Two hours driving from Felgueiras. It hardly seemed worth it at first. After all we’d tasted port just yesterday in Porto. But this was different. Today we were heading to a Quinta on the river Douro, the place where Port happens, the real thing.
The winding road braves the steep descent near Peso dá Régua where the river Douro makes its first appearance of the day. It almost didn’t matter how long we were driving once we reached that beautiful river – the views along those tranquil waters making any length drive pleasant.
A landslide on the south side forced us to turn around and follow the detour back across the bridge, around a small rivulet, and up the other side of the river to the dam, then across again.
Here the Douro winds slowly around the steep terraced hills, ancient stone walls holding back the earth that feeds rows upon rows of grape vines. The vines are just beginning to bud now, fuzzy lime green leaves brightening the thick brown stalks that will weigh heavy with grapes in just a few months.
In some places the river is so calm that it becomes a perfect mirror for the hills above it, the white buildings of the quintas shining in the water like jewels. A painter would find endless inspiration here with water and vines, rustic buildings, olive trees, and the people working the earth the way they’ve done it for hundreds of years.
We made a sharp turn to the right and wound our way up to the small lot at Quinta do Tedo, our destination today. We stood at the edge admiring the scenery. You couldn’t find a more perfect spot, the tasting room looking towards the valley of vine covered hills rising up from a smaller river, the Rio Tedo. It pools wide in this place, calm, more lake-like than river. A man walked behind a horse on the hill working the earth the old fashioned way. Behind us was the great River Douro, the view from the back side of the tasting room and the “cellars” below it.
A room of port stained barrels, piles upon piles of baskets still used for harvesting those precious grapes all by hand, and the tub used for the traditional lagar. No, stomping grapes isn’t just a tourist’s treat or a tradition done for the sake of ceremony. It’s real, current, and vital. Through the tireless stomping over hours, the grape skins will be crushed and broken to release the color, flavor, and nutrients into the juice. Port production along the Douro is steeped in tradition and this Quinta is no exception.
There’s something special about walking into a room of barrels. We left the room where the lagar is done and went to the Douro side to see the rooms of port where the juice from the lagar is drained into huge tanks and some ports are stored in beautiful barrels. Standing here is such a privilege, the sensation akin to an invitation to see the king’s treasury. I think the boys thought that, the gasps of awe upon seeing the rows upon rows of bottled 2007 vintage. A very good year.
The tasting room is small and simple, a refreshing change from the stuffier appearance of many of Vila Nova’s tasting rooms. Vincent poured our glasses generously while Kay gave us a bucket to “spit in” or pour out the extra. Sensible. Who wants to taste these amazing ports with reduced faculties? But then again… who would pour out such delicious ports and wines? Not me. This was the painful part because everything was good and Kay and Vincent’s warmth just made it even better. How do you decide what to buy when you like everything? Even the olive oil is good. This little quinta is going places. We’ll have to come back for the harvest and to walk along the river Tedo. I may come back to sit and paint.
The girls were happy picking lemons. I brought home about 20 of them. Delicious. Hungry stomachs again pried us away from someplace we would have liked to stay. Just to look and linger a bit longer…
Lunch in the nearby town. I had a traditional “duck rice” that was quite good. We then went to see what is known to be the “most beautiful train station in Portugal” which was different and pretty, but not quite comparable to my own “little” train station in Valencia, Spain.
The blue and white ceramic depictions of the growth, harvest, and production of port are special though as is the casual way that a passenger can stroll across the wooden plank paths across the tracks to get to the other side. No tunnels. Just look both ways and run.
In Peso dá Régua we found some old baskets exactly like the ones used for harvest at Tedo and many other quintas. Beautiful souvenirs of our time at a place that captured our hearts and made us yearn for more time and may be just a small chunk of land on that river. To see that daily would be a gift.
Quinta do Tedo’s Website: http://www.quintadotedo.com