We have by now abused our livers with more port than any responsible MD would recommend, but we have yet to see how it is made. All that changes today at the Dow vineyard. After a brief paddle and hearty lunch we proceed to the winery.
Romantic visions of bare-footed workers stomping on grapes are quickly banished; although the traditional granite stomping tanks still exist, some wineries, including Dow, have adopted more modern methods, not least because too few workers want to spend exhausting hours shin deep in grapes after a full day of picking same under a hot sun. Human stomping has been replaced by an automatic masher that moves back and forth over the grapes.
The mashing extracts juice and sugar from the grapes and begins fermentation. After mashing, the skins and seeds are allowed to go to the surface. Fermentation is remarkably short; I think they told us a matter of hours, not days. Once the wine master has determined that the moment is right, the wine is drained and a special brandy added to stop fermentation.
The fortified wine is transferred to huge containers.
After about six months the wine is sent down river for finishing. For centuries the wine had to be transported by boat, so only small casks could be used. Today’s roads and trucks can handle more size and weight.
Of course we couldn’t leave without tasting some port. Unfortunately the sun was so hot that about all we could taste was the alcohol; the remaining bottles that were supposed to be served remained corked.
We did, however, enjoy another beautiful view of the river.
With no quinta available we spend the night in a comfortable, if unspectacular, hotel by the river. Next day we learn why a river as large as the Douro is so calm: it’s dammed! And today we have to pass through a dam. Guide Nancy has made an appointment for noon at the lock, meaning that we must be there on time. Slowpokes that we are, Barbara and I have to cheat a bit; Vitor and Pedro, our Portuguese guides, have rented a motor boat to take us and our kayak to a point near the dam, where we will rejoin the group.
It’s a boat that has seen better days, but our ride allows us to enjoy the scenery without the pressure of paddling to keep up.
Once at the dam, we wait as a large passenger boat comes through the lock, then we paddle in and raft up (forming a raft of kayaks side by side, each holding on to the other). Even though the drop is about 90 feet, it causes surprisingly little turbulence, only occasionally requiring the outer kayaks to push us away from the sides. As the gate comes up we face a deluge from above, paddling through a curtain of water that pours down our necks, under our PFDs and into our pants. Oh well, it’s a hot day.
With quite a distance still to paddle before lunch, we hurry on. Only one quinta remains in our itinerary, and all too soon our adventure will end.