Malvedos Sunday 10th October

At 07.14 it was overcast and grey but there was no threat of rain. As the morning progressed the sun came out between interspersed clouds.  There was a shower at 14:30 but within 10 minutes it was gone.

Mariz and Henry chatting with Arlindo in the next terrace above

Mariz and I went up to near the top of the Quinta to take a look at the Touriga Franca from block 7 which is planted just above the Tinto Cão and we again thankfully saw no signs of rot.  This is great news especially as the picking is likely to finish tomorrow.  When the Cão is finished at Malvedos tomorrow morning there is just a little Franca to finish off at Tua and then we are all done.

Only a little more to go at top of quinta - all the white blocks in middle are non-vineyard parcels

We also visited the Tinto Cão which is just a small block with 3.475 vines planted in 1987. This will be picked straight after the Malvedos Franca is finished and then we are done picking at Malvedos for this year.  Today was another good day for the pickers who sent in 12.788Kgs to the winery

Tonight we are having our end of harvest dinner one day earlier than normal, the reason being that António, who is a Senior Police Sergeant and is in charge of a police station in Peniche (not too far from Lisbon), is back on duty tomorrow. He’s originally from the Douro and likes to come back for the harvest every year.  Last year he informed me that my MOT (car inspection) had expired and I was driving around illegally – he didn’t fine though!

Off to the dinner now – but more of that later…

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End of Harvest Dinner

Let me explain why Henry’s wrap up post for yesterday at Malvedos may be a little late today…

Though the cutting won’t finish until end of day today, one of the winery team, António, has to return to Lisbon and real life as a policeman tomorrow, so we decided to go ahead with the end of harvest dinner last night, while he could still be with us.

The dinner featured leitão, or roast suckling pig.   We actually had three of the little darlings, which are brought home fully roasted from the butcher’s in Lamego, then cut up and re-heated at home.

All the kitchen ladies came around to Arlindo’s house and pitched in to help in Dona Fatima’s big kitchen.  As in many older Portuguese houses, the kitchen has an immense open walk-in fireplace in one corner, and a bread oven built into the wall above the main hearth.  This was put to very good use last night, making all the potatoes, rice and a roast chicken to serve alongside the leitão.

Two immense roasting tins were filled with a layer of sliced onions and then peeled potatoes which had been bathed in a gravy, and extra olive oil for good measure.  In another big dish rice was mixed with olive oil, then covered with hot chicken broth.

Dona Rosalina got a good fire going in the bread oven, as you can see from the flames licking out, and once there was a thick layer of ash and glowing embers, she removed the remaining large pieces of wood and raked out the coals to a smooth layer in the bottom of the oven.  In went the two big tins of potatoes and the rice dish, but then she laid a grill on top of the rice and on top of that put the whole chicken which had been partially cooked whilst making the broth for the rice.  This way the chicken got fully roasted and the drippings went in to flavour the rice.  Once everything was in the oven, she sealed the door with a layer of flour and water paste.

We started with beer and presunto, the smoke-cured prosciutto-like ham of Portugal, but very quickly moved on to the main course.  The Symingtons kindly sent in a case of each Altano Branco and Tinto, but Joaquim, the winery manager from Tua, brought a couple demijohns of a wine which his father makes from their own little vineyard, which was also really good (but don’t expect any returns of unopened bottles, Paul).

For sobremesa we had a custard cake soaked in syrup, with a deeply appreciated bottle of Graham’s The Tawny, and a wonderful jellyroll cake which Dona Fatima made herself.  Joaquim’s father also makes an excellent ruby port, by the way.

Near end of table photo: Joaquim from Tua with his back to camera, Carlos our oenological student, Carlos one of the Malvedos tractoristas, Alexandre the other tractorista is hidden from view, unfortunately, Joaquim, Pedro and Juca all from Malvedos winery team.

Far end of table photo: Pedro, Juca, Fonseca and Henry, and Dona Fatima in action serving up dinner, and with their backs to us, Nuno who is tractorista at Tua, Alexandre and António from Malvedos winery team.

If you wonder why there are no mid or post dinner photos, it’s because we know our bosses read this blog too.  Don’t worry, there was no fortification due last night, so your wines are safe, and we’ll get the usual post up some time soon.

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It Ain’t Just Grapes

Olive grove at Tua on old northwest facing terraces
Arlindo's kale at Malvedos
Bumper crop of pumpkins and squashes at Vale de Malhadas

On average, Graham’s quintas have vineyards over about half of the land.  What’s on the other half?  Lots of things.

This landscape doesn’t lend itself to monoculture – too vertical, rocky and unuseable in too many places, which have been allowed to remain wild.  Many old terraced vineyards that were abandoned after the phylloxera are now too badly damaged to be repairable for vineyard use, so have been planted with olives, and at Vale de Malhadas we also have an extensive almond plantation.

Nearly all our properties have a resident caseiro – the property manager who lives there year round – and most of them have gardens and vegetable plots tucked into the terraces adjacent to their houses or wherever there is a break in vegetation.  Kale is a staple everywhere, Tua had a fine plantation of tomatoes on an old terrace, and the winter squashes and pumpkins at Malhadas were formidable – one vine even making it out into a nearby tree.

There are citrus groves yielding lemons, oranges and grapefruit, so much so that the family often brings back cases of citrus to their homes in Porto and Gaia.  In his memoir, James Symington tells a story that during one of the periods of political unrest the police were keeping an eye on the cars as they crossed the bridge into Porto, and after three or four Symington cars full of citrus passed the checkpoint, they stopped the next one, convinced it was some kind of cover for smuggling arms – no one could possibly have or need so much fruit!

Olives starting to ripen at Tua
Bird of prey over Malvedos

The olive groves are extensive and every year the olives are harvested and the oil made at a local co-operative for the family’s use.

Needless to say, such an incredibly diverse landscape supports a diversity of wildlife.  There is a constant murmur of songbirds, wildfowl on the river, and birds of prey are common – eagles, falcons and hawks of every kind.  A walk through the old terraces at Tua on a quiet afternoon recently put up two good coveys of wild partridge.  We’ve seen all kinds of snakes and lizards, a frog the size of a grapefruit tripped up a visitor one evening in the middle of the road, and we have bats living in the winery at Malvedos – we were watching their antics in the floodlight the other night, but haven’t been able to get photos yet.

And then there’s Paul’s personal favourite, the wild boar.  Still haven’t sighted one of those for a photo either, but frankly hope not to.

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A Grape’s Journey: Fortification

Spot the aguardente in this lineup of samples

In Port winemaking perhaps the most important time during the fermentation is the moment when we end it and add the aguardente (grape spirit at 77% v/v) to the fermenting must.  The aguardente we use is a pure grape spirit with neutral flavours and crystal clear colour – we want our grapes to define the character of our ports, not the aguardente.  It is extremely important to get this right, not only to add the aguardente at the correct moment but also in the right amount.

If there is a mistake at this point a number of things can go wrong:

  • If you add the aguardente too soon the wine will come out sweeter than intended and conversely if you add it slightly too late it will be drier.  If you forget to add the aguardente at all – God forbid – because you overslept then you would eventually end up with a dry table wine.  I have had nightmares about this before!
  • If you add too much spirit you can end up with, for example, a wine at 21% (we prefer Graham’s Ports at 20% – oops), or if you add too little there is a risk that the fermentation won’t stop and the wine will continue to ferment to dryness unbeknownst to you.

The calculation is based on 3 important variables:

  1. Firstly, the number of Kilos in the lagar.  With this we work out the number of pipes of grapes (1 pipe = 750Kg), and then multiply by 550 litres to get the approximate litres of must (In other words 750Kg of grapes give approximately 550 litres of must).  Therefore 11000Kg of grapes/750 x 550 = approx 8066 litres of must.
  2. Secondly the initial Baumé or sweetness of the grapes. The riper they are, the longer they can ferment and the more colour, aroma, flavour we can extract.
  3. Thirdly the alcohol and final Baumé of the wine we intend to make.

With these 3 pieces of information we can work out using a set of tables and graphs when  – at what baumé reading – and how much aguardente to add.

Another baumé reading

In practical terms we put the necessary amount of aguardente in the tank we use for fortification, and when the fermentation has reached the critical point – normally between 7º-8º Baumé – we add the fermenting must and pump over to mix them together well.  The high-alcohol aguardente kills the yeast (thus ending the fermentation) and fortifies the wine to between 19-20% alc.

We always take a sample of must just before fortification that is sent to the laboratory for colour analysis.  Using a spectrophotometer they analyse the red colour intensity of the wine which is then classified between A and F.

Paul and Henry discussing a sample wine

Samples of the finished wine are also taken for complete analysis.  “Complete analysis” being one bottle for the lab and one bottle for us, usually!  Visitors to the winery cannot resist trying the new wines.

One of the beautiful old toneis at Malvedos where wine will spend the winter

The young Port is then transferred to the storage tank or tonel where it will spend the winter here in the Douro, before moving down to Gaia in the spring for long term ageing in our lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia.

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Malvedos Saturday 9th October

View from winery door 10am - Oh what a beautiful morning!

When I went to bed on Friday night I was feeling a bit down because of the storm (which looked like it was here to stay) and was pretty sure that under those conditions there would be no picking today.

I was therefore very pleasantly surprised in the morning to find the storm had blown away during the night and the weather had cleared.

Block 15 West of Valdossa

Picking resumed as usual and Arlindo had the same team of 19 pickers as yesterday. Today they picked the mature Franca planted in 1986 up by Valdossa, block 15 just to the west of the Valdossa house and blocks 9 and 10 slightly above. All in all  600 boxes and 13.920 Kg.

I was with Mariz and Arlindo today visiting the Franca still to be picked and fortunately there has been very little incidence of any rot at Malvedos in consequence of the storm last night. The good weather today, with the help of a light breeze has helped to dry out the Franca bunches and the detrimental effect of the rain has been minimized.

There has of course been some dilution effect caused by the rain, however, the lagar we filled today still managed to come in at a quite respectable 12.10º Baumé.

On the winery front it has again been very busy and before dinner we fortified one lager and have another in the pipeline – hopefully not too late though.

My estimate is that we have another two days picking. The end is in sight!

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Henry’s Port Ancestry

Graham’s is known as a family business, with a tremendous family heritage – it was founded  in 1820 by two brothers, William and John Graham, whose direct descendants turned it over in 1970 to the Symington family, who now are in their own 5th generation in the wine trade, and 14th generation through their great-grandmother.

But many of the employees at Graham’s are themselves from old port-trade families, and our winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos is one, Henry Shotton.

Henry’s family connection to Port also began in the early 1800’s, when members of the Teage family from Dartmouth, in Devon, England, came to Portugal.  As with so many of the early port shippers, they engaged in a variety of commercial interests, including the Newfoundland cod trade, and were originally based in Viana do Castelo, north of Porto.

His great great grandfather, John Land Teage Sr  was born in Oporto (as it was called by the English) in 1829 and died in Devon 1898.  He ran the Port company named Hunt, Roope Teage in the 19th century and his brothers William and Rolland were involved in another firm, then known as Cockburn Smithes.

His son, John Land Teage Jr, known as Johnnie Teage, was born in Oporto 1860 and died there in 1926.  He also was a partner in Cockburn Smithes, retiring in 1913.  He married Alice Tatham Smithes and had 3 daughters.

As it happens, the Quinta do Tua, now owned by Graham’s, was once part of the Cockburn Smithes holdings in the Douro, and a photo of Henry’s great grandfather, Johnnie Teage, hangs on the wall of the house, where Henry recently met him again.

Small world!

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Picking Order

Where shall we pick today? (Photo from Alexandre, our tractorista at Malvedos)

One critical aspect of the port harvest at Graham’s is picking the grapes at the peak of perfection.  The concept is of course beautifully simple… shame about Mother Nature and the sheer logistics of the process, which make it incredibly challenging sometimes to work out and execute the optimum picking order.

Some of the factors to consider:

  • Graham’s five quintas taken as a group have high percentages of several key varieties:  Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.  Luckily as a very general rule, they mature and can be picked in that order.  But:  we also have significant holdings of other niche varieties, such as Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão to fit in there some how, and then there are the old mixed-variety vineyards – when do you pick those? At Lages and Tua the mixed-variety vineyards represent a substantial percentage of the total quinta.
  • Overall weather patterns for the summer can favour the more rapid maturation of one variety over another, as each grape has its preferred optimum conditions, so that typical order mentioned above can change.
  • Another very general rule is that we can start picking at the lower altitudes and work our way up the quinta.  But with the intense micro-climatisation of the terrain here in the Douro – all those hills, valleys, gorges, different aspects to the sun, and vineyards spread over a rise of as much as 300 metres of altitude – and the way this year’s particular weather acted on that terrain, you cannot take that pattern for granted either.
Pedro Leal da Costa inspects and tastes his way down a row of vines

The best, almost only, way to decide when to pick is by looking at and tasting the grapes, lots of them.  Our winemakers and viticulturalists all rely on a tasting tour through the vineyards to help them decide picking orders.  That assessment also involves weighing a lot of information and picking the deciding factors from several indicators of ripeness:

  • Look at the bunches – are the grapes plump and healthy, are we starting to get that slightly dehydrated “washerwoman’s fingers” effect, or are the grapes beginning to turn into raisins?
  • The sugar content of the grapes
  • The flavour of each the pulp, the skin and the pips – sweet pulp, more complexity of flavour in the skins, and mature pips which are crunchy and give up a slightly burnt almond flavour
  • When the skin is crushed and kneaded between the fingers, does it stain your hand a good deep red-purple?

Then there’s the condition of the vines –

  • Are they still healthy and functioning well in the current weather conditions?
  • Are the stalks from which the bunches hang off the main vine ripe and brown, or still green?
  • Are the vines showing signs of water stress, or are they starting to turn to their autumn colours, which means they are starting to shut down for the season?

Based on the instinct derived from years of experience assessing all these factors and just plain knowing our vineyards and vines and how they behave, as well as how the wines from each parcel have worked out in prior years, our viticulturalists and winemakers may conclude, “Right, these parcels can be picked tomorrow and those parcels the day after.”

Map of all 91 parcels at Lages

But it’s not that easy, either.  Now for the logistical issues:  for any given day’s proposed list of vineyards-to-be-picked we have to think about:

  • How many vines are in each parcel?  This together with a knowledge of customary yields tells us how long it will take to harvest and how many kilos of grapes that parcel is likely to yield.
  • We have to think about meeting winery capacities:  too few grapes the winery is idle, too many and we may find ourselves with more grapes than lagares, or a half-lagar’s worth of grapes which is awkward to vinify, but we don’t like grapes to sit overnight until we can fill a lagar, either.
  • In a low yielding parcel you may have just as many hours work to get half the weight of grapes – we had a good example of this recently with some old vine Touriga Nacional at Malvedos, where we had lots of bunches to cut, but they were each very small, hence half the usual weight sent to the winery.
  • Logistics of moving a picking team around the quinta are a serious consideration

    Typically, the cutting team works through several small parcels in a day, it’s not often that a single block is large enough to take an entire day or even entire morning or afternoon to cut.  Can we cut adjacent blocks in a single day, rather than picking parcels on opposite sides of the quinta?  Moving the team from one side of the quinta to the other is incredibly time consuming:  20 odd pickers to load into a lorry with their respective buckets and personal belongings, 200 or so crates to gather and load up (some empty, some full), and two tractors (one for vineyard pickup, one for transport back to the winery) all need to shift around on generally diabolical roads within the quinta.  At Malvedos and Tua, we have so far been using one team to pick at both quintas – changing quintas mid day is time consuming, too.

The conference room at Quinta das Lages where decisions are taken about picking order. Pedro Leal da Costa, António, and Pedro Correia

Once the first grapes have been picked and vinified, the winemaker has the additional information of baumés and colour quality from the wines so far, and that knowledge can also influence his preference to continue with a given parcel or variety.  Alternatively as we come to the end of the harvest we may reach a point where we have only a partial lagar’s worth remaining of one variety, so we need to decide whether to vinify that half lagar or blend in a second variety – which one? – to fill the lagar before vinifying.

Also after a few days of harvest, the caseiro knows his team – what they can do, how long they take to shift around, and how many people he can count on in the days ahead.

And if, heaven forbid, the weather should threaten an unwelcome change, all decisions taken so far have to be re-thought, and fast, in terms of saving the best grapes from possible damage or loss.

Never a dull moment.

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Malvedos Friday 8th October

Picking Touriga Franca at Tua near the top of the hill above the Douro and Tua train station

This morning at 07:20 it was very grey and the clouds looked threatening. No rain fell fortunately during picking hours, but at 18:00 the heavens opened and it began raining heavily and is still doing so as I write at 21.30. I hope it clears during the night or there will be no picking tomorrow.

24 very welcome reinforcements arrived this morning!

Unloading 4000 kg from the reinforcement team's lorry

Today we received a contingent of very welcome picking reinforcements. Our vineyards in the Vilariça Valley (to the East of Malvedos and just 50Kms from the Spanish border) finished picking yesterday and the pickers have been reassigned to help out at other Quintas that are still harvesting. Today they came to lend us a hand at Quinta do Tua next door and tomorrow they move to another Quinta.

Traffic jam at winery - Alexandre has to pull over and wait whilst we unload the grapes from Tua

We therefore had two teams today going in parallel. The usual Malvedos contingent (19 today) on the Franca here under Arlindo and I sent the 24 reinforcements to Quinta do Tua to get started on the Franca over there.

It worked out very well with both teams doing an excellent job, and I was really pleased to have the extra help today especially as the weather has taken a turn for the worse this evening. Between them they picked 21.964kg of Franca, filling two full lagars of prime Touriga Franca grapes, all brought in before the rain started.

I can only hope the weather will improve tomorrow, and am very glad that the vast majority of the grapes from Malvedos and Tua are ‘in house’ at the winery either fortified or fermenting should it not do so.

Every Vintage in my experience has its ups and downs in terms of weather and one cannot expect blue skies every day for a month especially from mid September to mid-October. The fact that we have made it thus far with only one day’s heavy downpour is pretty good going and I believe a very positive indicator of the Vintage’s overall quality.

A very busy day today at the winery and all the lagares are full!

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Ewok and Vogue Visit the Douro

Once more Miles Edlmann drops in, this time to share his observations on vintage life:

Dan, or, the Expert Flying Winemaker as he prefers to be known

It doesn’t matter how modern, well-designed and efficient a winery might be, or how skilful the winemaker is, because there is still one other factor (often overlooked) which is absolutely critical to the success of the vintage. The harvest can be a very stressful time for all involved; in the smaller wineries we have to work long hours throughout the day and still be ready to spring into action at night should the fermentations need attention.  This intense rhythm is kept up without a break from the moment the first grape is picked until we fortify the last lagar of the year – usually three or four weeks later.

It can be a bit of a pressure-cooker, and the language that flies around is about as purple as the musts.  I suspect that even oil rig workers and deep-sea trawlermen would blush if they joined us during a moment of high stress.  But, with the right mix of people, the pressure can also create great solidarity, and that is why picking a good team of cellar hands is so absolutely essential.

This vintage I have been lucky enough to be able to reunite the vast majority of last year’s crew but there is usually one element that changes each year – the work experience kid.  This year we have been blessed by not one, but two – Helen and Dan.  They have driven out here from Plumpton College in East Sussex, where they are studying winemaking, to help us out with the harvest.  They have rapidly become integral members of the team but for different reasons.

Helen Photo: Copyright Mário Proença

Helen appears to have walked straight in from a Vogue fashion shoot, modelling ‘winery chic’.  She has long legs and appears to have only packed a nice line in shorts which can be distracting for the male members of the staff now that the infamous Vintage Fever has taken a grip.  She has become particularly adept at collecting must samples from the incoming grapes, a process which basically involves climbing on top of the lorries, once again improving the general outlook at our small winery.  Dan looks like a blond Ewok and has introduced the chaps to an extremely good limoncello which he makes in a bucket.  It’s hard to overstate the importance of their respective contributions…

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Quinta do Tua – Winery

Quinta do Tua as seen from across the Tua River

Whilst the grapes from the Quinta do Tua property are taken to Malvedos to be vinified, there is a winery at Tua, which Graham’s uses to receive and vinify the grapes grown for us by 200 small farmers in the surrounding area.

For Tua, the harvest season began this year on the 14th September, and the last grapes were received on the 6th October.  Now they just have the final fortifications and corrections to make and the winery team should be able to go home at last this weekend.

The majority of the farmers have small parcels in the Riba Longa area, a valley that runs north from the Douro just a little further upriver, which has an excellent microclimate, but some deliver their grapes from plots deep in the Douro Superior, around Vila Flor and Foz Côa, areas which tend to produce small harvests of grapes of great intensity and quality.

Paulo Macedo works most of the year for us as a viticulturalist, but during harvest he moves into the Quinta do Tua and makes the wines for Graham’s from all these small lots of grapes.  It is an incredibly complex job juggling the deliveries and vinifications versus the space available in the winery, to ensure a consistent intake of grapes and production of quality wines.  To the greatest extent possible, we try to vinify the lots separately, so that Charles can assess each lot and identify the blends he wants created throughout the course of the harvest, but the blending of lots is a critical part of the management of the space in this winery.

As at the Quinta dos Malvedos winery, every delivery is weighed in, though here the delivering truck is weighed before and after the grapes are unloaded, and meticulous records kept not only about the grape varieties and weight of delivery, but about each farmer and the property and parcel from which the grapes came.  To help Paulo with all the record keeping Nuno Miranda comes up from our Gaia accounting office to take charge of the grape reception throughout the harvest delivery time.

At the end of the grape intake period, we had received 93,810 kg of white grapes, 1,169,930 kg of red grapes, and made 40 lotes of wine, totalling 2,300 pipas.

There is a staff of 14 in the winery, 7 on each of two 12-hour shifts, plus the year round property manager and tractorista.  Getting a picture of the whole team was tricky, as lunch is the only time they are all awake and available for photo call together!

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