After rinsing our feet in a basin of water, we stepped into the granite lager—Portugal’s traditional venue for treading grapes by foot. For our little band of travelers, it was a ‘sploosh’ into a warm, gently swirling bath of grape juice with lots of pulp. Once we were all in the lager, it was time to join arms and practice the rhythms of the harvest, a kind of winemakers’ two-step. Tom and I have long enjoyed Portugal wines, and today, at the end of the harvest season, we were way off the beaten path in Portugal’s Douro Valley.
The fermenting juice was surprisingly soft on the skin, and the cool water surging around the edges was cool by contrast. Our leader was Oscar Quevedo Jr, whose parents established the Quevedo family winery in the heart of the Douro almost forty years ago. Oscar kept us in sync, calling time and marching our column around in the lager. Just half an hour of high-stepping gave us some idea of the craft of generations of Iberian winemakers. As visitors to the winery, we were playing at treading, of course, but these grapes would receive the full treatment after our departure, and eventually make their way into this year’s vintage.
Our day in the Douro Valley was also our chance to take the plunge and join the Purple Foot Club of Catavino, a provider of boutique food and wine tours in Spain and Portugal.
Beautiful views of the Douro Valley
Ryan Opaz, Catavino co-owner, was our guide. During our day together, he regaled us with personal anecdotes from long experience in the wine regions of Portugal. A member of the prestigious Confraria do Vinho do Porto, Ryan is superbly qualified to educate his guests about port wines, as well as the now-trending reds and whites of the world’s first demarcated and regulated wine region.
We spent the day far, far off the beaten track. Tour buses cannot make it up the tortuous roads to the vineyards near São João da Pesqueira. Hoards of tourist will not find cavernous tasting rooms here, nor other hoards to crowd the views of an incomparable landscape.
Rather, when we stopped to gape at the terraced hills below, falling away to the Douro, we felt the breezes, heard the birds and jostled with butterflies for the best views. There were multiple stops and multiple vistas, each better than the one before. If this had been a ride into the countryside just to take a gander, that would have been enough to satisfy most travelers. But there was more, much more to this day.
Visiting the Quevedo vineyard and winery
At Quevedo, Oscar took us through the entire cycle of winemaking, from viticulture to glass. Oscar has Douro wine—and especially port wine—in his DNA. He and his sister Claudia are the fourth generation of the family to make wine, and Oscar’s passion for a noble family tradition is readily apparent. His presentation of Quevedo wines and winemaking was to the point, detailed when it needed to be, and one of the most informative we’ve enjoyed anywhere.
A sumptuous meal
Quevedo hospitality continued through a magnificent four-course meal. From appetizer to dessert, each course was paired with one of the wines Oscar had already introduced to us in the vineyard. We knew the vines, the grapes, and the process. Now it was time to enjoy the wine! And that we did, in a dining room with enormous picture windows onto the vineyards below us, dipping away toward Spain in the distance.
The white wine was zesty with notes of tropical fruit, the red just right with a hearty main course of beef. After the meal, it was time for a visit to the wine cellar, where we learned about the founding of the winery, and the family’s century-old tradition of making port wine. Oscar tapped a barrel for us to sample port. Happily, we had a chance to select wines from the Quevedo boutique before our departure.
A day of high entertainment
Thanks to Oscar, we now know something about the role specific grapes play in creating a characteristic Douro assemblage. And thanks to Ryan, our knowledgeable wine raconteur, we learned about the places we visited as well as the vistas before us, as he filled our drive time with stories and photo stops.
As night fell, we were delivered back to Porto sated with good food and wine, and exhilarated by the day. We collected our trophies, t-shirts proclaiming membership in Catavino’s Purple Foot Club. It was time to shake hands with new friends from the day, and head for home, to rinse off the last traces of grape juice from an extraordinary day of wine and camaraderie.
If you go
Catavino specializes in customized food and wine journeys, for a day, a week, or more. Our day trip celebrated the Douro harvest season with grape treading. Yours can be what you want it to be, designed in collaboration with experts in the food and wines of Portugal.
If you visit the Douro for the grape harvest, we recommend stepping into a lager, at least once (Got three minutes? Here is a preview of what your day may be like).
To make the most of a Catavino Purple Foot Club adventure:
- Bring along a hearty appetite and a camera.
- Be prepared for a short walk under a strong sun in the vineyards (The Douro is a place of extremes, very hot in summer and at harvest time, and frigid in winter).
- Bring shorts and a t-shirt that you don’t mind turning purple!
Can’t travel to Portugal during the harvest? Any time of year, Catavino’s Douro Valley Premium Wine Tour guarantees to introduce you to top-notch food and wine, along with those spectacular vistas.
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