Harvest: Grape picking in the Douro Valley, home of Port wine

September is grape harvesting season in Portugal. PDV reveals how you can take part in one of the country’s oldest wine-making traditions in the magnificent Douro Valley, home to world-famous Port wine.

What's New Wine & Food — 10 September 2012 by Pedro Carreira Garcia
Harvest: Grape picking in the Douro Valley, home of Port wine

Douro region offers a variety of programmes which enable people to experience the local grape harvesting traditions (Photograph: Luís Afonso)

Would you like to take part in one of Portugal’s oldest grape harvesting traditions? If you’re passionate about all things wine, and have always dreamed of participating in a collective ritual of this magnitude, then this is for you.

Imagine yourself picking grapes alongside the locals like they have been doing since the dawn of winemaking, tasting the region’s food and wines and even stomping around the old pressing basins as you take part in the ancient practice of feet treading to crush and press the grapes. In September anyone can learn the process of making one of the world’s favourite wines – Port – surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of the Douro valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In September, the Douro region offers a variety of programmes which enable people to experience the local grape harvesting traditions. Due to climate conditions in 2012 – namely the drought that affected the country, along with unexpected hailstone blizzards which affected the maturation of the grapes – the harvesting process has been delayed by a few weeks, taking place at the end of the month, instead of  in early to mid-September as usual.

There are several travel agencies running tours for those interested in learning the traditions and techniques surrounding the first stages of winemaking. Eco Tours Portugal, focused on sustainable tourism, offers a 7-day tour of the main harvesting regions around the country, which includes Sintra, the Alentejo, the Dão and, of course, the Douro and Porto wine regions. The trip includes seven nights in a double room with breakfastpick up from Lisbon airport and drop off at Porto airport.

But for those interested in exploring the Douro region alone, travel agency Top Atlântico is offering a trip to Mesão Frio which includes helping with the grape harvesting. The price for two people is €414 for a double room and the promotion is valid between 1 and 30 September and includes two nights in a five-star hotel with breakfast. The agency advises tourists to check up with them on harvesting dates before booking.

Tourists seeking a wider experience during the Douro harvest season can also join a train or boat trip, a different way of getting to know one of Portugal’s most beautiful regions. Cruise agency Douro Azul offers several boat trips up the Douro river which include stops in some estates where people can get into the whole wine-making experience, joining in on the grape-picking and the stomping of the grapes. Wine tasting and a traditional meal with the harvesters are also included in the package. “We have a special programme tailored to show our clients the harvest season”, Bruno Ribeiro, marketing director at Douro Azul, told PDV. The company’s tours also include simple cruises from €45 per person, and deluxe cruises with one night in a hotel from €215 per person. About this year’s delay in the harvest season, Ribeiro told PDV that currently “it doesn’t affect our programme”.

Portuguese railway company Comboios de Portugal (CP) also offers a specific programme for the harvest time. On 22 September 2012, CP is organising a train trip on the Douro Line. After stopping in the city of Régua, the train operator will take passengers to the Quinta de Campanhã by bus, where several folklore shows, wine tasting and a traditional lunch will take place. Tourists will also be offered the opportunity to join in on the treading of the grapes. It doesn’t get more traditional than this. The price for adults is €49, and €29 for children between 4 and 8.

Booking a stay in one of the Douro’s most famous quintas (estates) can also be a nice experience, as it is a good way to take part in the daily routine of the harvest. Some take their wine-making so seriously that tourists are not allowed to take part in the process and can only watch, but many offer programmes that let outsiders experience some of the hard work.

Quinta do Lamego

Quinta do Lamego is one of the estates which allows tourists to observe the harvesting process from up close. Germano Monteiro, owner of the farm, ensured PDV that despite the delay in this year’s harvest it will begin “around 17 September” and will take place over the next eight days. It is advisable to call them in advance and confirm when the harvest begins. It is also possible to participate in the harvesting. The estate has seven rooms and despite offering no specific programme visits can be tailored for those interested in extending their experience.

Quinta do Lamego
Largo da Eira – nº4
Santa Comba
Santa Marta de Penaguião
€70/pp between 15 Jun and 10 Oct
Telephone: 254 821 305

Quinta do Panascal

At Quinta do Panascal, the wine-making rituals are taken very seriously. According to Ana Sofia Borges, public relations of the estate, besides joining in on the more regular activities like wine tasting and a traditional Portuguese lunch, visitors are not allowed to take part in the harvest or tread the grapes. “This is the most important task of the year”, she told PDV, and “we only allow people to watch. We don’t allow them to participate” since this is considered to be “a serious job.” The lunch the estate offers visitors consists of several typical Portuguese dishes eaten during the harvest, like arroz de feijão com pataniscas (bean rice with codfish cakes), among others. To book a visit or to confirm the exact dates of the harvest, it is advisable to call the estate in advance or enquire via email to: ana.sofia@fonseca.pt.

Quinta do Panascal
Valença do Douro
Single visit (with wine tasting and lunch): €36
Telephone: 254 732 321

Quinta da Pacheca

Quinta da Pacheca also offers a similar programme for the harvest season. Catarina Serpa Pimentel, manager of the estate, told PDV this “includes an entire morning spent with the harvesters, traditional lagaradas (or grape-stomping) and wine tasting.” Serpa Pimentel told PDV they “don’t have a specific date to start the harvest”, blaming the “lack of sufficient heat to mature the grapes” for this year’s delay, although she added they expected grape-picking to start on 21 September and end on 6 October. “We advise visitors to consider the last weeks of September“, the manager told PDV. As for accommodation, Pacheca runs the Wine House Hotel, with standard and superior rooms between €140 and €160 a night.

Quinta da Pacheca
Cambres – Lamego
Standard room (2 people): €140/night with breakfast
Superior room (2 people): €160/night with breakfast
Telephone: 254 313 228

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Pedro Carreira Garcia

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