All city stresses and noise were swept away as we left Porto and entered the magical landscapes of the Douro Valley.
Words simply cannot do it justice. Rippling slopes of terraced vineyards wrapped their folds around us as we smoothed along roads that became gradually slenderer and twistier, like the river below us. It felt as if we were sliding into a lower gear, switching off, hearing ourselves think for the very first time.
It was that slowness of the journey that made the arrival all the sweeter. Once we edged through the small town of Sarzedinho we drove along a ribbon of track that seemed almost exclusively reserved for Quinta do Torto (and which, apart from a few other Quintas nearby, it effectively was). The house twinkled at us in the distance, disappearing and reappearing again tantalisingly closer each time we meandered around another fold of Douro hillside.
And finally, we arrived. Dazed and blinking we got out of the car in the fierce September heat and stumbled into the Quinta which sat waiting to give us the cool, restful welcome we so needed. Once inside it really was as if we had stepped into our own time zone, and the rest of the holiday seemed to laze by like this on its own gentle agenda. We were met warmly by the winemaker who showed us to our rooms and then left us to explore the house as we settled in. It had a charming blend of rustic character and elegant comfort throughout, from the traditional stone flooring and whitewashed walls to the bright living spaces and modern bedrooms with luxurious ensuites.
We found that Quinta do Torto worked so perfectly for our family holiday because it had both ample indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering everyone together, and perfectly private bedrooms where you could steal away and relax in cool peace and quiet. We stayed just over a week and though we did venture out for walks along the river and an excursion down the Douro river from Pinhão, it almost wasn’t necessary. The first few days eased past in a contented haze; we relished the slow mornings with sun-soaked breakfasts on the terrace, afternoon cups of tea by the pool and evening glasses of wine and dinners overlooking the sleepy vineyards in the valleys below.
The laziness was not to last long, however. As the vintage season began to kick off, the neighbouring Quintas across the valley became a hive of activity. On the slopes opposite us we watched workers dotted amongst the vines, their faded sun hats and baskets bobbing and swaying as they worked methodically up and down the rows in the blistering heat. Quinta do Torto was about to be hit by the same vintage fever, and our turn came the very next day at 7 am.
Assembled outside the winery and equipped with clippers and buckets we stood ready to take our orders. In the freshness of the early morning the group of Portuguese pickers, who had been recruited from a nearby village the day before, looked at us shivering in our T-shirts and shorts with amusement. They were kitted out in long sleeves and sturdy boots, far better protection against the early morning coolness and fierce midday sun to come. We picked Tinta Roriz first, clipping enthusiastically along the rows of leafy vines and hearing the satisfying thud of grapes falling into our buckets as the sun stretched its rays across the hillside. Every now and then one of the Portuguese workers would come along with a large basket into which we decanted our pickings. Tinta Cão came next, followed by a plethora of exotic-sounding varietal names that the winemaker reeled off for us over the next few days.
At about 10.30am everyone stopped for breakfast just in time for the local ‘man with a van’ to arrive. He came every other day with uncharacteristic Portuguese punctuality, to draw open his doors and reveal mounds of freshly baked breads and brioche, Portuguese cakes and fresh melons, plums, peaches, lettuces, tomatoes and cheeses. Plastered with soil and sweat, we chose the goods and sat down hungrily to eat our fill, washed down with hot Portuguese coffee and fresh orange juice. After breakfast, it was back to work, if you felt like it, or to a cooling swim and shady sun lounger by the pool if you didn’t.
Of the whole process, it was the afternoons that became our favourite part. This was when the grapes were destemmed and crushed, and the grape juice (must) pumped into the old stone “lagars” ready for treading. Despite the fairly extreme differences in musical taste between various members of my family, we somehow managed to agree on one genre as the soundtrack for our stints in the “lagar”: ‘70s disco. I highly doubt that we trod in sync, as you see old men in the professional Port houses doing, but I at least hope that the wine we made gained some melodious fruity notes and a harmonious balance of sweetness and acidity from our enthusiastic efforts. If not then all I can say is “Don’t Blame it on the Boogie”! We did several two-hour bouts of treading over the next few days and watched in awe as the fermenting must began to foam and bubble. Our legs were silky smooth every time we stepped out – I’m sure this is a health benefit of wine which is yet to be tapped into – but our purple-stained feet took a couple of weeks to rinse completely clean.
It eventually did and i think we all left with the glass of life well and truly filled to the brim with Douro spirit. We’ll certainly be back for more!
Maddie Everington and family stayed at Quinta do Torto in September 2018. This premium table wine-producing estate enjoys a stunning setting and is ideal for secluded family holidays, or Wine Experience Weekends in September & October.