THE DELICATE ART OF VINIFICATION
It should not be imagined that during harvest a day’s work is finished once the crop is gathered in. The grapes still have to undergo a crucial process before they are left to ferment: treading, which in the case of Port wine must be particularly intensive for it to achieve its fine, deep colour. This is particularly true given that the grape must is separated from the pomace before the sugar in the grapes is completely fermented, so the maceration period is relatively short. This is why Quinta do Noval uses two different methods: the traditional lagares, and vinification in closed stainless steel vats in the Guedes vat room.
The lagares, granite fermentation tanks built in the Quinta’s superb vat-room, can hold between 2.5 and 11 tons of grapes. Nothing has been left to chance. Their shape and structure (very wide and low) have been designed specifically to ensure intensive, total maceration of the grapes, guaranteeing full extraction of aromas, colour and tannins. This is where vinification of grapes from Quinta do Noval’s most prestigious plots takes place, in line with traditional Port production methods. These are supplemented with modern technical equipment to achieve optimum quality in the end product.
The 1995 harvest was a landmark for Quinta do Noval: for the first time in its history the Quinta used a robot to carry out the traditional work of the lagares. From the very start the results were encouraging. After a few adjustments the robot became an essential complement to foot treading, providing the Technical Manager with increased control of the maceration process.
After each day of harvest the grapes that arrive at the cellar are carefully sorted. On average there is a sugar concentration of 14°. Men and women rinse their legs in the tubs provided before entering the lagar one after the other: the time for corte (foot treading) has arrived. The harvesters link arms and form a line: at a measured pace and with an almost military sense of discipline they move ceaselessly back and forth from one end to the other of the lagar. See the video
After about an hour and a half of toil the harvesters separate. The “free” foot treading phase then begins, when everyone continues to work while moving around at will. This stage is far more entertaining, and is often accompanied by singing and even accordion music. See the video
The work started is continued the next day until the required non-fermented sugar level is reached. This phase is carried out either by foot or with the help of a punch-down robot. Fermentation lasts for two to three days. It continues until the wine is run off and 77% volume grape eau-de-vie is added to the must. Great care must be taken to add it very slowly or the wine will be “burned”. The quantity added depends on the initial sugar content and represents about 20% of the finished Port. This is why it is essential to choose a quality eau-de-vie. Quinta do Noval is committed to using only eaux-de-vie that are crafted in keeping with its style and quality requirements.
Free-run wine (obtained after running off) is always blended with pressed wine (obtained from pressed pomace) which is richer in tannins. It will then remain in barrels or in large wooden vats of varying sizes called balseiros. Traditional vinification in the lagares is arduous and physically demanding, but the Quinta do Noval team is convinced that it is an essential part of crafting fine Port wines, and potential Vintage Port wines in particular.
The grapes that Quinta do Noval purchases from its long-term suppliers are vinified in the Guedes vat room which dates from 1995. The stainless-steel fermentation tanks, equipped with an automatic temperature-control system, are much larger in width than in height. This unusual shape permits greater surface contact between the pomace and the mould. Inside the tanks a pneumatic punch-down robot mixes the pomace and the mould. This makes it easier to extract the colour and aroma and finishes off the maceration process by pumping over, which is a significant advantage as the maceration period for Port wines is very short. Running off takes place in the same way as in the lagares.
In 2004 the vat-room was equipped with new stainless steel tanks in an intriguing truncated cone shape. They were to be used for fermenting the Quinta’s range of red Douro wines, with the same commitment to quality that Quinta do Noval applies to crafting its Port wines.