Visiting Bragao Vineyard in the Cima Corgo of the Douro
In the heart of the Cima Corgo grow the highest quality vines of the Douro, in the hands of the best producer capable of giving layered mountain complexity with a lift of freshness on table wines, the same fruit somehow lively even in the richness of port wine.
Far up the valley of the Rio Pinhao, a tributary of the Douro, stands the Bragao Quinta. Built in 1826, its stacked schist construction offers a testament to the persistence of life in the Douro, a region whose terrain proves resistant to too much modernization for its near impenetrability.
The quinta stands above mixed variety old vine vineyards ranging from 40 to near 100 years of age. Most fruit is sold to producers of the Douro. Small quantities are kept for wines of the owner. For the owner, fruit is brought into the 1826 winery only on Mondays to be foot tred in the lagares (open top stone fermenters unique to Portugal. The Bragao lagares are shown above.) now being cleaned and prepared for the 2014 harvest.
Like many vineyard owners through the region, Antonio Tavera grew up in Porto migrating to the Douro for harvest. He was born at the quinta during harvest while his father brought in grapes, and has since inherited the property.
Thanks to the mountainous nature of the region, electricity has reached the Douro only in recent decades. Before electricity, Antonio explains, the only light they had came during the day from small openings in the rock walls of the building. At night, oil lamps made from converted oil cans (like the small green one shown above) faintly illuminated the space.
Chalk marks along the wood cask help the winemaker track the 4:1 brandy to must ratio in making the port.
Outside, the vineyard crew walks the length of terraces in 90F degrees to carry back grapes for port wine just harvested. The vines in this section of the vineyard range between 40 and 50 years old, planted in a field blend of mixed varieties, insurance against the variability of vintage.
Taking the grapes back to be picked up by truck includes descending steps made with slabs of schist extended from the rock wall by only a few inches, then returning to climb the same steps for another tub to do it again.
It took me at least 90 seconds to descend steps it took this woman carrying a full tub no more than 30. She walked the terrace towards me all the while smiling.
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