January 2012 Douro Insider

With the exception of a moderately moist first day of the month, which very few people can remember anyway so it doesn’t really count, the New Year got off to an extremely dry start.  December’s fog still persisted in the Douro, however, although perhaps with a little less intensity.  Indeed, pretty much the only factor which differentiated one day from another was the varying thickness of the capacete (layer of fog).  When the fog was thin it burnt off quickly during the morning and the day warmed up quite pleasantly under a clear sky, but then of course the temperature amplitude was exaggerated since at night time it turned really quite cold due to lack of celestial insulation.  On other days, when the fog was thicker, the sun didn’t get through until much later and temperatures remained more stable (but just as cold, almost).  In spite of the actual numbers, the fact that there was plenty of sun certainly gave the erroneous impression (when the nights were taken into account too) that it was relatively mild for this time of the year.   Weather reports indicated that some more southerly parts of the country experienced days with temperatures getting over 20º C nevertheless. Read Full Report

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Planning a New Vineyard at Quinta da Vila Velha

Most of the vineyards at Vila Velha are sited on west facing hillsides above the river
Quinta da Vila Velha from the river - Quinta dos Malvedos is around the bend of the river beyond

In addition to his work as research viticulturist, Miles Edlmann has responsibility for the maintenance of Graham’s Quinta da Vila Velha.  Situated around a bend just downriver from Quinta dos Malvedos, Vila Velha is spread out over 140 hectares of land, with just 57 hectares under vine.  The balance is olive groves and wilderness.

Along with the usual vineyard maintenance tasks, Miles has another major project on hand this year:  the planning of a possible new vineyard at Vila Velha.

Over the years a number of small adjacent quintas have been purchased and added into the Vila Velha holdings.  As a result, there are many small parcels of vines at the perimeter of the property, separated by large tracts of wilderness or olive grove from the main area of vineyards.  For years we have enjoyed the grapes from these mature vines, but now a number of these parcels are past their best and need to be re-planted.  On the other hand, it makes little to sense to re-plant in these locations.  The logistics of managing these small parcels are awkward and expensive:  as old vineyards with rows set too close together to allow a tractor to pass through, all the work of pruning, spraying and canopy management must be done entirely by hand, and during the vintage moving the picking team around to work in a series of small remote parcels is time consuming and inefficient.

Artur, Arménio Lopes (the caseiro) and Miles discussing the best placement for road access and the layout of the new vineyard

Instead, we are looking at the possibility of tearing up the old vineyards – four small parcels which total about 2 hectares – but planting the new vines elsewhere, in a newly created, consolidated and more accessible plot.  The proposed site for the new vineyard is what is known in the Douro as a mortuario: an old vineyard that was abandoned after the devastation of phylloxera in the late 19th century.  It is a hillside riddled with ruined and half-buried stone walls, now planted with mature olive trees.

Our proposals must be worked out and documented very carefully and then approved by several different authorities before work can begin.  Among the restrictions and considerations to be reckoned with:

  • we cannot create more vineyard than we already have – so the new planting must be no larger than the total of the old plantings
  • we will need planning permission to move and re-plant the olive trees we take out of the hillside to create the vineyard
  • some of the old stone walls are intact and will of course be preserved and worked into our plans, but we would have to be granted permission to remove the remains of walls which have fallen into ruins and are now half buried under the soil
  • our plans must include access roads
  • we need to plan for drainage, and work out how heavy rains might be channeled down the hillside to avoid damage to the new terraces

With all this in mind, the first work of the day was to have another good look at the hillside and decide the best position for the vineyard.  Miles was joined by Artur Moreira, another of our viticultural team who works with many of our mapping and planning projects and has expertise in the use of GPS systems.

Artur Moreira and Miles Edlmann setting a stake to take a GPS reading to define the limits of the proposed new vineyard

Miles and Artur placed stakes along the proposed lower edge and side of the vineyard, and after much lively discussion and adjustments to create an optimum contour, Artur took GPS readings.  Whilst most of three sides of the proposed vineyard are already easily visible on photo-maps, they had to establish these other edges quite clearly in order to produce a new photo-map to  include with our proposals.  To do this, the stakes were placed and Artur was then able to use his GPS device to get the satellite readings to define the perimeter of the vineyards.

Planning for the management of run off was pretty straightforward – you can see quite clearly on the hillside where the water naturally courses down now.  That will be taken into consideration as we define the  contours of the terraces and the placement of the access roads, as the best way to manage water runoff is along the back of the terraces and into channels alongside the roadways.  We can design the vineyard so the natural runoff from the crest of the hillside will easily enter this channel system, rather than cascade down and potentially damage the terraces and soil banks.

The next steps in the planning will mostly happen in the office, as we complete the necessary applications for permission.  If all goes well, and permission is granted, then the work of moving the olive trees and creating the new terraces will begin this winter, after the harvest.

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Support for Soldier’s Charities

The Symington family support a number of charities and causes through their various Port brands, and recently Graham’s sister brand, Warre’s, has made a substantial donation to Help for Heroes, a UK organisation that supports wounded soldiers and their families.

In 1809 Captain William Warre, born and raised in Porto and one of the family that founded the oldest British Port company, was part of the Duke of Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army which freed Porto from French occupation during the Peninsular War.  Captain Warre led efforts to cut off the French escape from Porto, and in recognition of his bravery was decorated with the highest Portuguese military honour, the Order of São Bento d’Aviz.

Last June the Symingtons released a limited edition of just 500 cases of Warre’s 2009 Vintage Port to commemorate the freedom of Porto and committed to donate the proceeds of the sale of the wine in the UK and Portugal to soldier’s charities in each country.

Last week, Paul was in England together with his cousin Clare Symington, to present a cheque for £18,240 to Help for Heroes.  This group provides direct practical support for wounded soldiers and their families through a series of programs, including physical rehabilitation, combat stress treatment, and training for new skills and qualifications to re-enter civilian life when they have recovered from injuries or illness sustained in service to their country.

Bryn Parry, CEO and Co-founder of Help for Heroes, received the donation, saying “We are very honoured that Warre’s Port and the Symington family chose to mark this anniversary with this donation to Help for Heroes.  It’s heartening to think that the actions of one soldier 200 years ago have gone towards helping fellow soldiers in another era.  H4H is all about ‘doing your bit’ and Warre’s support is fantastic.  The money raised is greatly needed and it is hugely appreciated; ensuring the wounded and their families get the support they deserve, for life.  On behalf of everyone at Help for Heroes and all those who the money will benefit, thank you.’

Next week in Porto Paul will meet with representatives of the Liga dos Combatentes, to present €3,550, the proceeds of the sale of the Warre’s 2009 in Portugal.

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Graham’s and Primum Familiae Vini in London

Last week Paul Symington was in London together with his colleagues from the Primum Familiae Vini to show Graham’s wines to the top UK wine writers and food and beverage professionals.  It was quite a show.

Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) is an association of eleven of the most prestigious family owned and run wineries from around the world.  They came together to create a forum in which to share literally hundreds of years of experience and exchange ideas about their unique challenges.  Both formally as a group and more informally between individual members, they have shared information about everything from viticultural techniques and bottling line innovations to marketing and distribution contacts around the world.  On the marketing side particularly they have created a formidable presence in the wine world, working together to show their wines globally.

Members of the Primum Familiae Vini at The Square Restaurant in London (Paul Symington second from left)

After Shanghai in 2009 and Brazil in 2010, this year London was the focus of the PFV’s activities.  Events included a luncheon for the press, a dinner and charity auction, and a tasting for the the UK’s top wine trade professionals and wine writers.

The press lunch on Thursday 9 February was held at the 2 Michelin starred The Square Restaurant in Mayfair, and the menu and wine list are amazing.  Prior to the lunch, each producer showed a young wine – in our case, the Graham’s Vintage Port 2007 – and then an older wine was served with the meal.  Paul said it was an honour to show Graham’s Vintage Ports in such august company, citing the Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1961 as possibly the greatest Bordeaux of all time.

Pol Roger Blanc de Blanc 1988

Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 1990
Lasagne of Dorset Crab with a Cappuccino of Shellfish and Champagne Foam

Solaia 2008
Sassicaia 1996
Château de Beaucastel 1990
Loin of Monkfish with Glazed Trotter, Savoy Cabbage, Lentils and Red Wine

Mas La Plana 1982
Vega Sicilia Unico 1953
Château Mouton Rothschild 1961
Venison Wellington with Baked Celeriac and Beetroot Purée

Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 1976
Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese 1990
Graham’s 1963
Bitter Chocolate Pavé with a Seville Orange Soufflé

The Graham’s 1963 is a landmark wine for several reasons.  First and foremost, of course, for its extraordinary quality – as Paul said, “This is the kind of wine we want to make.”  The 1963 Vintage was also a distinct turning point for the Port trade, bringing Port back to the attention of the wine trade and consumers after the difficult years of World War II and its aftermath.

UK wine writer Jamie Goode described the succession of wines at lunch as “Peaks and no valleys”.  We were pleased to see that Iberian wines dominated his top points, with Graham’s 1963 rated 97/100 together with Torres Mas La Plana Gran Coronas Gran Reserva 1982 Penedes, Spain; Vega Sicilia Unico 1953 Ribera del Duero, Spain; and Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese 1990 Mosel, Germany.

Thursday evening PFV members and their guests enjoyed a gala dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant Galvin at Windows, at the London Hilton Hotel.  Graham’s Vintage 1970 was served with another stunning dessert, a Palet d`or of Valrhona Araguani Chocolate, Quince and Blood Orange.  Following the dinner a charity auction featured a special case containing one wine from each of the PFV members, which raised £19,000.

On Friday, the PFV had the opportunity to show a broad range of their wines to over 200 sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine market professionals – including 30 Masters of Wine and six MW students.  Graham’s showed Six Grapes, Late Bottled Vintage 2006, 20 Year Old and 40 Year Old Tawnies, the Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 Vintage and the Graham’s 1980 Vintage Port.

At each of the events, in speaking with press and wine professionals, the wine makers emphasised the unique compatability of wine production with a family owned business structure.  Planting a vineyard and maturing a wine to perfection are long term endeavours, which corporations, with their need for short term performance to satisfy shareholder demands, are ill suited to manage.  Paul has frequently spoken of the new plantations in our Douro vineyards as something we do for future generations, not for a return in the next few years.

One of the avowed goals of the PFV is to assist in bringing the next generation into the business – and Robert Symington, who currently has his own London-based business, joined his father Paul at Thursday’s lunch.  Rob grew up in Porto and the Douro and has worked harvests at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and at Prats & Symington’s Quinta de Roriz, just downriver, where we make Douro DOC wines.  He is looking forward to joining Graham’s in a few years when his own business is more well established.

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December 2011 Douro Insider

The first two or three days of the month suggested that it was going to be basically cold, grey and wet, rather predictably.  But the rain immediately dried up and on balance December turned out just to be cold and grey.  The amount of greyness experienced depended entirely on one’s location, however, as the truth of the matter is that there were precious few clouds around in the Douro in December, but plenty of fog.  Low-lying towns and villages, especially those close to the river, spent much of the month barely seeing the sun, nestled as they were below a thick layer of fog.  Those living on the tops of the hills had beautiful blue skies every day, almost without exception, whilst those somewhere in between generally woke up in the middle of the fog but then saw it clear by mid-morning.  Read Full Report

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Graham’s Lodge Renovations

For the past 120 years the Graham’s Lodge has played a critical role in creating our legendary wines, as the warehouse in which we gently age Graham’s ports in cask and in bottle.  For more than 20 years we have welcomed visitors to the Lodge and shown them how great Port is made and how it tastes.  But now, previously un-used space is being re-designed to create an unparalleled experience for the more than 60,000 Port lovers who visit us each year.

Paul Symington, right, consulting with other key members of the Lodge project. In a few months, the space where they are standing will be a restaurant.

Last June we announced the official inauguration of works at the Graham’s Lodge.  Since then, Paul Symington, Chairman and Joint Managing Director, has been making regular tours of the site to inspect the progress of the works.  He knows the Lodge intimately and takes a keen interest in every detail of the project, from the discovery of hitherto unsuspected architectural details, to the logistics of the construction project, to the “flow” of the tourist visit from one area to another.  Paul is very keen that our guests be able to appreciate this unique and historic building as well as the story of Graham’s and the wine making and ageing processes that create our superb Port wines.  As he toured the site recently Paul remarked, “We already have the friendliest and most knowledgeable Lodge team in town, now we will have the best space in which to welcome and entertain our visitors.”

This will be your view as you relax on the veranda outside the restaurant with a glass of Graham's Port.

In addition to a new entrance area, tasting room and shop, the renovated Lodge will include a museum and purpose-built multi-media room.  But the most eagerly anticipated change will be the opening of the restaurant.  The wine list will include the full array of Graham’s Ports and a selection of Ports from other Symington Family  Estates brands, as well as the SFE Douro DOC wines.  Naturally the menu will offer visitors the opportunity to taste our wines in combination with superb food.  We can already imagine our guests relaxing on the veranda overlooking the spectacular view upriver, and debating the best dish and flavour combination to enhance their appreciation of, for example, our 20 Year Old Tawny or a fine older Vintage Port.

Watch the Blog and our Facebook page in the coming months as we begin to reveal more details of the project leading up to the grand opening later in the year.

Throughout the project the Lodge continues to be open to visitors as always – see the Graham’s Port Lodge website for more details of opening hours and visits.

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Dream Visit to Quinta dos Malvedos

Johnny Symington draws the winner's name for the 2012 trip to Malvedos

Last year at the Graham’s Lodge we ran a contest for the chance to visit the spectacular Quinta dos Malvedos in the heart of the Douro Valley.  In January Raul, of our Lodge team, put all the entrants’ details in a barrel and Johnny Symington drew out the winning name.  One of our 2011 Lodge visitors will return to Portugal this year with a friend and spend two days at Quinta dos Malvedos, on us.  The good news for all of you reading this is:  we are running the contest again in 2012.

Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos

The quinta was acquired by the Graham family in 1890, and has always been regarded as one of the finest properties in the region and the full-bodied, rich, ripe and complex Malvedos wines have always defined the style of Graham’s superb ports.  Located in the heart of the Douro region, facing south over the river, Quinta dos Malvedos has a microclimate which ensures optimum conditions for ripening the grapes – so much so, that in years when we do not declare a classic Graham’s Vintage, we can almost always produce a Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port.  When you visit the quinta and see this landscape for yourself, you will understand our Ports like never before.

Enjoy a chilled tawny on the veranda at Malvedos

Our properties are not generally open to the public – they are working farms and private homes which are used by the Symington family privately, as well as for business entertainment, so this is an extraordinary opportunity.  Your visit will include two days and a night at Quinta dos Malvedos, with tours of the wineries and vineyards at both Malvedos and nearby Quinta do Tua.  Additionally, the winner will enjoy a boat trip up and down the river to see Quinta da Vila Velha, another Graham’s quinta, and Quinta do Roriz where the Symingtons and Bruno Prats make the elegant Chryseia and Post Scriptum Douro DOC wines.  Finally, they will get to enjoy Branca and Prazeres’ excellent cooking – their bacalhau in cream is the best!

The Graham’s Lodge will be running the prize drawing again in 2012:  if you visit the Lodge and spend a minimum of €500 for wine which is shipped anywhere in Europe or the United Kingdom, your name will be entered, ask at the Lodge for full details.  In 2013, it could be you visiting us at Quinta dos Malvedos.

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Graham’s Port Scholarship

Carl Stanton (centre) the WSET Graham's Scholarship winner, with Christopher Elliott Lockhart of Fells and wine writer Jancis Robinson MW

Graham’s is proud to be a corporate sponsor of the UK-based Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which provides training and internationally recognised qualifications for professionals in the drinks industry globally, as well as more informal consumer oriented courses.

As part of our commitment, Graham’s provides an all-expenses paid study trip to the Douro for the student, already working in the drinks industry, who has achieved top marks on the Fortified Wines examination component of the Diploma course – a very tough two year course which leads to the top qualification offered by the WSET.

At the WSET Graduation Ceremony recently held at the Guildhall, London, top UK wine writer Jancis Robinson MW and Christopher Eliott Lockhart of Fells Wine Importers and Distributors presented the Graham’s Port Scholarship to Carl Stanton of Bibendum Wine, one of the foremost wine distribution firms in the UK.

Carl will spend a minimum of four days with us on his scholarship trip during the harvest season.  He will visit the Graham’s Lodge as well as our working tasting rooms in Vila Nova de Gaia, and then spend a few days upriver at our quintas.  It will be an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about how the finest Ports are made.

Congratulations Carl, we look forward to your visit!

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