The building works to re-design the tourist spaces at the Graham’s Lodge are progressing well, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to the new space later this year. Between now and the grand opening, we thought you might be interested in learning more about some of the challenges and details involved in the modification of this historic building.
To start from the bottom up: what about the floors? On the one hand, the lodge is an important working space, where we age all our wines for anything from 18 months to 50 years or more, both in cask and in bottle. We must be able to receive the new harvest’s wines from the Douro each winter into casks, and remove wines from cask when we are ready to bottle. On the other hand, it is a space where we welcome our guests, last year over 60,000 of them, and their visit includes a walk through of the armazém, or warehouse, where our wines are held in cask. We need to balance the ideal conditions for ageing and handling the wines with considerations of traffic and safe footing for all our visitors.
The wines above all need cool conditions and fresh, slightly humid air. As the wines age in cask, there is actually a process of respiration going on: oxygen enters through microscopic pores in the wood and mellows the wine, and the wine evaporates through those pores slowly over the months and years. The wine lost in this process is known as the “angels’ share.”
To maintain the optimum environment for this micro-oxygenation, the floors of the Lodge have traditionally been bare earth. As a general rule, conditions here in Vila Nova de Gaia, on a corner between the Douro River and the Atlantic Ocean, are temperate and gently humid, but if we experience a particularly dry or hot spell we literally hose down the floors, and let the water soak into the earth. The subsequent slow evaporation of that water from the bare earth helps to cool the Lodge and restore the humidity levels needed for ageing the wines. But bare earth floors, particularly if they have just been wetted down, are not a good surface on which to entertain thousands of visitors, and additionally, that volume of traffic would quickly tamp down the floors so the earth could barely breathe or absorb water.
The solution was to create firm, paved walkways in the main corridors of the lodge where our guests will walk through as they learn more about how we make and age our wine, and see for themselves the different casks used to age different styles of wine. What sort of pavement, though?
Again, we had to think in terms of the working life of the Lodge, which involves moving pipes – long narrow wooden barrels which hold 550 litres of wine – by rolling them along. Our architectural team actually laid down samples of different paving materials in a back passage in 2010 when we began planning these works and asked our lodgemen to try them out, and let us know which material and paving pattern was best for moving the pipes around. All involved laying down stone into the bare earth, so we maintained a natural, breathing surface. We tried several different arrangements of blue schist, thinking we might have a new use for these traditional stone vineyard trellis posts, as well as a sample of the granite micro cubo (small cube-shaped) paving stones that are traditional in streets all over Portugal. The lodgemen opted for the micro cubo.
So the main visitor pathways will be paved with small granite cubes deeply embedded in the earth, whilst the rest of the paths between the long rows of pipes will remain terra batida (bare earth tamped down – see photo above of the alley of pipes). Another change will be the areas under the giant balseiros – the vertical wooden casks that hold tens of thousands of litres of wine. These areas will be boxed and filled with gravilha – light coloured granite gravel stones. The boxing means we can, if need be, soak the area under the casks with water to cool the lodge without getting water on the the visitor walkways, and the light coloured gravel will make it easier for us to see if any balseiro should be leaking – something that can be hard to detect on the bare earth floors. This doesn’t happen often, but naturally we want to know as soon as possible so we can repair the cask and not lose our precious wines.
The works at Graham’s Lodge are ongoing, even as we remain open and continue to welcome our visitors, and you can already see some of the completed paving in public areas now. We are working hard to minimise the disruption to visits, but ask your tolerance for a little dust or occasional noise.