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The Douro Harvest

Douro Valley landscape in Autumn_Portugal

A table was laid out in the shade at the side of the house with a big sardine pie, fish heads staring out, at the centre; there were potatoes a plenty, salads, water to slake the thirst and jugs of local red wine.  Driving up over the hills from the Douro Valley we’d pulled over seeing grape pickers at work in a small vineyard to ask if we could take some photos and kindly been invited to join the them for lunch. It was good, simple, fresh and tasty in the Portuguese way, though I couldn’t help feeling I should have pitched in with our hosts snipping bunches of grapes from the vines to earn it.

The business of winemaking in the Alto Douro, the world’s oldest demarcated wine growing region, goes back to Roman times. Viticulture over all those years has created a stunning landscape. Dropping down into the valley on our first visit, I was mesmerized by the steepness of the terraced hillsides and awed by the thought of the back breaking work that must have gone into carving out row after row of terrace.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that grapes  are still picked by hand on these mechanization defying, stony slopes.

Ceramic tile of grape picker, Pinhão Station, PortugalOn that occasion we stayed in Pinhão, a sleepy feeling place with the Douro River at its front, right in the heart port wine producing country . The railway station there is a gem, small and neat with walls covered in tiled panels telling the story of the grape harvest.  Women are shown picking, men toting wicker baskets of grapes on their backs (around 70lbs in weight I believe)  - hard work that was helped along with songs and music that have become part of the Douro harvest traditions.   Stomping, crushing the grapes by foot to release the juice and colour was another job for the men working to rhythmic chants. Advances in mechanical treaders have made them a viable, better in some ways, option but many quintas still tread underfoot in the traditional way .. and women get to join in now days. After the ordered marching comes the freestyle session where stompers can move around at will, even take a knee deep twirl through the red grape soup to accompanying music – now that’s something I’d like to try.


We’d arrived at the very tail end of the harvest when the Douro was all but quiet again, vines bare, stone lagars emptied of the beginnings of the year’s vintage after the annual frenzy of activity. A pity, as I think experiencing harvest time in the Douro with fine wine, good food, songs and music, surrounded by golden scenery would be very enjoyable.

,Grape harvest for winemaking, Portugal

I’m writing , behind time again, in September so it’s probably a bit late to join in the Douro Harvest this year unless you’re on the spot or make an impromptu visit as  but  here are some links to opportunities that have caught my eye or come my way, from day outings to stays in luxury hotels. A thought for next year …..

Harvest & Songs with Wine Moments
Wine Moments and Gourmet arrange wine food and cultural tours in the Douro and have a special Harvest Programme for September of overnight stays and day trips. Details are in pdf form and not on their web site, so best to contact them.

Harvest Special Offer at the Aquapura Douro luxury hotel - includes a harvesting day, spa treatment, course degustation dinner and wine tasting

Grape Picking Party Programme through rail company Comboios de Portugal
I like the sound of this, a train journey along the valley from Porto (or stops in between ) to Regua followed by a visit to Quinta de Campanhã with a cellar tour, port wine tasting, a regional lunch, music and songs and a chance to tread grapes.  Taking place on weekends of 21 and 28 September

Douro Nature and Wine from A2Z Adventures
This Portuguese company offer a short adventure staying in a winery farm with a choice of activities – bike rides, walks, boat trips, wine tasting and at harvest time the chance to harvest grapes (March – October)

If you’ve stomped and trodden grapes, do tell us about it.

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