Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Friday 21 September

The day was hot, with a bit of haze in the morning which cleared away by lunchtime
Picking at Sibio from old mixed vines

At 7:30 it was a cool morning with a light refreshing breeze. It’s raining in Porto today, but fortunately no sign of the weather changing here for the moment – today has certainly been hot, mostly clear and dry.  However, the weather forecast says we can expect a thunderstorm on Sunday, followed by dry weather and cooler temperatures next week.

Charles stopped by the winery early this morning and we visited both Tua and Malvedos vineyards in order to define the picking order to follow Sibio which we will finish by the end of the day.

It soon became obvious that the Touriga Nacional was now perfect to be picked and would follow next after Sibio.  We tasted grapes at each individual block of Nacional and decided to start with the Quinta do Tua Nacional tomorrow Saturday the 22nd September, and then move to Malvedos proper on Sunday the 23rd. where we will begin with the lower lying blocks by the river.

It looks like we can also expect low yields from the Nacional this year, however the small compact bunches of grapes had great flavour and a very low juice to skin ratio so I think we are looking to get great concentration and colour from the Touriga Nacional this year.

Rupert at the Malvedos map with visitors whilst Charles and Henry consult the map of Tua to plan picking order

The visitors season is in full swing, whilst Charles and I were consulting one map and planning picking order, Rupert was at the other map explaining the quinta, grape varieties and harvest process to a group of Portuguese businessmen who enjoy our wines.

Altogether, a normal day in the winery – and no breakdowns thank god today!

Readers who have followed us for the past three harvests on the Blog may have missed António, the policeman from Peniche, a coastal town near Lisbon.  He grew up in nearby Resende and for years spent his three weeks’ holiday working for us.  This year, unfortunately, circumstances meant he had to go to Brazil, but he sent this message to Henry yesterday:

Em primeiro lugar quero dizer que tenho saudades de nao andar ai.  Este ano foi impossivel mesmo estar ai.  Espero que nos proximos anos, caso nao perca a vaga e espero que nao, estar ai.  Pois alem do trabalho e muito gratificante passar ai esses maravilhosos dias, com todos voçes.  De um forte abraço ai ao pessoal e um bom fim de semana, como um bom trabalho.  Um abraço especial para voçe.

In the first place, I want to say that I am very sad not going there.  This year it was impossible to be there.  I hope in future years, if I have not lost my place there, and I hope not, I will be there.  Besides the the work it is very rewarding to be there for those marvelous days, with all of you.  Give my best regards to the team, and have a good weekend and good work.  Special regards for you.

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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Thursday, 20 September

Sibio as seen from across the river

It was a cool morning when I arrived at the winery at 07:30, with a clear blue sky which turned into another perfect warm day for picking.

Picking continued all day at Sibio vineyard where the old vine field blend is producing some excellent looking grapes giving 13.8 Baumé.  Charles observed that Sibio has old, low-yielding vines and excellent terroir.  We have had good wines from this vineyard in the past, and look forward to seeing how the wines develop now that we have the management of the vineyards in our own hands.  We will continue picking from Sibio tomorrow, and expect to hear from Charles again shortly to discuss the picking order for the weekend and next week.

It was a busy day today at the winery what with receiving grapes, transferring wine, and a fortification.  After the fortification, the wine was run off into a tonel and Tiago had the job of shoveling out the remains of the cap (pips and skins) from the fortification tank.

Today we put our first finished Ports (two lagares of Barrocas) into the tonels in the old part of the Malvedos winery where they will remain until December or January when they will be racked.  Charles is very pleased with the Barrocas, the grapes were ripe and in very good condition – this is a variety that handles low water conditions very well – though this year the yields were tiny, only about half of our usual harvest.

Every year when the finished wines are moved down to Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, we leave a little bit of wine in the bottom of the cask to “keep it sweet” until the next harvest.  Prior to putting any new wine into the tonels it is extremely important to smell each one to check they are in perfect condition, as any ‘suspect’ aromas in the tonel could ruin a whole lagar of wine if it is put in there.

Harry Symington checking the scent of the newly opened tonel

Harry and Tom took to this task enthusiastically and pronounced them all to be okay!  Harry’s father, Paul Symington, once said that one of his earliest memories was of watching his father check the tonels – nice to see another generation taking up the responsibility.  The first to be filled was Nº 20523 which must be one of the oldest in the winery, as it is dated from 1903.

By six o’clock it was time for a well earned beer!


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Harvest at Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

Graham’s Ports are a blend of wines made from grapes from 5 quintas around the Douro.  Readers will be most familiar with Quinta dos Malvedos, our flagship quinta where we have our winery, and neighbouring Quinta do Tua.  But there are three more quintas, each of which has a unique terroir which enriches the blends of Graham’s Ports.

The westernmost end of Vale de Malhadas where the harvest began this week

Quinta do Vale de Malhadas is located in the Douro Superior – if you consult a map you will find it well east of the Valeira Dam and adjacent to Quinta do Vesuvio.  This quinta is privately owned by three of the Symingtons and was acquired in 1999.

The climate in this sub-region of the Douro is significantly drier and both hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the central region, the Cima Corgo, where Malvedos is situated.  Although Vale de Malhadas and Malvedos are only 15 km apart, Malhadas typically receives 30% less rain than Malvedos.  Given these extreme conditions, the north-facing aspect of the quinta is a boon to keep things just a little bit cooler.

Grasshopper on Tinta Barroca leaf

32 hectares are under vine, and the quinta includes another approximately 110 hectares of olive groves, almonds and wilderness.  The rich variety of the landscape make for a wonderful environment – during several hours at the quinta the birdsong never stopped, and the insect life is rich, with bees, grasshoppers and butterflies much in evidence, all of which are signs of a good natural equilibrium in the quinta.

The vineyards include substantial plantings of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional as well as some Tinta Barroca and “Old Vines” mixed plantings.

Harvest began this week with a small team to pick the Old Vines and Barroca and begin selected parcels of Tinta Roriz.  Next week we will double the picking team and continue with Touriga Nacional, more Tinta Roriz and finally the Touriga Franca which is always the last variety to mature.  It should take just two weeks to harvest the entire quinta.

Tinta Roriz at Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

When we visited yesterday the team were working in some of the small parcels near the river front at the western end of the quinta, primarily Tinta Roriz.  This variety is one that many readers will know as Tempranillo (in Spain) or Aragonês (in the south of Portugal).  It is a variety that thrives in dry, well-exposed slopes where it can reach full maturity and deliver deep, intense wines with rich black fruit aromas and flavours.  Its tannins are strong and enable the wines to age well, holding both structure and colour for a very long life – important qualities for Graham’s Ports.

To learn more and see this quinta at other times of year, the Graham’s Blog has also reported on the Olive Harvest (December) and took a long walk through the quinta one April.

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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Wednesday 19 September

Bread, butter, coffee and discussion of the football – typical Portuguese breakfast!

It was sunny with a refreshing breeze early morning and then turned into another hot day.

As with every morning we do our checks and ensure that everything is in order at the winery before the day begins and the first grapes arrive, then walk up to the Caseiro´s house where Dona Fatima, Arlindo’s wife, has laid out breakfast.  Bread, jam, coffee, and milk circulate around the table as we discuss the day´s proceedings (and overpriced footballers! – Porto played Dinamo Zagreb last night).

This afternoon at 3 o’clock we finished picking the last of the Tinta Barroca at Malvedos. As I predicted the Barroca yields were low this year, producing just 710g per vine (a remarkably tiny amount by any wine region’s standards).  However as a result the grapes have shown had remarkable concentration and flavour. I feel sure the Barroca lagares will produce some very structured, full bodied and concentrated Ports this year.  One is already made!

The pickers then moved to the Sibio vineyard, which adjoins Malvedos and was bought earlier this year.  The plantings at Sibio are a field blend of ‘Vinha Velha’ (old vines from the 1980s) which we are vinifying at the Malvedos winery for the first time this year.  Previously the grapes were bought in from the then-owner and vinified at neighbouring Quinta do Tua.

We fortified the first lagar of the Vintage today, a 100% Tinta Barroca lagar.  Paul came by with some visitors from the UK just as we were running it off – Paul was pleased with the fresh clean berry fruit of the must.

Today we had a slight problem with the scales and had to call in outside help to have it repaired.  Every delivery of grapes is carefully weighed before we begin the triage and vinification, so we can be sure of our yields per vine and begin to anticipate quantities of must and required aguardente.  I’m sure this breakdown can have nothing to do with weighing the winery team yesterday…


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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Tuesday 18 September

Quinta dos Malvedos Adega Team 2012

The weather was cool at 07:30 when I opened the winery although as the morning wore on it was clear that we would have another warm and sunny day of ideal Vintage weather.

We managed to fit our winery team 2012 onto the scale this morning, totalling 748 kilos!  Dona Sonia is a very good cook, God knows what they will weigh by the end of it…

The 27 pickers today ran through the rest of the Tinta Barroca in the Eastern part of the Quinta, picking a total of 11,524 Kg and filled the second lagar of Barroca.  This is just over 400Kg per person and is again an indicator of the slightly lower yields we are experiencing this year, as last year pickers were averaging slightly over 500 Kg per day each when picking the Barroca.  As Charles has mentioned before, the grape bunches are generally smaller than normal, hence the lower weight for the same amount of work.  The grapes continue to arrive at the winery looking healthy, however, and the second lagar is looking promising.

Cap plunging the first lagar of Tinta Barroca

The first lagar of Barroca finished treading early this morning at 01:00 hours and gave an excellent 14.05º Baumé. This is just what we need to be able to give the lagares a lot of work during fermentation and produce structured full bodied Ports.  By lunchtime the fermentation had begun in earnest, the cap had risen and we were able to begin cap plunging in order to extract yet more colour and flavour.

Fortunately we had no more breakdowns and everything ran smoothly in the winery today.  Dominic brought a group of visitors in the morning including Hermann Stockmann of Smart Wines in Germany and some of his colleagues.  They arrived in style at the winery, Dominic having treated them to a tour of the vineyards in authentic Harvest style:  in the lorry we use for transporting our picking team.

Tour of the vineyards in authentic Harvest style: in the pickers’ lorry
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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Monday 17 September

It was a lovely hot day at Malvedos today – ideal conditions to start the 2012 Vintage!

Picking began at Mavedos this morning with a team of 27 pickers led by the caseiro Arlindo. Following a tour of the vineyards with Charles it was decided that we would begin with the Tinta Barroca, as is the norm most years, because this is usually the first variety to reach maturity.  In the vineyards the grapes tasted sweet and flavoursome and the skins were soft, staining one’s fingers red when squeezed. The roga (picking team) began picking block 92 in the higher reaches in the eastern part of the Quinta.

The Barroca grapes were looking very healthy on arrival at the winery, although yields judging from today’s picking seem likely to be on the low side. 10,994 Kilos were picked today, just filling the first lagar which is now in its second hour of treading as I write. The colour is looking good at this early stage of treading which is always a good sign.

Harry and Tom Symington
David Fernandes, Mr Fix It, soldering the lagar

The winery team this year is delighted to welcome fifth generation Symingtons Harry, who will be with us for the duration, and Tom, who has joined us for the first week of the Vintage before going back to London to work for family-owned wine merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd for a stint.  More about each of them soon.

As usual the first day of the Vintage can be rather stressful and 2012 has been no exception.  Machinery which has been lying idle most of the year and is suddenly called on to work non-stop all day can be  prone to breaking down.  We had to call in David Fernandes, our Mr Fix It, who arrived in the afternoon to look at a small leak that had appeared in Lagar Nº1, solder a piece that had come loose on our selection carpet and fix a faulty pump.

However, a hearty lunch cooked by Dona Sonia in Tua is always enough to relieve the pressures of the first day.

In the afternoon we received the first of no doubt many visitors, a group of Dutch clients accompanied by Euan Mackay and Pedro Leite.  After viewing the modern lagars at Malvedos, they were on their way to do some good old fashioned foot treading in the granite lagares at Quinta do Vesuvio.

More Barroca tomorrow.

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First Day of Harvest at the Malvedos Winery

Tinta Barroca at Quinta dos MalvedosHenry Shotton and the winery team at Quinta dos Malvedos received the first grapes of the 2012 Harvest today at 10:00 – Tinta Barroca from parcels high on the eastern end of the quinta.  Henry Shotton’s winery report, to be published tomorrow and each morning of the harvest, will give further details of the grapes and winemaking.

Well before the first Barroca arrived, Charles stopped by the winery and he and Henry Shotton went on a tasting tour, looking ahead to decide which varieties and parcels will be picked next.  Charles’s plan right now is to finish the Barroca – which should be just two days’ work – and then harvest the grapes from what used to be Quinta do Sibio, an adjacent quinta which we purchased this summer and have added into Malvedos.  The parcels there are all old mixed variety plantings, and Charles estimates will take 4 to 5 days to pick.

Charles and Henry (back to the camera) tasting Touriga Nacional

After that, we may move on to the Malvedos Touriga Nacional.  As he and Henry Shotton tasted various parcels around the quinta, Charles noted distinct difference in ripeness and depth of flavour, and the picking order will be planned to leverage that.  He also commented on the fresh acidity of the grapes which is surprisingly good under these conditions and the fact that the colour is also developing well.

As he surveyed the vineyards around him, he also commented that south and southwest facing parcels, particularly of Touriga Nacional are starting to show signs of hydric stress, with the lowest line of leaves now turned brown and crisp in many areas, something which has happened just in the past week or so.  If this continues, he may have to re-think his picking order.

Back at the winery in between receiving grapes, Henry was busy unpacking the boxes brought up from Gaia with everything he needs for the harvest – including the same pad that was used last year to record every delivery of grapes.  There is still plenty plenty of paper left, and we have turned the page to begin the 2012 harvest.

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Harvesting at Quinta do Tua’s Old Vineyards

Picking grapes in the old walled vineyard at Graham’s Quinta do Tua

On Wednesday Graham’s started the harvest at Quinta do Tua with a small parcel, less than one hectare, of Tinta Amarela.  We then moved on to harvest some young Sousão on Wednesday and into Thursday, and Thursday and Friday we picked our vinhas velhas or old vines.

The majority of our vinhas velhas are in the spectacular old walled terraces which cover 3 hectares on the south-west facing butte of land where the Rio Tua runs into the Douro.  The stone walls are exceptional, even in the Douro, for being on average 1.5 metres thick, which tells us just how rocky this hillside was – obviously there was a lot of rock to dispose of, and using it in situ to build a thicker wall was easier than carrying it away.  The work to break out the stones and create the terraces and walls by hand in the late 19th century must have been extraordinary.

In such a large vineyard and with such thick walls, each wall has regular breaks where steps were built into half the thickness of the wall, and these are aligned to create a rustic but elegant stairway all the way up the hillside.

The vineyard is planted with a mixture of grape varieties, as was traditional in the Douro well into the 1970s, as a way for small farmers to hedge their bets:  if the weather in any given year was unfavourable for a few varieties, there were others that could produce well in those conditions, so the farmer could rely on having some crop, no matter what the climate.  In the mix are a few odd vines of grapes not suitable for Graham’s Ports, which the pickers set aside to enjoy if they get hungry!

Despite the stairways which make it easier for the pickers to move between terraces, this is a labour intensive vineyard to harvest.  We cannot get tractors in between the rows of vines which means the small crates used to collect the grapes must be distributed throughout the vineyard by hand, and then hand-carried back to a tractor waiting in the roadway to bring the grapes to the winery.  Each crate holds at most 20 to 22 kilos of grapes, so there is a lot of carrying back and forth.

The picking team has the weekend off, and on Monday Graham’s begins the harvest full on at Quinta dos Malvedos.  Henry Shotton, our winemaker since 2000, and the rest of the winery team will open the Malvedos adega, and we expect to begin picking Tinta Barroca at Malvedos on Monday.

After that, the picking team will go back and forth between Malvedos and Tua bringing in each variety as it reaches optimum ripeness for vinification at Malvedos.  Stay with us both here on the Blog and on the Graham’s Facebook page for updates throughout the harvest period.

The walled vineyard at Quinta do Tua extends over 3 hectares of south west facing hillside
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Graham’s 2012 Harvest Begins

Picking Tinta Amarela at Graham’s Quinta do Tua 8:00 am, just as the sun is coming over the mountain top behind us

The 2012 Port harvest began today, at Graham’s Quinta do Tua.  Our caseiro, Arlindo, arrived in the vineyard at 7:00 AM sharp with the picking team, and work began at a parcel of Tinta Amarela located just behind the old walled vineyards.

This is a young plantation and therefore just a little more vulnerable to the extraordinarily dry conditions this year, so the decision was made to harvest this Tinta Amarela and another plantation of young Sousão today and tomorrow.

Tinta Amarela Quinta do Tua
Ripe, slightly dehydrated and concentrated Tinta Amarela
Picking the Sousao at Graham’s Quinta do Tua

Alexandre Mariz, our viticulturist, stopped by to check on progress, confer with Arlindo on the paperwork for both the pickers and the grapes and wish the picking team well for the harvest season.  He said the grapes are showing a good baumé of 14.7º, and pointed out the slight dehydration, which looks like “washerwoman’s fingers”, which helps concentrate the flavour – the grapes did taste good!

By 10:00 the team had finished the Tinta Amarela and moved on to the Sousão.  We expect to spend just two days harvesting this week then take a break for the weekend, before we open the Malvedos winery and begin picking across all Graham’s quintas on Monday.

The weather is clear, warm and dry – a perfect start to the harvest.

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Ready to Start The Harvest At Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos

Charles tasting the grapes at Malvedos – the best way to plan a picking order

As Charles Symington, head winemaker for Graham’s, anticipated, the harvest looks set to start on the 17th of September, a pretty typical mid-month start.  A few small selected parcels of young grapes will be picked from Quinta do Tua on the 13th and then on Monday 17th September the Quinta dos Malvedos winery will open, picking will begin in earnest at Malvedos and Tua, and Henry Shotton and his team will start to make Graham’s 2012 Port wines.

Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, located in the Douro Superior, is also currently scheduled to start picking on the 17th, as is Quinta da Vila Velha, located just downriver from Malvedos.  When we spoke with Charles, he was in the Rio Torto Valley and about to visit Quinta das Lages to assess the situation there – typically the Rio Torto quintas start a bit later than the river quintas – and he also had plans to visit Vila Velha as he has a feeling some parcels there may be ready a little earlier – he will just have to taste the grapes and see.

As always, Charles will be constantly visiting and re-assessing the conditions of each of Graham’s vineyards and fine-tuning the picking schedule on a daily basis together with Henry Shotton and our viticulturist Alexandre Mariz, from now right through the end of harvest.  In other words:  this could all change tomorrow…

Condition of the Vineyards

Charles says the grapes has been maturing steadily, in just the way one always hopes they will – which actually comes as a bit of a surprise this year, given the extraordinarily dry conditions.  Our research enologist Steve Rogerson, who analyses the data from our laboratory during maturation studies, confirms the steady increase in quality, with phenolics, colour, acidity and sugars all improving steadily week over week.

After the past few weeks of personally walking through all our vineyards to taste the grapes and assess the conditions and timing for harvest, Charles added that he is now anticipating a slightly smaller than average crop, a modest revision from our mid summer forecast in July.

Touriga Franca at Quinta do Tua, 2 September

He also remarked that he has been quite impressed with the overall condition of the vineyards, saying that given how little rain we have had this year, the vines have “miraculously pulled through better than expected.”  Charles speculated that because the vines experienced a lack of water right from the start of the viticultural cycle last winter, they seem to have adapted to the conditions by forming fewer bunches than typical, and those bunches are smaller and composed of generally smaller berries.  Interestingly this seems to demonstrate exactly what his cousin Paul Symington was saying at the World Congress on Climate Change and Wine last year, when he spoke of how our Douro varieties are incredibly well adapted to survive in the hot, dry conditions of the region.

The weather the past week has been a bit hotter than we have been accustomed to this summer, which was perhaps not ideal, but we expect temperatures to drop again after this weekend and to revert to the slightly cooler than usual days and distinctly cooler nights which have been such a boon in this dry season.

When we asked about the weather outlook for the next two weeks, Charles just laughed and said the forecasts have been pretty nearly useless lately.  At this time of year, the weather in Portugal is often driven by what (quite literally) spins off from the Atlantic hurricane activity.  We have had relatively little backlash from those storm systems so far this year, and a few “promised” rain systems have after all not materialised.  Charles commented that so far his instincts have been more reliable than the forecasts!

Stay with us here on the Graham’s Blog for our intensive daily coverage of the harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos, and you may also want to follow The Vintage Port Site Blog, where we will be providing periodic updates on the harvest from all the Symington Port brands.

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