Here’s Your Chance

Great photo of the interior of the Lodge, taken by one of our Facebook friends, Adrian J Cassar Gheiti.

At Graham’s, we receive a lot of inquiries about working for us.  We don’t blame you – we think it’s an enviable job to work anywhere in the Port trade, whether in Gaia or the Douro, in the offices, the Lodge or the vineyards.

So… here’s your chance.  We are looking for guides to work at our Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia this summer. Though “only a summer job” (which in fact starts in March and runs into the autumn) it is an incredible opportunity – you will learn more about Port in this job than you could ever learn in most specialist wine courses, and you will have the opportunity to taste some extraordinary wines and visit our vineyards and wineries as part of your training.

Wonderful group who visited us from Turkey, with their guide, Herminio, on the left.

On the other hand, don’t underestimate the work of being on your feet all day helping our visitors – this is a demanding job.  You will be leading tours, ranging from one person to a couple dozen, through our lodge all day, explaining how and where our wines are made and about the people behind the wines, and when the tour of the lodge is complete you will serve port to our visitors.  You need to be able to do all of this, as well as answer lots of questions, in at least three different languages.  When you are successful, our visitors feel a real connection with Graham’s and continue their relationship with us long after their visit as a direct result of your ability to share your knowledge and enthusiasm.

Given the volume of applications, both already received and expected this month, we will only be able to respond to those which we wish to take further.  We are interviewing and making decisions this month, so don’t delay!  Please also understand, if you are not from the area, we cannot assist you with accomodation or other logistics – those arrangements are entirely up to you.

Gustavo Devesas, one of our veteran guides, after a particularly comprehensive tasting with a visitor group from Norway. Photo from one of our Facebook friends.

For more information about Graham’s Lodge and the Visitors’ Centre consult these sources:

The Graham’s Lodge website:

You will get a lot of insight to life at the Lodge from many of our blog and Facebook stories, but this particular blog article talks about the guides’ training as well as the visitor experience at the lodge:  Graham’s Port Lodge

Please read the job description and either stop by the Lodge with your CV or respond directly to the email below – using the usual symbols for the address (they are spelled out here to avoid spam).  Please do not use the blog comments fields to indicate your interest or the blogadmin email address, as it will only slow down your inquiry – go straight to Turismo with your questions and your CV.

Good luck!

Procuramos Guia para o Centro de visitas da Graham’s

O Centro de Visitas da Graham’s é uma óptima oportunidade para se ficar a conhecer mais sobre os Vinhos do Porto Graham’s e também sobre o Vinho do Porto em geral. Funciona nas caves Graham’s, construídas em 1890 com o objectivo de armazenar os vinhos da empresa e deixá-los a maturar nas melhores condições possíveis. Todos os anos recebemos cerca de 60.000 visitantes de várias nacionalidades. A função do Guia é receber estes visitantes, explicando a história da Graham’s e do vinho do porto.

Procuramos jovens do sexo femenino ou masculino com as seguintes características:

– Fluência em pelo menos 3 línguas
– Espírito de Equipa
– Discurso coerente e fluído
– Dinamismo
– Capacidade de Aprendizagem
– Licenciatura ou frequência universitária
– Disponibilidade horária

As entrevistas vão decorrer durante o mês de Janeiro para iniciar funções a partir do dia 14 de Março de 2011.

Se estiver interessado deve enviar o seu CV para turismo at symington dot com (usa simbolos em vez de palavras) ou entregar na Rua Rei Ramiro nº 514, 4400-281 V.Nova de Gaia.

Share this post

A Story and What It Took to Tell It

Faithful followers of Graham’s Facebook page, website, or the wine press generally will be aware that our Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 Vintage Port won the Port Trophy at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) in 2010.

Naturally, we are pleased when our ports receive recognition, but the IWSC Trophy is particularly significant, as the competition is based on both blind tastings and rigorous chemical and micro-biological analysis.  This trophy is a real tribute to everyone involved in making our ports to the highest quality every step of the way, in the vineyards, winery, laboratory, tasting room, cellar, and bottling plant.

Though the award was announced last year, the physical trophy itself – a beautiful custom-engraved glass pitcher – only arrived recently.  It’s not every day we actually get to see these kinds of things, so we agreed with Paul, we had to do something special with it.

Naturally, we thought of a blog post with a nice photo, couldn’t be easier.  Till we tried to take the photo.  If you have ever wondered about a day in the life of the wine blogger, here’s a good example of the highs and… other moments.

Paul, we tried, we really really tried, to do it justice.

Click on the first image to open it in a new page and then follow the story in the captions, using the hyperlinks at the bottom of each photo to move back and forth in the sequence.

Share this post

Cover Crops in the Vineyards

In his summer editions of the Douro Insider reports, Miles Edlmann occasionally alludes to the need to “mow the lawn” in Graham’s vineyards.  This may sound odd, but it is in fact one part of a very important and innovative system we have developed of using cover crops to manage the health of our vineyard environments.

There are several facets to the programme:  nutrition, disease and pest control, and water management, both conserving water in the dry summer months and managing drainage when we have heavy rains, usually in the winter.  Miles’s research into the effective selection and use of cover crops as a single solution to all these issues has made a significant difference in the quality of our vineyards.  This investment in research and the strategic application of our findings is one more factor which contributes to the outstanding quality of Graham’s Ports.

Nourishing the Vineyards

Look carefully, you can see the denser, darker clover at the far end of the row, and the change to grasses about half way down these vertical plantings at Vila Velha

The cover crops provide nutrients and improve soil quality for the vines in several ways over their lifecycle.  In a newly planted vineyard we use clover, which fixes nitrogen in the soil, to help the new vines get a healthy start.  When the crops are cut, the fallen plants form a natural mulch which ultimately decomposes and increases organic matter in the soil.

In mature vineyards we may mix clovers with grasses such as oats or ryegrass to either encourage or control the vigour of the nearby vines.  In the vertical vineyards particularly, where organic matter and nutrients tend to wash down the hillside, we plant clover at the top to nourish the vines in the poorer soil, and gradually introduce more vigorous grasses to the crop mix near the foot of the hill to compete with and thereby control the vigour of the vines at the nutrient-rich foot of the hill.

Cover crops also provide a little healthy competition for the vine roots in the upper soil, forcing young vines to reach even deeper than the grasses to find an adequate water supply, which is crucial for the vineyards’ long-term survival.

If you were a bee, wouldn't this be your idea of heaven?

Finally, the bees love the crops, particularly the clovers, and their presence in the vineyards is always desirable – not least because their hives give us the wonderful honey served at meals in our quintas!

Disease and Pest Control

Cover crops work in several ways to control both disease and pests in the vineyards.  First, by providing a distraction from the vines for potential pests:  in a chemically-managed vineyard weedkillers would be sprayed to prevent anything growing between or under the vines, particularly in the spring, during budburst.  This effectively left no food for hungry pests like the vine weevil except the young buds of the grapevines.  By planting cover crops we give the little darlings something else to eat, and lots of it, so they won’t go for the vines; also the crops provide a good habitat for the natural predators of the undesirable pests.

By sowing our own chosen cover crops, we can crowd out the growth of more pernicious weeds that would cause us greater trouble in the vineyards.  In this way we can minimise the use of herbicides, as our only other means of dealing with the really undesirable species is very time consuming manual weeding or cutting down.

Some viticulteurs argue to keep both under and between vine spaces clear of growth, lest the vegetation create a too-humid atmosphere that might encourage either oidio (powdery mildew) or mildio (downy mildew).  In general, we find this isn’t a concern – we do keep the under-vine space clear, and plant crops only between rows, which will be mown for the first time before they reach bunch or leaf-level of the vines.  Furthermore, the summer season – and the vegetation itself – is usually much too dry for this to be an issue in the Douro.

Water Management

In heavy December rains Miles admires the way the cover crops control the water flow in these vertical plantings

The cover crops are an incredible asset in aiding both drainage and water conservation.

When it rains, we want the water to soak into the soil rather than run off down a hillside.  The plants help accomplish this in several ways.  First, rain which falls and is caught and held in the grasses will course down the stalks of the plants and ultimately into the soil, where we want it.  Second, in heavy rains, the plantings form an obstacle course for any running water and slow it down, which gives it more time to soak in, and also minimises the erosion of topsoil and loss of organic matter in runoff from our vineyards, particularly any vertical plantatations.  Finally, the plant material  which was cut and left lying between rows as mulch acts as a sponge, soaking up water during the rains, and releasing it slowly afterwards, into the soil.

During the incredibly hot dry summers the cover crops, even when cut down and left between the vines, shade and hold humidity in the soil.  Our research has proven significantly lower soil temperatures and higher residual humidity where we have cover crops, which will help the vines cope with the summer drought conditions.  In addition the stubble impedes air movement at soil level, so the hot dry winds typical of mid-summer Douro afternoons cannot dry out the soil as rapidly as they do on barren hillsides.

All that in a blade of grass!

Share this post

Latest Releases: Graham’s LBV and Crusted Ports

Henry Shotton assessing the Graham's LBV 2006 in the tasting room in Gaia

You know that we at Graham’s are obsessed with quality, but this is never more clear than when we are tasting our ports just one last time before committing to bottle or release a new wine.

Typically a cask sample or bottle will be brought up from the Lodge to our tasting rooms for our head wine maker Charles Symington to review and discuss with the Sala de Prova (tasting room) team.  If he approves the quality and character of the wine, we go ahead with the commercial decisions to bottle wines presently in cask or to release bottles from storage at the Lodge into the marketplace.

Henry Shotton, whom our readers will know as the winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos during harvest, is officially the first after Charles to taste the wines and begin writing up the tasting notes, but mysteriously enough word goes out those bottles are open and available to taste, and nearly every member of the family as well as Marketing and Sales (and blogging!) teams finds their way to the tasting room to check out the wines for themselves!   Henry leaves his pad out for everyone to note down their impressions, and when the reviews are all in, he will draft the official technical tasting sheets which will be found on the Graham’s  website.

Graham’s 2006 LBV

Last week, we had a cask sample of Graham’s 2006 LBV available for final review.  The wine has been patiently ageing in immense wooden balseiros at our Lodge for nearly four years now, and the decision has been made to bottle this early in 2011.  Unofficially, this is really luscious.  Officially, the tasting notes are as follows:

Winemaker’s Comment on the 2006 Vintage

“While the last fermentations are ending at the time of writing, it is clear that there are some very fine tanks and casks of Port from the 2006 harvest amongst the total wine made this year. Overall it can be said that the average quality of wine made is reasonably good throughout the valley.”

Charles Symington, 16th October 2006

Graham’s 2006 Late Bottled Vintage has a dark, opaque ruby colour with a deep red rim. With a lovely complex nose packed with opulent and powerful aromas of freshly picked rich, dark, blackberries, black cherries and hints of chocolate. The palate has a velvety intensity and is backed with solid, structured, rich and intense black fruit flavours.

A racy and firm tannic structure leads to a long, sweet and immensely seductive finish.

Graham’s Crusted Port Bottled 2003

The crusted style of port is possibly one of the least understood.  Briefly, it is a blend of wines from two or possibly three harvest years which is aged two to three years in wood, then bottled without any fining or filtration, hence the name “crusted” as, after several years in bottle, a natural deposit will form.  Just as for vintage ports, the wine should be stored lying on its side, and when ready to serve, should stand upright for a few hours to allow the deposit to settle before the wine is decanted.  IVDP regulation only allows the year of bottling to feature on the label.  Regulation also requires the maker hold the wine in bottle at least three years before releasing to the market.  The wines will drink well upon release, but will age and develop in bottle very like a vintage port; in fact crusted port is an excellent value alternative to vintage.

In the case of Graham’s Crusted Port Bottled 2003, this was officially released last month, though another bottle was brought up from the Lodge last week together with the LBV sample and opened for everyone to check one more time!  Official tasting notes:

The crusted was opened in the morning, but was too cold from the cellar, we had to wait till the afternoon to taste it.

Deep ruby colour with a red rim.

At the time of writing (2010) Graham’s Crusted Port bottled 2003 has beautifully mellow and perfumed bottle age bouquet. Intense nose of crushed berries and red fruits such as cherries combine with freshly picked mint and eucalyptus notes.

On the palate suave flavours of ripe blackberries and hints of dark chocolate are lifted by silky tannins and a fresh acidity, leading to a long persistent finish.

Drinking well. But still room to develop.

We certainly enjoyed these wines in the tasting room and hope you will enjoy them on your tables soon.  When you do try them, please stop back and leave a comment for us here or on our Facebook page, we would love to hear from you.

Share this post

Drainage in the Douro Vineyards

Rainwater from vineyard terraces runs off in the roadside ditches as it should, though the drain needed to be dug out

Regular readers may recall Paul Symington’s article about the heavy rains last winter  and the damage they caused in our vineyards.  Whilst the climate in the port vineyards of the Douro is renowned for being dry, as much rain as we do get tends to occur almost entirely during the winter, so we are likely to receive a lot of rain in a short space of time.  Managing drainage when it does rain is critical for several reasons.

First, we want to encourage as much water as possible to soak deeply into the soil, rather than run off, in order to build the water supply for the roots of our vines to draw on during the summer months.  Second, we want any runoff to follow a path of our choosing, to avoid damage to the terraces and again to try to ultimately capture the water in some useful place.

Water collecting at the back of the terrace, as it should
The terraces are arched to encourage excess water to run off the ends

To accomplish these goals, the patamares (banked terraces) are carefully sculpted to direct the flow of water in a very distinct pattern.  The level terrace surface is in fact slightly sloped backwards, into the face of the hill, to encourage the water to accumulate in a place where it will ultimately soak into the vineyard soil.   Additionally, the length of the terrace is slightly arched, or  sometimes angled entirely to one end, so that any water that cannot soak in and needs to run off, will be led to the ends of the terrace, and from there into dug-out gutters that run along the sides of the vineyard roadways.  In strategic places we open up drains, where the water can empty off the roadway and into underground pipes.

On a recent rainy-day visit to Quinta da Cavadinha (the flagship quinta for our sister brand, Warre’s, in the Pinhão Valley) our research viticulturalist Miles Edlmann was very encouraged to see that although the patamares in the photos are still under construction, this water flow pattern is already in effect.

Above all, we do not want water to accumulate near, or cascade over the lip of any terrace – this is the most damaging possible scenario, as the soil quickly erodes under the rushing water, forming a deep cut in the face of the terrace.  In addition, if the talude, the bank, becomes saturated, that could undermine the stability of the entire terrace.  In the case of old walled terraces, this kind of accumulation or cascading is even worse.  Not only is it heartbreaking to see these beautiful old walls destroyed, but the UNESCO World Heritage status of the Douro Vineyards obliges us to repair the damage, naturally something we would rather not have to do.

Spring water runs clean from the pipe that leads it out of the hillside

Occasionally it isn’t just rain that causes trouble – after a bank collapsed two years running, we felt certain there was something more than the winter rainfall causing the trouble.  Sure enough, during the dry summer months we watched the hillside closely and found distinct wet patches in an otherwise dry landscape.  We dug down and discovered a spring inside the hill which was keeping the whole area saturated year round.  Ultimately we created a stone-filled soakaway space around the spring and installed drainage pipes to channel the water out of the hillside, so the bank could dry out and stabilise.  During our recent visit to Cavadinha the spring water was running out from that pipe almost crystal clear, as opposed to the rainwater runoff which was clouded with soil.

Miles was also pleased to see how the dense cover crops between vines in the vertical plantings were preventing runoff and erosion, but the many uses of cover crops is subject for another article.

Share this post

Olive Harvest at Malhadas

Are you wondering what we do up in the Douro all winter?  Whilst there is a lot of work going on in the Graham’s vineyards, which we will write about shortly, we also have another harvest we have to finish before year end:  the olives.

Graham’s quintas are typically only about 50% under vine, the balance of the land being either left wild or planted with olives and citrus.  When and where possible the olives are harvested and pressed at the local cooperative.  The resulting oil supplies the family, the quintas’ own tables, and the lunch room and kitchen at our offices in Gaia, year round.

Olives dripping rain at Cavadinha, 7 December

We thought you might be interested to see the olive harvest.  You may also be interested and amused to know what it took to get this story!  The first week I was due to go up and join Miles at Quinta da Vila Velha to see the start of harvest there, but Miles called to say it was postponed.  The local cooperative was shut down, waiting for parts for a broken bit of equipment,  and we have no capacity for holding the olives, we have to be able to take them directly to the cooperative after picking.  The second week, the cooperative was back in business, and Miles and I agreed I should come up on the Wednesday.  It wasn’t till around 5:00 AM that morning, as I was getting ready to catch the train up river, that it dawned on me it was the day of a general strike in Portugal, so there was no relying on the train service to run to the Douro.  The third week, I did succeed in getting up river by car with Miles as far as Cavadinha, the lead quinta for our sister brand, Warre’s.  Whilst checking out the state of the drainage in the heaving rain, Miles got the call that the olive harvesting that day at Vila Velha was being cancelled, due to the rain.  Finally, week 4, I gave up on reaching Vila Velha with Miles and went to Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, just beyond Vesúvio in the Douro Superior to – at last! – watch and photograph the olive harvest.

The wait was worth it – the day was spectacular, perfect harvest weather:  clear and sunny, albeit at around 10° C it was 15 to 25 degrees cooler than we are accustomed to for the grape harvest.

Follow the harvest in our photo gallery:  click on an image, which will open in a new blog page, then follow the links at the bottom of each photo back and forth through the series.  When you want to return to the blog, click on the post title at the top of the individual photo display page.

Share this post

Graham’s Ports and Chocolate

In a recent discussion about wine, someone said, by all means, drink the wine of a country with its unique food, but when you are having family food, comfort food – drink Portuguese wines.  For many of us, chocolate is the ultimate comfort food, and Port is certainly the ultimate Portuguese wine.  The combination is spectacular.

As with any food pairing, the key concept is matching the weight and intensity of the food with that of the wine.  With dark, intense chocolate flavours we suggest Graham’s Six Grapes, a Late Bottled Vintage or a younger, ripe-fruit-driven Vintage Port.  In fact, when we show these Ports we frequently provide a plain 70% chocolate to our guests.

At two food pairing events in England earlier this year restaurant owners, chefs and sommeliers tried several of our wines with a wide variety of foods.  There was no doubt at both venues that our Six Grapes wine was ideal with dark chocolate, in fact the ultimate favourite of one evening was the pairing of  Six Grapes and Mini Dark Chocolate Fondants.  Your blogger is (frequently!) partial to humble home made chocolate brownies – very dark intense ones – with Six Grapes.

The English tasting groups also enjoyed Quinta dos Malvedos 1998 with a Chocolate Praline dessert, and imagined that a chocolate paired with some kind of brambley flavour would also be good.

With that in mind, we did a little research recently, and made an intense chocolate torte which we served with fresh raspberries and Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage 1999.  The raspberry and chocolate combination together with the rich, plummy intensity and long luscious finish of the wine was out of this world.

Have you tried Ports with chocolates or chocolate desserts?  Will you be serving this combination during your holiday and end of year festivities?  We would love to have your comments and suggestions here, or if you have photos, please post them with your comments on our Facebook page (link in the margin).

Share this post

September and October 2010 Douro Insider

First day of harvest at Malvedos: late afternoon clouds and rumbles of thunder, but not a drop of rain

In retrospect it is hard to know what to make of the weather over the vintage period this year.  Almost certainly it is fair to say that some rain at the start of September might have been quite beneficial for ripening.  Probably if temperatures had also been a little cooler for the first two weeks of the month then the maturation of some varieties would have been improved.  But on the other hand, the forecasts leading up to the start of the harvest, and during the first few days of it, were extremely volatile and threatened all sorts of trouble which fortunately never materialised.  There was a whole series of tropical storms or hurricanes that basically brewed up around the Caribbean and proceeded to cross the Atlantic in a merry parade but, if and when they made landfall in Iberia, they no longer had enough energy to make it over the Marão.  In that respect, we were extremely lucky.  Full Report

Share this post

Graham’s at The Port Walk

Friday night Charles Symington was in London for one of his favourite events:  the Berry Brothers & Rudd Port Walk.  On the last Friday of November for some years now, BBR has invited Charles to co-host this event with Simon Field, BBR’s Port and Iberian wine buyer.

The evening is an extraordinary chance to taste 20 different ports, including examples of white, ruby and tawny, followed by, as Simon expressed it, an unashamed 15 different vintage ports from 1970 to 1998, including Graham’s and some of the other brands made by Symington Family Estates (SFE).

Charles tasted every wine on the table – both SFE’s and those made by our neighbours in Gaia and the Douro.  He was very pleased with how our wines were showing, and when asked his personal favourite, admitted to some fond memories of the Graham’s 1970, which was served at his own wedding as well as on several other memorable occasions.

In his remarks during the evening, Charles said he thought this format – an informal walkaround tasting of such a wide range of port styles and vintages – is an exceptional opportunity to learn which ports and what age of vintage you prefer.  Whilst it is traditional to drink aged vintage ports – anything upward of 20 years – many people find, on tasting, that they may prefer, or enjoy as well, younger vintages which are still full of rich ripe red and black fruit, rather than the mellower dried fruit or secondary flavours that characterise older ports.

In addition, Berry Bros provided canapés, so it was possible to try the different ports with such foods as game terrine, foie gras, Stilton and a chocolate brownie with chocolate mousse; again a great opportunity to test out personal preferences in combinations of tawny or vintage with different foods.

Graham’s wines on show included the 1994, 1980 and 1970 Vintages.  Additionally there were vintage ports from the SFE brands Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinta do Vesuvio, Smith Woodhouse and Gould Campbell.

If you would like to follow the tasting events at Berry Bros, or check the incredible range of ports available from their shop or mail order, consult their website is at

Share this post

The Vintage Port Academy Launches in Hong Kong

Euan Mackay explaining the unique Douro terroir

Earlier this month Euan Mackay, Graham’s Sales Director, was in Hong Kong to launch the Vintage Port Academy, which aims to promote the appreciation and understanding of Vintage Port.  The launch was marked by the biggest series of  Vintage Port events ever to be held in Asia, designed for press, wine trade professionals and consumers.  The Academy is a joint venture between Symington Family Estates, makers of Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s, and the Taylor-Fladgate Partnership, which produces Taylor’s, Croft and Fonseca ports.

Over the course of three days we held six different events including a press tasting and luncheon, a tasting of a range of vintage ports from 1977 to 2003 for our distributor’s VIP customers, two educational seminars aimed at young sommeliers and others just starting in the wine trade, a trade tasting and a consumer event on port and food pairing.  All events were fully subscribed.

Wines from all six houses were featured in vertical tasting flights of 2000, 2003 and 2007 Vintages at the press tasting event on 10 November at the Conrad Hotel in Hong Kong.  This was a unique opportunity to compare and contrast the house styles of the six producers, as well as to appreciate the unique character of each of these landmark vintage years.  Afterwards, the group enjoyed a lunch with featured two aged vintages:  Taylor’s 1963 and the Graham’s 1966 which was showing magnificently.

Really bringing home the message: a map and some schist

The Port Seminars were held at the Club Lusitano, one focussed solely on Vintage Ports and the other presenting the full range of Port styles.  Certificates were awarded for completion, and a test was administered at the conclusion of the general Port seminar.  The winner received a presentation case of one bottle of 2000 Vintage Port from each Graham’s, Warre’s Dow’s, Taylor’s, Fonseca and Croft.

Euan sharing this enthusiasm and knowledge at the food pairing event: Graham's Vintage 1994 and chocolate patisserie

Finally, there was a food pairing event at the restaurant La Loggia in central Hong Kong, which showed wines from both houses, including Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny with foie gras, a young Graham’s 1994 Vintage with dark chocolate,  a mature Taylor’s 1985 Vintage with blue cheese and Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny with smoked meat. Over 100 people turned up over the two hours, and thoroughly enjoyed the ports and taste sensations.

Our thanks to the organisers, Independent Wine Centre (IWC), who did a fantastic job setting up the events and keeping them all running smoothly throughout the three days.  We look forward to working with them again in 2011.    Watch their website for news of events in the new year:

The Port Academy was also featured in the Winebuzz blog, Hong Kong’s daily English-language wine blog covering the newest wines, stores, wine bars, tastings and more.  Take a look, there are some great photos:

Share this post