Douro Valley Harvest
In mid-September, my husband, our two adult children, and I boarded a train in Campanhã, Portugal, and headed west. We had made a reservation at Quinta da Pacheca for a Douro Valley harvest wine tour. It included a tour of the wine cellar; breakfast and lunch with wine pairings; grape harvesting; and grape stomping.
I was most excited about treading grapes. My only exposure to grape stomping was watching a classic “I Love Lucy” episode set in Italy. In this episode, Lucille Ball and a local lady turned grape stomping into a battle. Both of them smeared grapes on each other’s face and during a struggle they fell and were plunged in purple. But aside from Lucy, I felt that Douro Valley grape stomping would create an unforgettable family memory, though I was a little disappointed.
Amazingly enough, I had seen photos of the magnificent scenery in Douro Valley. Furthermore, I was looking forward to viewing the landscape first hand. I knew that we were on the right track because I had read that the best way to see Douro Valley is by train, riverboat, or car.
After about an hour into our train trip, as I gazed out the window, I noticed that the countryside gradually changed from buildings and houses to quintas, or wine estates, planted with hundreds of rows of grape vines.
Not only did the landscape dazzle us, but our train edged the Douro River that delivered double duty. As the Douro River curved through the valley, the mountains, trees, and planted fields mirrored in the waterway.
In the past, the Douro River had ridden roughshod through the valley. Since the 1960’s, a damming project has slowed the river flow. Today it’s perfect for exploring by riverboat.
Douro Valley Wine Region
The Douro Valley provides a spectacular setting, and it’s famous for wine. Most importantly, it was the first recognized wine region in the world. Plus the governing body that oversees the quality and quantity of the wine is located in Peso da Régua.
Douro Valley Wine
Not only is the Douro Valley region famous for its port wine, but you can find a selection of wines that include white, rosé, red and sparkling.
Douro Valley Port Wine
During our visit to Douro Valley, we tried the region’s table wines along with a selection of port wine.
Below is a sampling of some of the ports along with pairing suggestions. Also, I added an estimate from the Douro Valley wine institute for the length of time that you can enjoy a bottle of wine after you open it and before it starts losing its flavor. Of course, storage and temperature, that I converted to Fahrenheit, affect the wine’s longevity.
Douro Valley vineyards combine a variety of white grapes to produce a white port. If you prefer the sweetest white port, you should try Lágrima.
Though some white port is aged in barrels for several years most is aged for only two years and is meant for you to drink while it is young.
Try white port before a meal as an ápertif or mix it with tonic or soda and add a wedge of lemon or lime for a light, refreshing drink.
You can pair white port with salads, smoked salmon, cold meats, smooth cheese, fruit, olives or nuts. Most importantly, after it’s opened, the port’s quality should last for eight to ten days. However, if it is aged, a white port can maintain its character for one to four months. Serve it at 43 to 50 degrees.
Ruby port is aged two to three years and is ready to drink. Try it with pastries, fruit, chocolate, and creamy sheeps cheese. After you open ruby port, it keeps for eight to ten days. For best taste, serve between 54 to 60 degrees.
Vintage port combines the best grapes from the harvest and the winery ages it in barrels for about two years. It’s meant to mature in the bottle.
Try it with meats, game, dried fruit, chocolate, velvety cheese, cheddar, or pungent cheese like Stilton. Consume it within two days of opening and serve at 64 degrees.
The tawny port receives its color from aging in barrels. Older tawny is aged in decades of ten years: you can buy ten-year-old, twenty-year-old, thirty-year-old and forty-year-old + tawny port. After opening, a tawny port that is aged in decades can last one to four months.
Try it with a smooth cheese like brie or pungent cheeses. It goes well with caramel desserts like crème brûlée and dark chocolate.
You should consume younger tawny within three to four weeks. The younger the tawny port, the sooner you should drink it after opening. Serve it between 50 to 57 degrees
Port contains between 18 to 21 percent alcohol caused by fermentation and fortification. The winery adds grape brandy that stops the fermentation and fortifies the port.
Quinta da Pacheca
As mentioned above, our goal was to participate in the Douro Valley harvest. We met our group and tour guide, Carla, in the Quinta da Pacheca hotel around 10 a.m. Our group only consisted of twelve people, but we were the only ones who spoke English. Carla guided us through the tour speaking in both English and Portuguese.
Unlike my daughter and me, my son and husband were apprehensive about harvesting and stomping grapes. However, Carla doled out straw hats and tee-shirts to everyone and instructed us to put them on. Before they knew it, Carla had roped in my son and husband, and they had to participate. Ha ha!
Quinta da Pacheca Wine Tour
Carla took us through the Lagarada where sizeable gray stone vats lined the walls. We watched two men in one of the tubs lift their legs one after another and press grapes with their feet. From there, we headed to the wine cellar where we learned about aging wine in barrels.
Quinta da Pacheca Wine
About 10:45, the Quinta da Pacheca staff served breakfast outside buffet style. Additionally, a waitress stood by and offered us Quinta Da Pacheca wine in red, white and rosé.
The weather felt warm, and we could see the mountains in the distance. Our venue offered an excellent view of the area’s Douro Valley wine region. In my opinion, we sat at the best table in town.
Our breakfast consisted of Portuguese style onion soup and thick slices of bread. Other selections included grilled sardines and pork in a sauce.
Quinta da Pacheca Harvest
After a satisfying meal, we assembled in front of the Quinta da Pacheca wine house. Carla handed out clippers and buckets, and we boarded a van. We were off to the Douro Valley fields to harvest the grapes with the local employees.
For our family, it became a contest. We competed against one another to harvest the most grapes. With that said, we sweated as the sun beat down. Moreover, we fought off bees that gravitated to the sweet grapes.
Though we only worked the Douro Valley harvest for about 45 minutes or so, it was not easy continually bending over and standing up in the heat. Most importantly, I gained a new respect for the people that worked in the vineyards. I was amazed at how the workers moved quickly through the rows and cut the grapes from the vines without leaving any behind.
Furthermore, on our way to the field, I had spotted men harvesting grapes perched roadside on steep slopes, and I wondered how they kept their balance.
Douro Valley Grape Stomping
After we filled about seven plus buckets of grapes, Carla called us back to the van, and we headed to the Lagarada. She offered us shorts, and we changed into them. Afterward, our group met at a stone vat.
First, we stepped in a tub of water to clean our feet and legs. Then we swung our first then the second leg over the top of the vat.
The grape mixture squeezed between our toes. Three men serenaded us. Two played the accordion, and one strummed the guitar. We danced and squashed the grapes.
I had flashbacks of the “I Love Lucy” show. Luckily, I decided not to make a scene by smearing red grapes on my daughter’s face because I didn’t want to be THAT tourist. Anyway, I would have gotten the worst of it.
The best part was when the master grape stomper formed our group in can-can mode. We connected arms with the person next to us and raised our legs one at a time and stomped in rhythm to the music.
Overall, I felt that Douro Valley grape stomping was overrated because I expected a more lively experience, though I am glad that we tried it.
Quinta da Paccheca Wine Tour
After grape stomping, when we climbed out of the stone tub, we agreed that our feet felt refreshingly clean. We changed back into our clothes, and it was time for lunch.
Once again, we dined on Douro Valley harvest cuisine while overlooking the vineyards. In addition to the table wine, we tried the white, ruby and tawny port. Among our meal selections were thick bread, pork sausage, creamy cheeses like brie and goat cheese, a salad, sardines in a rice mixture, and more. Additionally, we paired the Quinta Da Pacheca port with fruit, chocolate, and a creamy caramel dessert.
Douro Valley Hotels
In my opinion, for the best experience, you should try to stay at a quinta. Quinta da Pacheca hotel offers accommodations. Also, you have the option of staying in a wine barrel.
If you are looking for luxury, check out Sixth Senses Douro Valley.
Delfim Douro Hotel
We had booked reservations at the Delfim Douro Hotel. The hotel room furnishings were spartan but clean. The rooms consisted of a bed and not much space to store clothes, but we were on the move and weren’t unpacking anyway.
Amenities included a pool, game room, bar, and breakfast. We also loved their restaurant where we sat outside and overlooked the Douro River Valley. Stay tuned for more information on the Delfim Douro Hotel.
Though I have participated in several wine tours, I have never engaged in anything like our day at Quinta da Pacheca in Douro Valley, Portugal. First of all, having the chance to stomp grapes made our experience unique.
Also, we enjoyed dining on local food and wine tasting in a venue that overlooked the spectacular Douro Valley wine region.
Most noteworthy, Carla did an excellent job guiding us through the winemaking process, and she engaged us with her storytelling. As a result, I would highly recommend the Quinta Da Pacheca wine tour.
Have you ever toured a vineyard, what was your experience? If you visit Portugal would you consider a trip to Douro Valley? Please comment below.