Wine Tour in the Douro Valley

I invite you to visit my record of our stay: www.picasaweb.google.co.uk/bbqbillw . Two Albums: “Portocali” and “Victor’s Party”. Why Portocali? While out there I was explaining to my friends that Portocali is the Greek for “Orange” and I have been told that it derived its name from the discovery of these succulent fruits Greeks made in a bygone time when visiting Portugal or “Portogalia”.

My passion for photography started on my twelfth birthday somewhat earlier than my passion for wine. It was triggered by a book, given to me on my birthday, called “Photography for Boys and Girls”. From that day photography has remained a life-long interest. I revel in travels such as these. What I love most is to capture the essence or mood of people and places. To do this, I rarely use flash and often hold the camera at much slower shutter speeds than would be considered wise.

I hope that my collection of images that I have “drawn with light” brings some happy souvenirs for those who came together for a great time out there, provides an inkling of what was missed to those busy, busy, people who cancelled out at the last minute and whets the appetite of all readers for the wine-harvest tour that Nicholas, Victor and I are organising for late September.

If I was allowed two words to describe Portugal, “lush abundance” are the words I would use. They say a picture is worth more than a thousand words. See what you think! I never ceased to be amazed at the way every square inch of terrain, every porch, every back garden was taken up with effortlessly growing vines; if it wasn’t vines it was orange trees and if it wasn’t orange trees it was olive trees.

The Douro is blessed with an incredible climate for growing vines and fruit trees. It has heat coupled with a plentiful supply of water from the rivers, but the terrain is harsh and mountainous, necessitating much human toil that has been taken over by machines in flat wine-producing regions. To negotiate the terrain, 4x4s are a must. “You can’t be serious,” I kept thinking every time we were plunged down a 45º incline. I had the same reflection later when we were tasting the green wines grown in flatter areas. “Follow me,” said our host, “and we’ll take a shortcut through the vines.” He too, was serious!

You don’t see many fat Douro Valleyians. The people thrive like the vegetation. At over 65 years of age, Victor’s mother still goes out on the steep slopes to check the vines with members of the family. At the same time she has that South European ability to sit outside serenely with other members of the community and just enjoy being . The same relaxed atmosphere surrounds the Portuguese version of Petanque being played in the village and whose name escapes me. Flat stones instead of metal balls are thrown.

Later in the Green Wine region, during a visit to the Marquette winery, where production, bottling and packing all took place by the vineyards which acted as a colourful backdrop to the factory, I couldn’t help thinking of all those poor people struggling through the hell of London’s road arteries to get to some dilapidated work premises in Park Royal or London’s East End. Some even have to hand over a substantial portion of their weekly food budget when they stray into the pirate-infested land masses designated as congestion charge zones. What a contrast!

I was delighted to meet on this trip Lawrence and Emma Crabtree who so fell in love with Portugal, that they sold up in England, left their jobs and emigrated. They too exude serenity. I just love finding people who have succeeded in breaking free from the slavery of a 9 to 5 existence to do what inspires them.

Someone else who found his Nivrana in the Douro is Jorge, a Peruvian-born, Yogi-looking artist, who spent many years travelling round the world before settling in the village of Sao Lourenco , famous for its naturally-flowing, curative thermal waters. People queue to bathe in them and Victor tells how doctors send people there to be treated for all manner of ailments. Jorge has settled there for the past ten years. “One loses all sense of time here,” he says. Since his arriving here, he has had no desire to move on. He lives in blissful simplicity, sculpting, painting and tending to the little chapel on the hill.

In my case my soul lives in Greece, another magical land where it is hard to imagine the absence of the supernatural. If my soul didn’t live there, I could well imagine it adopting Portugal. During our tour, this aura of the divine was nowhere more apparent than at our visit to the Alberto shrine of Sao Bento (St Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order). As we arrived, the Credo wafted out of the crowded church across the mountains in the Portuguese vernacular. The magnificent modern edifice sat imposingly overlooking Lake Canicada like a temple of Zeus striding Olympus.

If our spirituality was uplifted, our temporal selves were no less lavishly pampered with an abundance of food and wine served up with warm Portuguese hospitality, starting with our first lunch at the exhuberent Antonio’s which overlooks the Douro river. We had a Portuguese Cassoulet; it was so good we went back the next day to sample another speciality: fresh, grilled, sardines.

The real excesses occurred on Victor’s network day proper, coinciding with St Anthony’s day celebrations, at the Flor do Monte hotel. A complete photo album, “Victor’s Party,” is devoted to this and to the 85 people who attended. After four hours of eating and drinking, Victor announced that we would go and do some wine and port tasting and then come back for a spot of supper. “I don’t think, I can manage any more food today,” I said. “Bill stop being difficult,” replied Victor, “I know you are a good eater. You’ll have your appetite back by nine o’clock.” Well I did, but was quite pleased that we had a comparatively light dish of “Bacalao” (cod).

We went on a boat trip (two in fact) along the Douro. On one, we were joined by Portuguese Ecademicians to hear a talk on positive presentation, “Remember the Ice” by author, Bob Nicholl. What I found most fascinating on the river was the armada of port-barrel carriers that graced the river banks. These are now but a historical momento of traditions past when port was ferried from the Douro Valley down to Oporto by boat. Other traditions are still live and kicking. One that I look forward to seeing on our forthcoming harvest trip is the real-live treading of grapes with feet not machines.

It was great meeting in the flesh, virtual friends from Ecademy and Facebook, Aldo Tito and Lars Larsson. It was good to meet also Portuguese Ecadamicians Elder Falcao, Clara Noble and her husband. A million thanks to Victor for receiving us so well and to his wife, Emilia, and daughter Vitoria for their hospitality when we visited his house at Gimaraes.

I look forward to meeting more of our co-networkers on our Harvest Trip to the Douro in September!

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