Treading grapes to the Birdie Song beat puts the soul into Taylor’s port

Grapes arrive freshly picked at Taylor's Port Nogueira winery

Forget jazz, classical music or even opera. It’s the Birdie Song played on a little electrical organ which might be putting the soul into Taylor’s port wine.

Or should that be sole.

For one night only at Quinta de Vargellas in the Douro Valley in Portugal, the heart of port country, I stomped, wiggled and jiggled.

I was treading grapes. Ah, you see…  there was method in my musical madness.

I danced a few twisty turny traditional Portuguese folk dances in a granite lagar, which is, quite literally, a stepping stone.

This stone, my grape-crushing dance floor, is the first step in creating amazing port, the vintages of the future.

It was all great fun, but there’s a serious wine-making process behind it.  It’s much more technical than just doing the Birdie Song and a Portuguese version of the Macarena (which we did).

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When freshly-picked grapes are first placed in a lagar, which is a knee-deep granite square trough, people tightly link up in a line to crush them thoroughly. In the next stage people move around freely crushing them (I guess that’s where my hip wiggles came in) to create an environment where fermentation can begin.

It takes lots of manpower and with the ever-changing ebb and flow of human lifestyles, the number of people needed to tread the grapes might not always be around in years to come.

So David Guimaraens the technical director and head wine maker for the Fladgate Partnership, which includes the Taylors, Croft, and Fonseca brands, has begun to future-proof the process.

He and his team have created “port toes” which were worth inventing just for the delightful name they’ve been given.

The mechanical toes – to be found at the company’s Nogueira winery – replicate the gentle foot pressure which David believes is the best way to achieve gentle extraction, and ultimately, the super-soft ports full of flavour and structure.

People can have a go at foot treading themselves if they find themselves in the Duoro Valley, as Croft has just opened a new tourism centre with a converted stable put aside for the experience.

Though I’m not sure the Birdie Song will be the background music. I think the keyboard player is permanently gigging elsewhere.

  • Find out more about how Taylor’s port is made here
  • If you fancy having a go at treading grapes,  the new visitor centre can be found at Croft’s flagship vineyard Quinta da Roêda, at Pinhão in the heart of the Douro Valley.
  • Below…. see the Birdie Song like you’ve never seen it before.
    Any resemblance to people who have wine careers and professional appearances to maintain is not exactly coincidence.