Firstly, I should just say, as mentioned in my last blog, the Garnatxa is doing great and just relaxing in a barrel until it’s ready to come out (in 2017).
In the meantime, I have taken on a job as the harvest winemaker for a cooperative company in the Azores (way out west of Portugal, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). Specifically I am on an island named Pico. I say island, it’s essentially an old volcano with cooled lava around it. Of course, I will also be making a wine for The Cunning Anchovy and I will keep you informed about it via this blog as usual.
A bit of history
There have been vineyards here since the 1500’s but in the mid 1800’s, Phylloxera (a little bug that eats up the roots of European vines) destroyed most of the vineyards. Vines were later replanted using American rootstocks grafted onto European plants. This has been a similar story all across Europe. What is more unusual in Pico is that many American varieties were planted. These vines are not allowed to be categorised as so called “Quality” wines in Europe but they are used by local winemakers to produce Vinho de Cheiro (literally: wine of scent It is very fragrant, fairly low in alcohol and often made as a homebrew wine in peoples homes. I will be making a different wine to this but I think it is interesting to know what they do here.
The climate here is fairly mild all year round. There are no huge extremes of temperature, although it gets fairly warm in the height of Summer. What is particularly interesting about the place is the wind. There is a fairly constant wind buffeting the island. Often it takes the form of a mild and extremely welcome breeze. But, every now and then, the winds can get pretty fierce and cause a lot of damage to plants.
In order to be able to plant and grow vines successfully, the inhabitants of Pico had to try to counteract this wind. The result was a very interesting vineyard layout, using dry stone walls (known as currais) made out of basalt lava rocks.
These sites are almost labyrinthine in shape with walls cordoning off small areas with only five or six vines planted. The result is very beautiful and, in fact, Pico is now a protected UNESCO world heritage site and even new vineyards have to be planted in this fashion. It’s a lot of hard work, not just building the walls, but also working the vines as they are very low to the ground and there is no room for any machinery whatsoever. Still, it helps protect vines from this wind which can get pretty fierce. And, as I said, it looks beautiful.
In the next blog I shall talk a bit about some of the grape varieties that we have and the particular one that I will be using. Also, I will talk about why the wines here are pretty unique.
The wine I’m making here in Pico, the Azores this year will be a white wine which I will hopefully be able to release at the same time as the red (from Catalonia)….
Tchau for now