On Wednesday, the third day of the harvest the first Sousão grapes from the neighbouring Graham’s Quinta do Tua, began to arrive at the Malvedos winery. As soon as we began to fill the lagar, and even before treading began, the impressive colour was clearly visible from the free-run juice. The Sousão is valued in our winemaking for its good acidity and for its colouring properties, but to see such colour even before treading had begun really caught Henry’s attention. Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist at both Malvedos and Tua, had commented that the Sousão from Tua was looking particularly good, so Henry was not entirely surprised. Once the lagar was filled the baumé reading was taken and it registered a very satisfactory 13.4°.
Charles commented that these balanced graduations are encouraging and that higher sugar readings are not necessarily a prerequisite for producing great wines.
Rupert Symington, hosting a group of guests from the USA at Malvedos, invited by the family’s import and distribution company — Premium Port Wines — visited the winery and the old lodge, originally built in 1895. Rupert and Henry talked the visitors through the winemaking process, explaining how well the modern lagares have performed since 2000, the year they were first employed at Malvedos; a great year whose finest wines made an outstanding Vintage Port.
Into the fourth day of the vintage, after all of the Sousão was harvested and before confirming the picking schedule for the next varieties, Charles, Henry and Alexandre made a thorough visit to the finest Touriga Nacional vineyards at both Malvedos and Tua. Charles determined that the berries would benefit from a few more days on the vines and decided to postpone further picking until after the weekend.
The busy visiting schedule continued: João Vasconcelos, Graham’s market manager for the UK market, showed some visitors from the UK around the winery, just an hour or so after his colleague, Gonçalo Brito, had done the same with a group from Smart Wines, Germany.
On the second day of the vintage at Malvedos and under blue skies and moderate temperatures, the 24 strong roga moved on to vineyard 17, the largest of the Quinta’s three Tinta Roriz vineyards.
Yesterday Charles and Henry tasted the first lagares of Port made this year – the Tinta Barroca and the wines made from the field-mixed vineyard at Síbio, planted in 1990. The Síbio section of Malvedos was acquired by the Symington family in 2012 and the majority of these mixed parcels are in fact made up primarily of Tinta Roriz and that’s why they were picked almost simultaneously with the Tinta Roriz parcels.
Charles commented on the good colour shown by the Barroca and was also satisfied with the balanced Baumé readings recorded in the Tinta Roriz lagares: 13.4°. Following consultation with Alexandre Mariz, the vineyard manager, Charles and Henry decided that on day three of the harvest the roga would move on to the Tinto Cão at Malvedos and then be taken to the neighbouring Tua vineyard to start picking the Sousão vines.
On this second day of the harvest, Henry received his first visitors of this vintage: a group from Smart Wines, who import Graham’s Ports into Germany, as well as some of the Symington family’s other wines. The group was headed by Herman Stockmann, whom Henry has known for several years as he often goes to Germany to help Hermann host tastings of Graham’s Ports.
The vintage at Malvedos started yesterday, September 19th, approximately a week later than last year’s starting date. Normally, the vintage in this part of the Douro Valley, the Cima Corgo, kicks off during the second week of September; rarely later than the middle of the month. This year’s delay can be explained by the unseasonably cool and wet spring, which set back flowering and veraison — both by almost two weeks. The exceptionally hot summer, which brought two heat waves during August, slowed things further as the maturation rates lost pace due to the very high temperatures. Fortunately, the abundant winter rainfall, which replenished the quinta’s soil water reserves, helped to sustain the vines over this period and the maturations and phenolic ripeness steadily recovered. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker thinks that conditions point to a very good year.
A further reason for putting back the vintage was the heat surge felt during the first week of September with maximum temperatures in the Douro reaching 43°C and setting a new record for highest ever recorded maximum temperatures for this month. Luckily, some timely rain came to the rescue in the build up to the vintage: 20mm falling at Malvedos on just one day (13th September). To put this into perspective, the 30-year average rainfall for September at Malvedos is 33.4 mm. These conditions have allowed for further gradual evolution of sugars and colour in a balanced way. This rain may well prove to be one of the decisive moments of the vintage. Experience tells us that just the right amount of rain during the first half of September, especially after a very hot and dry summer, is often a defining moment of a Vintage year.
The weather forecast until the end of the month is very positive, indicating warm, dry weather (but not excessively hot); just what is needed for some of the later ripening varieties to catch up and deliver good Baumés and balanced phenolic ripeness. On the first day of picking here at Malvedos the maximum temperature was just a fraction above 30°C. Night time temperatures have been dipping a fair bit (minimum was 14°C), which is desirable and to be expected with the the autumn equinox just around the corner. This is exactly what we need for a great year: dry, sunny days and cold nights.
As is customary, the Tinta Barroca was the first variety to be picked, closely followed by the mixed parcels from the Síbio section of Malvedos. Henry Shotton, the winemaker who runs the winery — this is his 17th vintage at the Quinta — was well satisfied with the colour and the good graduations of the Barroca, an encouraging sign but not surprising for this particular variety; the real test will come when the Tourigas, the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca begin to arrive at the winery, from later this week or early next. In the following post, further details on the other varieties to be picked will be provided.
In this seventh video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the maturation studies carried out in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos, which will guide us in determining the vintage starting date.
Maturation studies, which normally begin around mid-August, are of great importance in setting the vintage starting date and in preparing an optimum picking sequence, this being determined by the different maturation rates of each grape variety, as well as other influencing factors such as the vineyards’ location, altitude and climate. Carefully devised picking schedules ensure that the grapes are picked at their optimal point of ripeness.
Whilst nowadays, several advanced techniques are employed to assess berry ripeness, these do not replace frequent field sampling by our viticulturists and winemakers. In the vineyards they sample the berries for feel, taste and colour. As grapes ripen they become softer to the touch and taste sweeter, revealing the desirable accumulation of sugar as the grapes’ organic acids gradually diminish through the ripening period. They will also check for colour by squeezing berries in the palm of their hands to reveal the pigments on the skins and the appearance of the juice. The seeds or pips will also be checked for colour, as this is another reliable gauge of fruit ripeness; yellowish-green means unripe, whilst dark brown means ripening is on track.
To get the full picture of balanced fruit maturations it is important to also screen phenolic ripeness. The phenolic compounds, which include tannins and anthocyanins — the pigments responsible for colour — are a prerequisite for balanced and well structured wines with fresh aromatics. This year, when our maturation studies began on August 15th, it became apparent that phenolic ripeness was evolving very well whilst sugar readings were lagging behind. However, these have since caught up and we are looking at evenly balanced fruit maturation — a good augury for the forthcoming grape harvest.
In this sixth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at versaison in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos.
Veraison, known in the Douro as pintor — literally ‘painter’ — is the process by which the grapes gradually change colour — in the case of red varieties from a bright green to a reddish colour, and eventually to deep blue/violet. The berries start to lose chlorophyll and acquire red pigments in the skins, hence the change in colour. Veraison marks the transition from the vines’ growing cycle to the maturation and ripening stages where rapid berry growth takes place. The pintor begins in the Douro around the middle of July. From this point on the berries soften and their sugar content steadily increases whilst the concentration of organic acids declines. Aroma and flavour components also begin to accumulate in the fruit.
During the month of July, some further vine canopy management is often required and this involves shoot-topping, in other words trimming back the tips of the vine shoots, important on various counts: it helps to redirect the vines’ energy away from gaining further unnecessary shoot length and towards maturing the fruit instead; it results in a better aeration of the vine canopy thus ensuring healthier vines; it keeps the space between the vine rows clear for ease of passage — essential for keeping a constant check on the vines’ health.
On a sunny morning at the end of June a young peregrine falcon, nursed back to health by the Wildlife Rescue Centre of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) at Vila Real, was returned to the wild at Quinta dos Canais in the Douro. Canais is one of the Symington family’s remotest vineyards and is home to a rich variety of wildlife, and for both those reasons it was a natural choice for the falcon’s release. In particular, Canais has a remarkable variety of bird species, which include hoopoes, golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle-doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds of prey such as black kites and short-toed eagles.
Injured during its first migratory flight from the British Isles to southern Europe in December 2015, the young falcon was treated at the University’s Veterinary Hospital, and over the last 7 months it has made a full recovery. Originally marked by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in the UK in November 2015, the bird’s provenance was clear.
The injured bird was found along the northern coast of Portugal and was first taken to the Parque Biológico de Gaia, a wildlife park and rehabilitation centre not far from the Symington family’s Port Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. The bird had sustained multiple fractures in one of its wings as a result of illegal gunfire. Lacking the proper facilities to treat the bird, the wildlife park swiftly organized its transfer to the University Veterinary Hospital at Vila Real, one of the finest in the Iberian Peninsula.
The veterinary hospital works hand in hand with the university’s wildlife rescue centre which specialises in treating and nursing back to health birds of prey. Approximately 350 birds are treated each year and on average their recovery period lasts from 6 to 7 months. The rescue centre has a large octagonal flight tunnel, the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula. It allows all but the largest birds to make manoeuvres in mid-flight that would not be possible in more traditional tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds and in particular birds of prey. In this way they exercise and gradually regain their strength in readiness for a return to the wild.
The Symington family have supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Conditions for the release at Quinta dos Canais were perfect, the high temperatures (30ºC) generating the thermals that help birds gain altitude rapidly. Just before it took to the freedom of the skies the falcon was aptly named ‘Canais’. The falcon had not been fed intentionally on the morning of the release in order to sharpen its hunting instincts and thus increase its chances of survival. It was observed over the skies of Canais for several hours after the release and the vineyard caretaker, Sr. Orlando reports that he continues to spot ‘Canais’ flying over the property, a very encouraging sign that the bird’s return to the wild has been a complete success.
Yesterday saw the Symington running team take part in the first edition of the Great Douro Vineyard Run. Formed by members from diverse areas of the company, Symington Family Estates won first place in the team event and saw every member placing highly, with second place in the women’s race going to Mariana Ameixieira, and third in the men’s to Pedro Silva, the team’s invaluable trainer.
The event, which was one of the first of its kind in the Douro, saw almost 300 runners compete in a gruelling trail half marathon through some of the most beautiful vineyards of the Douro. From the starting line on the banks of the Douro in Pinhão, the course rose and fell through the vineyards of Quintas Junco, Cavadinha, Terra Feita, Cruzeiro, Noval, Bomfim and finally Roeda, before crossing the finish line on the riverfront in Pinhão.
The half marathon was also accompanied by a 12km walk, which saw almost 1000 participants take part.
With high temperatures and a total elevation gain of 1000m, the race was not easy, but the determination of the 10-man team from Symington Family Estates, and the support of everyone at Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Cavadinha, meant a great overall result. Congratulations to all involved!
Flowering in the Douro vineyards usually occurs around the middle of the month of May, approximately two months after bud-break. This year flowering was up to 10 days later than last year in most of our vineyards, on account of the unusually wet and cool conditions of this spring. After the embryo bunches begin to flower, pollination is triggered almost immediately and is followed by fertilization, resulting in the formation of tiny berries. Fruit set, involving the rapid transformation of the embryo bunches into small clusters of green, pea-like berries, follows on quite swiftly from flowering. The berries gradually expand and ultimately become grapes.
The vine continues with its vegetative growth although at this stage there is a gradual slowing down of the vigour of the growing tips in favour of the developing bunches. Further canopy management is required at about the same time as flowering, namely guiding the shoots upwards through the twin wires of the trellis known as the foliage wires. This entirely manual operation is known as shoot positioning and ensures a good layout of the vine canopy in order to facilitate ongoing operations in the vineyard as well as helping to prevent vine diseases.
In this fourth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at shoot thinning (spring pruning) in the vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos.
The early spring is always a busy time for us as the vegetative vigour of the vines gets into its stride and the timely interventions of our teams in the field are essential to safeguard the success of the vines’ growing season. The first major operation that occupies us during April is shoot thinning, which is also referred to as spring pruning and is known locally as despampa. It entails the removal by hand from each and every vine of superfluous shoots, leaving only those deemed sufficient to deliver an optimum number of grape bunches. Limiting the number of shoots thus allows us to influence production, leaving behind only what the vine is able to support and thus concentrating its vigour, which leads to greater concentration of flavour and sugar in the berries that ultimately take form. Furthermore, this control ensures a balanced canopy layout with less dense foliage encouraging good aeration of the vines — important in minimizing the appearance of diseases such as downy mildew and powdery mildew.
For the third consecutive year, candidates for the title of Master of Wine have once again paid a visit to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia before travelling up the Douro Valley to visit some of the regions most famous vineyards. While an important visit for the students, the fact that the Demarcated Douro Region has been recognised by the Institute of Masters of Wine as an important part of the curriculum of such a distinguished qualification, also makes the visit very important for Port, and the Douro Valley as a whole.
Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is one of the most prestigious communities of wine professionals in the world. To become a member you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the challenge of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 343 Masters of Wine worldwide.
The first stop for the 18 MW students from all over the world who arrived in Porto on the 19th of April was Vinum, the restaurant located in Graham’s 1890 Lodge, for a dinner hosted by Paul Symington. Finishing with Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, it was a fitting start to what would be three days immersion in the world of Port.
The next day saw the candidates participate in a tasting of Graham’s, and other leading producer’s, wines.
They then departed for the Douro Valley, where they visited Quinta do Bomfim, another of Symington Family Estate’s prime vineyards, where Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos’ winemaker, Henry Shotton (also a MW student himself), gave an in-depth explanation of the winemaking process, before being shown around the vineyards.
Once again, it was a pleasure to spend some time with the Master of Wine students, and we wish them the very best of luck in their studies.