Meanwhile, Over at Cavadinha

Quinta da Cavadinha, deep in the Pinhão valley, is the flagship quinta and winery for Graham’s sister brand, Warre’s.

Our research viticulturalist, Miles Edlmann, turns winemaker and runs the winery there just as Henry runs Malvedos during harvest.  Yesterday he sent in his harvest update, which is now posted on the Vintage Port Site News feed, and this wonderful photo of the winery team there:

Standing (left to right): Costa, Gorito, Mourão, António José, Nuno, TóZé (motorista), Fonseca (big brother to our Fonseca at Malvedos), Alex, Duarte.  Kneeling: the legendary Sr Acácio, Orlando, Miles.

2011 Harvest Winery Team at Warre's Quinta do Cavadinha
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25 September Malvedos Winery Update

View from one of the topmost parcels of Touriga Nacional down to the TN parcel behind the house

At 07.10 this morning it was cool and overcast with some low lying grey cloud, but with no hint of rain. By 10:00 am the clouds had dispersed and the remainder of the day was clear and hot.  This weather is perfect for fine tuning the maturation of the Touriga Franca still to come later next week.

Vineyard update

As I mentioned last week on Sunday there are normally fewer pickers as some prefer to stay at home with the family, go to church or work in their own vineyards. Today Arlindo had just 16 who picked Touriga Nacional all day, and tomorrow when we get the full complement back we are likely to finish the remainder of the Nacional here at Malvedos.

Winery Update

Last night there was a fortification of a Nacional lagar at 03:45 (ouch!) and this morning when I opened the winery and walked past the tank there was an exquisite smell in the air of freshly crushed berries and violets coming from the open lid.  It just goes to confirm how aromatic all the wines have been turning out this year.

Steve and Rita pose while Fonseca draws the must from the lagar

Dr. Steve Rogerson, our research oenologist, and Rita from the R&D team came to take some samples of our Touriga Nacional must from one of the lagares to use in micro-vinifications.  Steve is investigating fermentation connected to different yeasts and their associated aroma complexity.  Steve has chosen to do this with TN in order to better understand one of the region’s best varieties.

I showed Steve round the winery and he was particularly impressed with the colour and aroma of the Nacional lagares that he saw. His opinion, as mine, is that we are looking at potentially an exceptional year in 2011.


Lawrence Lo interviewing Peter Symington

Today was a busy day for visitors, with three different groups spending time in the winery.   Just after breakfast Raul (whom many of you know from the Graham’s Lodge)  came with Chinese blogger Lawrence Lo  and his team who are filming for a documentary on Port wines and the Douro.

Peter Symington, who was Graham’s head winemaker for 40 years before retiring and handing over to his son Charles, arrived with Álvaro Costa, the well-known chef based at the Restaurante at the Pousada do Porto.  Peter took a moment out from his visit to talk with Lawrence Lo in the shade of the arbour outside the lower level of the winery.

Dominic (second from right) explaining the reception area and process to the Decanter group

In the afternoon, Dominic arrived with the Decanter Readers Group for a visit and tasting just before lunch up at the Malvedos house.  In addition to a line up of the 1999, 2006 and 2009  Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports, the group were treated to a lesson in tasting new wines, when Dominic shared with them the recently finished Amarela/Nacional blend and explained how the wine would change as it matures.

Lisa’s last day at Malvedos

On a hot day it wasn't so hard to take the ritual farewell soaking

Lisa is leaving tomorrow and the whole team is put out as she has been such a hard working, pro-active and popular member of the Malvedos winery team.  The tradition at Malvedos is that all members of the winery team get weighed in at the beginning of the Vintage and weighed out at the end, in addition to being given a good soaking for good measure on the last day.  Lisa was no exception (although by general consensus she was not required to weigh out as this was considered un-lady like behaviour), although being such a hot day I think she rather enjoyed the soaking!

Tonight she very generously bought us all dinner at the Calça Curta and tomorrow she catches the first train to Porto at 07:45, and will be visiting Graham’s Lodge for a tour and tasting with Raul before heading home to England.

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The Winery Team’s 2011 Recruit

Carlos and Lisa taking the baumé of a lagar of Touriga Nacional

This year the Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos winery team has welcomed Lisa Mcbain, an Area Sales Account Manager for the UK’s largest on-trade drinks wholesaler Matthew Clark.  Lisa has enjoyed a varied career path within the drinks trade, including years managing cocktail bars and events in London, a harvest season with an Australian boutique winery producing Rieslings, and four years with Michael Broadbent and Stephen Spurrier at Christie’s, running wine courses and pre-auction tastings and cataloguing items for the auctions.

Lisa’s passion is not sales per se, but rather a passion for the products, the wines she sells, and the experience they can create for diners.  Most of all, she wants to be able to tell the stories behind the wines and give her on-trade clients the best possible advice, so they in turn can select the best wines to suit their menus and clientele.  Many of her clients, Lisa feels, are missing an opportunity to enhance their guests’ dining experience by promoting Ports on their menus.

But Port was the wine Lisa knew least well herself, so she decided to seek a harvest experience in the Douro to learn more.  As she believes in working only with the best, she approached Graham’s winemaker Henry Shotton, who agreed to have her on the winery team, and Lisa arrived at Quinta dos Malvedos for the start of harvest on 15 September.

Lisa and the blogger both enjoyed the interview

When asked about the difference between her harvest experiences here and in Australia, she said she was impressed by how efficient and yet flexible and relaxed it was at Malvedos.  “The guys here are happy, well looked after, the whole experience is a pleasure, it’s hard work, but it’s fun and still incredibly productive.  Learning how they do it, being surrounded by obviously very successful people, the whole experience for me has been absolutely fabulous, the guys on the winery team, the food, Henry, and what a beautiful setting!  Malvedos never loses its appeal, you could never be bored with the view out there.”

She has been impressed with the quality of the grapes coming in and has learned a lot from Henry about the varieties and the characteristics each one brings to Port blends.  Lisa commented that Port wine making seemed to be about letting the grapes do the work and as winemakers we are just helping along the way.  She liked the respect for the Douro region implicit in this approach.

Lisa helps Juca pile up 35 kg bags of vinhaço outside the winery

The cultural exchange has been intense:  Lisa knew only a few Portuguese phrases and except Henry the winery team do not speak English.  This has proved to be an irrelevance, as they have mimed and laughed their way through explanations and conversations.  The lads have taught her Portuguese, Port winemaking and the difference between Benfica and Porto football clubs, and on the flip side “Senhora Cenoura” (Miss Carrot) has taught them about the importance of vitamins and stretching to good health, and proven a girl can pull her weight on the winery team.

Much as she has enjoyed the experience (as have the lads, by the way) she realises she really likes her sales role with Matthew Clark not only because of all the people she meets and the variety of her days, but most of all because she enjoys seeing “her” wines on menus at so many venues. 

Now, with her experience of helping to make the Graham’s Port wines for 2011, it is exciting to know her own hands were involved in making a product that will be sold thousands of miles away from the Douro, in the UK and all around the world.

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24 September Malvedos Winery Update

It is clear morning here at Malvedos with no cloud and a blue sky, but it’s quite fresh at 07:30.  I’m in shirtsleeves and there is definitely an autumnal chill in the air. As the day progressed it became a warm rather than hot day.

L to R Mariz, Pedro, Henry, Charles and Masai, Charles's faithful Rhodesian Ridgeback

Vineyard update

This morning Charles, Pedro Leal da Costa, Alexandre Mariz and I had a meeting to define the picking order for next week.  It was decided that we will pick the grapes from Quinta dos Malvedos and nearby Quinta do Tua in the following sequence:  Malvedos Nacional, Tua Nacional, Tua Franca – which will take us to next Thursday – when we will begin on the Malvedos Franca.

Prior to the meeting Charles had been visiting and tasting the Franca blocks here at Malvedos.  He was very pleased with how the grapes are looking and developing but feels they still need a few more days of sun to fine tune the ripening:  Touriga Franca is notoriously the latest ripening variety of the Douro.  As the weather forecast continues warm and dry, this will certainly do the trick.

The many small bunches that characterise Touriga Nacional

Today Arlindo and his team of 23 spent most of the day picking Touriga Nacional block 16 (see map), which is a large South facing parcel, mid-way down the Quinta behind the house. This was planted in 1987 and has given an incredible low yield of just 490g per vine. These sorts of yields must without doubt be amongst the lowest of any of the great vineyards in the world, but since low yields mean incredible quality and concentration, I am expecting great things from the Malvedos Nacional this year.

The more the merrier

Vinhaço lorry at 14:55

Not usually the team’s favourite job right after lunch!

The marc (pressed skins) that comes out of the press after we run off and fortify each lagar is sent off for distillation periodically during the Vintage, as soon as we have a lorry load. Today I called the lorry for the first time this Vintage and the winery team lugged 6,000Kgs worth of 35Kg bags onto the back of the lorry.  The discouraging bit is that after having worked hard all week bagging this stuff, they have to open up and empty every bag into the lorry.  It’s hot work but they all lend a hand – even Lisa was heaving and emptying bags!

Opaque intense colour, blended Tinta Amarela and Touriga Nacional

Winery Update – Great Colours in 2011

The phenolic ripeness of the grapes this year has been phenomenal and consequently the colour of the final wines has been very good for each variety.  Take a look at this one which is from a 50% Tinta Amarela / 50% Touriga Nacional lagar. It is deep purple with no hint of red at all and completely opaque. I have not seen such depth of colour in the musts and final wines since the 2007 Vintage.  What I find particularly encouraging in 2011 is that it’s not just that one or two varieties that are performing really well, it’s all of them.

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Running Off the Lagar

What exactly does it mean to “run off the lagar” at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos?

It means opening a pipe at one lower corner, and then trap doors along one side, to allow the must to go down into a hopper from which it travels by a pipe into tank in the lower level of the adega.  It also means tipping up one end of the lagar to shift all the solid material from the cap – skins, pips, the odd stem – out of the lagar into the hopper and moving that downstairs too, possibly into the same tank if the fermentation needs a bit more time before we fortify, or else straight into the press to extract just a little more must.

It also means a lot of noise and excitement, as you will appreciate more fully in this video:

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23 September Malvedos Winery Update

Late afternoon sun on the Malvedos winery receiving area and mountains upriver

This morning when I got to the winery at 07:15 it was slightly overcast with some low cloud and a cool breeze, which made me think the weather was about to change. However by 10:30 the cloud had disappeared and the sun was back for what turned out to be another warm day’s picking.

Vineyard update

Arlindo and his team of 24 were picking the Nacional all day. They finished blocks 4 and 5 at the top of the Quinta and then moved to 97 and 88 two parcels lower down and on the eastern side of the Quinta (see map).

Winery Update

Watching the river go by between grape deliveries

It was a relatively quiet day at the winery so not a great deal to tell.  Now that we are on the Touriga Nacional, the picking team takes much longer to send down a load of grapes, since cutting so many small bunches is naturally slower work and fills the bins more slowly than when they are cutting larger bunches.  We fortified the last lagar of Tinta Roriz just before lunch and are now filling the third lagar of Touriga Nacional.

It was even a quiet day for visitors, only Rupert came round for a quick visit to the winery after lunch with Dan Shorrocks and Doug Goldsby from our Canadian agent in British Columbia, Mark Anthony Wine Merchants. Rupert and I showed them the Nacional lagares and we tasted some of the new 2011 wines.

We are working a night shift tonight while a major football match, Porto vs Benfica, is being played for the National league.  I am transmitting the game on the radio very loudly for all to hear and the winery team is roughly divided 50/50 between the two teams. It’s now 2-2 in the second half and the night has been punctuated by a lot of shouting!

2011 Vintage – 1st Week’s Summary

Vineyards looking northeast from behind the house at Malvedos

As we are now one week into the Vintage I would just like to make a short summary of what has happened here at Quinta do Malvedos and my feeling regarding the quality of the 2011 harvest so far.

Since we began the harvest on the 15th September we have picked all the Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tinta Roriz and are now working on the Touriga Nacional.

This is now my 12th Vintage at Malvedos and I must say that the 2011 grapes are some of, if not the best grapes that I have ever seen coming into the winery.  It has been evident from the colour and aroma of the fermenting musts that we are looking at an exceptional year which will produce superb wines.

Touriga Nacional arriving at the winery

The rain of the 1st and 2nd September was the icing on the cake, fine tuning the maturation, and could not have been better timed, having made a major impact on the wines made at this harvest.  It allowed the vines to absorb the water and the grapes to swell and the skins to soften.  As a result Charles decided to delay picking from what previously looked like an early starting Vintage. Despite the obvious risks associated with this decision it has played out very much in our favour and the stunning weather day after day since then has allowed the sugars in the berries to concentrate again, while the skins have remained soft and perfect for extracting colour and flavour.  When picking began on the 15th the grapes were therefore in absolutely perfect condition.

Touriga Nacional in the lagar, not even halfway through fermentation showing wonderful colour and aroma

The Touriga Nacional in particular is looking exceptional this year.  The unprecedented low yields I have noted, with the low skin to juice ratio is allowing even more extraction of colour and flavours which will no doubt contribute to the concentration of the wines produced.

Mariz has told me that temperatures may cool tomorrow and Saturday but that the forecast for the next 10 days remains steady.  This is very good news!

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Graham’s Vintage Port 1970

One rather nice thing about the Harvest season at Graham’s is that with all the entertaining of friends and professional contacts, the Symington family not only conduct many tastings of current wines, but often bring out some fabulous old and rare ports to serve at tastings or after dinners.

L to R: Philipp, Theresa, Bernd and Dominic enjoy a tasting on the veranda at Vesuvio

This was the case earlier this week when Dominic was entertaining some guests introduced to us by Hermann Stockman of our German distributor, Smart Wines.  Executive Chef Bernd Siener of the Vila Vita Rosenpark Hotel, Sommelier Theresa Stenzel of Hotel Excelsior Cologne, and Sommelier Philipp Kunemund of Schloss Lerbach joined Dominic and Gonçalo Brito for a tour of Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, before going up river to spend the evening at the home of one of our sister brands, Quinta do Vesuvio.

Dominic offered a tasting of four vintages of Quinta do Vesuvio: 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2009.  Of the four, the 1996 was “absolutely spectacular”, the word “more” featuring in everyone’s comments, as in more tannins, more lean, but more plummy fruit, more elegance and more approachable.  Of the recently released 2009, after marvelling over the notes of violet and blueberry, Bernd made the comment that for him, at this age, this was wine, not yet Port, and he looked forward to tasting it again when it had matured.

The (emptied!) bottle of Graham's 1970 standing in the old granite and tiled sink in the kitchen at Vesuvio

After dinner Dominic produced an unmarked bottle – when we age Vintage Ports in our own cellars at the Graham’s Lodge in Gaia, we do not label the bottles until (or if) they are released for sale.  Two of the guests identified the wine correctly:  Graham’s Vintage Port 1970.

Fortified by that, Bernd, Theresa and Philipp went on to assist in the treading in one of Vesuvio’s immense 20 pipe lagares before returning to Porto and Germany.

Dominic gave us this tasting note afterwards:

Beautiful dark amber colour, still remarkably youthful.  Beautiful lifted floral aromas on the nose, hints of mint and spice, a slight smokiness.  On the palate, still extremely rich and structured, still a vibrancy of tannins, flavours of lovely soft leather, still some plummy black fruit flavours.  Absolutely delicious.

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22 September Malvedos Winery Update

Today is the last day of summer although I have to say it did not feel like it at all.  The morning was cool and it then turned into yet another hot day of perfect harvesting weather.

Henry Shotton tasting the Touriga Nacional in the vineyard

Vineyard update

Arlindo had 23 pickers today but despite their best efforts they picked much less (about half) than when working on the other varieties, due to the small low yielding bunches of the Nacional.  Yesterday some of the lower lying blocks were picked and today they moved to the top of the Quinta (307 metres) to a couple parcels planted in 1989.  I was there with Mariz this afternoon tasting the grapes and they are perfect to be picked now.

Winery Update

The Touriga Nacional made a half lagar by weight, but less than half by volume

The Touriga Nacional is coming in with incredibly low yields this year.  I had a look at the yields from 2 blocks picked yesterday and they gave 280g and 420g per vine respectively.  This is easily visible in the lagares as they fill, for example one lagar that was approximately half full by weight with 6000Kg, was well below half in terms of the depth filled.  This serves to highlight the very high skin to juice ratio in the Nacional this year and will certainly be translated into greater concentration, colour and flavours in the final wines produced.

Winery team packing up and shifting the bagaço from the press
Henry sharing day old Barroca Port wine with visitors from Germany
David, Fonseca and Henry discusses temperature control system
Charles Symington assessing the new Barroca Port wines

Lisa is very hands on and will take on any job at the winery.  The pressed out remains of the cap, known as vinhaço,  can be distilled to make aguardente, so as we run the press, the team works hard to shift the vinhaço into 35 kg bags, which Lisa and Juca stacked up outside the winery on the lower level.  Every week or so someone stops at the winery to pick up the bags for the distiller.

We had a steady stream of visitors, starting in the morning with another group of German customers from our distributor Smart Wines accompanied by Gonçalo Brito who, with Dominic, is responsible for the German market for Graham’s.  I showed them round the winery and then gave them a taste of one of the newly made Barroca wines which are now in the tonels in the lower part of the winery.

Our harvest time “Mr Fix It” in terms of machinery, David, was passing on his way to Pinhão and dropped by to see if we needed anything.  I took the opportunity to discuss with him our temperature control system which is so critical during this warm weather.

Finally, just before dinner, Charles stopped by and after our review of the picking order came and had a taste of the wines made from the first four lagares of the harvest, all Barroca.  I am pleased to say he thought all four were very promising in terms of aroma, flavour and colour.

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Symington’s Own Kayak Team

Rob and Gareth in front kayak, Alexander beyond, near Vale Coelho

Paul Symington’s son Rob, together with friends Gareth and Alexander, took to the Douro by kayak the past few days, beginning at the Spanish border.  Well, mostly by kayak.  There was the taxi ride in an old school bus (which luckily fit the kayaks!) when they were told to get off the river for a stretch which was closed to all traffic at this season, and the three hour portage to go around the dam at Pocinho.

On the other hand, there were hours on the river to enjoy the spectacular scenery and peace of this remote region, and the kayaking at night, with nothing but the silhouettes of the surrounding mountains to give them their bearings.  Too long a stretch of straightaway made them wonder if they were moving forward at all, but they finally reached a bend in the river to re-assure them and were able to navigate safely from there to their planned campground.

Nor did they have the luxury of lunch at Malvedos.  Instead, they camped out along the river, and enjoyed a three course dinner of freeze dried soup, freeze dried shepherd’s pie and freeze dried rice pudding, all reconstituted with boiled river water.

Ready for the next haul, from near Malhadas down to Pinhão L to R Gareth, Alexander, Rob

Yesterday morning, however, Dominic Symington was visiting Quinta do Vale Coelho (opposite Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, in the Douro Superior) and spotted the lads on the river and hailed them over.  We agreed to meet in the village of Senhora da Ribeira, where Dominic treated them to a round of coffee followed by a round of beer.  Breakfast of champions indeed!

When we saw them off, they were hoping to make it to Ferradosa for a sandwich and then to the Valeira dam in time for the scheduled lock opening.  They must have paddled like madmen, as later in the afternoon Dominic and I went downriver on the train, and spotted them larking about above the dam in plenty of time.  The winery team watched them pass Malvedos in the late afternoon, so they must have made it to Pinhão to meet a friend for sunset drinks.  Their plan was to spend the night with Rob’s parents at Quinta das Netas near Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha in the Pinhão valley and relax on dry land for a few days before returning to England.

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21 September Malvedos Winery Update

Another wonderul morning, the last of our wonderful Tinta Roriz

It was another cool morning with a bright blue sky as I opened the winery. A small fishing boat was out on the river when I arrived at 07:15, taking its catch back to Tua.

Vineyard update

Early in the morning I went to have another look at the Touriga Nacional blocks that we were set to pick during the course of the day once the Tinta Roriz was finished.  I’m really glad I did as one of the Nacional parcels looked and tasted in such perfect condition that we decided after all to make a separate fermentation just of these grapes which will make something really special on their own.  This is the kind of flexibility that is essential during harvest, as we continue to assess the grapes every day and modify picking orders and winemaking plans to get the best out of every parcel.

Lisa joined the picking team in the Touriga Nacional

The last load of Roriz came in at 11:30 and the pickers then moved to the Touriga Nacional for the rest of the day, and will continue tomorrow.  Lisa joined the pickers in the afternoon, and by dinner time decided even shovelling out fermentation tanks was preferable to cutting grapes in the hot sun.

Winery Update

We now have two Roriz lagares fermenting and just after lunch fortified the combined Tinta Amarela / Touriga Nacional lagar which continues with excellent colour.  It was a hot afternoon and the cooling system built into our lagares was essential to control the fermentation of the sun-warmed grapes we received.

Today’s Visitors

Henry showing Touriga Nacional to the Stoffelsens from Holland

Eric and Henri Stoffelsen, who own a fine wine and cheese shop in Putten, Holland and are fans of  Graham’s Ports,  came to visit the winery and were just in time to see the first of the Touriga Nacional arriving.  I showed them the small bunches of thick skinned berries that were perfectly ripe to the touch.  The Nacional, given its exceptional state of maturity, will surely produce some the best wines of the 2011 Vintage here at Malvedos.

They were very interested in the whole winemaking process, saying that now they had seen it first hand it would be much easier to explain to their customers all about Port.  They gave us a cheese from their shop which I am sure the winery team will all enjoy after dinner.

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