On Tuesday 23rd March an extraordinary Port event was held in London. A group of people who are serious appreciators of Port organised a tasting of no less than 29 Graham’s Vintage and Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Ports at a club in Piccadilly and invited me to attend. This group are connected to ‘ThePortForum.com’, one of the most active Port sites on the web. Many of the Vintage Ports tasted came from people’s own private cellars, although we at Graham’s provided some of the Malvedos wines that they had been unable to locate. Some of the tasters had travelled from Germany and one well known Port lover, again an active member of one of the best Port sites, had come especially from Los Angeles for the event. Their generosity in inviting me and Richard Mayson, who was also present, was notable.
We started with a quite magnificent Graham’s 1955 Vintage Port, one of the best wines of the last 50 years and then tasted most of the Malvedos Vintage Ports that have been made since the Malvedos 1957. The tasting was divided into two flights with a break for a wholesome and traditional British dinner. The final wine tasted was a cask sample of Quinta dos Malvedos 2008 Vintage Port that I had carried over from Portugal especially for the tasting.
I joined my family in our Port Company over thirty years ago and I can say that very seldom have I attended such a fascinating and extensive tasting covering Vintage Ports produced over 6 decades (1955-2008). I was able to bring with me a collection of personal notes and recollections written about each harvest by my grandfather Maurice, by my great-uncles Ron and John, by my father Michael and by myself and by various of my cousins at the time that each of these wines was made. These notes helped to put each wine in context as they record the concerns and views written exactly at the time that these wines were being made. My family have been Port producers since the 19th century (since the 17th century through my great-grandmother), but Graham’s was acquired by my family in 1970. So the wines made before 1970 were made by the Graham family. But my family’s personal notes prior to this date are still relevant as they record what each Douro harvest was like.
This was an extraordinary tasting with wines such as the 1957, 1965, 1986 and 1998 Malvedos showing superbly well, with their characteristic complexity and elegance. These wines will continue to age superbly for years to come. For comparison purposes, the hosts had provided the Declared Graham’s Vintage Ports of 1955, 1970, 1985 and 2003. In my humble opinion, they were all showing outstandingly well, and are classics for each respective year. One taster was kind enough to say that this tasting showed once again that Graham’s has a consistency of great Ports over many decades that is hard to match. I returned to Portugal with this comment to pass onto all our team here.
My thanks to Derek Turnbull and all his team for a truly great tasting.
24 March 2010
We continue in these tough and challenging times to renew our Douro vineyards with plantings of the finest grape varietals. This is a clear reflection of our commitment to the Douro and to its wines. This year 9,2 hectares of new vineyards are being planted as we write this text: 4,7 hectares at Graham’s Quinta do Tua and 4,5 hectares at Graham’s Quinta das Lages. This follows on the vineyard replanting that we completed in 2009 at our estates in the Douro and is all part of our long-term investment program to continually improve the quality of our wines. Unless we renew a part of our vineyard every year, we will eventually end up with a vineyard so ancient that we have virtually no yields at all. Old vines are marvellous, but even they eventually need to be re-planted. No vine lives for ever! Just to put this re-planting in context, we are re-planting this year under 2% of our total vineyard in the Douro. This is expensive in the steep Douro geography, but it is essential for the long-term future quality of our Port and our DOC wines.
It is worth noting that this year’s plantings will only begin to produce great wines in some 8 to 10 years at the earliest. We are planting for future generations, not for next year or even for the year after that. This year’s new plantings include 9,000 vines of Touriga Nacional, one of the finest grape varieties for Port wine. It is very low yielding and difficult to grow but offers the darkest colour and greatest concentration of any Douro variety, being intensely aromatic (violets and rockrose) with superb complex fruit and exceptionally firm tannins.
The heavy winter rains have slowed our work in our vineyards, but the young vines will enjoy the wet soils once the spring and summer come and we may not have to do so much watering, usually an absolute necessity for the baby vines when the
Douro heat comes.
February got off to an extremely cold start, with the very first day of the month awakening to a widespread and heavy frost, even down in Porto and Gaia. It was, however, beautifully sunny nonetheless. This pleasant beginning soon worsened into the sort of weather typical of a cold Douro winter, a pattern that, though common, we hadn’t really seen much of this year: the mornings alternated between beautifully clear and sunny with added frosting, or thick with fog with added frosting. However, this period was short-lived too, as after only three or four days the rain returned for a week, and then there was another snowfall in the vineyards on the 10th. And then, yet again, more snow on the 15th. Many of the quintas didn’t work the vineyards these days as conditions were terrible. None of the caseiros (vineyard managers) can remember a winter with so many snowfalls as this one. The norm might be once every two or three years, yet this winter there have been more like half a dozen. Full Report
The title is a colloquial Portuguese saying that translates to “9 months of winter, 3 months of hell”, referring to the harsh climatic conditions that can often be found in the Douro.
It seems churlish to be writing about a harsh winter in the Douro when there have been appalling earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and very serious rain damage in Madeira. So what we have faced in the Douro is nothing compared to the suffering in these places, but this blog is about what is happening in the Douro, so this is what we will tell you about, although we do not forget others when we write this.
When I wrote about the deluge of rain on the 6th October, I mentioned that we wanted rain after three very dry years, but not like that. Since then the Douro winter has been really tough and the rain has been incessant. Everywhere in the Douro you see and hear water running, every little stream is flowing at full tilt and the main tributaries like the Pinhão and the Tua are raging torrents. The only thing that has stopped a full scale flood down river in Porto and Gaia has been careful planning by the river authorities and some lucky lulls in the rain. The authorities have timed the opening of the dams with the ebb tide in the Atlantic, so allowing the flood waters to escape into the sea. We have been very lucky in that it has usually stopped raining for a few days just when it looks like the river will burst its banks. But last night the water flooded the lower roads in Afurada in Gaia (where Dan lives).
The data speaks for itself; the average rainfall for December at Quinta dos Malvedos is 94 mm. But we had nearly three times that with 278 mm in December, and in January the average is 82 and we have had 118 mm. So with the ground very wet anyway, more rain just runs off. In our vineyards around Pinhão, the situation has been even more extreme; in one vineyard we have had 829 mm in the last 4 months (October to end January). This is more than the entire annual rainfall for this vineyard in each of ’04, ’05, ’07 and ’08. This volume of water cannot but cause damage in mountain vineyards such as the ones we farm.
Little wonder that we and all Douro farmers are concerned; the erosion in our mountain vineyards can be very serious in these conditions and each farmer tries to protect his own land, not appreciating water flowing down from his upper neighbour. This sadly can become a matter of some friction, especially round some of the old traditional towns like Provesende, where there is a patchwork of small vineyards owned by many people.
Pruning has been delayed because of the rain as has other work such as planting of new vineyards. But we are not too concerned about this because it has been so cold and the vines are still in their winter slumber.
These last few days have been even more extreme with incredible winds approaching 150 kms per hour. We were without power for hours over recent days as power lines came down.
The Douro winter can be very harsh. Many people visit us in the spring and summer on a warm, still and balmy day and enjoy a nice glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old with Quinta roasted almonds on the terrace at Quinta dos Malvedos. They think that we live in an earthly paradise, but they have not seen a real Douro winter!