At FITA PRETA the Winemakers and Viticulturists are equally important partners in the enterprise of wine production. High quality wine is only possible as a result of human skills interacting with nature in the three-stage process of creation, transformation and conservation of fruit that begins in the vineyard and ends when a bottle of wine is opened.
The grape-grower’s role is to understand and interact with the many variable and interconnected influences of soil, sunlight, water, temperature, varieties and the daily-changing responses of a living vine, growing its fruit, leaves and roots. The job of the viticulturist is to wisely apply all the tools available to favourably influence the processes that create top quality wine grapes. Once the decision to harvest is made, the process of creation ends, and the process of transformation and conservation begin.
Although viticulture is a scientific discipline dominated by numbers a good grower has to be much more than just a technician, performing a pre-programmed annual sequence of operations in the vineyard. Natural systems are far too complex and unpredictable for such an approach. As in medicine, a purely scientific approach that leaves no room for feelings is not desirable. A good feeling for the land and plants is required; space must be allowed for intuition and inspired action. The wine PALPITE (meaning intuition in Portuguese) is named in recognition of the many positive outcomes that have occurred through following a hunch.
FITA PRETA grapes come from a number of carefully selected, premium sites, owned by good growers throughout the region and are managed under our direction. The very best sites are composed of mineral-rich rocky schist and have the capacity to limit vine vigour while providing just sufficient water and minerals to support growth.
The region has many good vineyards located on shallow, stony hillside soils that restrict vigour. The onset of mild water stress in early July causes a cessation in vegetative growth and the vine is able to focus energy into the fruit. The monitoring of shoot tip growth and the mapping of cane lignification in relation give the first indications of vineyard zones with the potential to produce top quality grapes. These excellent vineyard soils often require judicious, measured supplementary irrigation to keep the vines working over the long dry summer. Despite some views to the contrary, if used wisely in only deficit quantities, irrigation is a great tool for improving wine quality! It makes perfect sense; fruit that is dehydrated can be high in sugar but still under-ripe. Nutrients are also managed to be available in only deficient quantities so that canopies remain uncrowned and fruit development occurs with minimal shading.
Whatever the variety, it is vital to correctly read the harvest signals and monitor the development of tannin development through laboratory methods. Often this requires waiting until there are hard brown seeds and fully lignified stems. In the Alentejo, sugars are high and acids have begun to drop away when this optimum point of maturation occurs. Zoning – the New Concept of Terroir- False-colour air photographs are used to identify the best zones within larger vineyards. Such zones when inspected on the ground and will have thin, healthy open canopies, with no shading between leaves and limited shading of bunches. These qualities are essential for growing fruit with optimum colour, pH and an absence of green unripe aromas.
Good scientific knowledge of grapevine pests and diseases enables us to farm with minimum spraying at rates that are much lower than are commonly practiced in the world. The low rainfall and high temperatures of the growing season helps reduce the disease pressure. Powdery Mildew is the main problem and this is normally dealt with using natural sulphur early in the season and other low impact products later. In the vineyard we are very mindful that wines may be left in contact with the skins for periods of up to thirty days post-harvest, so producing grape skins that are disease and residue free is paramount for wine quality. The vineyards are not certified organic, but are farmed using sensible practices ‘borrowed’ from organic viticulture.