Every year Graham’s hosts oenological students who start their school year not in a classroom, but in a winery, getting hands on experience and guidance from our veteran winemaking team. Only after harvest will they go to their universities and start the textbook based curriculum of their training.
This year our student is Carlos, who hails from the Bairrada, another wine region in Portugal, south of the Douro. Here he helps in the unloading of the last of yesterday’s Tinta Barroca.
Bem-vindo Carlos, e boa vindima! (Welcome Carlos, and good harvest!)
The 1st lagar of Barroca is being trodden as I write and the 4 hours ‘work’ we give every lagar will be over at 12:00. Now after 3 hours treading the colour is beginning to look very good.
I was in the vineyard with Alexandre Mariz one of our viticulturalists this afternoon and we went and checked out the Barroca blocks that we will be picking tomorrow – 89, 90, 91, 81 and 79 – all also planted in 1989. I must say this year the Barroca grapes are looking particularly good, with very healthy sturdy looking bunches and the berries are sweet and full of flavour.
Around 4 o’clock there were some claps of thunder in the distance but no rain fortunately materialized at Malvedos. Fingers crossed it will stay good from now on.
In summary: 23 people in the vineyard today picked 12,044 kilos of barroca, which is 534 kilos per person on average.
We get grapes and process them into the lagar, and clean up. Then we wait for the next delivery. So far, four deliveries today. We had a visit from the Portuguese Air Force, and Henry walked them through the wine making process. Lunch over at Quinta do Tua with our colleagues there, then a post prandial kip for the team whilst Henry catches up on paperwork – every batch of grapes is logged in and weighed.
In fact, batch number five just arrived, so the team have just gone out to take care of those, and Senhor Mariz, the viticulturist who oversees Malvedos has just stopped by.
Photo of the combined winemaking and blogging office, so you can picture us here…
We have just received the first load of Tinta Barroca grapes at the winery. These came from block 92 planted in 1989 from higher up on the eastern side of the Quinta. The bunches are looking healthy and this first load gave an excellent 14.6º baumé.
The harvest is of course the high point of the viticultural year, when Graham’s wine making team is hard at work bringing in the grapes and making our port wines. Not all of the grapes cut in September go into the wine, however: this is also the time of year when many of our research activities enter their final analysis phase. In any given season we may be conducting research on a half dozen viticultural concerns, such as optimum root stocks, vine clones, trellis systems, irrigation, cover crops, pest or disease control, or soil erosion.
Miles Edlmann, responsible for viticultural research and development, has designated vineyards in a number of sites for his experimental purposes, and he needs to collect his data – in other words, the grapes for analysis – one step ahead of the harvest team. For Miles, the harvest has already begun.
In the Douro, we are visited by the European Grapevine Moth, which has a special fondness for Touriga Francesa. As we at Graham’s are pretty fond of Touriga Francesa ourselves, for the intense floral aromatics and well balanced structure it brings to our wines, we object to sharing the crop with hungry caterpillars every summer. Three years ago Miles came up with a possible solution to the problem, and has been trialling the technique and analysing the data during each subsequent harvest. This year’s results are telling us we may have a solution.
Miles’s idea was to try to open up the Touriga Francesa bunches – which are normally very tightly packed, almost solid – to minimise the damage. If a caterpillar does get onto the bunch, the hope is he will find himself marooned on a single grape which is so far separated from its neighbours that the tiny caterpillar is unable to inch his way onto an adjacent grape to do more damage.
This particular experiment is being carried out at Quinta do Atalho, another Symington quinta which is not part of the Graham’s group of vineyards. Our riverside quintas (such as the five dedicated Graham’s properties) do not often experience trouble with the moth, whereas Atalho has a particular microclimate which makes it notoriously prone to this problem. By basing this experiment in an extreme situation, we are able to draw conclusions more easily as any differences will be more apparent when they do exist.
If you think trying hard to sequester caterpillars sounds a bit humorous – and we do too, sometimes – individually plucking and scrutinising 6,713 grapes in one afternoon is no joke. Miles and his team of oenological trainees cut 40 bunches of Touriga Francesa from the designated vineyard in the morning, half from vines treated to open up the bunches, half from control (untreated) vines. Back in the lab, the grape bunches were individually weighed and the berries plucked off one at a time, inspected and counted – caterpillar-damaged, undamaged, and immature grapes were counted separately. The bare stalks were then measured for both length and width, and the volume of the grapes from each bunch measured.
And – because they were there – we also counted the caterpillars: 89.
Our data from this year’s trial shows significantly less caterpillar damage on the treated bunches – this is a breakthrough in trying to control this pest.
In addition to isolating any caterpillars and the scope of their damage, opening up the grape bunches helps ensure the health of the crop in other ways: open bunches are less prone to mildew or botrytis, as both wind and sun can penetrate to ventilate and dry the grapes, and healthy grapes generally are less prone to attack from pests. Also, as Miles has observed before, the more sun on the grapes the better, as a moth egg, once fried in the sun, can’t hatch.
These experiments represent a substantial investment for Graham’s, in time, effort and resources, but are critical to ensure the future of our vineyards and the quality of our wines. The Douro is a unique terrain which remained isolated and remote long after many other major wine growing regions, and we have many so-far unheralded indigenous grape varieties, so there is still much to be learned. Whilst we keep abreast of research developments in other regions, and share information with colleagues in the viticultural community, ultimately we in the Douro are necessarily self-reliant in working out our own solutions to our often unique challenges.
On Monday, whilst showing visitors through the vineyards at Malvedos, Dominic Symington pointed out the hoof marks of wild boar imprinted deep in the schistous soil, quite high up on the quinta. The boar was apparently just passing through, no signs of damage to the vines, luckily.
Well, it seems he was on his way to Paul Symington’s own quinta in the Pinhão valley, Quinta das Netas. It also is clear the boar is a connoisseur of port grapes: realising the nearest plantation was only a few years old, and not yet up to vintage production standards, he took out his frustration on the back lawn. In Paul’s own words:
The wild boar came in from the pine forests and wild scrub that surround my vineyard and had a real party. I am hoping to make at least one of these critters into a good wild boar sausage, if I can catch them.
Good luck, Paul!We look forward to the celebratory barbecue when you do catch one.
You have read how Graham’s went to visit Norway recently… well, Norway returned the favour. The sales team from the Solera Group, our distributors in Norway, together with three of their clients, visited Malvedos to see the Douro and the home of Graham’s ports for themselves.
We receive trade visitors year round at Quinta dos Malvedos, so that our distribution partners and some of their key clients can better understand what makes our wines what they are. While all of our visitors of course know how wine is made, and many have visited wine regions around the world, the first visit to the Douro is always a bit of a revelation, and even repeat visitors are impressed and learn more every time.
These visits always include a tour of the vineyards and of the winery. The Solera team were particularly game about hiking up to the top of the 400 metres rise of the vineyards. Along the way Dominic Symington explained Graham’s approach to viticulture, which encompasses not only growing the best possible grapes in this challenging environment, but choosing our methods in order to protect the unique Douro ecosystem at the same time.
Similarly, in the winery, the team were fascinated by both the traditional lagares and our robotic lagares, and were asking many questions to better understand the winemaking methods which are exclusive to port wine. Whilst discussing the aguardente which is added during fortification, Dominic passed around a glassful for the group to sniff. One whiff was enough for most, but a few brave souls tasted it. Needless to say, after visiting the winery and tasting the aguardente, they were very happy to return to the quinta for a sampling and discussion of our full range of tawny and ruby ports, and a traditional Portuguese lunch of bacalhau.
Experiencing the intense heat of the Douro prompted a few of the Solera team to end the day rather unconventionally, with a plunge into the Douro from the rocks halfway between Malvedos and the Valeira dam.
Graham’s Marketing team took a strategy planning retreat at our Quinta do Tua the past two days. Yesterday, 16 September, the harvest began at that quinta.
At lunch time Henri Sizaret, our VP of Marketing, took a few photos and sent them along with this message:
The workers had finished the vineyard area closest to the house, and there were few grapes left, all the vines were empty. They work quickly and efficiently to collect the precious fruits in the best conditions !
These grapes will be vinified at Quinta do Tua. Monday we open the winery at Malvedos, and should start cutting there. Stay tuned.