Malvedos Wrap-up for Saturday 25 Sep

Another heavy night for Fonseca and Carlos only this time it wasn’t a false alarm. One lagar was run off at 0130 and the other at 0320, so they only got to bed at 0400 on Saturday morning.

Gnarled old vines produce intensely flavoured grapes in the old mixed vineyard at Quinta do Tua

We received the last of  the Roriz and then the roga went to pick the Vinha Velha (old mixed plantings) at Quinta do Tua.  This Vinha Velha was planted in 1974 and is now 36 years old.  Charles and I felt that the concentration of the wines produced from this old and very low yielding vineyard would perfectly match the elegant and aromatic wines that the Roriz is producing this year.

This VV is predominantly a mix of three of the ’noble’ varieties, Barroca, Nacional and Francesa.  The 22 pickers sent 9110 Kilos to the winery, which is significantly less than usual and this is due to the low yields from the VV, which are likely to be under one kilo per vine.

From left to right: Barroca, two bunches of Touriga Nacional - small bunches from oldest vines, and two bunches of Touriga Francesa

Charles was here again yesterday and after visiting various blocks at Malvedos and Tua we again reviewed the picking order.  These last few days of warm weather have brought the Nacional to perfection, and so we decided that as soon as the VV is finished, we will move to the mature Nacional from Tua and then to the Nacional from Malvedos starting with the lower riverside blocks.  I can’t wait to see what these grapes look like in the lagar!

In the winery things have been moving along smoothly and we have now fortified our seventh lagar and the eighth is having its four hour tread tonight.  I have tasted these and am pleased with the deep colours and fresh fruit coming through at this stage.

The winery team raise a toast to the Portforum with their gift bottle of 1963. Fonseca, Juca, Joaquin, António, Henry and Carlos

Five very fine and generous gentlemen were here at the Quinta for lunch with Dominic from the Portforum – Julian, Alex, Ray, Derek from the UK and their friend Andy from the USA.  They never travel without their own supply of Vintage Port and brought along a bottle of 1963 for lunch at Malvedos.  The group very kindly donated a part of this to the winery team and we of course were delighted, it’s not every day we get such a treat.  We salute you Portforum – cheers from the team!

Steam engine special service runs on Saturdays only

For those of you who like trains enjoy this picture!  Luckily it came past between tractor loads of grapes and we were all able to get a look at it.

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Preparing the Third Tonel

Yesterday Paul Symington visited the winery with a group of UK journalists, just as Juca was going to check out the third tonel (officially known as tonel 20521).

Paul lit up, and told us all how his earliest memory is of following his father around the winery whilst he did exactly this task.  His father, Michael Symington, used to personally inspect every tonel himself, and write in chalk on the face of the cask if it was sweet and in condition to receive wine.  Paul watched as Juca opened the tonel, then was first to lean in, thump the cask, and take a deep breath.  Paul was really pleased with the condition of the cask and pronounced it ready to receive the third lagar of Barroca.

The opening is resealed and the "door" re-placed and secured. The paper will be torn away after the seal is tightened fully.

Today, Fonseca re-closed the cask and sealed the opening.  Since then, the wine was transferred and Tonel 20521 is now full of 9,750 litres of Tinta Barroca – the third lagar of Barroca – which will now rest there, and fall bright, over the winter.

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Charles Checks Out the Wines

Stopped into the laboratory at Quinta do Tua at lunchtime and was surprised to find Charles doing the washing-up.  In fact, he was just rinsing some new wine glasses in order to start assessing the first 12 wines which have been made so far at Tua.

He and Paulo Macedo, the winemaker at Tua, reviewed each wine in turn, giving it a good swirl in the glass, holding it up to the light, and breathing deeply, nose in glass.

The decision was made to begin combining some lotes (batches) of wine, and two pairs of wines were identified which could each be blended – we started with 12 lotes and when Paulo has finished his work this afternoon there will be 10 lotes.  Whilst each incoming batch is vinified and fortified separately, we need to keep reviewing the wines for possible combination in order to manage our storage space, so that the very best wines can be kept in individual small capacity containers.

Overall, Charles said the wines are well made, which is nothing unusual, and on the whole he thinks this is a pretty satsifying bunch of wines, better than he might have expected at this stage.

Well done, Paulo and the winemaking team at Tua.

Follow the assessment process in this mini 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.

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Malvedos 23:30 Friday 24 Sep

Today, day 5 of the Vintage has been all go and we have been really busy at the winery.

It all began last night when by our calculations (or guestimate in this case) the last Barroca lagar was going to need fortifying at around 3am. Fonseca and Carlos volunteered to come and take care of it, but in the end it was a false alarm as the lagar seemed to be in no hurry (this often frustratingly happens at night!) to be fortified and we only added the brandy at 08:30 this morning.

Two sets of visitors have been through this morning, one from Norway with Jackie and the other with Paul from the UK, as well the our visit from the Health and Safety girls!

We’ve been receiving Roriz all day and in total 13.880Kg were picked by the 20 pickers. Pedro Leal da Costa and Alexandre Mariz two of our viticultural heavy weights came to inspect the Roriz still to be picked in block 17 tomorrow and then popped into the winery to make sure I’m not mistreating their precious Roriz grapes in the lagars. Fortunately they seemed quite pleased with what they saw!

I spoke to Arlindo over dinner and he thinks all the Roriz will be picked at Malvedos by mid-morning tomorrow and then he and the ‘roga’ will move to Quinta do Tua and get stuck into the ‘Vinha Velha’ (Old Vines) over there. The Vinha Velha given its age is likely to have pretty low yields so we can expect to receive fewer grapes tomorrow.

The weather has remained good, warm rather than hot, and the grapes have been coming in at an excellent 20-22ºc.

Fonseca and I have tasted the Barroca run off last night and although still  ‘raw’ from the grape brandy addition, once you get past that it’s packed with fresh red and black berry fruits and there is definitely a purple tinge to the colour.

Finally at 23:30 we are finished for the day and can relax with a beer and a sandwich

Juca, Fonseca and Pedro finally get a break
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Berry Brothers and Rudd Visit

At Graham’s we entertain a lot of guests during the harvest , and we have had long associations with many of our visitors, but London-based wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd, one of the world’s definitive experts on vintage port, may well take the prize for longest relationship.  Founded in 1698, they have operated from their premises in London’s St. James’s Street almost – not quite – as long as we and our ancestors have been in the port trade here in Portugal.  Johnny Symington, who is hosting them for several days at Malvedos, can remember both his father and grandfather working with the late Anthony Berry and Christopher Berry Green.  Certainly Johnny’s great-grandfather sold Vintage Ports to Berry’s in the late 19th century.

The two family businesses share a common philosophy of excellence rooted in a tradition of heritage, quality and innovation.  Both have survived and flourished as family businesses when many others have been swallowed up by big commercial groups.  The relationship between the companies has not only been a successful commercial partnership, but has been forged on the basis of close friendship over  generations.

BBR visit the winery at Malvedos

The group was based at Malvedos but have visited other key Symington estates up and down the Douro.  They started at Warre’s Cavadinha, where our research viticulturalist Miles Edlmann introduced them to our research vineyards and robotic lagars.  At Malvedos, they visited Henry Shotton who is responsible for the winemaking at the Graham’s winery, and they then did a tour through our vineyards.  The trip was rounded off with a visit and tasting at the very remote Dow’s Senhora de Ribeira, then they crossed the river by launch to dine and visit the winery at Quinta do Vesuvio.  Before dinner the BBR team shared their reactions to the Douro and our wines.

Alun Griffiths contemplates his next tasting note

Alun Griffiths, BBR’s Wine Director, shared his assessment of the three single-quinta ports tasted in the adega at Senhora de Ribeira.

1999 Sra da Ribeira  – deep black ruby, no sign of ageing, bouquet of ripe figs and plums, still relatively immature, vibrant, lovely freshness.  On the palate, very harmonious integration between alcohol, sweetness and tannin; excellent texture in the mouth, superb length.  Ready to drink now, but every prospect of continuing to improve over the next 5 to 10 years.

2001 Sra da Ribeira – Similar deep black ruby colour, slightly more youthful bouquet, emphasis on sweet ripe black fruit, hints of slight rawness.  On the palate more pronounced acidity and tannin than the 99, not yet fully harmonious.  All the elements are there to make a fine port, but more time needed for them to integrate fully and truly become truly harmonious.  Slightly bony, it has all the structure, just needs a little more time to fill out with more flesh.

2005 Sra da Ribeira – Impenetrable black colour; gloriously rich nose of sweet elderberries, black cherries and plums.  On the palate magnificent texture, freshness, and opulence of fruit, spirit and tannin well hidden beneath the weight of pure fruit.  A wine of great beauty with magnificent length which will probably approachable earlier than most, such is its richness.

Rocky, stock controller and salesman from the Berry’s Basingstoke shop, is a real train enthusiast in his spare time, and from both Malvedos and Vesuvio took time out to dash out to the nearby railway tracks and take photos.  The Quinta do Vesuvio, and incidentally the Vesuvio railway station, was one of his favourite parts of the whole visit!  When we asked him about the wines, he was near speechless, which prompted us all to collaborate on a limerick:

There was a young man called Rocky,
Who we thought was decidedly stocky,
He likes wine less than trains
But is well-blessed with brains
We ask “Is he honest or cocky?”

Marie, from the Berry’s London shop, is an oenologist who has grown up in the family vineyards and wine business in Languedoc-Rousillon.  She had visited the Douro once before, as an end of course field trip with her oenology class, but had not yet seen any of the Symington Quintas, so  all of us were pleased we could round out her knowledge of the Douro.

Returning to the Douro after eight years, Rebecca Lamont, London Wine Education Manager, is again awed by the extraordinary landscape, “so beautiful it just brings tears to your eyes.”

Berry’s Italian Wine Specialist and Fine Wine Account Manager, Chris Pollington, actually traces his start in the wine trade to drinking fine Vintage Ports which his brothers shared with him at too early an age for us to mention in public.  Seeing the Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Vesuvio Quintas at last has been a dream come true for him, he told us.

BBR team up to the knees in Quinta do Vesuvio 2010

At dinner, Johnny broke to the Berry Bros team the real reason for the trip and hospitality they have enjoyed:  they were not just visiting the winery  at Vesuvio, they would be put to work:  we needed a source of cheap labour to fill out the team in the lagares that night. And so they got to work…

Thank you to the Berry Bros team for your collaboration on this posting, it was great fun working with you, both on the verandah and later in the lagar.

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Malvedos 21:20 Thursday 23 Sept

Thursday 23rd September Summary – 21:20

I left my room at 0715 on the way to the winery with grey overcast skies and it was quite cool. I was worried that there might be some rain, and in fact there was a short shower around 16:40, but nothing to worry about.  The 15 day forecast shows some cloudy unsettled weather tomorrow but good and clear after that.  This of course bodes well for the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca still to come.

Vineyard update

We had 20 pickers today and they spent all day on the Roriz.

I met with Charles and Arlindo briefly after dinner and we reviewed  the picking order. We have another day and a half of Roriz left, then it was decided we will switch to some blocks of old vines from Quinta do Tua.  Charles wants to leave the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from Malvedos until last and I could not agree more – a few more days of sun and warmth will ripen them to perfection.

The Nacional and Franca account for 28% and 35% of the Quinta plantings respectively, and if the weather holds good my feeling is that this is when some of the very best wines of the Vintage will be made.

Winery Update

We have now had five lagars (two of which have been fortified), three of Barroca; one of Barroca/Roriz.  Although more often than not we ferment single varieties as they are picked we also carry out some mixed fermentations.  The Barroca, which is an excellent all-round performer when picked at its peak complements the Tinta Roriz which produces intense wines with a powerful tannic profile suitable for long ageing.  Lastly there is one lagar of straight Roriz being trodden tonight.

I just want to share some pictures with you of one of the Barroca lagars being run off – when I see the colour purple coming through in a fermenting lagar I know from experience we are onto something good!

Note:  click on any photo to open in new window to view full size

Getting ready to run off the Tinta Barroca
Barroca draining from the lagar into the archimedes screw tank
Last of the Barroca cap being tipped out from the lagar
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Tinta Barroca Settling Down for the Winter

The first lagar of Tinta Barroca was run off and fortified yesterday afternoon, spent about 24 hours in a tank, and now, as I type, the seven pipes of wine are being transferred into the wooden tonel where it will rest for the winter.

Each spring, when the previous harvest’s wines are moved to Gaia, the toneis are cleaned and left with a small amount of brandy and wine in the bottom, both to keep the tonel humid, so it does not dry out or warp, and to keep the wood sweet during the off-season.

Before we transfer the wine, however, we open the tonel, lean in, give the wooden face a good thump with the flat of the hand, and inhale.  As you can see, Fonseca is inhaling quite deeply… the tonel smells very sweet and beautiful indeed, just as a fine old port should.  Henry was was smiling very happily after he tested the tonel himself, remarking particularly on the notes of chocolate.

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A Day in the Life of Charles

As winemaker for Graham’s and all the Symington wines, responsible for the safe harvest of 950 hectares of vines across the Douro, Charles Symington has a slightly hectic few weeks every autumn.  Tuesday, 21 September was a fairly typical day, and Cynthia had a chance to meet him at Malvedos and shadow him for the rest of the afternoon as he made his rounds in the Douro.

Graham’s Sales Director, Euan Mackay, had come up from Gaia to spend the day with Charles, so they had already had some discussions about the overall state of harvest, the wines being made, and commercial affairs before arriving at Malvedos at 11:00.  First order of business was of course a visit to the winery, where he greeted the workers, all of whom, except Carlos our oenological student, he has known and worked with for years.

Checking out the robotic lagar the morning after its first night of treading

Henry then updated Charles on what parcels of grapes have been picked so far, how the wine in Lagar 1 is shaping up, and findings about the grapes coming into Lagar 2.  Together they checked the wine and grapes, and then Fonseca and Charles checked over the robotic lagar to ensure all was in perfect working order after its first night’s treading.  We are pleased to report it wan’t a bit tired, and was deemed fit and ready to work the second lagar, which it did later that afternoon and evening.

Charles strikes a pose, Masai is less co-operative

Next, a photographer was visiting to shoot at Quinta dos Malvedos for a story which will appear on Bloomberg soon, and of course he wanted a glamourous photo of Charles in his vineyards, wine glass in hand (not his usual modus operandi, by the way).  This is not so easy as you might imagine:  there was some discussion of which grape variety made the best backdrop, and Masai, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, was undecided whether to join the photo shoot or not.

Henry, Charles and Masai check out the Touriga Nacional

From there, together with Henry again, Charles took a walk up through some Touriga Nacional vineyards below the caseiro’s house which are progressing steadily, and the decision was made to start with that vineyard first of the Touriga Nacional.  The weather outlook is very good for the next ten days or so, the grapes continue to mature well on the vines so there is no rush, and we are in a good position to take things at steady pace as the grapes reach perfect ripeness.  In Charles’s words, we are sitting pretty.

Next to Quinta do Tua.  Again there was a discussion with the winemaker, Paulo Macedo, about the state of the work at Tua, where Graham’s vinifies the grapes brought to us by about 200 local small farmers.  Many of these farmers have been supplying Graham’s for years, in many cases as their fathers did before them.  The cachement area, the Riba Longa just east of Tua, is an excellent region.  Our viticulturalist at Malvedos, Senhor Mariz, often visits the farmers during the year to ensure the quality of the vineyards and harvest and offer advice if necessary.

At Tua, Charles tasted the first lots of wines destined for Graham’s – there were two  toneis of wines made from the old vine plantations at our own Quinta doTua which had been harvested on the 16th and 17th of September, and another wine, fortified only 90 minutes earlier, blended from incoming farmer’s grapes.  So far, so good, and all three showing distinct characters already.

Euan, Charles and Touriga Nacional

After Tua, the itinerary went roughly like this:  drive to Senhora da Ribeira, stopping en route to visit one of our farmers in the Riba Longa.  After lunch at Senhora da Ribeira took a launch across the river and back, paying a visit to Quinta do Vesuvio (another Symington brand), then visiting three more quintas in the area before returning to Malvedos by about 6:30 pm, where he again checked in with Henry on the progress for the day.  Throughout the day, he and Euan kept up a steady discussion about vineyards, winemaking and commercial matters.  Euan himself has twenty years’ experience with the firm, and this annual visit to Charles during vindima is invaluable to him, so he can keep our sales team, distributors and customers apprised of developments, conditions and outlook for harvest and wines.

At every quinta, Charles takes a walk through the vineyards, and watching him is an education itself.  He has an eagle eye for the state of the grapes, and as he walks down the terraces he plucks and tastes grapes as he goes.  The flavour and sugar levels of the grapes really do change tangibly as they ripen and the different varieties show clear flavour qualities even on the vine – Euan remarked on one that tasted distinctly like a Christmas cake, others a few rows away were equally rich and intense, but had a completely different flavour character.

Another test is to crush a grape with his fingers and start rubbing the skin to break it up and extract colour, just as treading would do in the lagar.  From that, and the maturity of the pips (have they changed from green to brown, are they soft or crunchy?) Charles can assess phenolic ripeness.

Where there are wineries, he spends time with the winemaker to review results so far, discuss next parcels of grapes to be harvested and vinified and any equipment or logistical concerns.  As he checks lagars and vats he leans in for a deep inhalation of the aromas, plunges his arm in up to the elbow to feel the grapes and assess the colour extraction, and where wines have been finished, taste samples.  Based on all of this, he may revise plans so far – every step of the process is basis to re-assess next steps.

Whilst we rely on our labs to gather precise scientific data for our research and viticultural database, the fact is, who needs a lab when you’ve got the experience and instincts of Charles?

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Malvedos 21:45 Wednesday 22 September

Arlindo (caseiro) and Mariz (viticulturalist) up in the first Roriz vineyard to be picked Wed

Its only the third day but already a lot seems to have happened since we arrived on Monday. We are getting really busy and time passes in a blur most of the time.

The Barroca has now all been picked, giving three and a half lagares, with the last load coming in mid-afternoon today. The  half lagar will now be topped up with Tinta Roriz which is next on the picking order.

I was with Arlindo and Mariz this afternoon when the ‘roga’ began picking the Roriz from the vineyard just above and to the West of the Quinta house and we are all quite pleased with the quality.

In Summary Barroca:

The average yield of Barroca at Malvedos over the last 13 years is 1.19Kg per vine. This year yields were a good way below average at 0.98Kg per vine (This in part due to the fact that conditions here during flowering were not ideal, and therefore the characteristic long bunches are quite loose this year).

These low yields have undoubtedly contributed to high quality of the fruit and one of the reasons it has ripened so well. This year the Barrocas have shown very good concentration; balanced fresh fruit flavours, with perhaps a little less of the jammy characteristic it often has. Baumés have been good in all lagars and this will allow for longer fermentations and contribute to the structure and complexity of the final Ports made.

In summary Winery:

Tinta Roriz blok in Malvedos - Looking downriver with Quinta de Roriz in the distance

We fortified the first lagar of Barroca after lunch today; the second one, picked yesterday is now fermenting strongly, and the third picked and filled today is being trodden tonight. Tomorrow morning we will finish filling the Barroca/Roriz lagar. Colours are looking good at this stage – always a good indicator for the future.

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Lunch for the Crew

The winemaking team from Malvedos drive over to join the winemaking team at Tua for lunch and dinner every day.  The food is straightforward, hearty regional cooking.

This is one variation of the dish that named residents of Porto “Tripeiros” – Tripe eaters.

Beans, bits of pork and chouriça (a smoke-cured pork sausage) and tripe.  If you don’t already know what tripe is… you may not want to know.  We will leave you to look it up for yourself if you dare.  Suffice to say, the few flies that strayed into the dining room took one fly-by and broke for the window as fast as they could.  On the other hand, the eight men at my table happily tucked away two big platters of it, and started on this third one.  Personally, I can vouch for the beans and chouriça being excellent, and I doubt I will be hungry again today.

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