The Graham’s Lodge has been open to visitors since 1993, It featured a tasting area where visitors could enjoy Port, and an adjoining shop and wine bar. On arrival at the lodge, visitors were given a guided tour of the working lodge, where 3,500 casks (or ‘pipes’, in Port language) of maturing Port are stored. The visit also included the cool, dark Vintage ‘bins’ (wine cellars) where older Graham’s Vintage Ports are kept (some Ports, such as the 1868 still lie there).
In early 2011, as the numbers of visitors inexorably grew, year on year — benefitting no doubt from the fact Porto was (and is) growing in popularity as a tourist destination — the Symington family decided to invest in the renovation of the lodge, not just to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of visitors, but also — and more importantly — to provide them with a much more interesting experience during their visit.
The company’s own architect, Luís Loureiro was given the challenge of undertaking this task and in late November 2011 the building works began. It is quite extraordinary to witness how far the renovation project has progressed in just under one year. Luís has had to face all sorts of difficulties and it is to his credit that he and his team have achieved so much in such a short time-span. In essence then, how will the new Lodge Visitors’ Centre differ from the one it is replacing?
THE GRAHAM’S 1890 LODGE – partially opened on November 12th
The renovated Lodge is called the ‘1890 LODGE’. This was the year in which the then owners (the Scottish Graham’s family) built a much larger lodge to replace a previous building which their successful expansion had outgrown, since founding the company some 70 years earlier. The 1890 Lodge will provide visitors with a much more comprehensive and rewarding experience:
1). Visitors enter by a roomy new reception area where they will be checked in and then shown into an auditorium where a short film will introduce them to Graham’s.
2). Graham’s Museum: adjoining the reception hall, there is a brand new Graham’s Museum which tells the visitor the story of the Symington family’s long involvement in Port, as well as the history of Graham’s; the underlying theme is, “The Story of Two Port Families: the Graham’s and the Symingtons”. The museum is relatively compact but is beautifully laid out and includes some very attractive artefacts on display. For example, there is a set of calibrating measures, dating from 1770 that were used both in the Douro Quintas and in the Lodges in Gaia. Besides artefacts, documents, objects, etc linked to the Port trade as a whole, as well as to the Graham and Symington families, there is also a sequential display of Port’s journey from vineyard to bottle, from the Douro Valley to the Gaia Lodges.
3). One level down from the museum, visitors will enter the lodge proper. Not a great deal has been done here simply because we want visitors to experience what a full working lodge is all about, not some artificial, fancy cosmetically altered space. If anything, we have retraced what the original 19th century Lodge was like, reintroducing more of the earth floors and typical Portuguese cobbled corridors in some of the main passageways. Lodge floors were traditionally left with an earth surface so that they could be hosed with water in the hotter summer months in order to keep the ambient temperature as cool as possible. Besides the thousands of maturing casks, holding everything from Graham’s Six Grapes to Graham’s 20 Years of Age Tawny and the old single year tawnies (Colheitas) such as the 1961, 1969 and the Diamond Jubilee 1952, visitors can also access the Vintage Port cellars where Graham’s legendary Vintages of the 19th and 20thcenturies are kept under lock and key, behind wrought iron gates (visible but just out of reach!).
4). Following the guided tour through the Lodge, visitors will then be shown into the renovated tasting room, where they can take a load off their feet to taste a range of Graham’s Ports (several combinations, or ‘wine flights’ are on offer). Here visitors can quietly sip away, attended by knowledgeable staff at hand to clarify any queries concerning the Ports they are drinking. The renovation of this area is underway and temporary facilities are in place to cater for visitors meanwhile.
5). The ‘Vintage Room’: for a more exclusive and complete experience, the more discerning visitor can choose to access the Vintage Room, where a different level of Port tastings are provided in a more tranquil and comfortable atmosphere. The beautifully decorated room, with a touch of understated English elegance will allow the visitor to taste premium and super premium Graham’s Ports, including some older Vintages and Colheita Wines, difficult to find elsewhere. Port and food pairing will also be offered (such as chocolate with different styles of Port).
6). Visitors exiting either the tasting room or Vintage Room will then be shown into the all new shop which is much roomier and pleasant than the one it replaces. The shop is set very much in the old Lodge building, adjoining the lodges main stone façade, whose large windows light up the shop with natural light, as well as offering magnificent views over the twin cities of Porto and Gaia, and the River Douro. The design of the new shop is much more interactive and ‘hands-on’, there is no counter separating customers from the bottles, as was previously the case. Customers can wander around casually, and pick up bottles at their leisure. Friendly staff is on hand to answer any questions. The new shop will build on the convenience of a home delivery service (for those preferring not to carry their purchases home with them).
7). Tired and hungry after all that wandering around the Lodge? Why not enjoy a light meal in the completely new wine bar, or better still, a full meal in the new ‘VINUM’ RESTAURANT? Both of these adjoin the shop and will be extremely attractive, once concluded. The setting is very much the Lodge ambience itself. To one side, once sat down at their table, guests can view the endless rows of pipes (separated from the restaurant by a very clever and discreet metal and glass screen).
On the opposite side there is the large bulk of the Lodge’s granite walls. Original large iron columns support the attractive Riga pine timbers and roofing. In short, a very atmospheric surrounding in which to enjoy meals with some wonderful wines. The VINUM restaurant will also feature a very attractive outdoor seating area, on the terrace adjoining the main Lodge façade. This terrace has what we believe to be one of the best views of any restaurant in Gaia and Porto. Given the Graham’s Lodge location on very high ground (the vast majority of Port Lodges are built along the river front), it commands sweeping views of the old medieval quarters of Porto and Gaia, as well as the iconic Dom Luis ‘double-decker’ bridge over the Douro River. This view is spectacular both during the day and at night, when all the city’s beautiful landmarks are impressively floodlit.
This terrace can furthermore be enjoyed in all weathers as a well-designed ‘conservatory’ type structure is being built, so come rain or sunshine, VINUM’S patrons can always take in the remarkable vistas.
Timings for the opening of the new Graham’s 1890 Lodge:
We envisage the opening of the restaurant in early February 2013 (staff is currently undergoing training and menus are being tested). The new reception, museum, shop and Vintage Room are already in use. The new tasting room will be ready during January, 2013. Thus, given that the various sections are opening at different times, a formal inauguration of the new Lodge will only happen during February 2013.
We will be keeping you up to speed on fresh developments over the next few weeks, as well as providing more in-depth descriptions of the various sections and facilities of the magnificent 1890 LODGE.