Quinta dos Canais
Quinta dos Canais is our home in the remote Upper Douro Valley. Our mountain vineyards hug the slopes of the ridge running down to the river, surrounded by rocky crags, rushing waterfalls, wild scrub and flowers. It is our own small slice of paradise (well, 271 hectares, 670 acres, actually). Canais has been the heart and soul of Cockburn’s Vintage Ports for over a hundred years.
All this beauty is the result of many years tender loving care. Senhor Orlando lives permanently at Canais with his family and the vineyards are their back garden. While Ricardo Carvalho, responsible for viticulture at Canais, lives just up the mountain side in a small neighbouring village. Ask Orlando what the secret to Canais’ success is and he will pick up a handful of the dusty, rocky earth and let it stream through his fingers. Then, dramatically, he will just say one word (and you’ll probably be a little shocked for a moment) – “Schist” – well, actually, he’ll say “O Xisto”!
The property’s 97 hectares (240 acres) of vineyard have been consistently given the top ‘A’ grade ranking by the Douro’s authorities, the I.V.D.P.. The Quinta itself (the Portuguese word for a farm or a vineyard estate) takes its name from the ingenious system of open stone canals that were constructed by hand in the nineteenth century. They carry water from the waterfall at the western part of the estate down through the vineyards in order to naturally irrigate the olive and orange groves, while also supplying the house with fresh water (and oranges!). These canals still run like clockwork today and we still quite often use them, for watering the orchard.
Because our vineyards are predominantly south facing, the grapes can sunbathe in the hot Portuguese summer sun, giving them their special ripeness and concentration. Every single vine is planted on terraces that have been carved into the hillsides that wrap themselves around the meandering Douro River, forming a natural amphitheatre around the Quinta house. It was these terraced vineyards, in the old days built out of stone, which won the Douro Valley its UNESCO World Heritage Status. When you see them, it will be obvious why. When the evening sun lights up the vines on these terraces they look like the steps of giant green and gold pyramids: it is a truly magnificent thing to behold.
All our grapes are picked by hand at Canais: it’s the only way on these steep mountain slopes. The demarcated region of the Douro Valley is the largest area of mountainous vineyard in the world. The majority of our vineyards are planted with the Douro’s finest varieties: Touriga Nacional (28 hectares, 69 acres) and Touriga Franca (31 hectares, 77 acres). We also take pride in the other varieties that we plant, which are less well-known but equally exciting for winemaking. These are Tinta Barroca, Sousão, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela and Alicante Bouschet. Sometimes older is wiser, so we also preserve a relatively high proportion of old mixed vines at Canais, which give added depth and complexity to our wines.