The lack of workers has made it difficult to start some harvests in the Douro this year, which is expected to see an increase in production, with producers pointing to a problem that is getting worse every year.
“It was supposed to have been earlier,” but due to a lack of manpower, it was only possible to start now, said António Boal, from the Costa Boal company, which, in the Douro region, began the harvest in the Cabeda area, in the municipality of Alijó, by cutting the white grape varieties.
The lack of workers is pointed out as a difficulty for this producer, who has vineyards in the Douro, Trás-os-Montes and Alentejo regions.
In Estremoz (Évora), the grapes should have been cut more than a week ago, but only started on Thursday.
The ripeness checks that are regularly carried out in the vineyards determine the ideal time for cutting in terms of acidity and grape grade, and, he explained, the logistics are complicated by a problem that gets worse every year.
The producer said that between 20 and 25 people a day would be needed for the harvest to “run smoothly” and, on the first day, the agricultural contractor turned up with seven, who were joined by the five workers already working on the property.
“Today we want people to work and we don’t have them. There’s more demand than supply,” he said.
Generally speaking, the causes of this problem are related to the ageing of the population, depopulation, but also to the subsidies that allegedly keep beneficiaries away from work.
In the field, they have opted to harvest by grape variety and, for this year, António Boal expects a harvest “12 to 15%” higher than in 2022, which, in the Douro region alone, could translate into a production of around “90 to 95 tons” of grapes.
Unlike last year, when there was intense drought, the rains in May and June “greatly favored the quality of the final product”, and the producer expects a “fantastic year in terms of both quality and quantity”.
“The quality of the grapes at the moment is above average,” stressed António Boal, who is betting on the production of upper-middle-range wines and believes that this could be “a vintage year”.
Further away, on the Favaios plateau, Mário Monteiro also started harvesting the white grapes this week, earlier than last year, using only the eight daily workers who arrive from nearby towns. Next week, the president of Adega de Favaios expects a reinforcement of the team, through an agricultural contractor.
“On the one hand there are more and more vineyards, on the other there are fewer and fewer people working. Many of them are already retired and don’t want to work anymore, young people are leaving, some young students will be working now, but come the beginning of September they’ll be leaving for classes and then it’ll be even more noticeable,” said the winegrower, who stressed that “things are getting more and more difficult every year”.
He also recalled that August is the month of popular festivals and vacations.
Along with the shortage of labor, Mário Monteiro pointed to another “major difficulty” in the Douro, namely the “high price of the products used in the vineyard”.
“Everything is much more expensive and, in terms of spending, this has been a worse year than last year. We’ve had to pour more rounds of sulphate”, he stressed.
With 18 hectares of vines, this producer expects a “larger production” this harvest and “good quality”.
Filipe Carvalho, also a winegrower in Favaios, said that “labor is increasingly scarce” in this region and that he has started harvesting with workers who “travel for an hour and a half to two hours a day”.
The producer uses an agricultural contractor. “The houses he works with during the year haven’t started harvesting yet, so there’s plenty of staff at the moment, but maybe in a week’s time it’ll be more difficult,” he said.
Because this is a problem that intensifies year on year, the winegrowers on the plateau say that, in the future, they will have to move towards mechanical harvesting. “And up here we have the conditions to make that progress,” said Filipe Carvalho.