was suspended due to an excess of grapes received) – in some cases the grapes received represented 50% more than the average in recent years.

   To address this problem, several measures were proposed, one of which, defended by the associations representing the Douro and Port wine production sector, would be a government intervention so that it would be a distillation, transforming the totality of this year's wine surplus into brandy that would be sold to the industry. It was also proposed for next year, to introduce the harvest contract, signed between winegrowers and private operators, in order to avoid scenarios like the one that happened this year - the winegrower, when delivering the grapes, must know from the outset the quantity the operator will want and what price he will pay, not waiting for the accounts to be finalized to define the final price – these proposals were sent to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Text and photos ©Hugo Sousa Machado

 Previous harvest reports: 

Douro 2023 harvest: the producer's review 

The Douro general harvest report 2022 

Douro 2022 harvest, a first hand testimony 

Douro wine region, the 2021 general harvest report 

Douro, the 2021 harvest, a first hand testimony 

Douro, the 2020 harvest general report 

Douro, the 2020 harvest: a testimony 

Douro, the 2019 harvest report 

Douro, the 2018 harvest report 

Douro, the 2017 harvest report

Douro, the 2016 harvest report 

Douro, the 2015 harvest report 

Douro, the 2014 harvest report