Foot-treading grapes at Quinta de Vargellas, Douro

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One of the remarkable things about Port wine is foot treading grapes. For top quality Port, it’s necessary to extract as much as possible from the skins as fast as possible, but also as gently as possible. The best way to do this is in shallow fermentation vessels called lagares, which are usually made of granite.

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The reason the extraction needs to be fast is that the fermentation period is short: just a few days. Then the wine is combined with brandy while it still has lots of sugar left in it, and fermentation stops. It’s at this stage that the wine is separated from the skins.

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At Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, where the foot-treading here is taken place, human feet are used for the top Ports. They also have some robotic lagares, designed to emulate the foot-treading process, for less expensive Ports. Pictured above is David Guimeraens, Taylor’s chief winemaker, standing next to the keyboard player who provides the musical accompaniment.

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The lagares are trodden for four hours in the evening. The first two hours is the cut, which is done in an orderly fashion and in silence. Then it’s liberdade: music begins and people dance around for another two hours in a celebratory mood. It’s a remarkable thing to experience.

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