The Winemaker’s Challenge

Wineries all over the world are facing every year the same challenge, na-mely predicting the perfect moment for the harvest. Quinta dos Vales, the well known winery in the Algarve shares some insider knowledge.

Sips of wine are found in every corner of the world, so it’s no surprise that winemakers have different strategies when composing their wines. Some take a straightforward approach when making wines by targeting the ideal combination of fruit, flavour, and aromas, while others will spend hours perfecting the precise composition, acidity, varietal characteris-tics, and, of course, the perfect alcohol content that will eventually tie together to form the final result.

But regardless of a winemaker’s approach, a good wine’s composition has its roots in the vineyard, not in the winery itself. After all, a straightforward wine cellar’s role should be solely to extract and combine the characteristics that Mother Nature first produced in the field.

The eternal truth: “You can make bad wine with good grapes but never good wine with bad grapes,” reigns true for any authentic winemaker, such as the team of Lagoa-based winery Quinta dos Vales, who refuse to add artificial ingredients into their wines. This means however that far more time and knowledge needs to be invested into the work and supervi-sion of the vineyards in oder to produce the required grape quality. The process is a complex one that begins with the winemaker’s decision of when to harvest.

Between the Vineyard and the Cellar
Taking into consideration that the most crucial part of the process takes place in the vineyards themselves, the transition period between field and cellar work must be given a great deal of attention. “To pick or not to pick?” is the complex-yet-repeatedly asked question that winemakers face every year when defining their grapes’ ideal harvest date.

The final stage of grapevine growth is a vitally important event. During veraison, a significant transition point of the final stage of grapes’ growth cycles, the vines invest all their energy into the qualitative development of the grapes them-selves.

Winemakers need to be hands-on during the veraison process as it is continuous and spans over various weeks before it finally converts into the right date for harvest. This pre-harvesting period is a complicated and often nerve-racking expe-rience that cannot be solved with just one inquiry. In the end, the definition of the optimal harvest date results from a delicate balance of technical analysis, timing and intuition.

Sampling Grapes
Winemakers start taking samples of grapes to conduct their analyses in the second part of the veraison process. Howev-er, the data is only as good as the grapes sampled. Different grapes can easily lead to different conclusions, even if from the same parcel of vineyard land.

A grape vineyard is home to several natural variations: blocks, rows, vines, and clusters. Naturally, there are some key variances between different parts of a vineyard, from block to row or even between individual berry clusters. These differences must be represented as precisely as possible when taking samples because it ensures they accurately reflect what’s happening at large throughout the field. Therefore, the ultimate goal for sampling must represent the majority of grapes while ignoring non-representative discrepancies.

Making a Plan
Harvest season is a hectic time for winemakers, and during these weeks of increased workload it is a considerable chal-lenge to adhere to all the sampling and analysis guidelines. The key is to have a well-devised plan, even if it has to be adapted at a later stage due to interventions of Mother Nature.

Before harvesting, the team of winemakers need to think about how they’re going to sample. Various factors go into this decision: elevation, soil type, sun exposure, position in the vineyard or on a perimeter row, shading from leaves. It is essential to select samples where all necessary parameters have been considered, leaving no room for bias toward any one characteristic when it comes to harvesting time.

The Grid System
Quinta dos Vales is known for systematic sampling using a “grid system.” The team uses the grape sampling method with increased sampling frequency as the harvest-date draws nearer. And, they specifically increase efforts to sample grapes near the expected release time.

In this method, winemakers use a system of sampling that has proven to yield the most representative results. The idea is simple: start for example with the top cluster in vine 4, at row 1, next take a cluster from the middle of vine 15, and then take samplings from there. Each time, move one level lower until reaching bottom-level clusters. The team alter-nates sides for row 1 between harvesting sessions to get an even distribution across all rows. The primary aim is to make each sample originate from a different part of the vineyard, different heights and sun-exposures.

Winemaking at Quinta dos Vales
The Quinta dos Vales wine estate has 15 different varieties planted on-site. The challenge quickly becomes substantial considering that several of their varieties are processed as red, rosé, or white wines and planted across several fields and locations. Additionally, Quinta dos Vales often applies different harvest parameters within the same grape variety.

To add another layer of complexity, the Quinta dos Vales winemaking team also manages 18 private vineyard parcels, which are operated on behalf of private winemakers who are looking to experience winemaking for themselves. Consid-ering all parameters, Marta Rosa, the resident winemaker, performs in the peak of harvest preparations 20 or more sam-pling procedures and analyses each day. 14 hours working days are standard during this period!

While developing a set of guidelines for winemaking is not an easy task, with the knowledge and experience, it becomes possible to establish systems that make this process more manageable. With the proper winemaking education and struc-ture it is possible to turn these complex tasks feasible and manageable.

Experience Winemaking for Yourself with Quinta dos Vales
For those who’ve always fantasized about becoming a true vintner, the time is now! Quinta dos Vales offers partici-pants an insight into what life as a professional in this industry might be like with The Winemaker Experience.

Quinta dos Vales offers something different for a wine-loving experience, offering its participants to become involved in all facets of wine production. The experience provides options for various areas of the winemaking process, such as owning a vineyard or a one-time renting of a vineyard, barrel blending, bottle blending, and much more.

Take on this journey for yourself, going from wine-drinker to wine-maker, with Quinta dos Vales’ The Winemaker Experience and if you wish so, even with your own villa suite in The Vines directly in front of your own vineyard.

For more details please contact: [email protected]