The role of viticulture is to understand and interact with the many variables and interconnected influences of soil, sunlight, water, temperature, grape varieties and the daily needs of the vine, growing its fruit, leaves and roots. The job of a viticulture manager is to apply all the available tools wisely, to favourably influence the processes that create high quality wine grapes. Once the decision to harvest has been made, the growing process ends and the process of transformation and conservation begins.
A viticulturist is a winegrowing expert whose objective is the maintenance and management of the vineyard in order to produce white or red grapes.
Although sustainable viticulture is a hard science, a good viticulturist or producer has to be much more than just a grower, carrying out a pre-programmed annual sequence of operations in the vineyard.
Nature is too complex and unpredictable for such an approach.
As in medicine, viticulture with a purely scientific approach that leaves no room for feelings is suboptimal. It takes a good viticulturist / grower, with a feeling for the land and the plants, a viticulture with room for intuition and inspiration. The Palpite (hunch) wine got its name for the many positive outcomes that have occurred by following a hunch.
Fitapreta's grapes come from various origins. The grapes bought by Fitapreta are from carefully selected vineyards, premium grapes, owned by good grape growers from all over the Alentejo region, and are managed by Fitapreta's viticulture team. Fitapreta has also acquired a 20 hectare property of an old vineyard with about 50 years old grapes of all varieties, representing the typical Alentejo vineyard.
The grapes of the 2020 harvest are from the fruit of new vines planted on Fitapreta's property at Graça do Divor, near Évora. The grapes planted were of the following varieties: Arinto, Perrum, Folgazão, Baga, Tinta Miúda, Tinta Grossa, Aragonês, Alicante Bouchet, Touriga Nacional and 6 hectares of "rootstock" to be grafted later with some local varieties.
The Alentejo region has many good vineyards located in shallow soils, with water deficit and water stress, on rocky slopes that restrict vigour. The lack of water and consequent moderate water stress in early July causes a halt in vegetative growth and the vine is able to concentrate its energy on the fruit.
Monitoring shoot growth and mapping stem lignification in relation to the onset of ripening gives us first indications of vineyard areas but also the potential to produce top quality grapes.
These excellent soils often require judicious supplemental irrigation (water) to keep the vines healthy during a long, dry summer. Despite some contrary opinions, if used correctly in small amounts, water is a great tool for improving the quality of the grapes and consequently improving the wine.
For Fitapreta it makes perfect sense. A grape that is dehydrated, lacking water, may be rich in sugar, but is yet to ripen. Nutrients are also managed so that they are only available in small amounts, so that the canopy remains leafless and fruit development occurs with minimal shading.
Whatever the variety, it is vital to read the signs of harvest correctly and monitor the development of the tannins using laboratory methods. Often this requires a wait until there are brown pips and fully lignified stems.
In the Alentejo, sugars are high and acidity begins to drop when the ideal point of maturation occurs, the harvest date can be confusing because alcoholic maturation generally occurs before phenolic maturation. The "zoning" which is said to be the "new concept of terroir" is done by using infra-red aerial photography to identify the best zones within large vineyards, and also how to separate plots for different harvest dates.
These zones, when inspected in the field, will have developed healthy canopies with no shading between leaves and limited shading of clusters. These qualities are essential for the growth of fruit with optimum colour, pH and an absence of grassy aromas and the definition of a correct harvest date for each grape variety or vineyard plot.
Good scientific knowledge of vine pests and diseases allows us to practise sustainable viticulture with minimal spraying, at rates much lower than those commonly practised. Low rainfall index and high temperatures in the growing phase of the vines help reduce the rootstock of disease.
Powdery mildew is the main problem which makes a sustainable viticulture difficult, this disease is normally treated early in the season using natural sulphur, and later with other low impact products.
In the vineyard, we are very aware that wines can be left in contact with the skin for periods of up to 30 days post-harvest.
Sustainable viticulture produces grapes that are free of disease and residue, both of which are key to the quality of the wine. The vineyards are not certified organic, but are grown using practices "borrowed" from organic viticulture where spraying is minimal.