Tracking the Season – 23 May

The vertical vineyards at the western end of Quinta dos Malvedos
The vertical vineyards at the western end of Quinta dos Malvedos

Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua are looking absolutely beautiful, with the growth of the vines and the work in the vineyards both progressing steadily and well.

Since our last visit in late April the weather has continued a bit cooler than usual for this time of year, with days generally around 20º-23º C and cool nights.  We have had a few warmer days, but no sustained period of greater warmth, so the vines have continued to grow steadily but slowly.

There have been a few rain showers, but no really significant rainfall on any one day, though of course every drop is welcome.  Despite the heavy rains in early April and the odd shower since then, we have had no trouble so far this year with mildio.  Alexandre Mariz, our viticulturist, hesitates to be too optimistic yet, but we have been able to manage the timing of treatments versus the odd showers and so far, so good, the vines are healthy.

Before flowering yellow-tipped buds on the to-be grape bunches
Before flowering yellow-tipped buds on the to-be grape bunches
Flowering - each flower is as fine as a thread
Flowering – each flower is as fine as a thread
As flowering finishes, the husks fall away to reveal the 2013 grapes
As flowering finishes, the husks fall away to reveal the 2013 grapes

Altogether, the vines are developing steadily and well, though with the persistent cool temperatures (cool for the Douro!) Alexandre feels the viticultural cycle generally is running a week to 10 days behind normal.   Compare with our Tracking the Season post from 17 May 2012, when we had been enjoying temperatures in the mid 30ºs C!

Flowering is beginning and Alexandre showed me cachos (bunches) at each stage:

  • Just before flowering, when the tiny buds are fresh green and showing yellow at the tips,
  • Flowering when the delicate flowers – each no bigger than a thread – burst forth,
  • And after flowering, as the flowers die and the caliptras – the husks – fall from the bud to reveal the grape.

Calm, settled weather is important over the next week or more to ensure an even flowering, and the forecast is promising.  (If you want to see those photos more clearly, click on them to enlarge to full size, then use your browser back button to come back to the blog text.)

A range of jobs have been done or are ongoing in the vineyards, according to the age of each parcel.  The surriba (landscaping) of the high northwest parcel at Malvedos is complete and the area has been planted with Sousão and Touriga Nacional, which are settling in and putting forth their first leaves already.

At Quinta do Tua the vines planted last year are growing well, and a small stick has been affixed to the trellis for each and every vine, to help train the vines to grow straight upwards.  This will ensure healthier vines and also make our work in the vineyards easier for years to come, so we can pass down the rows without catching or damaging twisted or sprawling vine trunks.

Tucking the vines into the dual wires of the trellis
Tucking the vines into the dual wires of the trellis

The despampa – removal of extra shoots – is complete and we are now passing through all the more mature vineyards again to do the ampara – moving the shoots to grow in between the twin wires of the trellis.  This is another entirely manual process, but critical so machinery can pass through the vineyards without catching and damaging the vine shoots.  Additionally, it is an important part of our work of managing the canopy, the growth of vines and foliage, to strike a balance between providing adequate shade and protection to the grape bunches without being so dense as to encourage disease or pests.

Deep pink clover in the vertical vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos
Deep pink clover in the vertical vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos

At the western end of Malvedos the vertically planted vineyards have cover crops of bright dark pink clover which are an important part of the organic regime we are establishing there.  The clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, but also, when it is cut down in the next week or two, will provide much needed compost, keeping soil temperatures cooler, holding humidity in the soil, and finally as it decomposes it will add much needed organic matter to our Douro soil, which naturally is little more than ground rock dust.

Altogether a very busy, but very beautiful time of year at Quinta dos Malvedos, and the viticultural cycle seems off to a good start.

Newly planted vine - with spectacular view - at Quinta dos Malvedos.  I
Newly planted vine – with spectacular view – at Quinta dos Malvedos.
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Wine Critics Praise the 2011 Vintage Ports

Grahams_2011_LabelThe recently announced 2011 Vintage Port declaration has met with considerable interest in Portugal and overseas. At Graham’s, we are very proud of our wines and it is very encouraging to register the excitement the 2011 Vintage is generating. This week, Jancis Robinson MW , one of the world’s leading wine critics wrote, “…anyone with an interest in superbly made top-quality red wine worth ageing for decades should arguably turn their backs on Bordeaux 2012 and look instead at Port 2011…There is little doubt that 2011 produced some stunning vintage ports, into which more effort and skill has gone than any other previous vintage in the Douro. And I find it impossible to think of any other wine region, anywhere in the world, that produced better wines.” In her assessment of 31 different Vintage Ports, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port and Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port were among the highest ranked, deserving exceptionally high marks: 18.5/20 and 19/20, respectively.

In similar vein, Manuel Carvalho, writing in Portugal’s respected ‘Público’ newspaper on April 27th, described Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 as a “masterpiece”, going on to write: “For its exuberant aromas of fruit, mint and Douro shrubs, for its suggestions of black tea, for its intriguing spice notes, such is its complexity and richness. For its volume on the palate, the power of its tannins, which announce decades of longevity whilst at the same time combining with the acidity and fruit to render it immediately approachable.” His wine critic colleague — Pedro Garcias — was so impressed with the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port that he summed up as follows, “One simple adjective suffices to describe this Port: superb”. Furthermore he predicted that the 2011 Vintage has what it takes to aspire to a legendary status in the history of Port.

The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham's Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.
The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham’s Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.

2011 Vintage Port tasting, Graham’s Lodge, April 30th: The first showing of the 2011 Vintage Ports produced by the Symington family was on April 18th (scroll down to see previous post) in which Portuguese journalists were hosted by Paul and Charles Symington. The family decided to organize a second tasting, earlier this week in response to the enormous interest shown in Portugal following the declaration, barely two weeks ago. We will spare our followers repetition, but it is worth reproducing here some interesting, complementary aspects — recounted by Paul and Charles in both tastings — that weren’t touched on in the previous post.

Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
  • Paul Symington emphasized the importance that Vintage Port declarations play as personal and career-defining moments, just as they were for previous generations who are remembered very much for the Vintages that they made ‘on their watch’. Paul has been involved in 9 Vintage declarations and Charles in 5 declarations, thus far.
  • All the 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family were 100% from their own vineyards, a natural development given their sustained investment in vineyards since the late 1970s (vineyard acquisitions and vineyard replanting). With a total of 965 hectares (2,385 acres) of vineyards, dotted across the finest sub-regions of the Douro Valley and representing an incredible diversity of terroirs, the family has remarkable scope in selecting wines for their Vintage Ports.
  • For the first time in half a century (specifically since the 1963 vintage in the Douro) the Vintage Ports in 2011 were 100% vinified in lagares (shallow treading tanks) and this shows through in the superb quality displayed by all the 2011 wines.
  • A point not often explained but one that has a great bearing on the family’s capacity to consistently produce outstanding Vintage Ports is the tremendous benefit of owning and operating several small micro-wineries (referred to by some as ‘boutique’ wineries) with independent winemaking teams (coordinated by Charles Symington) whose sole objective is the production of the best possible Port. There is no loss of focus in the pursuit of this goal because they are not distracted by the requirement to make styles of Port other than those with the potential to be graded as Vintage Port.
  • Leading on from the above, Charles was also keen to stress the significance of the substantial investment made over the last 10 to 15 years in numerous small storage tanks at these specialist wineries. This allows each fermentation to be kept separate until such time as the winemakers and tasters decide how to best use them. Paul reinforced that the possibility of keeping such ‘diamonds in the rough’ separately is a key contributor in the making of exceptional Ports.
  • During this second tasting session, Charles and Paul made a bit of a joke about the distinction made between old vines and the others — when describing the provenance of grapes that contribute to Vintage Port blends. The fact is that when we refer to old vines, we really should say very old mixed vines (50 years+) because ‘the others’ are 25 to 30 years old and thus, by any standard, are themselves old, mature vines (planted in single varietal parcels during the early 1980s).
The line-up of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family
The lineup of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family

Following this second tasting which involved 13 different wines (the 5 components of the Graham’s 2011 Vintage + 8 Vintage Ports; two Graham wines; two Vesuvio wines and one each from Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Quinta de Roriz), the 15 guest tasters were invited to lunch at the new Vinum restaurant at Graham’s where the highlight was a lovely Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port, celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant
Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant
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