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A “festival of wine” among the vineyards

By Richard at Great Grog

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Vineyard in front of the Esporao Tower in Alentejo region, Portugal. Photo: Adobe Stock
Vineyard in front of the Esporao Tower in Alentejo region, Portugal. Photo: Adobe Stock

I’m away next week on a wine trip to visit Esporao in Portugal to participate in their annual “Dia Grande” (great day) festival in their vineyards.

Esporao is based about two hours East of Lisbon in an area called the Alentejo. It is on the main road to the Spanish border town of Badajoz and, indeed, Esporao is only just on the Portuguese side of the border.

The only reason that these vineyards survive is by the availability of irrigation from the surrounding damned rivers, creating reservoirs that enable viticulture.

How will they chill the white wine is my concern as the daytime temperature is forecast to be 38 degrees!

In this part of Portugal they have to have plants that can take temperatures in excess of 50 degrees in the peak of summer.

Hopefully it won’t be 50 next week, as my tolerance for that kind of temperature is poor, and it doesn’t matter how many liquids I consume, I still wilt.

The last time I was in Esporao they had experimental plots of 189 different vine varieties and were testing their tolerances to heat and drought.

It will be very interesting to see how research into heat tolerant grape varieties is coming along.

Old grapevines are extremely drought resilient in general and can put down “tap roots” of over 20 feet. It seems a little cruel, but, if you do very little irrigation on establishment when they are young, then this tap root takes off like a train to seek out deep water.

The more you irrigate your plants, the less likely they will seek out deep sources of water.

This means the plants would really struggle and potentially die if your irrigation reservoir dries up in a drought year.

Vineyard establishment is a tightrope act of keeping the plants alive whilst forcing their roots downwards towards deep water sources.

I have been selling Esporao wines for about 20 years and they are consistently amongst the best wines from Portugal, if not the best. The head winemaker is an Aussie called David Baverstock who travelled to Portugal upon graduating in winemaking from Adelaide University over 30 years ago.

He is an expert at making hot climate grapes from parched vines producing fabulous fine wines. They are well worth seeking out and appreciating.

When you look at the landscape that they come from, it is amazing they can produce anything at all, never mind world class vino. Saúde!

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