There’s a lot more to wine than just drinking it. Every bottle is an opportunity to create memories, share it with your loved ones and either listen to, or create, a good story. Each bottle of wine has a legacy to it, there’s a complex production-cycle that takes place before a bottle is even uncorked. In order to create a quality product winegrowers and winemakers have a lot of work to do, and many obstacles and bottlenecks to overcome, one of which is to bring the grapes in healthy condition up to the harvest.
Marta Rosa, the resident winemaker of Quinta dos Vales, a well-established boutique winery in the Algarve, in southern Portugal, could tell long stories about the challenges during a normal harvest, being it the prediction of the right harvest dates of the individual varieties, quality and quantity predictions, preparation of the right size and type of vessels or hiring farm-hands for the manual harvest. These challenges are the same all over the world, whether industrialised productions in New Zealand or boutiques wineries in the south of Portugal.
The world of wine is divided between the “old world”, where the winemaking traditions originally started and the “new world “, where countries and winemakers borrowed the old traditions and used them to start their own production with a few tweaks and different styles. Winemaking in the “new world” started in the times of colonisation, and considering that most colonisers were European, they started with typical European ideas.
“The only reason to learn the rules is so you can break them later”
Nowadays, with slightly changing climate zones, wine harvests take place almost every month of the year, somewhere in the world. Peak times are July to October in the northern hemisphere, most composed by the “old world” (e.g. France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany), whereas the season in the southern hemisphere, mostly composed by the “new world” (e.g. Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand) starts in February and lasts approximately until May.
Even within the respective wine "worlds", there are huge differences in peak harvest times, whether that’s between countries or even between different regions of the same country. Wineries in Germany, and other countries in northern Europe, expect the harvest to take place around September and October, whereas southern European countries, such as Portugal, often have harvests that already start in July. Portugal’s harvest periods again differ strongly between the south and the north. While harvests in the Minho area, close to the northwest of Spain, typically only start in late August, the Algarve had their first grapes with the right acidity, aromas and sugar contents ready by the last week of July 2021.
2021 has been a year full of surprises, in many different ways. The maturation of the grapes was incredibly fast, unprecedented in the history of Quinta dos Vales. Usually the harvest period spans a full 2 months, whereas in 2021 the entire harvest was completed in just 5 weeks! The reason was heat, but it wasn’t the peaks that made the difference, the days were not particularly hotter than in previous years. However the nights were that much hotter, which meant the grapes never stopped developing. In a normal year the cool nights would provide the grapes with a pause from development, often even a reduction in their development, whereas this summer the never-ending heat meant the grapes worked and worked and worked. This resulted in the winemaking team having to do the same, to work and work and work. The busiest 2 months of the year were condensed into just 5 weeks. Doubtless an extra challenge for the winemaking team, which had many working days of 16 to 18 hours.
As if the condensed harvesting period was not enough, the team was taken completely by surprise by the tremendously rapid growth of their Winemaker Experience, a project which offers wine-lovers the opportunity to become wine-makers. Initiated in 2017 as a test run, the winery had gradually increased the number of private wine-makers joining on this adventure every single year, however have never had such a considerable jump as during 2021. The 2020 harvest included a total of 7 private productions that the winemaking team had to manage in parallel to the production of Quinta dos Vales. Whereas it jumped in 2021 to 18 such private productions and at the time of writing this article in grew by another 2 to 20 vineyards in private operation. In terms of production-volume The Winemaker Experience now accounts for almost 10% of Quinta dos Vales’ overall production (7.800 out of 82.000 Kg in 2021). A considerable challenge, but the winemaking team was proud to report that even so everything worked brilliantly.
Karl Heinz Stock, founder of Quinta dos Vales was quoted as saying "we were certainly hoping that we would be able to convince wine-lovers to join us in this journey, but I never expected it to get going so quickly. We are proud that we have established this innovative niche in the wine business, with an absolutely unique and authentic lifestyle experience. We now only have capacity for a further 12 private vineyards, before our private wine-cellar has reached its maximum capacity, even though this cellar is not even 1 year old. This just goes to show, if you offer authenticity, it sells itself.”
Karl Heinz Stock
Quinta dos Vales - Agricultura e Turismo, Lda
Sítio dos Vales, Caixa Postal 112, 8400-031 Estômbar, Lagoa (Algarve), Portugal