Grafting New Vines

Depending on weather and other variables, new plantings in Graham’s Douro vineyards are usually done anywhere from January to March.

All grape vines for wine production in the Douro, as in most of Europe, are grafted vines, meaning local varieties of grape vine are grafted onto an American rootstock.  The reason for this is historical:  in the 1860s American vines, of a different variety from European vines, were imported to England and the Continent.  With those American vines came a microscopic insect which lives in and feeds on their roots, and which rapidly spread throughout Europe.  American varieties have developed a tolerance for the presence of this pest, phylloxera, but European varieties which had never before been exposed to it sickened and died, nearly wiping out wine production in Europe.

The solution was ultimately identified in the late 19th century:  graft European wine grape varieties which thrive in their respective regions, onto American rootstocks which can tolerate the presence of phylloxera, now widely spread throughout Europe.  The practice continues to this day.

When we plant an entire new vineyard, we can purchase bench-grafted vines – in other words, the work of grafting has already been done, using our choice of rootstock and scion material, and the plant matured and the graft healed.  New plants of this type are very susceptible to drought, and so for the first year or two we have to carefully monitor water levels and if necessary (which it usually is!) water the entire plantation by hand, as irrigation systems are not permitted in the Douro except in strictly regulated areas and circumstances.  A new plantation like this will be producing harvestable grapes in year four after planting.

But what about replacing a few odd vines, scattered here and there, which have died off or been removed for some reason?  Locating and watering individual vines – across, for example 70 hectares of vines in 108 hectares of land at Quinta dos Malvedos – is an impossible prospect.

Instead, to replace these falhas, or missing vines, we plant just the American rootstock, which by itself is quite hardy and does not require any special attention for the first few years.  When that plant is two or three years old, it will be well-established and the trunk sufficiently thick that a Douro variety can then be grafted into the rootstock right there, in the vineyard.  These grafts are best done in March, at a time when the worst weather is hopefully behind us, and the sap is beginning to rise in the vines – which is important to help the new graft fuse and heal quickly.  Because the root system is mature, no special care is needed in regard to watering, and we can begin to harvest good grapes from that vine in the third year after grafting.

Hand grafting in the field is a specialist skill.  Click into the first thumbnail below to open the photo full size in a new page, then click the hyperlinks at the bottom of each photo to move back and forth through the gallery and follow Fernando Claro as he grafts Touriga Francesa scions into rootstocks already in place at Graham’s Quinta da Vila Velha.

Share this post

Lodge Team Training Wrap-up

Corks for Graham's Vintage 2007

Visitors to the Graham’s Lodge frequently have questions about the corks we use, so this year, for the first time, the training week included a visit to Amorim & Irmãos, who supply the corks for Graham’s ports.  Like Graham’s they are a family-owned business of several generations’ standing, and have a passion for quality.

Joana Mesquita, Public Relations for Amorim, met us at their headquarters and plant in Santa Maria de Lamas, south of Porto, and began our visit with a tour of their museum, to explain how cork is grown and harvested and was traditionally cut and sorted before mechanisation.

Freshly cut corks of the quality level used for vintage port

We passed through the storage areas for both raw materials and finished corks and then entered the factory, where we were shown how the finest cork stoppers, such as those used for vintage port, are still individually cut by hand, one at a time.  We were also shown how corks of other qualities, such as those used for storing shorter-lived wines or dry materials, are cut by machine or even robotically.  All the corks then pass through three levels of quality control, two of which involve the same kind of scanning equipment used at airports.

Joana Mesquita of Amorim explains to the Graham's Lodge team the final quality control process for their corks

Joana showed us the sorting tables for the final review, which is done by women who actually look at every cork in a quality batch as they pass by slowly on a sorting table, and hand-select and remove those that are not of the correct quality level.  This is, naturally, considered the most critical and demanding job of the entire process.

Once again, the Graham’s team had many questions and enjoyed seeing and learning about a product so important to the wine trade.

After a well-earned rest on Sunday, the team will be back to work on Monday and look forward to guiding you through your visit and a tasting at the Graham’s Lodge this year.

The 2011 Grahams Lodge team at Quinta dos Malvedos, flanked by Alexandre Mariz, the Malvedos viticulturist on the left and Sr. Arlindo, the Malvedos caseiro on the right:  Marta, Ricardo, Delphine, Melanie, Alexandra, Bruno, Rosalina, Francisco, Marisol, Serafim, Isabel, Paulo, Carolina, Emiliano, Luis, Augusta and Raul.

Share this post

Lessons in Viticulture

On Friday, the Graham’s Lodge team visited our research viticulturalist, Miles Edlmann, at the Warre’s flagship property, Quinta da Cavadinha, in the Pinhão valley.  The first thing we learned as we stepped off our bus was that he had just finished fertilisations.  It seems the lay-by where the bus parked had been used as a holding spot for an immense load of well-rotted manure which had just been spread.

Miles Edlmann explaining the traditional Douro vinhas velhas

We moved quickly on, and into a vinha velha, where Miles explained that this was an example of the type of mixed-variety vineyard that had been traditional in the Douro right up until just  20 or 30 years ago, when winemakers began to re-plant in the single-varietal blocks which had long been typical in other wine regions.  He briefly explained both traditional and modern methods of planting, grafting, vine training and vineyard layout, as well as talking about the schist soil.

From the vinha velha we returned to the bus, which took us up to a beautiful small village nearby, Provesende.  From there we walked to a vineyard acquired by Paul last summer (see previous blog posting about this property) which is at about 500 metres.  The original vineyard was in such poor condition the only choice was to grub it up, posts, vines and all, and start over again.  We looked out over what appeared to be nothing but a barren mass of broken schist, until Miles drew our attention to the vines.  Sure enough, at our feet were bench-grafted vines showing just an inch or two above soil level, some already sprouting leaves.  Without posts and wires (which will be erected later), we didn’t recognise that this was already a planted vineyard!

Miles explaining our cover crop regime, which is the result of considerable research on his part

From there we walked down the hill through two more Symington vineyards, Miles stopping to point out particularly good examples of our viticultural methods, including a vineyard of meticulously trained young vines, and a vertically planted vineyard where he paused to explain our cover crop regime and all the benefits it brings to our vineyards.

The Lodge team were fascinated by the vineyards and viticulture, asking questions all along the way, as we walked through the vineyards, during the bus ride and over lunch.  In fact the discussion really only ended when Isabel said, that’s enough! and shepherded us onto the bus again to return to Gaia.

Share this post

The Lodge Meets the Douro

Cloud mass sitting atop the Marão mountains, as we drive up into the Douro

Thursday morning early, the Graham’s Lodge team boarded a bus at the Lodge to go up to the Douro for two days.  Having been told about all about our quintas and our grapes and winemaking, it was time to see what everyone had been talking about.

The trip upriver by bus was long and tiring, but gave the team a bit of a lesson in Douro weather patterns.  From Gaia into the Marão mountain range (which runs north/south and defines the western end of the DOC region) it was pretty clear and dry – mixture of sun and clouds, but not unpleasant by any means.  As we approached the crest of the Marão we could see a cloud mass sitting on top of the hills – see photo.  We drove into that, and stayed in it for a pretty long stretch down the eastern side of the range, so it was cloudy (clearly!), drizzly, damp and chilly.  By the time we had passed through the Baixo Corgo and reached Alijó, a village more or less north of Quinta dos Malvedos in the heart of the Cima Corgo, the weather was about like what we had left in Porto – some cloud, but dry and pleasant.  In the Ribalonga, a valley east of Malvedos and Tua, we passed briefly through a light rain shower, and when we got to Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, in the Douro Superior, the sun was out, and we were removing our coats and looking for sunglasses – the perfect dry and sunny spring day in the Douro.

Between the best of old and new - traditional wooden toneis for ageing wine and robotic lagares. Ricardo Carvalho, centre
A lesson in traditional treading, as still carried out today at Vesúvio. Mário Natario standing far left.
Alexandre Mariz, centre, stops in the doorway of the Tua winery to answer a few more questions. Leaning on the rail left are Joaquim, responsible for the Tua and Malvedos wineries, and Arlindo, Malvedos caseiro

Ricardo Carvalho met the team at Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and reviewed the wine making process – but this time standing in front of the receiving area, then moving on to the traditional lagares, to the robotic lagares and finally the toneis where the 2010 wines are still stored.  Clearly seeing the winery and equipment made all the difference to their understanding of the process.  Ricardo also described how the same variety of grape will ripen at a different times, depending on its situation and micro-climate on the hillside, and indicated various parcels on the hills above and around us to illustrate his point.

From there, by boat across the river to Quinta do Vesúvio where we had lunch in the magnificent old quinta house, then visited the adega.  Mário Natario, the viticulturalist for Vesuvio and also for Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, which is just next door upriver, talked through the traditional treading process in some detail, as it is still carried out for every wine made at Vesúvio.  The team were then rewarded for their attention with a tasting of some wine from cask.

Back across the river to our bus, and back down river to Graham’s Quinta do Tua.  We were joined by Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturalist for both Tua and Malvedos, who told us a bit about the history of the quinta, which was built early in the 19th century and served as a way station for those travelling into the Douro Superior, and then gave us a tour of the winery and house.

Across the Tua River to Quinta dos Malvedos, where we walked through the winery where Henry Shotton makes the wines for Graham’s own ports.  The 2010 harvest map was still up on the wall, and caught everyone’s attention, so Sr. Mariz explained how we track our progress picking the grapes parcel by parcel on a giant map of the quinta.  We visited the house, and then came down river again, this time to Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, where we have had dinner and are spending the night.

Tomorrow, viticulture with Miles Edlmann.

Share this post

A Visit to the Bottling Plant

After learning how to make wine and how to enjoy it from a proper glass, the Graham’s Lodge team spent yesterday afternoon learning about one of the most important steps in between:  the bottling process and quality control.

Francisco Santiago explains the bottling operations to the team
In the quality control lab, discussing corks and stoppers
Sr. Lacerda and a few of his labels

After lunch the group travelled just up the hill and around the corner to São Marco, where we have our bottling plant.  Francisco Santiago, who is the senior manager of quality control, showed the group around.

The team were absolutely fascinated by the bottling process, and impressed by the attention to detail every step of the way.  Francisco and the group also visited the laboratories where we perform rigourous quality control testing on corks and bottles, and continued their tour into the one of the most critical areas:  the stock control room for labels.

Your first thought may be, how difficult is it to afix a label to a bottle?  That part is relatively easy – it’s all the planning and logistics to get the right label to the right place at the right time in sufficient quantity for a given bottling run.  For one thing, we have 4,000 different possible labels for all the SFE produced wines.  Graham’s wines alone are distributed to 50  different markets, each of which seems to have unique regulations about what can and cannot be printed on a bottle of wine, and of course there are all those languages.    But as you can see, Sr. Lacerda, who is responsible for the labelling inventory, is very relaxed and cheerful.

Share this post

Another Day, Another Tasting

L to R Montrachet, Bourgogne, the "Joker", Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux glasses, and Rosa
Listening, fascinated: Bruno, Francisco, Ricardo, Emiliano, Marta, Melanie and Marisol

As you have probably gathered from the postings so far, the training for the Graham’s Lodge team is about a lot more than just reciting a tour script and more than just Graham’s.  Yesterday they had a pretty thorough grounding in winemaking and wines, today they moved on to some of the finer points of enjoying wine.

More specifically, wine glasses.  Rosa Teixeira, of Portfolio Vinhos (SFE’s subsidiary for distribution in Portugal) conducted a tasting of four different wines in Riedel wine glasses to demonstrate the difference a glass makes to the enjoyment of any given wine.

For example, they tried Altano Branco in a Sauvignon Blanc glass which is considered the appropriate shape for any young fresh white – imagine a large tulip slightly closed at the top.  The nose was exquisite, the flavour sensational.  When that same wine was tasted from the Montrachet, a more open and rounded glass intended for mature or oaked white wines, the aromas were lost and the wine suddenly appeared a bit too acid.  Rosa explained how the shape and volume of a glass guides the flow of wine into your mouth.  Since different zones of your mouth respond to different flavours (fruit, acidity, tannins, alcohol), where the wine hits first determines your experience of that wine, and the shape of the glass determines where the wine hits first.  The same wine was also tasted from what Rosa called The Joker – a short, squat, straight-sided wine glass made of very thick glass still used in so many restaurants (not made by Riedel, we hasten to add!).  The wine seemed to have no aromas and almost no flavour – only acidity.  The Lodge team were stunned by the difference.

Raul explaining the Lodge's wine shipping service

After the tasting, Raul gathered the team round a big white carton for a lesson in shipping.  When you visit the Lodge and buy wines, Graham’s is able to ship those wines anywhere in Europe.  We’ve shipped 8,789 bottles so far, and never yet had a breakage.

Share this post

February 2011 Douro Insider

February got off to a fine start, with the first week or so crisp and beautifully bright, albeit with frosts crunchy underfoot in the mornings.  The very cold temperatures gradually eased with the return of the early mists and some light rain.  This gentle warming meant that by around the 10th of the month the almond trees had started coming into blossom – a sure sign that we should be finishing the pruning.  But the earliest flowers to bloom were faced with a tough challenge almost immediately as a depression in the Bay of Biscay sent a violent cold front across the Iberian Peninsula, heading in a south-easterly direction.  This air mass was extremely unstable, and brought some truly terrible weather from the 16th onwards.  There was plenty of thunder, and an almost incessant flashing of the light, partly due to lightning and partly due to the electricity flickering on and off repeatedly.  There was also torrential rain, and when that let up, hail.  Read Full Report

Share this post

Afternoon Lesson in Douro DOC

Pedro and the giant grape
Marta reads the fine print
Pedro Correia, SFE Douro DOC winemaker

The shop at Graham’s Lodge stocks a representative sample of all the wines made by Symington Family Estates, both Ports and Douro DOC wines.  Naturally, our staff need to know about all of our products, so they can answer visitors’ questions.

With that in mind, Pedro Correia, head winemaker for all Symington Douro DOC wines, came to the lodge in the afternoon to introduce our dry wine range to the team.  The session started with a lesson in grape biology, and a review of how dry wines are made differently from fortified port.  Pedro then reviewed each of our Douro DOC wines, explaining what grapes are used and from which quintas they are sourced, how the wines are made and aged, and finally, how best to enjoy them – serving temperatures and food pairings.

From there, we moved down to the Lodge’s wine bar for a tasting of the range of Altano Douro DOC wines, which come from three quintas in the Vilariça valley in the northeast corner of the Douro.  Pedro did double duty, answering questions as winemaker whilst doing quite a good job as sommelier, serving.  The team thoroughly enjoyed the wines and had lots of good questions about details of production and marketing.

I learned something I never knew about Pedro:  he never holds still.  59 photos I took and 57 1/2 are blurred – he moves faster than a camera shutter!

Share this post

A Morning’s Lesson in Port

The team listen in rapt attention as Joao Pedro talks them through 14 Graham's wines

This morning, João Pedro Ramalho, one of Charles’s year-round team of winemakers, came to the Graham’s Lodge to teach the new team about how port is made, and talk them through a tasting lesson of all our wines.

The morning began in front of the big Douro map in the centre aisle of the Lodge, as João Pedro talked about the character of wines produced in each subregion of the Douro and discussed our quintas and wineries in detail, pointing them out on the map.  He then turned to the mural with photos of the harvest and our robotic lagares at Quinta dos Malvedos, and explained in great detail exactly how port is made:  differences between traditional and robotic lagares and other methods of extraction, the vinification and fortification processes, and the ageing and blending which occur in later years here in Vila Nova de Gaia.

The group then settled down to the table in the front window of the lodge for a detailed talk through and tasting of all Graham’s ports.  Wine by wine, João Pedro briefly described again how each one is made and pointed out differences between wine pairs, for instance a ruby versus a tawny, or a reserve tawny versus a 20 Year Old.  The tasting included nearly every Graham’s wine they will serve at the Lodge, including two vintages.  There were also two special items on the menu:  a Dow’s 1985 so they could appreciate the difference between the two brands, and a sample of a wine just made during the 2010 harvest at Malvedos (well done, Henry!  beautiful dense colour and very rich, fresh and aromatic!)

Also included in the lesson was a detailed discussion of service, including recommended temperatures to show each style of port at its best, and finally, a lesson in decanting.

There is nothing these guides won’t know about port by the end of this week.

Share this post

2011 Lodge Team – End of Day One

First order of business after lunch was to make sure the blogger got it right!

After that, Gustavo Devesas, a Lodge veteran who joined the SFE sales team just before Christmas, returned to his roots:  he spent the afternoon giving the new guides a grounding in Douro terroir, explaining to them the unique characteristics of the region generally, and then the three sub-regions and Graham’s own quintas more specifically.  There were some lively questions, and they covered quite a lot of ground:  250,000 hectares to be exact, of which 32,233 is under vine, which is broken up into 139,000 different plots, farmed by 33,000 farmers (figures for the entire Douro region).

Given Gustavo’s encyclopedic knowledge and passion, and willingness to share it all, the next training session, in the Lodge Shop, started an hour late, but no one seemed to mind.  Rosalina, who has responsibility for the shop, did a show and tell so the team understood the wide range of goods available for sale.

Meanwhile, it was business as usual in the Lodge, with tours and tastings going on, including one rather special little group from the nearby São Marco school.  Don’t worry, Marisol did not offer them a tasting, though they seemed to really enjoy their tour of the Lodge.

Tuesday’s agenda:  tastings in the morning, and then more tastings in the afternoon.

Share this post