Graham’s Port Lodge

Graham's Lodge is located on the hill above the Gaia waterfront

Graham’s lodge is one of the landmarks of Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto.  Since 1890 it has housed all our port wines as they age gracefully in the ideal climate produced by the Douro River and Atlantic Ocean, and more recently it has become the public face of Graham’s, the centre where we can meet our visitors and our visitors can learn more about Graham’s and our ports.

Whilst we serve 50,000 visitors a year – as many as 7,000 a month during the summer – it is our goal that every one of our guests enjoys a relaxed and personal tour.  To that end, our visitor centre team receive an outstanding training experience to prepare them not just to conduct a tour, but to answer all your questions, and assist you in your choice of wines.

The five day training course begins with an introduction from Paul Symington about the history and values of Graham’s, and veteran staff then explain the logistics of all the services the Lodge offers:  the tours, our wine shop, the shipping services, wine bar, and the proper service of port wines.  But most important of all is their training about the wines and how they are made.  Our sales and production managers tutor the trainees through a comprehensive tasting so they will understand from personal experience the qualities of every wine in our range, the differences between them, and how they should be served.  This past spring their tasting included an 1882 Graham’s Vintage, a wine many leading wine critics have never had an opportunity to taste (and we are told it was still showing well).  Finally, they spend two days in the Douro to visit Quinta dos Malvedos and other properties, so they can see for themselves the extraordinary landscape that makes Port what it is.  Our viticulturalist teaches them about the annual cycle and management of the vinyards, and one of our winemakers conducts them through the winery and explains exactly how the harvest and vinification processes work.

Pipes of tawny ports aging at the Graham's Lodge

When you arrive at the lodge, one of our team will greet you and arrange for a tour in your choice of language – we always have staff fluent in English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, German and Italian, and often other languages as well.  Within a very short time, you will be led into the warehouse to start your tour.  A 15-minute film introduces you to Graham’s and the Symington family,  and includes footage of our quintas, the harvest, the cooperage and archival footage of a barco rabelo, the flat bottomed boat that brought the port downriver from the quintas to Gaia right up until the mid 1960’s.  After the film, you will be guided through our working lodge, amongst the more than 3,500 casks and tonnels.  Our lodge holds over 7 million litres of port, including pipes of tawnies that have been developing their unique characters for up to 60 years, and bottles of vintage ports that have been laid down to age, some since the mid 19th century.  You will also learn more about the unique terrain of the Douro, our quintas, our wines and how they are made.

From a hill above the Gaia waterfront, Graham's Lodge commands a spectacular view upriver

Finally, you will return to the tasting room to try some of our legendary ports, expertly served and introduced by your guide.  With your tour you have a choice of several flights of 3 wines, featuring rubies, tawnies, or a cross section of our styles.  For the connoisseur, our wine bar offers some very special alternatives either in flights or by the glass – consult the staff during your visit to learn our current offerings.  Relax and enjoy your wines at leisure, and the stunning view up river of both the Porto and Gaia riverfronts and the Dom Luis I Bridge.

If you wish to purchase any of our wines, or other items from a range of wine service gifts, books or other merchandise, the staff in the shop can guide your selection and arrange shipping if need be.

And finally, don’t miss the Sala do Baptismo.  If you can’t visit the lodge to learn what that is, check our blog again soon to learn more.

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The Barrels for Graham’s Port

Coopering, the age-old craft of making and repairing barrels, is alive and well in Vila Nova de Gaia, where Symington’s is fortunate to have its own cooperage.  All of the Graham’s ports are aged in wood for some period of time, up to 60 years for wines destined for blending into our tawnies, so the importance of the coopers’ work cannot be underestimated.

No new barrels are used for aging our ports – whilst our winemakers value the qualities only oak can impart to our wines, we rely on old wood to develop a subtle complexity.  Wooden vessels allow a slow, gentle exchange of oxygen and evaporation of 1 – 3%  over the course of a year.  For wines aged in barrel for an extended period of time this leads to an overall concentration of the primary fruit flavours and the development of secondary flavours such as toffee, nuts, spice or chocolate, as well as the development of the rich golden amber colour of tawny ports.  Older barrels will have developed a crust of sediment – it is said that the barrels drink some of the wine themselves – which slows the oxygenation process just a little more.

When one of our barrels – whether a 550 litre pipa or a multi-thousand litre balseiro – needs repair, the staves are numbered and the barrel disassembled, then painstakingly rebuilt.  Staves are  re-planed to smooth out damaged sections or replaced from a supply of old staves.  When a piece of wood is beyond any chance of repair or re-use in a barrel, it can still serve one last purpose:  fuel to grill sardines for lunch!

The work is done entirely by hand, as it has always been – neither tools nor tasks have changed between the early 20th and early 21st centuries.

As the barrel is re-assembled, reeds are wedged between staves to fill any minute gaps and ensure a perfect seal.  Barrel heads, the top and bottom pieces, are fitted into place and sealed with a natural clay.

For hundreds of years, port was shipped in cask to be bottled at destination by wine merchants or the consumers themselves, a practice that was only discontinued in the  1970’s.  Every such shipping cask was labelled with its ultimate destination, and the old stencils still hang on the wall in our cooperage.  Whilst the wine is now shipped in bottle, the destinations haven’t changed –  Graham’s is still enjoyed today in Belfast, Philadelphia, Manchester, Liverpool and Rouen, as well as many other locations world-wide.

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Graham’s Port Blog Re-Launch

Welcome to the re-launched Graham’s Port Blog.  We have reviewed the site, considered your feedback, and made some changes we hope you will enjoy.

The site has been redesigned to facilitate your access to content and features, with improved navigation between posts and easier archive access.  In the coming weeks we will be doing additional work behind the scenes to improve search and subject matter filtering.

You will notice on the sidebar that you can subscribe to an RSS feed, or choose to receive updates direct to your email address.  (Please be assured your details will be kept confidential and not used for any other purpose.)  You can also click to visit and connect with us on Facebook, where we will keep you up to date on events and tasting opportunities worldwide.

We have expanded the information on our reference pages about Terroir, the Wines and Winemaking.  Our photo gallery (formerly on Flickr) has been moved into the site for easier reference, and we will be adding to it as we go.  Watch those upper tabs, as we will be expanding the reference materials available here in the coming weeks.

Of course, the focus of the blog is the articles about our people, vineyards, wines, and the challenges and successes of creating the legendary Graham’s port wines.  Whilst we will continue to feature articles written by the Symington family and Graham’s own wine maker and viticulturalist, we now have a dedicated writer who will be roving and reporting on all aspects of Graham’s – our history, the full range of our current activities (more goes into making Graham’s ports than just grapes) and our research and development for the future.  Rest assured, we are already planning our strategy to provide comprehensive coverage of the 2010 harvest.

Finally, we have re-opened our Comments facility, and look forward to to hearing from you again.

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June 2010 Douro Insider

Those lucky enough to combine the holiday on the 3rd with a ponte (bridge day to make a long weekend) enjoyed fine weather over the short break but were then met with a grey and drizzly welcome as they returned to work after the first long weekend.  It was decidedly cool and a fair amount of rain followed.  To further complicate what was already turning out to be a difficult growing season, the all-day downpour on the 9th brought a renewed risk of disease and a number of overcast days did not help the vines much either.  This ugly patch coincided with newsworthy flooding in places as far-flung as Turkey and Poland so it was clearly part of a Europe-wide weather system.  Conditions warmed and brightened once it had passed, but not for very long since by the middle of the month it had turned cooler again and we saw a return of the clouds for short spells of the day.  Some wind picking up, especially in the afternoons, definitely gave the impression that the atmosphere over the Mediterranean basin was not settled, and the French surely felt the same way when flash floods on the Provence coast caused by the heaviest rainfall for nearly 200 years took at least 25 casualties.  The Douro itself was hit by a thunderstorm on 18th that dumped yet another significant load of water on the hillsides. Full Report

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