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Douro Valley is burning

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Douro Valley is burning

Douro Valley is burning since June. Literally burning.

High temperatures that in some days almost reach 50ºC at the firing sun of middle afternoon.

Dry summer at Douro Valley

The vines and grapes were suffering a lot.

If it were not the strong July 6th storm and the things could go wrong on this coming harvest.

Even the resistant olive trees were shaking and feeling the effects of this 2017 dry summer.

Some yellow leaves here and there, some symptoms of burned fruits, some sad branches just hanged by the last solitaire molecule of water.

The storm of July 6th

But then the storm that brought in 20 minutes more water than a full rainy month of a heavy winter.

Aggressive rain and a piercing hail that knocked leaves and cracked grapes into the middle.

Especially in the high altitudes of Armamar, Sabrosa and Celeirós.

In some places some producers already made a forced early harvest directly to the ground.

After the storm comes the calm

One day after only the brown color of Pinhão river, the branches ripped off from the trees floating at Douro and the fainted mixture of sand and rocks along all the roads was remembering us this afternoon July storm.

The forest fires around Douro Valley

After the quick flood again the burning sun. And with him the forest fires around our wine region.

You are able to see the columns of smoke everywhere but the most impacting for us here in Pinhão, far from the fires, are the continuous planes flying over the Douro river catching water between Pinhão and Bateiras.

Astonishing sad spectacle.

The smell of spring

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The smell of spring is all around us.

Middle of April, the trees are covered with flowers here in Douro valley.

The smell of spring is all around us.

The happy birds are waking up very early in the day, announcing sunny but yet cold mornings.

The nights are still quite cold, for our standards, but nothing that a light jacket don’t solve.

After a smoggy and cold winter the heat of this spring sun is good for my soul. I think that the vineyards feel the same as me.

The vines are waking up from winter dormancy and the new leaves and branches are growing fast.

The vines are fast growers, we know, but is almost incredible seeing the rhythm they climb to the irons looking for their own place at Douro sun.

Last year was bad for almost all the fruit trees here. The rain and strong winds during the flowering damage the production of oranges, apples, peaches, cherries, almonds and olives.

This year it seems that’s going to be totally different. There are lots of flowers and small fruits in the trees. The nature is showing an incredible and powerful strength.

The first tourists start arriving in March but now with the Easter already at our door the few roads of Pinhão are bubbling of activity at lunch hour and all the afternoon.

My friends of the boat tour companies and in touristic small business are rushing to get everything ready for the new season.

It seems that this year in Douro valley everything is rushing towards the summer, even the nature.

Torto Valley the scary road in Douro

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The Torto Valley is one of the best kept secrets of the Douro Valley

Follow me in the scary road curves of Torto Valley. This road connects Ervedosa do Douro to Bateiras, near the mouth of the Torto. And it is one of the best routes you can do around the Douro Valley.

It’s a two-way road but it only passes one car at a time.

Your attention should be fixed on the narrow road.

If you want to enjoy all this beauty turn off the car in the middle of the road. Pull the handbrake. Engage reverse gear and enjoy.

Prepare yourself for the worst

While driving always prepare for the worst. A car in the opposite direction. A truck loaded with grapes. Agricultural machinery. Or, workers who return home after a hard day’s work in the vineyards.

Be ready to do 200 meters in reverse. Reverse on a road that looks like a snake coiling down the mountain. A road with tight curves with more than 300º placed against cliffs with more than 30 meters.

I do not want to scare you but, you will have to look always for a point where two cars can cross.

Often you have to climb in to the middle of the vineyards which is not advisable to cars without four-wheel drive. Even better is an all terrain vehicle.

How to get to the Torto Valley

The river Torto is a tributary of the Douro River and is part of this wonder of the Douro valley.

I thought a lot before revealing this amazing place by the magnificence of its landscape.

There are places I reserve in my writings and this was one of them.

I reserve because I want to save them only for my clients.

I want to continue to be able to surprise but this is a place so beautiful that it seems a crime not to reveal it.

How to get there forgive me but I’m not going to say. I want that the Torto Valley remains a little more one of the best well kept secrets of the Douro Valley.

Barefoot 4×4 first big trip

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Barefoot 4×4 first big trip

This is the story of Barefoot 4×4 first big trip. After spending all my winter restoring my old car I was a  little anxious about this trip.

Beginning of the journey

Last May 4 I had a day off and I went to Porto. It was the first big trip of Barefoot 4×4 after the restore. I still have work to do on it but fortunately only cosmetic.

He behaved beautifully.

Returning to Pinhão

On returning to Pinhão, on May 5th, as I had to tow a boat I’ve decided to take the road that follows the the Douro River from Porto to Pinhão.

It is a difficult road and a lengthy journey that passes through Entre-os-Rios, Pala, Porto Rei, Alpendurada e Matos, Caldas de Resende Aregos and finally Pinhão.

A fantastic road, a very tiring journey. The Barefoot 4×4 already slow, toured the twists and curves of the Douro a snail’s pace. Pulling a trailer and a small yellow boat that will serve me to shoot beautiful landscapes that can be seen from the Douro tributaries like Pinhão river, Távora and Tedo.

I will not use to walk customers since it is a small boat of 3.70m with a capacity of 5 people and without the comfort of the ships for tourists that are moored to the pier of Pinhão.

It is basically a fishing boat.

Excuse this apart from the boat and will go back to the trip from Porto to Pinhao.

Contrasting Douro route

It is a contrasting route. Initially full of small villages, pine and eucalyptus forests. Which slowly add the orange trees next to Pala. Charged cherries in Resende. And at the end add the vineyard.

The cherry on this early May are in the beginning of production. The fruits alternating between green and red according to the place and the variety.

I caught some rain on the way. The weather this May is a little firmer than April but has been raining. Afternoons are awaken windy.

I took the trip to film the route. You can see on my Youtube channel a small sample of the final section between Régua and Pinhão on the road 222 which was recently considered the best road to drive.

That’s not, surely, the best but it is certainly a beautiful road. A road with stunning landscape among the vineyards of Cima-Corgo, the heart of the oldest wine region in the world, the Douro.

 

My first tour in Douro valley

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My first tour in Douro valley

This is the story of my first tour in Douro Valley. The story that will stay for me as the first step to my personal recovery after the crises of 2008.

Three intense days on a program whose main theme was the wine and the Douro. A planned and adjusted program with my customers on a circuit made specially for them, as I like.

Morning pick-up at Régua

I picked them on the railway station at Régua on April 22th. The train from Porto arrived slightly late at 11:15 am. It was a rush to Quinta do Vallado. We were expected for a visit to the winery, a wine tasting, followed by a fantastic lunch in the hotel premises.

At the end of lunch and already with another appointment booked for visit, now to Quinta do Crasto, I decided to do the hard way. Just along the right side of the Douro river. So we could enjoy the wonderful and stunning viewpoint of São Leonardo de Galafura.

Quinta do Crasto

The guided tour in Quinta do Crasto was a highlight of a day full of emotions, flavors and winding roads through the vineyards. We were fortunate to be the only ones present in the visit and wine tasting. Which has enabled my clients a more direct contact with this traditional Douro Quinta .

At the end of a strenuous day I left my clients in their hotel in Pousada Visconde Chanceleiros.

Second day of wine tasting

On the second day I pick them in the hotel for the first visit of the day at Quinta de La Rosa. Near the village of Pinhão.

We barely finished and we went to Casal de Loivos. Another magnificent viewpoint where you can watch the Douro River flanked by some of the most notable and emblematic Quintas on the outskirts of Pinhão. Quinta das Carvalhas, Quinta de Ventozelo, Quinta da Roeda, Quinta do Bonfim and many others.

Lunch at DOC

We had time for lunch scheduled for DOC restaurant and we decided to take a walk on the pedestrian route in Casal de Loivos. We were lucky because the owner of Quinta do Jalloto that is taking its first steps in eno-tourism was at the site and guided us on a visit to is small Quinta. Enabling to my customers come into contact with this great reality of Douro smallholders.

End of tour

Last Quinta we visited after the always exciting lunch at DOC was the Quinta do Panascal. Home of traditional and fantastic Port wines from the house Fonseca Guimaraes.

For the last day, we had planned a tour in a Rabelo boat on the course from Pinhão to Tua river. Unfortunately we were betrayed by the April rain that just gave us some tolerance three days later.

We had to change the program and ended up where we started, in the Douro Museum at Régua .

Nowadays tours

I changed a lot my tours since this first one. I think I’m far better now. More small places where almost nobody go. Out from tourist radars like Torto Valley.

But still I will miss this first program.

 

Douro Valley Spring

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Douro Valley Spring

In early Douro Valley spring the vines began to burst. They come up now in small bunches hanged in the still fragile branches of the vine.

The Spring after the cold Winter

This winter was dry but cold. The traditional rain of this season was infrequent and compared to an average year almost nonexistent.

With the beginning of April the temperatures increased. It’s already possible to wear a t-shirt all afternoon if you are prepared to the natural cooling of the end of the day.

This warming has been accompanied by some rain living up to the saying “In April  thousand waters”. That makes more sense in Portuguese because it rimes, but it means that April is the month of heavy rains

Rain of great importance right now to the vineyard and other crops because the soil moisture has almost disappeared and we began to be concerned about the possible effects of drought during the summer.

Douro Valley happy season

It is a joyous season with the presence of small  grape bunches on the vines, small olives in olive trees and flowering fruit trees, from the pink of peach and cherry trees and fragrant white flowers of the orange trees.

For those allergic to pollen is a difficult time because the floral intensity is immense. The cars and roads are covered with a tiny yellow powder and the bees begin to make their raids often.

Beginning of Douro Valley touristic season

It is also time to bottle the white wine of last year. I can assure that what I have proved, I approve.

April is also the start of the tourist season in the Douro Valley.

The cold and nakedness of the vines forced the visitors to stay away during the winter.

Now they are beginning to emerge as the flowers, quickly.

The first came in the Easter in the hotel cruise boats that cross the Douro river from Oporto to Barca d’Alva. Now in late April they arrive in all ways, boat, train, bus, motor home, car and even bicycle.

It’s start bubbling in so far asleep Douro Valley.

 

Douro Valley Wines

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Douro Valley Wines

I believe I’m not being presumptuous when I say that the Douro Valley Wines are extraordinary and unique.

I can not claim to be the world’s best, because it’s something I do not believe for any wine.

A good wine is a wine that we like

I learned recently with a famous Portuguese winemaker, that a good wine is a wine that we like. Said so this way so simple I could tell you that I like the wines of the Douro. And I like them more than from other regions and countries.

Douro Wines Sub-Regions diversity

The Douro Valley is now divided into three wine sub-regions, the Lower Corgo, High Corgo and the Douro Superior.

The question all people ask me is which one is the best.

The answer is difficult because the characteristics of each sub-region, soil, temperature, humidity, altitude, are reflected in different wines. Wines with their own personality.

In fact this diversity is in my view the very hallmark of the region. The factor that will make the Douro definitely and without complex as the beacon of world wines.

Here we are able to make totally different wines. The existing genetic variety in the vineyards and the blend culture that is rooted in the people, causes that two close neighbors could make high quality wines but completely different.

Douro Valley mono varietal wines

The trend in Douro Valley for mono varietal wines is now less and less frequent.

From the academic and pedagogical point of view mono varietal wines is an interesting concept. It allows to extend the wine market to a fringe of little informed consumers that successfully, with these wines, take the first steps in the wine tasting.

The complexity of Douro Valley Wines

Douro wines are for more enlightened and knowledgeable consumers. They are extraordinarily complex wines due to the blend in the vineyard and cellar and also the diverse terroir.

The landscape of vineyards on the slopes, on the terraces or in rows along the contour is the image of the wealth of aromas and flavors diversity.

It’s impossible to say which of the three sub-regions is the better. In the Douro blend tradition, producers seek to have grapes from various areas of the valley, which gives them a greater complexity.

The Douro wines are intense wines, soul wines, wines that are not afraid of difference. Free wines that resist the trends of standardization of tastes and flavors.

Douro Valley cork trees

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Douro Valley cork trees

The Douro Valley cork trees, despite being considered as trees of the south of portugal, have resisted here for centuries.

Newly arrived to Douro Valley

I’m living in Pinhão for less than one year, and for that, I could be considered a newly arrived to Douro valley.

Being natural of Matosinhos in the north of Portugal a big part of my life was at south. Few years in Alentejo and ephemerally in Algarve.

To Douro I had came only twice. Despite the family link to wine world and the connection between Porto and Douro, this was, for me, a mere touristic destination.

Hazard or family approach necessity I see myself living in the heart of Douro valley.

The Douro Valley cork trees

In the beginning, with all the effervescence of the vine in the falling hills towards the Douro river, I didn’t realize that here and there was a resistant cork tree.

In my mind, cork were only in Alentejo where I lived for more than five years. And where my professional obligations drive me from time to times, for more than ten.

Finding them here was to me a overwhelming joy. It was a happy reunion with very old friends. Friends with many and common memories. We share the same affection for warm climates and burning sun.

The traditional Iberian bush, from north to south, was like the wild areas of Douro Valley. Made from dense trees and bushes, not very tall and extraordinary resistant to the lack of water.

Biblical mediterranean landscape

To see the cork tree living together with the vine, the almond tree, the orange tree, the fig tree, the olive tree, the arbutus, holmoak tree, carried me the the biblical landscape and culture that our country share.

The cork tree is a symbol. A symbol of resistance, resistance to the difficulties, to the adversities and to the abuse.

But it’s also a symbol of this people that was able to rip from the rock the vine culture and a wine that have, for sure, a divine hand.

If I was a tree I would like to be a cork tree…

 

Douro valley door

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Douro valley door

If you are arriving to Douro from Porto by train, Pala curve it will be your Douro Valley door. Start here your voyage to Portuguese wine country.

The Pala curve

Does who came to our valley by train, in the famous and extraordinary Douro line, will meet the Douro river at Pala curve.

Pala village is well known for the wonderful oranges rival of Algarve sweet ones.

You are gone recognize the place when you see a U curve in the road behind the railway. The next station that will make the Douro opening is Mosteiró.

Mosteiró train station

From this point stay watchful. We are not in Douro wine region yet but we are already in their prologue.

You are gone a see Caldas de Aregos and is beautiful river marina in the opposite margin.

The views are still wide, populated and covered with pine trees.

Transition from Verde to Douro Wine

We are in a transition zone from Verde to Douro wine.

In fact that’s not really a typical Verde here. Verde wines have traditionally high acidity and low alcohol levels. In this area the Verde wine is slightly different. They are Verdes for sure, but with their own personality.

The heat is already here, the grapes are sweeter and the wines more alcoholic and less acids.

It’s a sub region of Verde wine, in a way unfairly minored by the conventions. Minored for being between two well known and considered Portuguese wines, the Verde and the Douro, and without their characteristics. The wines here are transition wines.

Ermida train station

We pass Ermida. A place to see from you window.

In a moment the Douro river shrink in a granitic throat of tight curves. Douro Valley start  screaming for you now.

The rocks unfold and the landscape eases up. The vineyard starts to be present and we are in Rêde.

You arrive to Douro valley.

 

Douro Valley pruning time

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Douro Valley pruning time

Every winter is pruning time here in Douro Valley. This agricultural work is one of the most important activity in the cultivation of the vine.

What do people in the Douro Valley live for?

This is one of the top questions that I always ear from tourists. For many of them the only work in a vineyard is the harvest. That’s quite normal for someone that is arriving from other places where the vineyard culture is not common.

I don’t know anything about the coffee culture and probably I will be simplifying if I think that to take a nice cup of coffee we only need to harvest and burn the coffee grain.

With the vineyard is the same we are talking about  a complex and hard working culture.

Beginning of the annual cycle of the vineyard

In January we are in the beginning of the cycle.

After the harvest season that take place between September and october, the Douro men and women are focus in the wine. Is time to make all the fermentation controls, wine corrections in the winery, transfilling and filtration’s. Is also time to sell wine for Christmas. Here in Douro Valley you need to be a multi-task person, either in the field or in the winery.

We are in January and is time to go again to the vineyard, is time to prune.

Some people already start, but the tradition tell us to begin after the olive harvest. The long and dry branches are still in the plant and is necessary to cut them, to allow the growth of the new ones. The vine like this because that is going to make her strong and productive.

Some people here say that who invented the vine prune was a donkey that was eating the old branches. Could be a reality or just a fairy tail, but is absolutely indisputable the need of that, if you want to produce high standards wines.

So pick you scissors and  come to prune here in Douro valley.