Drought: Douro grape harvest starts early as berries dry up

Drought: Douro grape harvest starts early as berries dry up

Harvesting is carried out by immigrants who help to fill the labour shortage that affects the region.

The grape harvest started earlier than usual this year in the Douro valley to “save” the grapes from drought and heat, with Portuguese, Timorese and Ukrainian grape pickers working together on the estates to minimise the lack of labour.

“This year, we started the grape harvest earlier because it hasn’t rained, and the vines are suffering from water stress,” José Morais, from Casa dos Lagares, near Vila Real, told Lusa on Sunday.

For now, the white grapes are being picked, and in a few days, the red grapes will start to be picked. Several languages such as Portuguese, English, Ukrainian and Tetum can be heard in the winery and across the estate.

Here harvesting is carried out by immigrants who help to fill the labour shortage that affects the region.

“Right now, Timorese and Ukrainians are participating in our harvest, and they all work very well,” said José Morais, pointing out that the adaptation has been  easy.

Portuguese grape picker Diamantino Correia Bravo, 64 years old, still remembers the ‘rogas’, groups of men and women who came down from the mountain for the Douro grape picking. There are currently four people with him from Cheires who work on the estate, the rest are foreigners.

Bravo pointed out that the foreigners are the ones who have helped, because “those from here do not want to work”, or “are retired”.

In the vineyard, the Timorese speak Portuguese and the two Ukrainian women in the winery working there when Lusa paid a visit, speak only their mother tongue. The language makes communication difficult, but online translators, gestures and demonstrations let them learn and do their work.

Edgar Ximenes dos Santos, 40, arrived in Portugal from Timor-Leste three months ago and came straight to work in agriculture. He said he was enjoying the work”, which he did not find difficult.

Also from Timor, Fernando Alves, 26 years old, said he likes Portugal and is enjoying his first harvest. Atanagio Ramos, 26 years old, is also debuting in the harvest after arriving in the country a month ago.

“I like this job. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I like working here, in agriculture, I like working the land,” said Sara Pimenta, 37.

Bruno Oliveira, 40, combines work in the vineyards with voluntary work at the Cheires fire station.

“In the summer, as there’s little work in the fields, we take advantage of the situation and go to the firemen, and this has been a very complicated year. Now, with the beginning of the grape harvests, it is more complicated to reconcile them, but we will try and see what we can do,” he said.

In the middle of the vineyard, producer José Morais explained that the grapes are ripening badly, turning into sultanas, so he opted to harvest now while they still have liquid.

“This is like a caesarean (…). It’s harvesting before it’s too late. Every day that passes is a loss,” he stressed.

The flowering of the plant was good, there were many grapes at birth, there was no pressure of disease, and until about a month ago, everything indicated that it was a “good year in quality and quantity”.

Then, due to the heat and lack of water, as the soils are dry due to lack of rain, the grapes stopped growing, began to dehydrate and, according to José Morais, for the first time, we are also seeing “the death of vines”.

The Douro is not a homogenous territory. The greatest difficulties are felt in the Upper Douro and Upper Corgo regions and less so in Lower Corgo. Even in Cheires, the worst affected vines are in the lower and hotter areas, along the banks of the River Douro tributaries.

The Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (IVV) forecasts 20% losses in the Demarcated Douro Region compared to the previous campaign.

Despite difficult forecasts, producers estimate a drop in production in the worst affected vineyards of between “50 to 90%”.

The harvest culminates a complex year due to the increase in prices of fuel, winegrowing products, bottles and corks.

“It is very difficult because we still sell the wines at the same price. It had to increase the scale of value, even more so in an area such as the Douro where the productions per hectare are very low”, highlighted the producer.

Casa dos Lagares is a family business which has 18 hectares of vineyard, and the average production is between “50,000 to 70,000 litres” divided between port, muscatel, white, red and rosé wines.

Source: Lusa