Quinta do Vesuvio & Dow’s Senhora da Ribeira 2015 Vintage Ports Declared

Quinta do Vesuvio (Left) & Senhora da Ribeira (Right). Photograph: Adriano Borges.
Quinta do Vesuvio (left) & Senhora da Ribeira (right). Photograph: Adriano Borges.
Following the declaration of the Cockburn’s 2015 Bicentenary Vintage Port and Graham’s 2015 Stone Terraces Vintage Port, Dow’s and Quinta do Vesuvio are the latest Port houses to make an annoucement.

Produced at two of the Douro Superior’s most remote vineyards, the Symington family is pleased to announce the declaration of the Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2015 Vintage Ports.

In the Douro Superior, the 2105 growing season was simultaneously the hottest and driest for 36 years, although (unusually for the Douro Superior) it had benefited from more spring rain than the other sub-regions of the Douro, putting the vines in a good place to withstand the intense heat.

Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira

At Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, the vintage began on the 8th of September, although the finest varieties, namely the Touriga Nacional from the east-facing Vinha Grande and the Touriga Franca from the south-facing Vinha da Pedreira, were only picked towards the end of the month in order to reap the benefit from the heaven-sent rain which fell on September 15th.

The best Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, combined with some Sousão, were fermented in the estates’ lagares to produce a Port with an exceptionally intense, purple-black color with deep complexity, fine tannins and balanced acidity.

Quinta do Vesuvio

At Quinta do Vesuvio, Touriga Nacional from the Vinha Nova and Raposa vineyards began to be picked from the 21st of September, followed by Touriga Franca from the Vale da Teja vineyards, a week later.

Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the only estates to still use traditional granite lagares, which were constructed in 1827, to make all the property’s Ports. During the 2015 vintage, 50 people tread grapes for up to three hours at the end of each day’s picking to create a Vintage Port that is exceptionally complex, concentrated and elegant.

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Portraits of the Douro
– António Júlio Vieira –

António Júlio Vieira. Douro.
António Júlio Vieira. Photograph: Adriano Ferreira Borges.
In this series we will interview the people that live, work and travel in the Douro Valley. This week, Adriano Ferreira Borges speaks to António Júlio Vieira.
AFB: Hello there. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?
António Júlia Vieira: My names is António Júlio Vieira, and I work for myself.

AFB: Are you from Foz Tua?
AJV: No, I’m from São Mamede de Ribatua (Alíjo).

António Júlio Vieira on the banks of the Douro. Photograph: Adriano Ferreira Borges.

AFB: Not too far away so! What sort of food do you like?
AJV: All that’s good (laughs), but only if your paying!

AFB: Ah go on, you must have a favourite!
AJV: I like diversity, and mostly greens. All sorts of greens!

AFB: And to wash it down? Do you have any connection with wine production in the region?
AJV: Well, I’ve always worked for myself. I worked in construction and built my own house and buildings, but I don’t do that anymore. My children don’t want houses! On the side I produce wine for myself, and sell what’s left to the co-op winery. 

AFB: How do you think the Douro will be in ten year’s time?
AJV: I think it won’t change too much. The elderly are already dying and the young don’t want to work!

AFB: What about the increase in tourism?
AJV: It’s true that its growing. And that’s a good thing, at least, as the region needs to make a bit of money somehow!

AFB: And what about yourself, do you ever go on holidays?
AJV: Me? That depends. I’ve gone to Madeira and to the Azores. And some years I’ve just stayed here.

AFB: Alright, thanks for talking to me.

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Graham’s Declares Stone Terraces 2015 Vintage Port

Stone terraces, quinta dos malvedos, graham's
The Stone Terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos
For the second time ever, Graham’s is declaring a Vintage Port made exclusively from the time-worn stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos. Read on for more information on the wine and its provenance.

The Stone Terraces vineyard at Malvedos comprises three adjacent parcels in a narrow curving valley; one faces north and is known as ‘Cardenhos’, whilst the other two, known as ‘Port Arthur’ (see here for a possible history of the name), face each other across the Síbio brook; one facing due east, the other due west. The fact that there is no south facing terraces proved to be of great benefit during the 2015 growing and maturation cycles, which were the driest and hottest of the last three decades.

Whilst most of the Malvedos vineyards, which have a predominantly southerly aspect, were subjected to challenging conditions, the Stone Terraces vineyards in their more sheltered positions were shielded from the excesses of the heat.

In 2015, the grapes were picked by hand over the weekend of the 12th/13th of September, a couple of days before substantial rain fell across the Douro Valley, and were subsequently fermented in lagares at Quinta dos Malvedos’ own small winery. Yields were incredibly low, at just 0.82 kg per vine, and several hours of treading over the following days delivered a magnificent wine with sublime violet aromas.

Tasting note (from cask samples in the Symington Family Estates’ tasting room):

A wine with a sublime floral essence reminiscent of bouquets of roses and violets – gorgeous. There is a discreet hint of toffee. The palate is opulent, whilst not overbearing, and reveals a mineral freshness and some peppery spice. Supremely refined, it is elegant and balanced.

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Cockburn’s Declares Bicentenary 2015 Vintage

Quinta dos Canais
Quinta dos Canais. Photograph: Adriano Ferreira Borges
Today, Cockburn’s announced the declaration of the 2015 Vintage, and as such the second Cockburn’s Vintage Port produced under Symington Family stewardship. Below, we recapitulate the viticultural year in Quinta dos Canais.

The Year in the Making

Rainfall marked the beginning of the viticultural year in October, replenishing water reserves that had been diminished during the preceding summer. In the months to come, these water reserves would prove crucial, as the winter of 2014/2015 and the spring that followed were very dry.  As such, the period between the start of the vegetative cycle and the initial stages of the ripening season was simultaneously the hottest and driest of the last 36 years.

Fortunately, in the Douro Superior (where Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais and Quinta do Vale Coelho are located) rain arrived as temperatures began to rise in May. This rain was of enormous benefit and helped sustain the vines throughout June and July, although, the temperature fell in July, and August was significantly colder than usual, offsetting some of the effects of drought. Coupled to this, cool August nights proved decisive in preserving the natural acidity in the berries, and in the run up to the vintage the vineyards were in good condition.

The Vintage

Although the grapes were in good condition in early September, phenolic development was still incomplete and signs of hydric stress were beginning to show. As such, when the vintage started in Quinta dos Canais on September 7th, the vulnerable younger vines were picked first in the hope that rain would soon arrive to allow the final ripening of the most valuable grapes.

Charles Symington noted: “We held back and on the morning of the 15th [of September] a massive storm hit the Douro which lasted until early next morning, the skies then cleared and temperatures dropped to ideal ripening conditions…perfect! The vines responded to this miraculous rain and within 4 days the Touriga Nacional was transformed, skins having softened and flavours developed. At Canais picking resumed on the 21st and the Nacional was in fantastic condition and a week later the pickers moved on to the Touriga Franca, which was considerably advanced and showing great promise, possibly the most promising Franca I have seen.”

The Wine

Unsurprisingly, Touriga Franca constitutes the largest component of the Cockburn’s 2015 Vintage Port, with 41% (compared with 30% in the 2011). It is followed by Touriga Nacional with 37%— this variety also excelled at Canais where it was sourced from the distinctive, mature 30 years Bico de Pato (duck’s bill) vineyard. Picked 8 days after the rain of the 15th, the perfectly ripe berries delivered just 0.96 Kg/vine, giving the wine its velvety tannins and incomparable finesse and elegance.

The superb Touriga Franca was sourced principally from Canais, and complemented by a smaller quantity from Vale Coelho. The balance of the blend was made up of old mixed vines (9%); Sousão (7%) and Alicante Bouschet (6%), the latter from Quinta do Cachão de Arnozelo, which contributed to the structure of the wine. A co-fermentation from Vale Coelho of old mixed vines, yielding just 0.36 Kg/vine, combined with Sousão and Touriga Franca added great concentration, freshness and grip to the wine.

Tasting Note

The resulting wine is focused and precise, with great vitality and purity of fruit. Exuding freshness, it springs out of the glass with aromas of fleshy, black plums, and eucalyptus and flavours of red cherries. Well-toned and muscular, Cockburn’s 2015 Vintage Port is full-flavoured with a typical Cockburn’s ‘grip’.

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Portraits of the Douro
– António Augusto Ribeiro –

António Augusto Ribeiro. Portraits of the Douro
António Augusto Ribeiro. Photo: Adriano Ferreira Borges.
In this series we will interview the people that live, work and travel in the Douro Valley. This week, Adriano Ferreira Borges speaks to António Augusto Ribeiro, Douro farmer and ardent Benfiquista.
AFB: Good morning! What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?
AAR: My name is António Augusto Ribeiro, and I’m a farmer.

AFB: Are you from around here?
AAR: I am indeed. I’m from Fiolhal (Carrazeda de Ansiães).

António Augusto Ribeiro and his van. Photo: Adriano Ferreira Borges.

AFB: Great! So you like living in the Douro I take it?
AAR: Definitely! It’s the best place in the country!

AFB: What’s your favourite food?
AAR: Feijoada à transmontana (this is a typical bean stew from the Trás-os-Montes region of Portugal).

AFB: Have you ever worked in wine production?
AAR: Yes, many years ago, it must be 40 now, I worked for Smithes (referring to John Smithes, the pioneering Cockburn’s winemaker known as the “cowboy of the Douro”). Then we used to carry the grapes on our backs. It was hard work I’ll tell you!

AFB: And do you think the Douro has changed much since then?
AAR: Or course. In the past, this was a difficult place to live and work, but now, with machinery it’s much easier.

AFB: In ten years, where do you see the Douro?
AAR: How should I know! Why don’t you go and ask António Costa (the prime minister) and Marcelo (the president)!

AFB: Good answer. I’ll leave you to it so!

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To New Beginnings

Sundial at Symington Family Estates Quinta do Vesuvio
Sundial, Quinta do Vesuvio. Photograph: Adriano Ferreira Borges

For the last eight years, the Graham’s blog has routinely and reliably provided information on the ebb and flow of the viticultural year in Quinta dos Malvedos, along with other reports and updates from the Douro Valley and Vila Nova de Gaia. To our great satisfaction, our content appealed to a wide audience, from wine critics and writers, to wine enthusiasts and everyone with an interest in the wines of Symington Family Estates, and what is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world.

As such, after almost 650 posts, it is with some apprehension that we have decided to stop updating Graham’s blog and replace it with this, the Symington Family Estates’ blog. Of course, the Graham’s blog will remain online for some time, after which its contents will be archived here for future reference

Here we will continue to publish the content for which the Graham’s blog was known; updates from the viticultural year in our Douro vineyards, the yearly harvest reports, and other assorted announcements from the Port trade. However, we also want to tell the stories of what are Symington Family Estate’s greatest assets, our wines, our quintas, and the people of the region.

Who knows what platforms we will use to share our stories a decade from now, but we do know that many of the wines we produce, such as Graham’s 2009 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port, the first of our wines whose production was chronicled online, will still be slowly ageing, as they have been for generations.

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Replanting the "Port Arthur" Stone Terraces and the Origin of the Name

Japanese soldiers assaulting the Port Arthur defences, with a detail of the Russian surrender. Kobayashi Kiyochika. Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Japanese soldiers assaulting the Port Arthur defences, with a detail of the Russian surrender. Kobayashi Kiyochika. Boston Museum of Fine Arts

This year the west facing slope of the iconic “Port Arthur” stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos has been replanted. It will take some three years until the stone terraces, now planted with Touriga Franca and Alicante Bouschet, will once again produce fruit of sufficient quality to be part of Graham’s Port.

In the meantime, the east facing side of the terraces has been producing excellent grapes and has been the source of some of the best Port ever produced in the quinta.

In the Douro Valley vines were traditionally planted on terraces supported by large dry stone walls known as socalcos. They serve to support the soil and to create a flat place to work, enabling the cultivation of the steep hillsides of the Douro region. It is for these stone walls, which demonstrate the level to which human activity has shaped and sculpted the natural beauty of the area, that the Douro Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

But why are the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos known as the “Port Arthur” terraces?

The hallmark of the iconic quinta, the concentric walls of the stone terraces, particularly evident on the west facing side, tower over the Douro River like a citadel. While these terraces are known as  “Port Arthur”, not everyone knows why.

The most likely answer is that they were named after the heavily fortified Chinese city of Port Arthur (now known as Lüshunkou or Lyushunkou District). Port Arthur was an important deep-water harbour for both military and trade, and from the end of the 19th into the 20th century was leased to Russia by China. As Russia’s only warm water port in the Pacific, control over it was essential, and the cities defences were bolstered by heavy fortifications and the presence of a garrison of 50,000 men and 506 pieces of artillery.

Im 1904 these defences would come under attack as Port Arthur became a fundamental point of contention in the Russo-Japanese War. The brutal Siege of Port Arthur (April 1904-January 1905), and the ensuing battles, saw the Japanese Third Army assault the concentric lines of defensive fortifications built on the three hills that protected the harbour. The siege and the battles that followed ultimately resulted in the the destruction of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the loss of Russian influence in the region, and increasing political unrest in Russia itself. This would have placed Port Arthur, and its colossal fortification very much in the public consciousness, and it is very likely where the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos got their name.



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