Quinta das Carvalhas Tour Review – Feel the Passion

44 year-old Alvaro Martinho, an agronomist who has worked at Quinta das Carvalhas since 1996, helped transform the property surrounding the vineyards into a showcase of biodiversity

 

The diversity in grapes from Douro Valley is created by the range of microenvironments afforded by different sun exposures, elevations and more

 

“…For them, time is money.   For us, time is life…We wait twenty years for quality…” 

 

Romans first brought wine to Douro Valley, along with olive oil, roads and bridges. The vineyards of the type we see today started more in the 17th Century and grew in importance when the British started importing port wines in the 18th Century

 

So says Alvaro Martinho, and with no small amount of passion.  In fact there is little on this tour of the Quinta das Carvalhas vineyards that he manages of which he is not vociferously passionate.   

 

High up, we were in an area with beautiful olive trees and wildflowers

 

You see the Douro River beyond

 

Chances are you have never met a docent with a comparable passion.  Prepare for a volcano of energy – and no small amount of entertainment.

 

On our tour, we were joined by fellow Americans Justin and Melanie Pack, who had just flown into Porto

 

Alvaro is an agronomist born and bred in Douro Valley, from a long line that has worked in the Valley’s vineyards for generations. 

 

As Alvaro explains it, you begin to feel that these plants are heroic in their pursuit through the cracks in the rocks to find the water reserves below

 

Since 1996, Alvaro has worked at Quinta das Carvalhas, helping to oversee its transformation into a picture postcard of biodiversity beauty in its chemical-free gardens, forests and vineyards.

 

Schist walls are used to create certain terraces, here, with ancient olive trees too

 

He has on the ready a looseleaf binder with before and after pictures.  Where today you see roses and lemon trees, before you saw rubble in disrepair. 

 

One of Alvaro's "before' pictures, showing a previously neglected structure surrounded by rubble that is now a well-manicured garden

 

"After" view-- showing a garden and restored buildings that are part of the 2 million Euros investment in biodiversity+

 

A "before" picture ..

 

..and "after", now beautiful productive terraced rows of vineyards

 

He wants you to “get it” the way he does—to understand and respect the plants that give us their wine bounty- and to understand the lives of people in Douro Valley who are close to this land and integral to the story of Douro’s wines.

 

Some parties arrange for sunset wine tasting in ruins of structures found in the vineyards

 

“..We work the old-fashioned way, by hand, and we are very close…”

 

Actually, one very modern update to winemaking that has been part of Alvaro’s stamp on this land, in addition to the facelift of the grounds surrounding the vineyards per se, has been to transition to a largely female workforce.   In his view, women, whom he reports are paid the same wages as men, are just much more careful when picking grapes.  It requires experience at looking for the right colors and also tasting the grapes and knowing when they are at their peak. 

 

 

But it’s the terroire and how geology and evolution’s combination has created the perfect home for Douro Valley grapes that seems to be the greatest passion of Alvaro’s many passions. 

 

Alvaro talks about the difficulty of conditions that the plants must thrive in-- and the secret to their quality being the hardiness and perfect synch with this environment that enables them to survive and thrive

 

Alvaro explains, “In Douro Valley there are 42 thousand hectares of vineyards—big and small producers—all make the same types of wines.   We have nine months of winter and three months of hell hot summer…It’s about 2500 hours of sun…

 

In this embankment you can see the rocky soil through with the plants send roots way down deep to help the get water in the hot summer months

 

“..All the land here is schisto—a metamorphic rock formed a million years ago.  You can see the lines for pressure from its metamorphosis.  But now it’s a soft rock that you can break easily.

 

“…So it’s an extreme climate, with poor rock, on steep land with forests..

 

“…The roots of the plants are able to go deep down through the rock—up to 10 meters down—so in the hot summer there isn’t a water problem..

 

Alvaro speaks not only of the grapes, but of the Douro Valley's entire flora

 

“Over time – 300 million years-- all has adapted to this terrain.  You see lavender.  Juniper goes back 38 million years…

 

“..it takes 20 years to get the plants of highest quality.  When they start to die in 40 or 50 years, the quality is better still. ..

 

Quinta das Carvalhas' vineyards are mainly on very steep terraced lands

 

“…There are 45 different varieties.. we blend them to divide the risk, if there is failure.  Port wine is a variety of grapes from many vineyards. 

 

The varietals of grapes you find vary from row to row- -but certain ones are more typical of north or south facing hills

 

“…the North facing vineyards get more shade and it makes more possibilities for tawny blends.  On the South facing hills the grapes have more color, and body and it makes other vintages possible..

 

“..You never want to water a vineyard.  That will make the plants lazy and you are breaking their genetic history.  Poor land is a blessing…”

 

You too will understand the complete blasphemy of watering vineyards-- and how this potentially ruins many hundreds of years of adaptation

 

And so it went—looking at vineyards, driving higher and higher on dirt roads for ever more spectacular views of the valleys below. 

 

The tasting room

 

When it comes time to sample the wines in the tasting room, you too may be lucky to have Alvaro treat you to some songs on his guitar.  

 

Alvaro, time permitting, will play his guitar and sing as part of the wine tasting

 

Wine and music on the patio of the tasting room. Bravo! a perfect tour ending

 

How perfect that he chose to perform Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”, a song in which each verse tells a story – and with passion.

 

You can book your tours – starting at 12.5 Euros-- ahead of time online here.

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