Our morning in Pinhao, in the heart of the Douro, was lovely. The air was warm, the sun reflected positively on the vineyards all around us and the river flowed quietly and peacefully.
We packed our items and were met by our host in the parking lot of our hotel. Today we were to be shown and educated on the historic vineyards and practices of port wine production in the Douro: the oldest officially recognized wine region in the world.
We exited Pinhao via a local road and drove up and alongside an adjoining river valley that merges with the Douro. The narrow, windy roads along the precipitous cliffs gave me some white knuckle moments and adrenaline rushes. But our host was a good driver (especially compared to some in Spain and our hired car here in Porto). The views that the crazy roads afforded us were unparalleled. Truly this is the most beautiful wine region I’ve ever seen and may be the most incredible that I’ll ever visit.
In the Douro, the vineyards are set on terraces – steps if you like – because the slope and grade of the hills prevents people from being able to work them if they were planted in a traditional manner. So the granitic and slate rock is blasted out with dynamite and bulldozers and is transformed into a maze-like system of terraces; in some cases from top to bottom, a span of up to 900 meters. I found them to look almost like ski hills on occasion. Not unlike a real-time view of a topographical map, steep terraces have more visible rock in between rows of vines, while more gradual ones have less. In some cases there are multiple rows on each terrace. Little towns dot the roads and hillsides, these bases serving populations of vineyard workers for the most part.
After viewing this valley and its remarkable vineyards we drove a short distance down stream on the Douro to another adjacent river, where after traveling up it a ways we were welcomed to the client winery – Fonseca – visitor’s centre and treated to a private lunch on the patio. The lunch was wonderful though marred circumstantially by the day’s searing heat. It was at least 40 degrees on the patio, despite being protected by a shade canopy of vines. But it was still a lovely lunch in an unbelievable locale.
The two-hour return drive back to Porto in an air-conditioned car certainly topped yesterday’s train ride, and we got to see the Portuguese countryside, including some wild fires and interesting geology. We saw a granite mine and outcroppings of all kinds of stone and mineral.
Tonight we enjoyed the creative culinary skills of one of Porto’s most prominent chefs at Foz Velha. The dinner was wonderful and imaginative and we drank a beautiful 12 year-old Portuguese red wine along side. Quite a nice way to remember what I would say is our favourite city of the trip so far.
the terraces on a Douro vineyard
don’t forget to click on the pictures to see a bigger version!
The Fonseca Quinta do Panascal visitor’s centre
Vats used for aging vintage ports
Terraces at Fonseca’s Quinta (Estate) do Panascal – this is the view from the patio upon which we had lunch
Our hotel in Porto
some of the famous Portuguese painted tiles on Rua de Santa Carolina
popular shopping street – Santa Carolina