Portugal’s more northerly Douro region tends to hog the limelight, but the wilder and more barren Dão has many vinuous secrets to offer wine lovers.
Once lumped together with Bairrada (the Portuguese still refer to both together as “Beira”), the Dão has its own unique signature. Home to Portugal’s highest mountain, the Serra da Estrela, it’s a mountainous and depopulated region filled with granite outcrops, vast boulders that look like they were hurled by giants and quartz-rich soils that glint in the morning sunlight. It’s also the probable origin of Touriga Nacional.
Almost a century ago, the Dão was famed for its structured and classic red blends, which were often compared to those of Bordeaux. But 50 years of being dominated by huge cooperative wineries destroyed its reputation. Now, thanks to a growing band of passionate winemakers, quality is firmly back on the menu. So too are projects to rejuvenate and value its incredible ancient vineyards – some of the oldest in Portugal, with many plots of vines over 100 years old.
Old vines and complex field blends are the perfect recipe for not just some of Portugal’s most exquisite red wines, but also equally over-achieving whites that can have an almost Burgundy level of depth and nuance.
his session will explore the Dão’s path from ruin to reincarnation, via examples from many of the region’s leading wineries and winemakers.
Simon J Woolf is an award-winning English author and wine writer, currently based in The Netherlands.
An acknowledged expert on the developing niche of natural wine, he's written for Decanter magazine, Meininger’s Wine Business International, World of Fine Wine and Noble Rot, and many other publications. Simon is the editor of The Morning Claret, an online wine magazine which specialises in natural, biodynamic, organic and orange wine.
Simon's first book "Amber Revolution - How the world learned to love orange wine" was published in 2018, and won the Roederer Wine book of the year award in 2019. Simon has also won numerous awards for his magazine features and online columns.
Simon travels regularly to countries such as Georgia, Slovenia, Italy and Portugal, where he continues to research the stories and traditions behind artisan winemaking. His second book, Foot Trodden, a collaboration with photographer and wine communicator Ryan Opaz, was published in October 2021. It is described as a journey deep into the soul of Portuguese wine.
Simon is also active as a presenter, editor, wine judge and translator.
Finally, we have reached the end of the winemaking year.
In the vineyard, soil health is a common topic of discussion now that the vines are dormant. This is a great time to dig soil pits and send samples off to discover more about the composition of the soil layers around the root system of the vines.
Soil pH plays a large part in the health of a vineyard as it controls nutrient uptake. Even if the soil contains plenty of a particular nutrient, if soil pH is wrong, that nutrient might not be available in a form that the plant can use. This can lead to micronutrient deficiencies or toxicities. For this reason, it is very important to manage the soil pH.
At the start of November, areas with long growing seasons are still wrapping up harvest, but most wineries in the northern hemisphere have brought their grapes into the winery. An exception to this rule is any fruit being left out for ice wine production.
Ice Wine Production
Grapes destined for ice wine production must hang on the vine until temperatures reach a consistent 20°F/-7°C or below. Only at this point, can the frozen berries be harvested.
November begins with a lot of activity in the winery and ends with everyone taking a collective sigh of relief. The growing season is at an end and most wine production professionals can take a moment to reconnect with their families and friends and take a well-deserved vacation.
In October, most areas of the northern hemisphere are in harvest and going full out!
Many white varieties finish in early October. Although some reds (particularly early-ripening Pinot Noir) may have started harvest in September, generally, October is the month when most red varieties are picked.
In September’s post, we explored the harvest parameters for white grapes. The factors that a winemaker considers when picking red grapes are similar… flavor, acid, sugar, etc. However, there are two key harvest parameters that are more important (and impactful) for reds than whites: tannin ripeness and anthocyanin accumulation (color).
Thirty years ago, Nicolás Catena pioneered high-altitude viticulture in Argentina.
While searching for elegance and concentration, the Catena family found a strategy that today can be used for combatting climate change: "go higher". Malbec, Argentina’s leading red varietal was in decline and being pulled out.
Today, high-altitude Malbec has led to the rebirth of Argentine wine on the world stage. Ungrafted vines and ancient pre-phylloxera vine selections have something to do with this wine revolution. Join us to learn about how the Catena Institute of Wine uses science to preserve the culture and nature behind wine.
Dr Laura Catena is a Harvard and Stanford-trained biologist and physician, founder of the Catena Institute of Wine in Argentina, and managing director of Bodega Catena Zapata (Est. 1902). Since 1995, the Catena Institute has helped to elevate the Malbec varietal and Argentine wine as a whole. Under Laura’s leadership, Bodega Catena Zapata has earned six 100-point wine ratings and was voted the most awarded world winery by VIVINO WINE STYLE AWARDS. Laura is author of three books, “Vino Argentino,” “Gold in the Vineyards” and the upcoming “Malbec mon amour.” She lives with her husband and three children between Mendoza, Argentina, and San Francisco, California, where she volunteers as a street physician with the Department of Public Health.
Now that fall has arrived, winemakers turn their attention to the harvest. In most of the northern hemisphere, harvest usually begins by the middle of this month, if not earlier. It is an exciting time. The culmination of all the hard work in the vineyards is realized in the moments the grapes are picked. Vineyard managers can relax now, but the winemaker’s job is just getting started.
August is the calm before the harvest storm. Vegetative growth has slowed considerably and, in some climates, stopped completely due to water stress. The vine now turns its efforts to ripening the fruit that it has developed earlier in the season. Although the berries are close to their final size, the skins will begin to thin, change color, and gain considerably more weight as they fill with sugar produced by the leaves. In climates that experience rain during this period, splitting becomes a risk.
By July, the period of rapid shoot growth is over. The vine has now created all the leaves needed to ripen its fruit. In wet climates, shoot growth may continue but at a much slower pace. In dry climates, shoot growth stops completely. In very dry areas, the tendrils on the shoot can even dry out completely!