After what has been an extremely dry Spring, Portugal has been in the grip of a heatwave since early June. While high temperatures are normal at this time of year, the prolonged high temperatures, which have seen some areas reach temperatures in the low 40º’s, are deeply worrying due to the potential negative effects on vineyards and agriculture, and the threat of forest fire.
One must only look to the tragic events unfolding in Pedrógão Grande to understand the violent and devastating and tragic impact of wildfire. We have nothing but respect for the courage and determination shown by the firemen, emergency services, and armed forces, in helping to protect the lives of people and their property.
In the Douro Valley, Symington Family Estates’ weather station in Quinta do Ataide recorded temperatures of 43.7ºC on the 17th of June, and had three consecutive days with temperatures above 43. The thermometers in Quinta do Bomfim, in Pinhão, peaked at 42.1ºC, the highest temperature ever recorded in the estate since records began in 1957.
Fortunately, the weather forecast shows a slight decrease in these temperatures over the next few days.
During the release of a honey buzzard back to the wild at Quinta dos Malvedos, we spoke to Dr. João Tomás, of the Wild Birds Recovery Unit of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, about his life in the Douro and his passion for birds.
For more information on Wild Birds Recovery Unit visit their Facebook page, here (in Portuguese).
Adriano Ferreira Borges:Good morning. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living? João Tomás: Hello. My name is João Tomás and I’m a vet.
AFB:And where do you live? JT: At the moment in Vila Real, but originally, I’m from Batalha.
AFB:So, you’re not from the Douro then. Do you like it here? JT: Yes, of course! I came here to study in Vila Real, specifically, veterinary medicine in the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in 2008. When I finished my studies, I had the luck to be able to stay on in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) of the University Veterinary Hospital. However, I was born in the centre of Portugal, in Batalha, but now I think I am more than part Trásmontano (a person from Trás-os-Montes)… I like it in Vila Real, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but for now I like it here.
AFB:You said you worked in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit. Do you only work with birds, or do you also treat other animals? JT: We work with wild animals in general, including, wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Normally the animals that find their way to us are found injured on the street, and are brought to us by members of the public. We then try and figure out what’s wrong, and return them to their home in nature.
AFB:But you have a special relationship with birds, right? JT: Yes, since I was young I’ve been fascinated with them, something I inherited from my father who also loved to study them when he was young. In 2010, I volunteered in a recovery unit, and worked with a group of people passionate about birds, which made my interest grow even more. So now, a day doesn’t pass that I don’t look at a bird, and I don’t walk in the field with my binoculars to see what I can see. At this time, it is a passion and a hobby, and I hope in the future I can work in the area.
AFB:Did you ever work with wine? JT: To be honest, I never had much contact with it! I have a friend from secondary school whose family produce some wine, but just for their own consumption. And now that I think of it, I helped my uncle during the harvest when I was very young.
AFB:So, you have been living in the Douro nine years now, what changes have you noticed in this time? JT: Well, everything I like about it has stayed the same! The things that I can put my finger on are the more negative things, like the increase in forest fires in the summer, and this year even in the spring.
AFB:How do you imagine the Douro in ten years’ time? JT: In the last 10 or 15 years, the Douro has already changed for the better due to increased tourism and investment, something the region badly needed due to the desertification of the region in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that developments in the vineyards, and in winemaking are very positive for the local populations as it has created jobs and the opportunity for more companies to invest in the region. Tourism has also allowed new people to get to know this beautiful place.
AFB:So, you think tourism is a positive thing? JT: On one hand it is, due to what I said earlier. On the other, we must be careful, as we need to remember to preserve all living things, which need their own space. We need to protect what is already here.
AFB:Well, although you live in a beautiful place, you must go on holidays sometimes. Where do you go? JT: Good question! Basically, my holidays revolve around observing birds! I try and go to areas of the country that I know are inhabited by species of birds I haven’t seen before, and try to observe them.
AFB:That’s dedication! What sort of food do you like? JT: I like traditional Portuguese cooking, and principally my mother’s! AFB:Any favourite? JT: I love cozido á Portuguesa and posta Maronesa (steak maronesa)
AFB:Do you not mean to say Mirandesa (a breed of cow)? JT: No, no. The breed is Maronesa, from the Marão mountains, although now you find more of them in the Alvão.
AFB:I won’t argue with you! Thanks for talking to me. JT: You’re welcome!
As part of the anual Symington Family Estates’ sales and marketing meeting, the SFE team assembled eight bicycles that were donated to the Associação Protetora da Criança – Valadares(Association for the Protection of Children – Valadares).
The association, founded in Valadares (a parish of Vila Nova de Gaia) in 1953, aims to support disadvantaged children and young people on various levels, providing them with a stable environment within which to grow, both intellectually and emotionally.
Symington Family Estates is proud to support such a fine institution.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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’.
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).
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)!
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.
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.