Inauguration of Works at the Lodge

Dr Luis Filipe Menezes, President of the Municipal Council of Vila Nova de Gaia

Today marked the official launch of building works to expand and improve the visitor experience at Graham’s Lodge. Paul Symington and Dr. Luis Filipe Menezes, President of the Municipal Council of Vila Nova de Gaia marked the occasion by signing a certificate commemorating the event, and placing it in a time capsule which has been buried in the floor.

Luis Loureiro, SFE architect and responsible for the planning and building works, explained the plan of works to the President and other visitors from the Municipal Council and the Press.  The Lodge will continue to fulfil its primary role of ageing Graham’s finest ports in the mild climate of Vila Nova de Gaia, as it has for more than 120 years.

However, with more than 60,000 visitors a year, changes are needed to improve the visitor experience.  The re-designed space will include a museum, expanded space for tastings and a new wine shop (built over the time capsule!).  Best of all, the plans include a new restaurant where you will be able to enjoy all our Ports as well as Symington Family Estates’ Douro DOC wines, and a menu with choices designed to enhance them all.  Look for the grand opening in 2012.  The restaurant will enjoy the spectacular view upriver, of the Ponte Dom Luis and the riverfronts of both Porto and Gaia.

Louis Loureiro (back to camera) explains the plans to Dr. Menezes and Paul Symington

The project represents an investment of €2 million.  Paul Symington, Chairman and Joint-Managing Director says ‘At a time of considerable economic uncertainty in Portugal and across Europe, this is proof of my family’s continued confidence in the future of Port and Douro wines.  The Graham’s lodge has long been famous for the quality of its visits and this new project will substantially improve what is already one of the best Tourist destinations in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.’

The launch was wrapped with a quick tour through the Lodge and into the current reception area, where the group celebrated with a glass of Graham’s The Tawny.

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A Chance to Visit Malvedos

How would you like to stand at the top of the vineyard at Quinta dos Malvedos and see the view in the banner photo above, uncropped?  Or relax on the veranda in the photo (right) with your morning orange juice (fresh squeezed, from the orange grove just east of the house) or afternoon chilled Tawny?

Then please come visit the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia some time this year before Christmas and plan on buying wine and shipping it home in order to enter a prize draw to win a two-night stay for two at Graham’s beautiful Quinta dos Malvedos.

If you purchase wines of a total value of €500 or more and ask us to ship them anywhere in Europe or the UK, your name will be entered into the prize drawing.  At the end of the year Paul Symington will randomly pull out one name to win the trip to Malvedos.  And your chances are good:  so far we only have ten names in the drawing.  MUCH better chances than the Lottery!

So… with a budget of €500 or a bit more, what can you send home? Raul and I did a little dream shopping, and these were our recommendations:

Two 6 x 75 cl cases of Graham’s Vintage 2007 – A candidate for wine of the vintage, the 2007 Graham’s Vintage Port is complete in every way according to Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate who awarded it 97 points.

3 bottles of Quinta dos Malvedos 1965 – Dominic recently tasted this at a Malvedos vertical in Denmark, and was thrilled by how the wine was showing:  The 1965 was delicious, much more full bodied & weighty than the ’58 … I know the ’65 reasonably well, it’s a superb wine, beautifully balanced with all the elegance of a fully mature old Vintage Port and more than confirms the fact that Malvedos is superb vintage port in its own right.

3 Magnums of Graham’s Vintage 1980 – Winner of a Silver Medal at the International Wine Challenge in 2007, where the judges noted its lovely balance, calling it “very fine.” Peter Symington describes this wine as having tight penetrating aromas of wild fruits and floral hints. On the palate full-bodied, and with an excellent tannic structure.  A rich and beautifully balanced wine with a long future ahead of it.

1 Magnum of Graham´s 1970 – this is one of Charles Symington’s favourites, so much so it was his pick to serve at his wedding.  The wine is widely regarded as one of the best of the year.  Our tasting room team have commented:  On the palate this wine is in perfect harmony, round, soft yet with ‘grip’.  There is great length on the palate.

Do you prefer Tawny styles of Port?  Then your dream choice must be two bottles of the limited edition Graham’s 1961 Single Harvest Tawny.  Just 3 pipes of wine have been selected by Charles Symington to be bottled in this limited edition.  Sarah Ahmed in her Wine Detective blog described it as very much in the Graham’s house style – rich yet balanced, with terrific depth of flavour and mouthfeel.  Amber in hue with a saffron rim, it’s incredibly smooth, the spirit well integrated/balanced by lush layers of lightly toasted almonds, bourbon vanilla, singed caramel (tatin-style), fruitcake and florentines.    A very long, fruity finish shows plenty of nutty spine.   Outstanding.

Another Tawny choice would be a case (6 x 75 cl) of Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny.  This wine has repeatedly won Gold and Silver medals at the International Wine Challenge.  Our tasting notes:  Light, orange-tinted amber colour, magnificent perfumed nose with great class showing an array of dried fruits. Outstanding mature concentrated palate with full honeyed fruit, gorgeously mellowed. Simply delicious with an aftertaste that lasts and lasts.

The Shop at Graham’s Lodge doesn’t just sell Graham’s ports though – there is a wide selection of Ports and Douro DOC wines from all the brands made by Symington Family Estates.  Here are a few choices from among those wines:

The 2007 Vintage Gift Case is a handsome wooden case containing one bottle of each Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s Vintage 2007, which together were awarded 291 out of a possible 300 points by the Wine Spectator.  Buy two of these cases to enter our prize draw.

1963 is a legendary Vintage and we still have a very few bottles of Warre’s 1963 available.  Send home two for your chance to visit Quinta dos Malvedos, and your drive up from Porto to Malvedos will take you past Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha.

Charles Symington collaborates with Bruno Prats to create the incredibly elegant Chryseia Douro DOC wine which is vinified at Quinta do Roriz, just down river from Malvedos (you will be able to see it from the hill tops).  Buy a case (6 x 75 cl) of the Chryseia and a few choice bottles of Port to follow it at dinner to qualify for the prize draw.  We are able to put together mixed cases for you, if you want just a few bottles each of several different wines.

Finally, for those of you who cannot go anywhere without your Port, but need to travel light:  Raul figures purchasing 61 tins of Graham’s LBV and 10 Year Old Tawny miniatures will qualify your entrance to the prize draw.

Note that you must visit the Lodge and purchase and ship wines from there to enter the contest – we are not able to take orders by phone or internet.  We have been shipping wine regularly throughout Europe and the UK and have never had a breakage yet, though our shipments are fully insured.  Speak to Raul or any of our Lodge staff for more details about our shipping services and the full rules for the contest.

We look forward to seeing you at the Lodge and – with luck – at Quinta dos Malvedos one day too!  What’s on your shopping list?

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Race of the Barcos Rabelos 2011

Graham’s is very pleased and proud to have come Second in this year’s race of the barcos rabelos.  Whether it was our new sail or Paul’s god-son on board, we had terrific luck and a beautiful day, despite temperamental winds, and held our position from the start with only an occasional challenge from one other boat.

For those not familiar, a little background to the race:  port wine was brought down river from the quintas in the spring by barcos rabelos until the railway mostly superseded them in the late 19th century. The Symington family continued to employ some boats between quintas in the Douro Superior and Pinhão right up until the 1960s.  These double-ended flat bottomed wooden boats were rowed, poled or simply shot the rapids down river, laden with pipes of port wine which had wintered in the Douro and needed to come down to the cooler climate of Vila Nova de Gaia for further ageing and finally blending and bottling.

In 1983 the Race of the Barcos Rabelos was established as a bit of good natured fun on São João, and to keep the tradition somewhat alive.  Most Port shippers have a boat, named after one of their quintas.  Paul said the first few years no one seemed to know or care much about the race, so it was really encouraging to see the banks of the river lined with an audience yesterday and to be cheered on by well wishers all along the way.  Thank you to everyone who turned out for us – it really was appreciated!

Because these boats were designed for the shallows and very rocky rapids of the Douro river, the boats are flat bottomed with no keel and the tiller is little more than a giant oar mounted at the stern of the boat.  This makes them a bit of challenge to actually sail – you really are at the mercy of wind and currents.  This year´s race began at 17:30 in order to take advantage of the incoming tide.

So, what is it like to be on this boat during the race?  Click into the first photo in the gallery below and then use the hyperlinks at the foot of each photo to scroll back and forth through the gallery and follow the story of the race through photos taken from on board Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos.

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Henry in the Spotlight Once More

Henry Shotton, Graham’s winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos during the harvest, gets to do many of the best tastings, lucky man.

Graham’s was recently contacted by David Swaddle, a UK based wine educator who is preparing new video materials for use in WSET training as well as independent e-learning wine courses and short YouTube videos about Port.

David met first with Dominic Symington, who chatted with him (and the camera!) about the Symington family and the Port trade.  David and Henry then went on to the Graham’s Lodge and there, Henry tasted and talked through a broad range of Graham’s wines, including our full range of Tawnies, the Crusted 2003, and five different Vintage Ports:  Malvedos 1999 and a sample of the just bottled 2009, and Graham’s 2007, 1994 and 1983.

What was particularly interesting, and will be a great help to learners when the materials are released, was the comparisons of wines – for example Henry compared and contrasted the Late Bottled Vintage 2006 with the Six Grapes, and the difference in “house styles” of Graham’s tawny ports versus the Otima tawnies produced by our sister brand, Warre’s.

And yes, when the filming was all over, we did let David taste the wines too!  Stay tuned for links to his materials as they become available on the internet in the coming months.

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SFE Scientific Research Presented at the OIV

This week Porto has been hosting the XXXIV Vine and Wine World Congress and the General Assembly of the OIV – International Vine and Wine Organization.  The OIV is an inter-governmental scientific and technical organization focussed on encouraging and disseminating the latest research in viticultural and oenological subjects.

Symington Family Estates is very proud that our team have presented research findings from three different projects at the Conference this week.  In addition, another major presentation was based in part on research conducted at one of our Quintas.

Charles Symington discussed our robotic lagares and the research on extraction of colour and phenolic compounds.

Charles Symington’s presentation Wednesday afternoon compared the use of Symington’s patented Robotic Lagares versus the traditional stone lagares.  Fundamentally, the robotic lagares were designed to preserve all the advantages of traditional treading which result in very high extraction of phenolic compounds and colour whilst solving the drawbacks of minimal temperature control and rising labour costs not just for the treading, but for the hours needed to fully empty and then clean a lagar.

Over the past 10 years since the introduction of robotic lagares Charles and Steve Rogerson, our research oenologist, have tracked colour and phenolic extraction for wines made in the robotic lagares and confirmed an ideal treading time of about 3 hours.  In addition, they have compared colour extraction in wines made by robotic lagares, versus wines made in auto-vinifiers, and found the lagar-made wines had substantially higher pigmentation, which is very important for vintage ports, destined to age for decades.

Finally, the value of the lagares has been proven by the critical acclaim for the wines made by this method:  Graham’s Vintage 2000 was our first vintage port made wholly by robotic lagar, and scored 98 points in the Wine Spectator.  Since then many of our robotic lagar wines have scored very highly and in 2007, our sister brand Dow’s Vintage Port scored a perfect 100 points.

Steve Rogerson, right, discussing his work with a colleague at the OIV Conference

In addition to Charles’s presentation, two more of our team created posters documenting their research, and were available during the day Tuesday to answer conference attendee’s questions about their work.

Steve Rogerson has conducted research into the use of enzymes to enhance bergamot scent and flavour characteristics in Touriga Nacional.  Bergamot is a type of small orange, with a fresh floral-citrus scent – you may know it from its use in Earl Grey Tea.  Steve made wines in both 2007 and 2010, in order to assess the levels of the relevant chemical components and tasters’ sensory impressions of bergamot character for both recently made and bottle-aged wines.

Paulo Macedo, whom many of you may remember from the blog as the wine maker at Quinta do Tua during harvest, spends the other 11 months of the year as a viticulturalist with responsibility for many Symington vineyards around Pinhão and in the Rio Torto, including Graham’s Quinta das Lages.  The Douro in the summer is an environment of high sun, heat and drought, and global warming won’t improve the situation.  In extreme conditions, leaves and grapes can dry out and if the temperature is very high for an extended period photosynthesis simply shuts down, which can delay the maturation of the grapes.

Paulo’s investigations have shown that the use of a foliar spray of kaolin (a type of diatomaceous earth) to reflect sunlight away from the leaves and thus create a slightly cooler microclimate, is effective in supporting photosynthesis and water retention.

Rui Martins presenting the VinePAT research conducted at SFE's Quinta do Vesuvio

Finally, Rui Martins and António Cesar Silva-Ferreira of the Molecular Biology and Ecology Research Center at the University of Minho in Braga, presented their work on the VinePAT, a device which uses high resolution spectroscopy to perform chemical analysis of the grapes in the vineyard, very like the analysis already done on musts and finished wines.  By analysing grapes throughout a vineyard parcel throughout the growing season and combining that information with geo-referencing they are able to develop maps which demonstrate which parcels or sections of a parcel have certain chemical characteristics.  This in turn could help the winemaker anticipate the style of the wine that might be produced from those grapes.  Much of their research was conducted at the Symingtons’ Quinta do Vesuvio, in a specific parcel of Touriga Nacional located in the valley near the house and train stop.

This kind of rigorous viticultural and oenological research, and the sharing of our findings with our winemaking and scientific colleagues, is an important part of Symington Family Estates’ commitment to the Douro region, which we take very seriously.

Which is not to say our experiments are without their lighter moments.  When Paulo Macedo was establishing his test plots, he sprayed some rows of vines with the kaolin, and others with a spray of copper sulphate (also known as Bordeaux mixture).  We didn’t anticipate the view from across of the valley of a vineyard neatly striped in white (kaolin) and blue (copper sulphate), which just happen to be the colours for FC Porto, the local football team!

If you are interested in receiving copies of Steve Rogerson’s poster “Industrial Trials Modulating Touriga Nacional Aroma Tipicity” or Paulo Macedo’s “Kaolin – A Protector Agent of Vineyards During Summer Stress” please contact us at blogadmin at grahams-port dot com (using the usual symbols, we spell it out here to avoid spam).  

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The Ultimate Pairing: Graham’s and Bugatti

When we say the Symingtons are keen on vintage . . .  you would naturally complete that sentence with the word “Port.”  And they are, of course!  But as it happens, several family members are also keen on vintage cars.

Last week James and Dominic Symington hosted a group of Bugatti owners for 2 days in the Douro.  After a week at an international touring event based in Burgos, Spain, almost 30 enthusiasts in 15 cars carried on, driving over 350 km (220 miles) southwest into the Douro region to Pinhão.

On Monday, James met the group at Pinhão, to lead them over the winding mountain roads to Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos.  James hitched a ride in one of the cars, and at one stop, the owner asked if he would like to drive?  “Would I?!”  The owner said it was a wonderful car, you just had to point it, and it would go.  James said it was like driving on rails, the car held the road just beautifully. As well it should:  this Bugatti 1925 Type 39 has a 1500 cc 8-cylinder engine and won the 1925 Monza Grand Prix.

James said the car could do 130 mph (I didn’t ask exactly HOW he knew that… ), and said getting used to the gear shift was a little challenging, as not only is the gear sequence different from modern cars, but the stick is actually mounted on the outside of the car, next to the hand brake.  The other surprise was how close together the pedals are: James had to change shoes, his own were so heavy he actually tripped himself up on the pedals!

On arrival at Quinta dos Malvedos, the group enjoyed a tasting of Graham’s wines, including Six Grapes, Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny, a 1995 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage, and two wonderful Graham’s Vintage Ports:  1994 and 1980.  After lunch at the house. the group had a tour of the winery and the vineyards before heading back to Pinhão.

On Tuesday the group drove to Quinta do Vesuvio, first driving north of Malvedos to the village of Alijó, then coming back down to the south east and crossing the Douro over the Valeira dam and stopping to visit Numão Castle before arriving at Vesuvio.  Dominic, who received them just before lunch time at Vesuvio, said they loved every minute of the drive, telling him the roads were made for this type of car, with very little traffic, wonderful sweeping curves and unbelievable views.  They also apparently enjoyed racing each other up and down the straightaway between the house and the winery at Vesuvio – rather an unusual use for a stretch of road frequented most often by tractors full of grapes!

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Graham’s is Ready for São João

The 24th of June is the Festival of São João and a public holiday in Porto.  It is also the day for the famous boat race between the Port shippers.   The team at Graham’s is prepared, and looking forward to this year’s race.

The classic holiday photo or postcard for any visitor to Porto is a view of the riverfront of Gaia, with the barcos rabelos at anchor along the shoreline.  The boats you see today are replicas of the boats that used to bring the port downriver from the quintas to the lodges every spring.

Preparations began on a sunny day in March when we took the sail out of storage and spread it out in the garden behind the office for an airing and review.  We decided the salt air and sun had done quite a lot of damage over the past few years, so we will have a new sail this year.  We have also just repainted our boat, and as you can see in the photo above we have covered the casks with canvas to protect them from the seagulls who like to perch there.

Paul Symington will be on board the Graham’s boat himself this year, together with a crew drawn from our staff in Gaia.

This year’s race will start around 17:30 in order to catch the tide going upriver, and all being well, we should reach the finish line, near the Dom Luis I bridge, around 18:30 (ahead of everyone else, of course!).

Will you be in Porto on the 24th?  Please come out to cheer us on!  Best viewing is from the upper deck of the Dom Luis bridge, or along the shoreline in Gaia.  If you can’t be in Porto, watch Graham’s Facebook page and the Blog for our report on the race (and you can read about last year’s race here if you like).

Please note:  the Graham’s Lodge will be closed on Friday 24th for the holiday, but please come visit us another day!

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Vineyard Update

The Graham’s Blog caught up recently with Miles Edlmann, our research viticulturist who is also responsible for the Quinta da Vila Velha, and Alexandre Mariz who is responsible for our vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua.

Overall, with warm and mostly good weather so far, the vines are racing ahead of the usual schedule for development, and growing so rapidly that tasks that usually are done sequentially are having to be done simultaneously to keep up with the vines.  Instead of starting with despampa (the removal of surplus vine shoots) and then dealing with empara (training the shoots up through the trellis wires), our teams are having to disentangle rather rampant growth and do both at once.

In addition, our usual schedules for treatments for pests and disease are disrupted and changing to meet the state of growth – Miles is already treating for cicadela (Empoasca vitis, also called a leafhopper in English) which he normally would not do until July.

This doesn’t mean conditions have been entirely idyllic, however.  Both Miles and Alexandre mentioned some small hailstorms, and Miles was woken by thunder and lightening at Vila Velha one night.  You would be forgiven for thinking the adjacent photo is of a late August vineyard scorched by sun and drought.  In fact that photo was taken last week when Miles found that the lightning struck in Vila Velha and the electrical charge running along the wire had scorched some of our vines, withering the leaves.  Closer inspection shows the damage where the vines were in direct contact with the wires.

We have already had vingamento (fruit set) and Miles said it was generally fine but early rumours of large crops should be treated with extreme caution.  There have been localised problems with mildio which will reduce crop size for those affected.  As with so many things, “it ain’t over till it’s over” and we still have three months ahead of us before we can be certain what kind of harvest we will have.  Stay tuned!

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Quality at All Levels

Paul Symington is often quoted as saying:

There is but one single-minded objective here – to produce the very finest port possible.

That focus on quality is carried well beyond the viticultural and wine making activities, and is reflected throughout the entire product development, production and delivery process.  In this time of belt-tightening, it’s important our customers know that our commitment also carries through our entire line, from the entry level Graham’s Ports through to our extraordinary aged Tawnies and Vintages.

On reviewing the product range, we felt that the packaging of our entry level Port wines could do better justice to the quality of the wines.   Our internal design team, led by Henri Sizaret, VP of Marketing, retained the classic cellar label shape but re-thought the colour ways for each of the wines, Fine Ruby, Fine Tawny, Fine White and Extra Dry White, to better convey the style of each wine and above all, the outstanding quality which is the pedigree of Graham’s.  We added a brief and inviting tasting note to each label as well, to guide the consumer in their choice.

In Paul’s words, “Graham’s has an outstanding history of quality, and we feel the new range complements this image. This move also reflects our care for our trade partners with improved designs for better shelf stand out and appeal.”

Whilst the wines remain the same excellent and enjoyable value for money that has always distinguished Graham’s entry level range, the new packaging has just been introduced, and is already starting to appear in stores globally.  Look for it in all of the more than 50 markets around the globe where Graham’s is sold.

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April 2011 Douro Insider

The month got off to a good start with a wonderfully summery first day, producing some remarkable temperatures that were to set the tone for the rest of April.  It stayed hot for most of the first week, with the mercury touching on the low 30ºs, and it felt even hotter as a result of the high humidity.  The skies were also hazy for several days around this time, giving the unwelcome impression of those sultry August days when the air is darkened by smoke from catastrophic wildfires.  In fact the phenomenon turned out to have been caused by some sort of rogue dust cloud with its origins in a north African sandstorm. Read Full Report

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