NEW VINEYARD TERRACES TAKE SHAPE AT MALVEDOS

The surriba (terrain preparation) begun almost two months ago at the western extremity of Malvedos is making good progress. Men and machines are at work on the steep slopes expertly carving the terraces on which vines will be planted during February/March 2015. Due to the gradient of the terrain (50% inclines in some sections) these new terraces or patamares have a relatively narrow platform and their supporting earth walls have to be quite substantial in order to support the platforms adequately. Given their narrowness, each terrace will have only one row of vines planted, meaning lower plant density. Thus, adding to the very high cost of building the terraces and replanting vines in this unforgiving topography, one has to factor in lower production as well. Ultimately though, the return will come in the form of high quality grapes to make high quality wines.

The area being worked on amounts to 5.85 hectares (14.5 acres) and is part of the Síbio vineyard that was incorporated into Malvedos two years ago. Almost half of the terrain abuts onto a pronounced shoulder of land, which follows the sharp bend in the River Douro below and forms an east and southeast facing aspect, in visible contrast to the predominantly south facing aspect of Malvedos. This will influence the choice of grape varieties planted; according to Alexandre Mariz (the viticulturist in charge of Malvedos) these are likely to be Touriga Nacional on the east / southeast facing terraces and Touriga Franca on the south facing terraces (as a late ripening variety the Franca handles the extra heat well). Virtually the only other established east facing vineyard at Malvedos is the ‘Port Arthur’ traditional stone terraced vineyard whose grapes contributed to the outstanding Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port. It is hoped that the vines planted on this newly laid out vineyard will one day deliver grapes of similar quality.

The Douro has the largest area of mountain vineyard in the world and over the last couple of decades in particular, advanced techniques have been developed to best address the challenges posed in laying out vineyards in such intractable terrain. Laser technology is employed to ensure that the earth-banked terraces are constructed with the required slight inward and longitudinal cant (3%), which has a twofold purpose: water retention and combating erosion. This double cant of the terraces helps retain sufficient water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the soil whilst simultaneously allowing excess rainwater to drain off gradually without washing away the valuable topsoil or causing erosion, which — if left unchecked — can provoke the collapse of the terraces themselves. It’s very much about striking the right balance between the volumes of water one wants to retain and allow to drain away.

New Terraces Malvedos July 2014

The only other activity at Malvedos at this quiet stage of the year (from a viticultural perspective) is the ongoing rebuilding of sections of the old stone terraces at the main entrance to the property. As commented in previous reports, this undertaking has taken much longer than originally envisaged. In hindsight, this was to be expected because unlike the construction of patamares, the socalcos (stone terraces) have to be rebuilt in very much the same way they were originally built two centuries ago, i.e. entirely by hand. Furthermore, experienced stonemasons aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but fortunately for the preservation of the Douro landscape there is still a school in the region which continues to teach this age-old skill.

Weather wise, July has been an unusual month at Malvedos inasmuch as the rainfall for the first three weeks (18mm) was almost double the monthly average for the Quinta which is 10mm (July is the driest month of the year in the Upper Douro). Fortunately this part of the Douro Valley was spared the sudden deluge which hit some areas on July 3rd: 80mm fell in just one hour in parts of the Pinhão Valley and 26mm in the village of Pinhão; both locations just 8km downriver from Malvedos (where 5mm was recorded over the same period). This rainfall has proven a boon for Malvedos as the previous four months had registered well below average rain and there are no signs of hydric stress in the vines. August can be — and usually is — a make or break month for the grapes’ final ripening stage but Alexandre and the caretaker, Sr. Arlindo, feel this extra water in the soil (coupled with relatively cooler temperatures throughout the month, thus far) has provided the vines with good conditions to stay the course.

This time last year, Véraison (known locally as pintor) at Malvedos was running about a week late. This year and in step with the generally precocious 2013 – 2014 viticultural cycle, the pintor gave its first signs 10 days earlier than average at Malvedos and most of the grapes on the vines have now changed colour. The berries look very healthy with good even ripening of the grape bunches boding well for the next few weeks.

Malvedos Véraison "pintor" July 2014 Photos: Filipe Potes

 

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Memories come in many forms… Graham’s Ne Oublie Very Old Tawny Port

Three generations of the Symington Family (the custodians of Graham’s Port since 1970) have been launching Graham’s rare Ne Oublie Very Old Tawny Port: a wine dating from the time Andrew James Symington arrived in Portugal to work for Graham’s in 1882.

The wine was bought to commemorate the year of AJS’ arrival in Portugal and what would become the beginning of his family’s commitment to Port, the Douro and Portugal. This wine has become symbolic of the family’s legacy.

27 members of the Symingtons gathered at Christie’s in London for the official launch in the UK, followed a week later by the official event in the Graham’s 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia to reveal the wine in Portugal.

27 members of the Symington family at Christie's, London

Graham’s Ne Oublie has a touching story, which is told in every detail. The blood of three nations flows in the veins of the Symington family; so, it was only fitting that artisans from these three, Portugal, Scotland and England, should craft the packaging for this very rare, very special wine. The wine is bottled in an individually numbered, handmade crystal decanter designed by Portugal’s leading glass manufacturer Atlantis. Three sterling silver bands adorn the glass, moulded and engraved by Scottish silversmiths, Hayward & Stott and carrying the mark of the Edinburgh Assay office.

The leather case has been handmade by Smythson’s of Bond Street, luxury British leather craftsmen. This is a peculiarly apt expression of the family’s history, since Maurice Symington, grandfather of the current generation of directors, recorded his thoughts and experiences in leather diaries handmade by Frank Smythson himself.

When the small bottles of Ne Oublie were opened at Christie’s and at Graham’s Lodge to give journalists and fine wine merchants their first taste of this remarkable wine the whole room was filled with the wine’s complex perfumes.

Victoria Moore at The Telegraph described the experience:

“It’s an incredible piece of history… I could smell it a foot away from the glass, curling, intense, like bitter orange peel and caramelized clementines, then tasting rich with dried fruit and toasted almonds underneath it. Not like wine at all, really, but delicious. I was still enjoying the nose before I washed up this morning, emailed a friend who had poured a tiny glass the night before. That is some wine. And it will go on.”

After enduring over 130 hot summers first in the Douro and then in the cooler maritime climate of Vila Nova de Gaia on Portugal’s Atlantic coast this wine is something special.

Andrew Jefford in his article in World of Fine Wine captures this wine’s story:

“You simply can’t create complexity of this order in under a century or so, I suspect… There was a cleanliness and a precision about the wine, though, that was a testament to 130 years of exemplary stewardship… a synopsis of life and time.”

In their blog, Lea & Sandeman, ruminate on the impact that Ne Oublie might have: “As an exercise in shining a light on Port, Paul hopes this extravagant release will turn heads – and it certainly should, this is a fabulous, fascinating drink which illustrates brilliantly the remarkable potential and fascinating complexity achievable in this historic wine region.”

There is certainly a lot of excitement around this wine. Those present at these two launch events were privileged to witness the preview of a specially commissioned short film, directed by the Portuguese filmmaker Artur Serra Araújo, which you can see here. You can also read more information about the people and the stories behind this remarkable and rare treasure here.

The Symingtons have neatly summarised what this wine means to their family: Memories come in many forms; ours just happen to be in wine.

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