Taking a wine holiday in Portugal, whether traveling independently or on an organised group tour, is good any time of year but especially so during the autumn grape harvest. It is then, in September, when the Vintage Port houses such as Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman pick their grapes and still tread them in the traditional manner: by foot.
Wine Holidays in the Douro River Valley
The grapes used for making port wine are grown in the Douro Valley, regarded as one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. It’s a popular place for wine river cruises, for group tours, and for independent travelers. Many of the port houses have visitor centers where wine lovers can enjoy a tasting, and see the grapes being picked and, in some places, also being trodden in the traditional manner.
The Quinta do Panascal of Fonseca Port
The vineyard at the Quinta do Panascal, owned by Fonseca Port, is one of several vineyards near the popular Douro town of Pinhao that can be visited, and where grape treading can be seen. It is one of the best organised of the vineyards for wine tours, with brochures, maps, and even MP3 audio tours available in a variety of languages. It can be visited by boat or by taxi from Pinhao, and at harvest time the workers tread the grapes – not for the benefit of tourists but because it’s their job.
Why are Feet Good for Treading Grapes?
It isn’t that this method of crushing grapes is primitive, as mechanisms for doing this job have existed since wine was first made. But no mechanical method has yet been found that can replicate the gentle pressing motion of the feet, which port houses believe gets the best results.
Taylor’s Port is one wine producer which recently invented a machine to try to replicate the gentle motion of the feet of the grape treaders. This is still being tested, but until such times as the port produced this way does better than the traditional method in blind tastings, the grape treaders’ jobs are safe.
The Hygiene of Treading Grapes
Some people’s first reaction to grape treading using feet is to ask about hygiene. No-one need have any concerns. The vineyard workers (and perhaps lucky visitors) are not allowed simply to jump into the grapes. Feet must be washed thoroughly first. In any case, when the fortified alcohol is added to the mixture later, to stop the fermentation process, it kills off any and all bacteria that might exist in the wine. This is only logical. If any bacteria were allowed to survive then the entire production of expensive Vintage Port would be ruined.