Portugal – Paddy Tyson (Issue 12)

Duoro Valley WK650 Overland magazineThe gecko wakes me from a daydream as it scuttles between the vines. Its tiny feet seem to skim the surface of the sun-baked rock that’s so important to the wines of the Duoro valley. Super-heated beneath the unrelenting Portuguese sun, this flakey schist rock maintains a stable temperature all night. As barren and impenetrable as it looks, the roots of vines can bore through it in search of water, the elixir and what I currently crave, but never seem to carry enough of. Perhaps if I had roots that could bore down 15 metres through rock… Northern Portugal WK650 Overland

From 8am any self-respecting northern European would call this place hot. By midday it’s intolerable. And yet I can’t help but be out here, riding, as the mountains of northern Portugal provide mile after mile of traffic-free twists. There’s no excessive altitude, but the steep slopes have created a road-builder’s nightmare and a motorcyclist’s paradise.
The daydream involves putting down roots – metaphorical ones – as I marvel at the roads, cheap living, reliable weather and the vines that surround me. Just over the border in Spain growing grapes results in very acceptable plonk at 2 euros a bottle. Here things are different. Here as I watch my gecko I am surrounded by grapes that will, come September, begin their lengthy journey to the finest gentlemen’s clubs of England and beyond and to the discerning palettes of cheese lovers everywhere. The Duoro Valley is Port country and the only official place in the world where it can be produced and labelled as such, by decree in 1756.
I’ve decided to follow that river and the journey the grapes take as they are transformed into sweet fortified dessert wine which too often carries a markedly British name: Cockburn, Sandeman, Croft and Taylor. The river itself is inseparable from the product; providing the nutrition for growth and originally the transportation to the city of Porto for aging and export. But that was only after King Manuel ordered the river’s widening and the removal of fishing channels in the 16th century to make it a Port super-highway. Wonderfully sinuous tarmac carries the load now, to circumvent man’s latest use of the river: power generation…
Portugal WK650 Overland
…But who was I kidding? Following a river was just an excuse. The Michelin 591 in my tankbag was awash with routes highlighted in ‘scenic’ green, each one like a discarded ribbon thrown on the page to represent a never-ending sequence of bends and elevation changes. There were so many I needed the decision of where to ride to be relinquished to another power and this river seemed like as good a force as any. It had after all been instrumental in shaping the history of Portuguese industry. Had it not flowed where it did, nourishing the vines of the region, the British aristocracy would have had nowhere to turn for their wine when at war with both France and Spain…
I turned off the N222 – a truly hilarious trans-Portuguese route – and began the switchback cobbled climb amid terraced vines to the Sandeman estate…

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