Vintage Update: Malvedos and Vale de Malhadas

The 'Port Arthur' vineyard (centre foreground) at Malvedos: Thursday morning, September 26th.
The ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard (centre foreground) at Malvedos: Thursday morning, September 26th.

The latest report from our Malvedos winemaker Henry Shotton:

Thursday 26th September

Weather

Night of Wednesday the 25th overcast but cool. Fortunately, the forecasted rain has not made an appearance.

On opening the winery on Thursday at 07:20 it felt refreshingly cool with a blue sky and some wisps of high white cloud. The promise of a warm day hung in the air.

Vineyard

The Malvedos grape pickers prepare to harvest the Port Arthur vineyard, one of Graham's The Stone Terraces two components.
The Malvedos grape pickers prepare to harvest the Port Arthur vineyard, one of Graham’s “The Stone Terraces” 2011 Vintage Port components (the other being from the Cardenhos vineyard).

Early today we picked perhaps some of our best looking Touriga Nacional; blocks 37 (the Cardenhos vineyard, just behind the house, facing North), and blocks 43 and 125 (the West-facing ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard). These vines are on the oldest (stone) terraces at the Quinta with just one row of vines on each terrace. They surround the house and it was from here that two years ago, almost to the day, we selected the grapes responsible for making the 2011 Graham’s ‘The ‘Stone Terraces’ Vintage Port, which has been very well received by customers and critics alike.

The Malvedos West-facing old stone terraces being harvested early Thursday morning.
The Malvedos East-facing old stone terraces (‘Port Arthur’) being harvested early on Thursday morning.

Winery

Our first lagar with the Tua Vinha Velha (from the first grapes picked during this harvest for Graham’s – on Monday the 23rd) was fortified yesterday during the afternoon.

Our cooling system broke down last night and we had to call Sr. David, our reliable handy man. Things often break down at the beginning of the vintage as all the machinery and equipment has not been in action since the last harvest. Luckily, as the weather has cooled no harm was done.

The first Touriga Nacional lagar (which we filled on Tuesday) was showing a deep almost purple colour with fresh, vibrant fermentation aromas and it was fortified at 3am this morning by the night shift — it comes with the territory, as they say…

'Weighing up' the visiting Portfolio team, which clocked in at 1,283 Kg - real heavyweights...
‘Weighing up’ the visiting Portfolio team, which clocked in at 1,283 Kg – real heavyweights…

“The Heavyweights” visit: Just before lunch, the team from Portfolio Vinhos, the Symington family’s own distribution company in Portugal, visited the Quinta and Henry showed them around the winery. He thought it would be fun to weigh them on the scale normally used for weighing incoming grapes. Their total weight was 1,283 Kg, the equivalent of a tractor load of grapes — a heavyweight team, without a doubt…

Friday 27th September

Rain clouds drift menacingly towards Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, early Friday morning.
Rain clouds drift menacingly towards Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, early Friday morning.

Yesterday during the evening, some ominously grey clouds began to appear, drifting in from the west, proof of the weather fronts, which have been gathering over the Atlantic Ocean for several days. Early this morning, some of us hopped across to Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, the Graham’s vineyard located furthest East in the Douro (Douro Superior sub-region), about 20km upriver from Malvedos as the crow flies. The caseiro, Sr. José Maria was marshalling his roga (team of pickers) as they harvested a 6 hectares (14.8 acres) block of Tinta Roriz grapes and another of mixed vines, both between 35 and 40 years old. We barely had time to exchange greetings when the heavily laden clouds presented us with a steady downpour, which sent everybody scattering for cover.

Picking an old mixed block (with primarily Tinta Roriz grapes) at Vale de Malhadas, just before the heavens opened...
Picking an old mixed block (with primarily Tinta Roriz grapes) at Vale de Malhadas, just before the heavens opened…

However, the shower  — although reasonably abundant — didn’t last for more than about 20 minutes, so there was no cause for alarm. In fact we’re very pleased with the appearance of the grapes, which looked well ripened and in very good condition. Some berries were promptly tasted and their lovely sweet and concentrated taste confirmed our positive impressions. Our viticulturist for Vale de Malhadas, Mário Natário, later confirmed that just 2mm of rain had fallen and that this had barely affected the grapes. For the next 3 to 4 days, Sr José Maria and his roga will continue to harvest primarily Tinta Roriz.

The Vale de Malhadas old winery, not currently in use (the grapes are vinfified at other Graham's quintas).
The Vale de Malhadas old winery, not currently in use (the grapes are vinfified at other Graham’s quintas).

As noted above, at Malvedos there was no rain last night, but when we arrived at the winery just before 8 this morning, the first drops began to fall and this was followed by a steady downpour which lasted perhaps half an hour. Intermittent showers followed and the afternoon, although quite overcast, was mainly dry. This is nothing compared to the rain that came down in buckets along the coast at Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The front progressed eastwards, but fortunately for us deposited most of its rain over the Marão – Montemuro mountains that shield the Douro Region from the brunt of the weather fronts that roll in from the Atlantic and effectively act as a weather barrier.

This is what the weather front looked like on Friday; fortunatelky most of its rain was deposited on the Marão Mountains (left, shrouded under thick cloud).
This is what the weather front looked like on Friday; fortunatelky most of its rain was deposited on the Marão Mountains (left, shrouded under thick cloud). The Marão range is the natural western border of the Douro region.

During the morning we were visited by Susan Smillie of the UK Guardian Newspaper. The previous day, Susan had visited the Graham’s 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia and enjoyed a “delicious” lunch (in her own words) in the VINUM restaurant there. As a Scot, Susan felt quite at home in the surroundings of the 1890 Lodge and at Quinta dos Malvedos, both of which of course reflect the entrepreneurial spirit and passion for winemaking of two Scottish familes: the Graham’s and the Symingtons.

Susan Smillie of the Guardian Newspaper visited Malvedos. Her interest in Port was reinforced by the time spent in Porto (1890 LOdge and VINUM restaurant) and in the Douro Valley.
Susan Smillie of the Guardian Newspaper visited Malvedos. Her interest in Port was reinforced by the time spent in Porto (1890 Lodge and VINUM restaurant) and in the Douro Valley. Here Henry explains the workings of the lagares: grape treading tanks.
A 35 year old vine (mixed block) at Vale de Malhadas, just before its grape bunches were picked.
A 35 year old vine (mixed block) at Vale de Malhadas, just before its grape bunches were picked.

Henry showed Susan around the Malvedos winery and she was fascinated by the lagares which she was able to compare with the stone lagares that she had seen the night before at Graham’s sister vineyard of Quinta do Vesúvio.

Due to this morning’s rain, Charles consulted with Henry and decided to make a slight alteration to the picking order and this may change again tomorrow, depending on how the weather works out. Flexibility is key. Although some further rainfall is forecast for the next few days it’s unlikely to be abundant and for the time being it’s therefore very much business as usual.

The small North-facing Cardenhos vineyard (located just behind the house at Malvedos), about to be harvested, early Thursday morning.
The small North-facing Cardenhos vineyard (located just behind the house at Malvedos), about to be harvested, early Thursday morning.
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Winemaker’s Update: Vintage at Malvedos — day 2 and 3

Some clouds during the morning dissipated and the afternoon was bright and mostly clear at Malvedos.
September 24th: Some clouds during the morning dissipated and the afternoon was bright and mostly clear at Malvedos.

Henry Shotton, winemaker at Malvedos informs:

Tuesday 24th September 

Vineyard

Sr. Arlindo with a team of 25 pickers began (under pleasantly cool conditions) at 7 in the morning on the Malvedos Touriga Nacional (TN), which will keep us busy for at least the next three days. They started with blocks 75, 76 and 77 planted in 2000, whose grapes tasted perfectly ripe and had soft skins when Charles and I did the rounds of the TN blocks yesterday. They then moved on to two older blocks planted in 2000 – 97 and 88 – situated on the Eastern part of the Quinta which will fill the first lagar of TN that will be trodden tonight.

Some of the very first bunches of splendid looking Touriga Nacional grapes reached the winery early morning on Tuesday.
Some of the very first bunches of splendid looking Touriga Nacional grapes reached the winery early morning on Tuesday.

Winery

The Vinha Velha (very old mixed vines) and Tinta Amarela (TA) lagar from Tua was trodden last night for four hours and gave an excellent 14.55º Baumé. Despite a full complement of pickers the lagar was a little short, just 8,363 Kg (normally 11,500 to 12,000 per day); this being primarily due to the very low yields of the Vinha Velha. Although a lot of ground was covered, fewer than normal grapes were picked.

Henry welcomes visiting members of the Algarve Wine Society to give them a tour of the winery.
Henry welcomes visiting members of the Algarve Wine Society to give them a tour of the winery.

During the day we received a visit from the Algarve Wine Society (mainly expatriate retired Brits) and they were shown around the winery. Soon after their arrival the Autoridade Para As Condições Do Trabalho (a UK equivalent would be The Health and Safety Executive) made a typically unannounced visit in search of any illegalities among the pickers and winery staff. Not exactly what we needed when we are trying to make the best possible Port wines.

Unexpected visitors at the Malvedos winery on Tuesday: health and safety inspectors, complete with armed escort (left)...
Unexpected visitors at the Malvedos winery on Tuesday: health and safety inspectors, complete with armed escort (left)…

Of course all the paperwork was in order, although our guests from the Algarve Wine Society were quite puzzled by the inspectors’ armed police escort…Even Jackie Thurn-Valsassina, our Australian PR and Events Manager had to produce her passport as proof of identity. Her Aussie humour soon had everybody smiling and relaxing with a glass of Port (health and safety inspectors included).

Puzzled members of the Algarve Wine Society: "are we going to see wine being made or an arrest being made...?"
Puzzled members of the Algarve Wine Society: “are we going to see wine being made or an arrest being made…!?”

Wednesday 25th September

Weather

Night of the 24th was very overcast and muggy, however ­ — to our relief — no rain fell at Malvedos.

Morning of the 25th: 07h30 – pleasantly cool morning. Dark clouds have gone and lots of blue sky in sight.

Vineyard

Arlindo and his team continue harvesting at Malvedos. Today we picked the 3rd lagar of the vintage – a blend of TN (block 16 – one of our best with 7,766 vines planted in 1987) together with two blocks of Tinta Amarela: 61 (1984) and 62 (2005). We have co-fermented (i.e. in the same lagar) these two varieties in previous vintages where the structure of the TN is very well complemented by the lifted aromatics of the TA.

Winery

Now two full fermenting lagares progressing well and filling the 3rd today. We expect our first fortification this evening after dinner. The second lagar of the vintage (100% Touriga Nacional) delivered a very satisfactory 14.25º Baumé.

The second lagar (first 100% Touriga Nacional Lagar) of this vintage. The colour is great and the Baumé is excellent at 14.25º.
The second lagar of the vintage (but the first 100% Touriga Nacional lagar), which we began to tread yesterday. The colour displays the depth and intensity we expected and the Baumé is excellent at 14.25º.
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The 2013 Vintage Starts at Quinta dos Malvedos

The team in charge of the Malvedos winery; Henry Shotton, Alexandre Mariz and Charles Symington
The team in charge of the Malvedos winery; Henry Shotton, Alexandre Mariz and Charles Symington

Just a little before 7am this morning, under clear skies, Sr Arlindo and his 27 strong team of pickers began to harvest the first grapes for Graham’s at Quinta do Tua; like Malvedos a Graham’s vineyard, just a stone’s throw away from the latter. The sun hadn’t yet risen over the crest of the hills (remember we are in the world’s largest mountain vineyard) and the temperature was a pleasant 16ºC, very welcome to the pickers who later in the day had to face temperatures a little over 30ºC. We started by picking the very old mixed vines (60 years+) on the imposing stone walled terraces (hand built by legions of workers during the 19th century). Yields are very low but the quality of the grapes is superb and not surprisingly the energetic roga (team of pickers) completed the picking of this old vineyard in just under two and a half hours. Then it was time for a well deserved short pause to enjoy the almoço, a nourishing second breakfast to recharge batteries and return to the picking; next in the order of the day was the Tinta Amarela parcel, planted at Tua in 2008.

Our guests from our newly appointed distributor in Belgium: "The Nectar", enjoy a well deserved glass of chilled Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny on the charming grass terrace at Malvedos
Guests from our newly appointed distributor in Belgium: “The Nectar”, enjoy a well deserved glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny on the charming grass terrace at Malvedos.

Some visitors from our recently appointed distributor in Belgium (“The Nectar”), who had spent the night at Malvedos, were keen to witness the first grapes being harvested in the beautiful Tua vineyard. After braving the steep climb up to the parcel where the pickers were at work, they were rewarded with commanding views over the remarkable stone terraces and the Douro River. Worn out by their trekking up and down the Tua terraces they were rewarded on their return to Malvedos by a delicious glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port.

The very first grapes of the 2013 harvest arrive at the Malvedos winery.
The very first grapes of the 2013 harvest arrive at the Malvedos winery.
The grapes are hand-sorted on a conveyor.
The grapes are hand-sorted on a conveyor.

The freshly picked grapes arrived at the Malvedos winery at around 9:30 am and Henry Shotton, resident winemaker (his 14th vintage at Malvedos), and his team selected the grapes by hand on a sorting conveyor, prior to feeding them through the crusher and conveying them into one of the three lagares housed in the small, original 19th century winery building. A sample of freshly pressed juice was collected by Fonseca, known to all as ‘the Fonz’ to obtain the baumé reading (sugar level), which showed a most satisfactory 14.35. The Tinta Amarela, which followed was a fraction above at 14.4.

Shortly after, Paul Symington arrived and showed a visiting International Herald & Tribune journalist, Patrick Blum, around the winery, explaining the workings of the lagares where the grapes are trodden and which since their installation in time for the 2000 harvest have turned out such remarkable Graham’s Vintage Ports as the 2000, 2003, 2007 and the much acclaimed 2011 (as well as other Graham’s premium Ports, amongst which the Malvedos Vintages, Six Grapes Reserve and the Late Bottled Vintage Ports).

Charles indicates the picking order for the next few days as Alexandre and Henry look on.
Charles indicates the picking order for the next few days as Alexandre and Henry look on.
The pickers enjoy a supplemental breakfast to recharge batteries for the rest of the day's picking.
The pickers enjoy a supplemental breakfast to recharge batteries for the rest of the day’s picking.

As outside temperatures rose, so did the tempo of activity with the arrival of Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker who was making the first of his regular visits to discuss the morning’s progress and to drive around the property with Henry to carry out a sequence of on-site grape sampling checks so as to confirm the pre-established picking order of each grape variety from the many parcels which make up the Malvedos vineyard. In the event, Charles decided to make a few switches, principally because the constantly changing weather forecast is indicating some possible rainfall on Thursday and Friday, which could place under some risk our finest grapes, namely the Touriga Nacional (22% of the Malvedos vineyard). Accordingly, these valuable grapes, which show all the signs of producing some very good wines, will be harvested over the next three days (24th — 26th), almost to the exclusion of all others. Normally, the Tinta Barroca would be picked first but Charles is keen to safeguard the promising Touriga Nacional crop. On Thursday, the ‘Port Arthur’ and Vinhas das Cardenhas vineyards (from which the Graham’s 2011 The Stone Terraces Vintage Port was made) will also be harvested, as they contain a high proportion of Touriga Nacional grapes.

Sr Arlindo, the Malvedos farm manager ('caseiro') organizes his pickers on the old stone terraces at Quinta do Tua.
Sr Arlindo, the Malvedos farm manager (‘caseiro’) organizes his pickers on the old stone terraces at Quinta do Tua.

In the next few weeks, Charles will criss-cross the Douro Valley several times, making regular visits to the five Graham’s Quintas (Malvedos, Tua, Vila Velha, Vale de Malhadas and Lages) as well as to the other vineyards owned by his family and which supply Graham’s sister companies. Charles will literally cover thousands of miles in the coming weeks as he leads his team of dedicated winemakers and coordinates the vintage which this year involves a team of nearly 1000 people. No mean feat…

Picking the first Tinta Amarela grapes of the Graham's Port harvest at Quinta do Tua.
Picking the first Tinta Amarela grapes of the Graham’s Port harvest at Quinta do Tua.
7:30 am high up on the old stone terraces at Tua, picking grapes from vines that are over 60 years old.
7:30 am high up on the old stone terraces at Tua, picking grapes from vines that are over 60 years old.
Fonseca, one of Henry's trusted winery hands collects a sample of juice from the first lagar being filled this morning.
Fonseca, one of Henry’s trusted winery hands collects a sample of juice from the first lagar being filled this morning.
Tiago and Carlos unload the trays of grapes as Juca prepares to tip them onto the sorting table, or conveyor.
Tiago and Carlos unload the shallow grape containers as Juca prepares to tip them onto the sorting table/conveyor.
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The 2013 Harvest will Begin for Graham’s on Monday, September 23rd

Quinta dos Malvedos (left foreground and centre) and Quinta do Tua (left background) photographed hours after the timely rain that fell on September 5th.
Quinta dos Malvedos (left foreground and centre) and Quinta do Tua (left background) photographed hours after the timely rain that fell on September 5th.

The vintage (grape harvest) at the Graham’s Upper Douro Valley vineyards will commence early Monday morning, September 23rd. The harvest is quite late this year; normally we begin picking grapes at Malvedos and neighbouring Tua around mid-September. Last year we commenced harvesting at Tua on September 12th and just a few days later at Malvedos, so this year we are about 10 days behind schedule. Following three months of drought (not a single drop of rain fell during the whole of August), a heaven-sent 14mm of rain came down over Malvedos during the night of September 5th. Some initial reports had indicated 10mm, but we have since received confirmation that it was in fact 14mm of precipitation.

The rain fell gradually over several hours — just right for it to seep gradually into the parched soil. No further rainfall has been recorded during September and whilst our viticulture and winemaking team would have hoped for just a little more rain there is no doubt that the rain of early September was providential and has made a very positive  (perhaps decisive, even) contribution to the quality of the grapes.

Charles Symington — Graham’s head winemaker —  decided to put back the vintage starting date, partly because maturation was running a little late anyway (owing to an unseasonably cool spring) but also to allow the rain of early September to work its full benefit into the thirsty grapes. Charles has determined with resident winemaker, Henry Shotton, the initial picking order and Sr. Arlindo, the Malvedos caseiro (farm manager) knows he will take his roga (grape pickers) to Tua at the crack of dawn on Monday, where they will start harvesting the very old mixed vines on the west-facing 19th century sturdy stone terraces. They will be followed by the old mixed vines in the Síbio parcels, inside the Malvedos property. Charles tells us that the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca grapes are looking particularly fine at this stage. The Touriga Franca is a late-ripening variety and is thus thriving in the current ongoing dry, sunny conditions.

The old stone terraced vineyard (background left) at Tua will be the first Graham's grapes picked at this harvest.
The old stone terraced vineyard (background left) at Tua will provide the first grapes from a Graham’s Quinta at this harvest.

Charles is very upbeat about prospects for this year and told us,  The crop size looks to be average in size and the grapes are in excellent condition, with little or no raisining. Maturations are unusually homogenous within the same block, sugar readings and colour also being very balanced in development, i.e. when sugar levels reach the desired level colour should also be at ideal levels. This is very good news and is not the more usual pattern at this stage of high baumés with little colour. We currently also have very good acidity levels.” He added that it’s always a risky business delaying the vintage as far as we have, as it makes us more vulnerable to the weather, but it’s a risk worth taking as the rewards may well prove bountiful.

As in previous years, Henry Shotton and other members of the team will be providing regular in situ reports from the Quinta dos Malvedos winery and vineyard as well as from the other Graham vineyards (Tua, Vale de Malhadas, Vila Velha and Lages), in order to keep you abreast of progress throughout the vintage. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for clear blue skies to harvest all of our crop under ideal conditions (although the odd sprinkling of rain would not be amiss).

Malvedos, viewed from Sibio whose old mixed vineyards will be picked straight after the old Tua vineyard.
Malvedos, viewed from Síbio whose old mixed vineyards will be picked straight after the old Tua vineyard.
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Tracking the Season – August 30th

Quinta dos Malvedos: the house perched on the characteristic ridge.
Quinta dos Malvedos: the house perched on the characteristic ridge, with commanding views of the Douro River.

By 11 am on Friday morning, August 30th, the temperature had already reached 33ºC at Malvedos. Although we had abundant rainfall in the Douro over the first few months of the viticultural year (i.e. from November 2012 to April 2013), precipitation levels began to fall sharply from May. At Malvedos, just 3.5mm of rain was recorded during the whole month of June, 4mm during July and not a single drop in August, well below average for all three months.

A small birds nest, nestling among the vines at Tua; a testament to Graham's policy of sustainable viticulture.
A small bird’s nest, nestling among the vines at Tua; a testament to Graham’s policy of sustainable viticulture.

To further complicate matters, air temperatures since the summer solstice and over the last two months in particular, have been rising steadily, with Malvedos registering an average daytime temperature of 28ºC during the month of July and 27.7ºC during August, in both cases that is approximately 3ºC above the mean. Also significant were the maximum daytime temperatures recorded at Malvedos, a sweltering 42.3ºC (July) and 42.6ºC (August); for those readers who think in Fahrenheit ­— that’s 107 degrees…

The Portuguese Meteorological Office advised that the heat wave registered between the 3rd and 13th of July, which affected the whole of the country, but particularly its north-eastern corner (where the Cima Corgo and Douro Superior sub-regions are located), was the “most significant” (a euphemism for ‘severe’) observed since July of 1941 (July 2006 also came close).

Alexandre samples a Touriga Nacional berry at Quinta do Tua, August 30th
Alexandre samples a Touriga Nacional berry at Quinta do Tua, August 30th. He will do this almost daily to monitor the grapes’ final ripening stage leading up to the vintage.

Our vines have therefore been subjected to a double onslaught of hydric stress and thermal stress and they have had to ‘batten down the hatches’ to withstand these challenging conditions and thus far they have done this incredibly well. The accumulated water reserves (from the winter/spring rainfall) have made a real difference and our older vines (with more developed root systems that go deeper into the soil) have fared very well. Whereas the younger vines with their shorter roots, have struggled to tap into the moisture, which inevitably retreats lower down into the schist soil as the drought has depleted the water reserves.

Note how it is the lower layers of leaves that the vines sacrifice first, when subjected to hydric and thermal stress.
Note how it is the lower layers of leaves that the vines sacrifice first, when subjected to hydric and thermal stress.
Touriga Nacional grapes at Quinta do Tua: note the small size of both the bunch and the berries - a sure sign of quality.
Touriga Nacional grapes at Quinta do Tua: note the small size of both the bunch and the berries – a sure sign of quality.

As the Malvedos viticulturist, Alexandre Mariz pointed out, however, it is quite remarkable how well adapted these hardy vines are to their tough environment; the grape clusters and berries are looking well formed and healthy. The size of both the grape bunches and the berries is quite small, a telltale sign of quality (concentration as opposed to volume). Despite the difficulties, the vines at both Malvedos and Tua are looking very healthy, the only signs betraying the lack of rain and high temperatures being the parched brown vine leaves along the lower sections of the plants, with some of them already falling off the vines. This is one of the vines’ self-defence mechanisms when faced with such trying conditions; the vine sacrifices part of its leaves to lessen the pressure on the plant, which has less water to continue the maturation cycle. It is the lower leaves that are shed, partly because they are closest to the hot soil surface, which radiates heat back up towards the vine but also because the vine preserves the mid and top layers of leaves in order to provide the all important shade that the grape bunches require to shelter them from the fierce sunshine.

Despite the drought of the last three months, Quinta dos Malvedos displays verdant vegetation.
Despite the drought of the last three months, Quinta dos Malvedos displays verdant vegetation.

Stop press: on Thursday morning, September 5th, when this post was about to be published we awoke to a real surprise at Quinta dos Malvedos; during the middle of the night, a thunderstorm rolled in and delivered a bounty of rain: about 10mm, which came down steadily over around three hours, according to our caseiro (farm manager), Senhor Arlindo, who was woken up by the thunder and witnessed the downpour. Dominic Symington who was at Malvedos entertaining some Russian guests from our importer there, had a broad smile of contentment. He was later joined at the Quinta by Charles Symington, our head winemaker, and he too was all smiles. Charles is in no doubt that this welcome rain has made a real difference and that the final stretch of ripening has been given just the fillip we were praying for. We still do not have a firm starting date for the harvest but Charles says it will be later than usual (up to 10 days) and will probably start during the third week of September.

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Graham’s Provides New Ambulance for Douro Fire Service

The Symington family, owners of Graham’s, have the largest vineyard holding in the Douro Valley with a total of 965 hectares (2,385 acres) under vine; the five Graham’s quintas alone comprising 257 hectares (635 acres). These vineyards enable the family to meet most of their requirements (100% for Vintage and other premium Ports), although further grapes are bought in from a large number of small independent growers throughout the region. In this way, Graham’s and the Symington family are major contributors to the economic fabric of the Douro, which is heavily reliant on wine production for its livelihood.

The family’s social responsibility extends beyond this and over the years it has made donations to local fire brigades in the form of new ambulances to help provide adequate medical coverage for local populations. On Saturday, 31st August, on behalf of all Symington family members and their employees, Paul Symington handed over to the Régua Fire Brigade Chief a new ambulance to serve the local community. This is the 6th ambulance donated in as many years by the family to several Douro fire services.

Paul Symington (centre) hands the new ambulance over the the Regua Fire Chief (on his right).
Paul Symington (centre) hands the new ambulance over to the Régua Fire Chief (on his right).

 It is particularly apt that this ceremony took place at this time, as Portugal has suffered one of its worst ever summers of forest fires; large parts of the country have been covered in smoke with as many as 250 fires recorded simultaneously on one occasion. Special fire-fighting planes were flown in from Spain and France and even from as far afield as Croatia to assist in fighting the flames. Sadly though, 5 volunteer firemen, including two young women in their early twenties have lost their lives and over 40,000 hectares of woodland have burnt in the month of August alone (more than in the whole of 2008 which was the worst year in recent history for forest fires). In fact as the ambulance was being handed over, many of the Régua firefighters were out tackling yet another fire.

Paul and Dominic Symington accompanied by several Graham's employees who witnessed the handing over of the new ambulance.
Paul and Dominic Symington accompanied by several Graham’s employees who witnessed the handing over of the new ambulance to the Régua Fire Brigade.

In years to come, it is the Symington family’s intention to continue providing ongoing support to the Douro Fire Services, which contribute so many essential services in the Douro. Living and working in the region ourselves helps us to better understand the needs of the community.

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