Life in the Winery Part 3 – The Winemaking

There is more to do in the winery than just receive the grapes.  In between deliveries we need to start, manage or finish lagares full of the grapes received in the past two days which are in some stage of turning into Port wine.

Fonseca and Carlos taking the baumé - a measure of sugars which will indicate alcohol levels and progress of fermentation

Once we have a lagar full of grapes – around 11,000 kilos typically – Henry will start the treading of the lagar, which usually runs four hours.  This will kick start the fermentation process and over the next two days as the wine ferments the liquid must will sink to the bottom of the lagar and a “cap” of skins and pips will rise and form a thick layer on top.  Periodically we will use the treader to punch down the cap, which helps to extract more colour and flavour from the skins, as well as helping the fermentation process to continue.  Throughout this period Carlos or Fonseca will take the baumé every four hours to start, then as we approach the desired level for fortification, every hour and finally every 15 minutes.

António hard at rest between tasks

As the fermentation continues Henry will need to make some decisions regarding the run off and fortification processes.  He will usually try to fortify by running off the must into a tank where the aguardente is waiting, and moving the cap material directly to the press.

But if we have to juggle space a bit – if we need the lagar emptied sooner rather than later to keep up with the pace of the incoming deliveries – he may choose to run off both must and cap into an empty tank, where it will finish its fermentation.  When ready to fortify, the must will then be moved into a new tank with the aguardente, and the cap will then go to the press from the first tank.  The problem with this scenario is that we have to manually shovel out and clean the tank of the last of the cap – not a popular choice with the winery team.  It goes to Henry’s great credit he has not had an outright rebellion in 12 harvests!

António cleaning the lagar after run off

Running off a lagar is an all-hands-on-deck job, with some of the team opening the pipe and lagar doors and monitoring the pumps and pipes either at the lagar or downstairs at the receiving tank end.  As soon as the lagar has been tipped up and emptied, António usually takes the lead in washing it out and getting it ready for the next lot of grapes.

After the must and aguardente are thoroughly mixed, we have young port wine, which is then moved into storage for the winter in one of our wooden toneis or another tank here at Quinta dos Malvedos.

Everyone helps bag and shift the vinhaço out of the press

The final steps are for the pressed out remains of the cap to be bagged up for removal by the distiller, and for Henry to send a bottle of the finished wine to the lab.  The lab will analyse the wine, and if necessary, suggest some minor corrections to the brandy levels.

In any given day, we may have any combination of these steps to complete, with three lagares of wine on the go in various stages of the process.  Despite our temperature control system, the fermentation process cannot be managed to a precise schedule, and sometimes we need to run off and/or fortify the wines in the middle of the night.  Whatever happens we have to clean up afterwards, which can make for a long night and very little sleep.  The team take it in turns to stay up with the fortifications when this happens.

The paperwork is intense and important - we can track all our wines back to the parcels, as well as contributing valuable information to research databases

The days and occasional nights are long, the team work hard when there is work to be done at whatever hour of the day or night, and Henry has his hands full with the planning and direction of all this activity, as well as his paperwork and frequent visits to the vineyards with Charles or Mariz to check on the state of the grapes still waiting to be picked.

At Malvedos, we plan on about three weeks to get all the grapes from the Malvedos and Tua quintas picked and vinified.  We are lucky we work with just two relatively small quintas: at some of our sister brands’ adegas the harvest period can run up to five weeks, whether because the wide range of altitude means a more drawn out picking time, as at Warre’s Cavadinha, or because the quinta is simply so immense it just takes that long to pick and vinify everything, as at Quinta do Vesuvio.

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29 September Malvedos Winery Update

Thankfully the weather cleared overnight and the clouds were gone this morning. The blue sky returned and it turned out into another perfect warm day, ideal for picking the Touriga Franca.

Vineyard update

The picking team start at the top of the Franca block and worked their way down over the morning

Arlindo’s team of 24 were picking the lower lying Franca by the river this morning just below and to the West of the Quinta house. As these blocks are quite close to the winery we received the first load at 08:50 just before breakfast which opened everybody’s appetite!

From here they moved higher up the Quinta near the entrance gate to blocks 64, 59 and 58. These were some of Charles’s preferred blocks on our tour of the Quinta the day before yesterday (see map). The grapes were in fact in perfect condition when they started arriving at the winery after lunch. The berries were at optimum maturity and released their intense purple colour as they fell into the lagar. These grapes are possibly some of the best I’ve seen arriving at the winery this year and I expect great things from this lagar. The baumé gave an excellent 13.95º and it looks like all is in place for it to be a Franca year par excellance.

Winery Update

Henry on box washing duty - and falling behind from that tumbled pile on the left!
L to R Gonçalo, Sr Edson and Henry sampling Graham's newest wines
A drop of aguardente gets the fire going in a pottery grill pan to char the chouriço

It was a very busy day in the winery today, between receiving the grapes, transfers, corrections, a fortification and packing the marc (vinhaço) into the 35 Kilo bags from the press, and everybody was flat out all day.

I took a break from the paperwork and helped out where I could during the day, at one point taking over box stacking duty from António when he was down at the press during the fortification.


Gonçalo Brito dropped by this afternoon with Sr. Edson Reis a client from our Angolan distributor 5 Sentidos.  We had a tasting of some of the recently made wines and he was particularly taken with one of the highly aromatic Nacional lagares.

At 10:30 after dinner at the house they came down and joined the lads who were having a grilled chouriço sandwich before going to bed at the end of the night shift.  As good as the cooking up at the house is, I think Gonçalo and Sr Edson enjoyed the chouriço (a very spicy cured sausage) a lot!

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Graham’s Tawnies Retro Event

Not all the Graham’s team are in the Douro for harvest, or at least not all the time!  Euan Mackay was in the Netherlands recently for an event which showed Graham’s Tawnies paired with some extraordinary main course food pairings.

Euan Mackay presents a masterclass in Port

On Monday 26 September a spectacular Graham’s Retro event was organised by Euan and Peter van Houtert, General Manager of Verbunt Wijnkopers, Graham’s importer in the Netherlands, at Huis De Salentein, a luxury hotel and conference centre in The Netherlands.  After a Port education session led by Euan Mackay with emphasis on Aged Tawny Port, the guests enjoyed a fantastic lunch prepared by well known chef Gerrit Greveling, who surpassed himself in his creative wine and food pairings.

Peter van Houtert, Euan Mackay and Gerrit Greveling

Gerrit Greveling is chairman of Alliance Gastronomique and has recently sold his one Michelin star restaurant Chalet Royal and is the first and only chef in Europe that has received the Gault Millau Award Wine and Food Specialist.  Greveling is strongly convinced of the quality of Port as a gastronomy wine:  ‘Port should much more often be served as a glass of wine in combination with for example mackerel or wild duck, ultimate matches that are above all really surprising.’

The Retro trip took our guests through blended Tawny Ports with 30 and 40 years of age and then all the way back to the phenomenal 50 year old Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny 1961.  In addition, Euan Mackay also shared a cask sample of a 1969 Single Harvest Tawny, which Graham’s will be bottling in the coming year (watch for more news on this soon!).

The dishes prepared and wines served included:

Graham’s Extra Dry White Port:  Cold served cassoulet of marinated  fat mackerel belly with langoustine roasted on one side, white beans and jinberu

Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny:  Grilled Northsea turbot with banana-shallots, kohl-rabi, crispy pancetta, sour cream and kaffir lime

Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny:  Canard à l’Orange ‘2011’ with pomegranate and cassia cinnamon

Graham's 1961 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Graham’s 1961 Single Harvest Tawny:  Boeuf ‘Bourguignonne’ of Rhine and IJssel beef with roasted haunch of deer, Opperdoeser ronde (local variety of potatoes) Bossche koek (gingerbread from city Den Bosch), Belper Knolle (Swiss  cheese) and a sauce with hints of quince.

Verbunt have again done a wonderful video of the event (remember the video from their great Port and Chocolate pairing event at DaVinci last year?)

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Life in the Winery Part 2 – Receiving the Grapes

The rhythm of the day at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos winery is set by the grape deliveries:  most days on average we will process six deliveries, though when it’s Touriga Nacional being picked, that can slow down to just four.

Alexandre and Juca on crates, Carlos on the sorting carpet

Everyone usually pitches in to help with the first unloading from the truck and stacking the crates on the scale to be weighed.  Once the statistics are taken, Alexandre and Juca will tip out the grapes onto the sorting carpet one bin at a time while Carlos (and Lisa while she was with us) does a quick review to pull out the odd leaf, mangled bunch or cluster of dried-out grapes.   Our pickers are expected to do the main triage in the vineyard as they cut, so the grapes that come into the winery are generally in very good condition.  The grapes will fall off the end of the sorting carpet and into a machine in the lower level of the winery which will de-stem and crush the grapes, before pumping them up a pipe into the lagar.

Tiago raking down stems so the de-stemmer - crusher doesn't jam up

The empty crate is handed off to Fonseca (in photo below) who runs it into the washing machine which cleans the crate with a jet of water, and Antonio catches it out the other end and stacks it up.  Downstairs of the adega Tiago will be at the destemmer to rake down the stems shooting out of the machine.

Meanwhile, Alexandre, our tractorista, has handed off to Henry the delivery notice, which Arlindo filled out and signed up in the vineyard to record when and where the grapes were picked.  Henry records this information along with the weight of the grapes delivered, the baumé, and any other observations about the quality of the grapes, which will all go into a detailed database of all our grapes and wines.  The scan code on the back of your bottle of any Graham’s Port gives us the information to trace the making of that wine right back to these entries about the grape deliveries made on the day of harvest.

Alexandre (our tractorista who shuttles the grapes from vineyard to adega) rakes down the grapes coming into the lagar

Alexandre often then goes into the winery up to the lagar that is being filled, and rakes down the grapes as they pile up at the mouth of the pipe which has brought them up from the crusher-destemmer, or helps out on the sorting carpet.

When the grapes are done, the crates go back onto the truck and Alexandre returns to the vineyards for the next load.  Meanwhile, the adega team hose down everything – the weight scale, the sorting carpet, the crate washer, and the stone terrace of the entire receiving area – ready for the next delivery.

The teamwork means this is an incredibly efficient and rapid process, and we can unload 2000 kilos of grapes and send Alexandre back up to the vineyards in just 20 minutes.

View of the whole receiving-sorting-crate washing-and-stacking operation on a beautiful Douro morning
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28 September Malvedos Winery Update

A rose in Dona Fatima's garden shows a few raindrops which fell early morning
Touriga Franca from Quinta do Tua

At 07:15 it was overcast and muggy with low lying grey cloud.  Some sporadic light rain or drizzle fell during the day which was not significant and will do no damage to the grapes but has at least served to settle the dust!  This is the first day since we started the Vintage on the 15th September that wasn’t one of bright sunshine.  The forecast is for sun and warm temperatures again tomorrow and for the coming week.

Vineyard update

Following the picking order established with Charles, after the Quinta do Tua Touriga Franca was finished late in the afternoon the 24 pickers returned to Malvedos and managed to get in one tractor load of Franca from Malvedos block 31 (see map) down by the river. Tomorrow we begin on the Malvedos Franca in earnest.  At Malvedos the Touriga Franca accounts for 36% of the Quinta so we are now roughly two thirds of the way through the picking.

The photo shows some classic Touriga Franca:  large bunches with tightly packed berries.  Miles Edlmann’s notes on the variety tell us

Touriga Francesa, or Touriga Franca as it has been officially known since July 2000, is the most widely planted Port grape. To realise its full potential, the fruit demands to be grown in hot and dry conditions, and it is no coincidence that the great Vintages are usually declared in years that favour the ripening of Touriga Francesa.  Even then, it is still able to retain a good acidity. It has particularly lifted, exotic floral aromas which add an essential complexity to Port blends, as well as intense red fruit flavours, rockrose, and sometimes blackberries.  It may also display some earthy notes on occasions.

Winery Update

The group from Gall and Gall with Henry at the last lagar of Touriga Nacional which was fermenting

This evening we have two lagares on the go, the last lagar of Nacional from Malvedos now mid way through fermentation (another late night I think for some of us!) and the first of Touriga Franca being trodden. Both are showing excellent colour in their respective stages of the winemaking process.  Even as today’s harvest of lightly crushed Franca grapes were accumulating in the lagar during the day, the must was showing a deep dark purple without any treading!

Apart from the colour what is so apparent this year is the just how aromatic the musts and final wines are.  Fresh and fruity aromas fairly leap out at you whenever you pass a lagar and as Rupert said the other day when he walked in the winery “It certainly smells good”.


Today we had two sets of visitors after lunch. First to arrive was a group from our Dutch agents Gall & Gall accompanied by Euan Mackay and Pedro Leite, who watched as we processed a load of grapes before touring the winery.

The PPW group learn about the aguardente we use to fortify our Port wines

A little later Paul Mugnier of Premium Port Wines (PPW), our distributor in the USA, arrived with a group of press, sommeliers, and customers who have been based at the Quinta since Monday whilst touring many of the Symington properties.   Along with the usual tour of the lagares, I explained to them the vineyard layout at Malvedos and we did a tasting of some of our 2011 wines while I explained the different characteristics of the principal grape varieties planted at the Quinta.

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Life in the Winery Part 1 – Start of Day

Have you been trying to picture for yourself what day to day life really is like at Quinta dos Malvedos during the Port harvest in the Douro? The blog and our Facebook postings give many glimpses, but we thought we would try to pull together a full picture for you.

After unloading 2000 kg of Touriga Nacional on a hot day the team relax, leaning against the cool grainite of the old lagares
We can't get mobile signals at the winery or lower levels of quinta, so Henry and Mariz catch up on calls at the top of the vineyards
  • It’s a lot of sheer hard work broken with spells of simply waiting for the next grapes to come down from the vineyards.
  • It’s the weather – glorious weather makes it all a lot easier and more fun, too hot sun and temperatures makes it uncomfortable and difficult, and rain… doesn’t bear thinking about.
  • It’s the isolation in this mountain region, spending three weeks or more away from family and friends and difficult telecommunications only increase the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world.
  • For Henry, it is probably even more paperwork than he has in his office in Gaia, as he tracks every gram of grapes, millilitre of must and aguardente, and the expenses of the beer fund for the winery team.

Henry generally arrives at the winery shortly after 7:00 am to catch up on emails (internet connection permitting – dial-up is the highest tech available and can be temperamental!), paperwork and planning.  The rest of the team come up by 8:00.  The first hour in the winery is usually quiet, checking on the wines in progress and getting ready for the day ahead.

Alexandre and Juca empty the bins onto the sorting table, and while Lisa and Carlos sort, Juca puts each bin through washer, and António catches and stacks the bins

The picking team start at 7:00 or 7:30 and if they are picking near the winery and our luck is really bad, the first load of grapes will arrive moments before breakfast.  The grapes have to be processed promptly:  we don’t want them sitting in the sun, and we need to return the empty crates so the picking team are not delayed in their progress.

At 9:00 or after the grapes are done, the team walk up the hill to Arlindo’s house, where his wife Dona Fatima has breakfast waiting for us.  This is simple and hearty, with lots of hot coffee and milk, cereal, fresh bread still warm from the Tua village bakery, and cheese, homemade marmelada (quince paste), chouriço or ham to go with it.

The winery day basically runs till 7:00 at night.  During that time, we can count on handling an average of six deliveries of grapes and a variable routine of winemaking tasks (more details to come in our next articles).

Roast chicken and french fries, a platter of rice, a big bowl of salad, wine, bread... no one goes hungry

Lunch is at 1:00 and dinner at 7:00 pm, and again, both meals are hearty and plentiful, with bread, salad and wine on the table, some kind of grilled or baked meat or fish or a meat casserole, potatoes or rice (or both!) followed by soup, fruit and coffee.  We take lunch and dinner together with the Quinta do Tua winery team, so the kitchen is feeding around forty including themselves.  You see why we weigh in at the start of harvest and the biggest gainer (there are always several contenders) treats everyone else to a meal at the Calça Curta, the restaurant in Tua, at the end of harvest!

Watch for more about Life in the Winery over the next few days

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27 September Malvedos Winery Update

The view downriver from the balcony of Quinta do Tua 7:15 AM 27 September

I opened the winery at 07:05 this morning and it’s a wonderful part of the day, very quiet.  It’s still only half light and you can see on the neighbouring hillsides the odd tractor and lorry with their headlights on picking their way through the vineyard tracks to work.

The harvest team currently begin at 07:00 and finish at 16:30, however from next week, with the diminishing early morning light, they will move to a 07:30 to 17:00 schedule.  By 07:30 today it was fully light and the blue sky promised another warm clear day.

I just heard on the radio that September on average has been the hottest month of the year – hotter than July and August!  It comes as no surprise given the consistently warm, clear  weather we have been experiencing since the Vintage began.

Vineyard update

Charles and Henry on a tasting tour of every block of Touriga Francesa at Malvedos
Touriga Francesa, 27 September 2011 Malvedos

Arlindo and his team of 24 finished the Malvedos Touriga Nacional just before lunch and moved over to the Quinta do Tua Nacional which they finished late in the afternoon. Tomorrow they begin on the Tua Touriga Franca which is likely to take all day before they move back to the Malvedos Franca on Thursday the day after tomorrow.

Charles was here today and we took an hour and a half going round all the Touriga Franca blocks in the Quinta in order to define the perfect picking order. This attention to detail is what making great wines is all about.  The Franca is really full of flavour this year with soft thin skins and now at perfect maturity to be picked.

As we began tasting grapes in the Touriga Franca blocks 58-59-64 near the entrance to Quinta dos Malvedos (see map) Charles commented “This is the best Franca I have tasted this year”.  He was really pleased!  (Note from Cynthia:  later, tasting his way through another parcel, I heard him saying, “This just gets better by the minute…” !)

Winery Update

Deeply coloured Touriga Nacional port wine

We filled the 5th lagar of Nacional during the course of the day and this will be the last one of the Vintage. From here on it will be just Touriga Franca.

Charles also tasted the most recently made wines including the first Nacional lagar (mentioned in yesterday’s post), which he liked a lot due to exuberance of fruit, freshness and off the scale purple colour that even stained the empty glass.

The other excitement at the winery today was a visit from Mr. Fix-It.  The selection carpet had a mechanical problem this morning which meant that we could not unload grapes into the crusher – big problem!  We had to call David ‘pronto’ to fix it and luckily he was in the vicinity.   With his fast BMW GS 1200 bike he was with us in no time to sort out the problem. Fixing things quickly during the Vintage is of the essence as delays often grind everything to a halt and could be detrimental to quality.

David (Mr Fix-It) repairing a part of the selection table between deliveries. Paul really wanted us to post a photo of David's BMW GS 1200 motorbike, we think he wants one too (but maybe without the twin tool chests)
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Harvest at Quinta das Lages

Sunlight filtering through vines on the steep terraces at Quinta das Lages

One of the five quintas in the blend of Graham’s ports is Quinta das Lages, deep in the Rio Torto valley, which has been supplying grapes to Graham’s for almost 90 years.  For as long as Ports have been made this valley has been renowned for the quality of its wines.  Blessed with a microclimate that encourages a long slow ripening period, the steep, twisted valley runs south from the Douro just downriver from Pinhão.

The altitude at Lages runs from 120 metres up to 400, and with patamares wrapped around a steep hillside the exposure varies from north to south east facing, so it is a dramatic quinta.  Fully a third of its vineyards are planted with mixed vines, and of the single-varietal parcels, 22% are Touriga Franca and almost 17% Touriga Nacional, along with smaller plantings of Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.  Half the vines have an average age of 30 years, and the Lages wines show all the intensity and complexity of mature vines, as well as the elegance that comes from higher, airier exposures and a uniquely distinct violet aroma.

Sr António and Pedro Leal da Costa
The hillside is so steep you can barely see the pickers working only four terraces above

The viticulturist with direct responsibility for Lages year round is Paulo Macedo, but during harvest he turns winemaker and runs the winery at Graham’s Quinta do Tua, so Pedro Leal de Costa, SFE’s head viticulturist, visits regularly to monitor the condition of the grapes and plan the picking order together with Sr António, the caseiro.

The harvest team had just finished the Tinta Cão on Sunday and yesterday they began picking one of the mixed vine parcels, which covers a precipitous hill side.  It was another spectacular day in the Douro, with cloudless blue skies and brilliant warm sunshine.

Pedro and Sr. António are pleased with the grapes and the progress so far, but true to form it appears they will not finish the picking at Lages until almost a week after most of Graham’s riverside properties have been completed.  Luckily the weather outlook continues favourable, so we can look forward to great wines from this marvellous quinta.

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26 September Malvedos Winery Update

Early morning sunlight hitting the hills downriver

It’s a lovely bright cool morning at Malvedos as I begin writing at 07:55.  The weather forecast on the radio predicts an increase in temperature today, and it did turn out to be a hot day.  The cooling was full on the lagar we were filling today as in the afternoon the grapes were coming in quite warm.

Vineyard update

Arlindo’s 24 pickers are now on the final run of Touriga Nacional at Malvedos, picking a group of parcels planted in 2005 halfway up the quinta.  The grapes arriving at the winery continue in excellent condition and taste sweet and very flavoursome.  I had expected to finish the Malvedos Nacional today, but there is still a little more to go, so tomorrow morning they will finish that and then move over to Quinta do Tua and begin harvesting the Nacional there.

Winery Update

We ran off and fortified the 3rd lagar of Nacional in the morning.  The colour is so intense our photos are not doing it justice, though we will try again with the finished wine.   As Miles mentioned in his Cavadinha post on the Vintage Port Site – I think this is one of those wines that will go off the colour scale it’s so purple.

Cask sample of the first Touriga Nacional of 2011

This afternoon we had a taste of the first Nacional lagar and are very happy with the result in terms of the freshness and concentration of fruit and floral aromas as well as the immense colour.

We are now on day 12 of the Vintage and some wear and tear is beginning to show from the long hours and night shifts, although there might be an element of Lisa’s farewell dinner involved as far as today is concerned with some of them…couldn’t help but notice the vast quantity of water consumed at dinner this evening, in lieu of the usual glass or two of wine.

Overall it was a very quiet day in the winery, and we did not even receive any visitors.  We know Rupert arrived in the late afternoon at the Quinta with some USA customers and press who are staying at Malvedos, so  no doubt we shall see them in the next day or two.

Excellent Tinta Roriz Colours

Today I received the final analysis on the Tinta Roriz lagares and was amazed by the colour results. We measure the red pigment colour which gives a rough indication of the level of anthocyanins present in the wine and these registered the highest pigment levels since my first vintage here at Malvedos in 2000!  This is yet another sign of the excellent overall quality of the 2011 vintage to date.

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