Vintage Report 2011 – Record early start to a very good harvest

Vintages can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards,” to paraphrase philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

Synopsis: Harvest 2011, our 16th harvest. Another record winter rainfall. Record tropical heat in May. Record early start to harvest. Superlative summer and harvest weather. Harvest quantity – up. Harvest quality – above average.

For the second year running, we had an abnormally wet winter. From October 2010 to September 2011 there was an over abundant 1650 mm of annual rainfall, just short of last year’s record 1750 mm, nearly 4 times the average, and once again filling our damns to overflowing.

The 2010/2011 vineyard calendar ran 1-2 weeks earlier than normal. Bud-break was spotted 1st of March and flowering in late April. The weather during flowering was mild, assisting in an even pollination.

May was the hottest in Portugal since records began in 1931, with tropical nights and temperatures up to +3º above normal. The abnormal heat mixed with excessive rain, created tropical humid conditions, and posed an enormous challenge for us to fight a constant threat of mildew.  Some grapegrowers in the area lost their entire crop. The remainder of the summer growing season was warm, dry, and without any great detrimental heat spikes, which can shut down the vines, and stop grape maturation. With the exception of only one brief but alarming wet interlude in the first days of September, the clement summer weather lasted throughout the harvest months, well into late October.

5th August was a record early harvest start at Cortes de Cima, when the first lot of Gouveio white grapes arrived at the winery, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Antão Vaz and Verdelho. The red grapes in their turn, had their own record early start on the 16th August with the first batch of Syrah followed by Trincadeira. At the peak, the harvest workforce topped at 75 workers and lasted 10 weeks, finishing on 12 October. The total 2011 Harvest quantity was 1,622 tons up +16% from last year. 1,396 tons red varieties and 226 tons white varieties.

This year for the first time, the largest portion of our white grapes came from our new Alentejan coastal vineyards which we started planting in 2008, near Vila Nova de Milfontes, 3km from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s exciting for us to see the impact that the cooler Alentejan coastal climate has had on these varieties, reflected in the good fruit flavors, acid and freshness of the 2011 whites, and assuring a good future for coming vintages from our coastal vineyards. In the winery, some of our best 2011 whites are Verdelho, Gouveio, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, the later which soon will be bottled as Cortes de Cima’s first coastal Sauvignon Blanc single varietal.

Among the reds, 2011 produced some excellent Syrah, Trincadeira, and Petit Verdot, while Aragonez and Touriga Nacional were less outstanding. In general, the reds are intense, fruity, with good acidity, and strong color.

With the hindsight of a Soren Kierkegaard, we can declare Vintage 2011 to have been a very good year, the best vintage since the excellent 2008.  Furthermore, as it was an especially good year for Syrah, 2011 will be an ‘Incógnito’ year.

inside view

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