Tracking The Season – 29 June

The vine tips are still growing exuberantly

After weeks of cool (for the Douro – upper 20’s, low 30’s Celcius) weather, these last few days of June saw a sudden sharp increase, with temperatures Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday around 40ºC.  Arlindo, the caseiro at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, commented that it was still 40ºC on the verandah at 5:00 one afternoon when our guests were being served their White Port and Tonics – which must have been outstandingly refreshing and welcome in that heat.

By Thursday temperatures had eased, and Friday was comfortable again with a mixture of sun and high clouds and a bit of late afternoon breeze.  The cooler weather is due to hold through Sunday, and then temperatures will climb again, according to forecasts.

We joined Arlindo and viticulturist Alexandre Mariz on Friday, and our first stop was a low lying parcel at Sibio (the property adjacent to Malvedos which we just acquired), where Alexandre was concerned the conditions were ripe for oidium.  There was no sign of this fungal disease at all, but we did find a few instances of queima, or sunburn.  Whilst the recent 40ºC temperatures would not be very unusual at this time of year normally, coming as it did this year as such a sudden sharp change and accompanied by absolutely cloudless sunny days, some of our grapes have experienced a little sunburn, which turns the grapes into premature raisins.

We are just beginning our desponta, the shoot-trimming and hedging operations in our vineyards.  The timing turned out well, as the hitherto untrimmed leaf canopy shaded and protected the vast majority of grapes from the sudden heat and sun this week, and minimised the potential damage from sunburn.  It should take us about three weeks to complete the hedging at Malvedos and Tua.

Our regular photo of the Touriga Franca vine at Malvedos brings to mind the phrase “irrational exuberance,” with the vines extending well up above the top wire of the trellis, and reaching out across the path.  And the fact that the vines are growing well, and the shoot tips remain green and continuing to extend and put on leaf, is proof that so far our vines are not experiencing hydric stress (see also first photo).  Pruning the vines cuts the growing tips and encourages the plant to redirect its energy into maturing the grapes rather than extending vine and putting on more leaf, obviously desirable over the next two months or more leading into harvest.

Young Sousão at Quinta do Tua
This year’s plantings at Tua are thriving

Over at Quinta do Tua where the vineyards face full south, a young plantation of Sousão showed no signs of sunburn at all, even though the grape clusters have very little foliage cover, in fact the vines were remarkably fresh and healthy.  Alexandre said this would be because those plants and grape clusters have been so fully exposed to the sun all season long that they were more accustomed, and therefore more resistant, to the combined heat and sunlight.

In the new plantation at Quinta do Tua, the young vines of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca just planted this winter are growing well, and you can see the fresh and lively growing tips.  We have watered the plantation once so far this year, and as Alexandre was inspecting the plants, he said we don’t yet need to water again, but this is something he monitors closely every time he visits.

In the photo below of the view across Quinta do Tua, you can clearly see the undulations of the hillside.  In the foreground the mature plantation is Touriga Nacional, the next swell of hillside has a young Sousão plantation at the top, and the lower part of that hill and the two folds of hill beyond are all the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca plantings made this year.  The last fold of hill in the distance which is showing a fresh green is another three year old plantation of Sousão, where the photo above was taken.

Quinta do Tua, 29 June 17:47
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Race of the Barcos Rabelos

Once on the north side of the river, Graham’s rapidly overtook Cockburn’s and others

Every year the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, the Brotherhood of Port Wine, sponsors a race of the barcos rabelos, replicas of the boats that traditionally brought young port down river from the vineyards every spring to Vila Nova de Gaia.  The 2012 race was an exciting one.  In addition to the Graham’s boat, Symington Family Estates was represented by three more of our top Port brands:  Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s.

After a few weeks of unseasonably cool and occasionally overcast weather, we had a brilliant sunny hot day – summer finally arrived over the São João weekend, and even better there was a good wind, although a little more northerly than ideal.  The barcos are nearly flat-bottomed, with no keels and even the steering rudder is little more than an oar, so we haven’t the leverage to sail close to the wind, unlike most sailboats.

The Symington fleet were among the first to be towed out to the mouth of the river, where we dropped anchor and enjoyed a light meal before the race was due to begin at 17:00.  Graham’s drew unlucky position 13 – unlucky because it is near the end of the line on the Gaia side where the riverbank angles sharply north just in front of the starting line, causing a bottleneck at the start.  Dow’s boat, the Rio Torto II, fared slightly better in position 10, and Warre’s and Cockburn’s were in positions 6 and 5 respectively.

With four boats in the race, naturally there was a bit of good natured competition between brands.  Paul Symington was aboard Dow’s this year with this wife and daughter, Rupert Symington and his son Hugh were on the Cockburn’s boat, and Charles Symington sailed aboard Graham’s.  Oddly… there was no Symington on the winning Warre’s.  Perhaps it was the presence of Fonseca, of the Graham’s harvest winery team, that brought them their luck this year!  Graham’s was also heavily represented on the Cockburn’s boat – in addition to Rupert and Hugh, the crew included the blogger, our viticulturist Alexandre Mariz, and Raul from the Graham’s Lodge.

When the flag went up to signal the start of the race, Cockburn’s made the best start, with the sail rapidly hauled aloft and immediately filled with wind.  Dow’s and Warre’s struggled a bit, catching the wind at first on the wrong side of the sail, and took a few minutes to get well underway.  Graham’s had a fair start, but their southerly position forced them to spend the first 10 minutes or more of the race just trying to get clear of the new docks at Afurada and beat against the wind over to the northern side and position themselves for a clear shot up river.

Graham’s and Dow’s at the start of the race

By the time we reached the Arrábida Bridge, Warre’s had pulled in front and was among the leaders of the entire fleet.  Of the SFE boats, Cockburn’s was second, Dow’s third and Graham’s fourth.  From Arrábida to the finish line these three boats jockeyed and traded positions, but none of us caught up to Warre’s again.

Unlike last year, when variable winds made for slow and confused progress, this year the wind was quite steady, and the race remarkably rapid – less than 40 minutes from the starting flag until Warre’s triumphantly swept across the finish line in First place, followed closely by Ferreira and third place Rozès.

Both sides of the river from the starting line all the way to the Ponte Dom Luis were lined with crowds cheering us on all along the way, which was wonderful to see and hear – thank you to everyone who came out, it was great to recognise friends and family on shore!

When next you are on the riverfront at Gaia, look for the white Campeão – Champion – banner flying from the Warre’s barco rabelo, the Quinta da Cavadinha.


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Royal Ascot with Johnny Symington and Graham’s

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrving at Royal Ascot
Johnny Symington (in dashing blue waistcoat) with friends enjoying Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port
Johnny and friends enjoy another glass to toast the victory of the Queen’s own horse

Johnny Symington writes: 

In typical Jubilee weather – cold wind and showers – I enjoyed a day at Ascot with the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port which provided a most welcome and warming accompaniment to the strawberries!  The Grahams 1952 was served to a gathering of twenty friends and family at the picnic before the arrival of The Queen and the afternoon’s horse racing.

To great excitement and ever more deafening cries from the crowds one of the Queen’s own horses “Estimate” won The Queen’s Vase Race.  As The Queen can not present the prize to herself, The Duke Of Edinburgh graciously presented it to her.

It was really the Queen’s day, so we celebrated her win with – yes, you guessed it – another glass of 1952!

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Graham’s Acquires Another Douro Vineyard

Quinta do Sibio, on the western edge of Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos

Graham’s has recently acquired another vineyard immediately adjacent to Quinta dos Malvedos on the western side.  Originally three separate quintas but now known collectively as Quinta do Sibio, the owners have sold their grapes to Graham’s for some years.

With 19 hectares of vineyard, the total property is something over 40 hectares, and runs in roughly a narrow rectangle from the river front right up the hillside almost to the skyline.  The lower half of the vineyards are planted on soil banked terraces and at a point where the hillside flattens out a bit there is an old house and farm buildings surrounded by gentler slopes planted vertically (vinhos ao alto).  The main house bears a fine coat of arms on its outside wall signifying that it was once the property of a Portuguese nobleman.  There are two additional ruined farmhouses with stunning views over the Douro.

As at Malvedos, the vineyards face primarily south, so enjoy excellent conditions for full ripening most years, and are planted with the typical Douro varieties.  Also like Malvedos, the property is not wholly vineyard, but has large areas of natural shrub, and a rather charming orange and olive grove planted between the train line and the river bank.  In addition, there are three natural springs on the property.

Given that Sibio and Malvedos border one another and their respective farm tracks can be easily connected, they will be managed jointly and Senhor Arlindo and Alexandre Mariz, the Malvedos caseiro and viticulturist respectively, will take responsibility for the care of the vineyards throughout the year.  Together with our head winemaker Charles Symington, they will be assessing the vines in greater detail over the next few months and making decisions about how to handle the harvest this year.

In the past, as with other bought in grapes, the production was vinified at nearby Quinta do Tua, but it is possible that Charles may choose to send some or all of the grapes to the winery at Quinta dos Malvedos.  Very roughly, 19 hectares of vines at our usual production levels could mean another 5 or 6 lagares for Henry Shotton and the winery team to vinify, if we chose to take all of it into Malvedos.

Stay with us in the coming months on the blog as we explore and learn more about this exciting addition to Graham’s Douro vineyards.


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Tracking the Season – 15 June

Once more yesterday to visit Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua, to see how the vineyards are progressing.  Alexandre Mariz, our viticulturist for these two quintas, said the weather has been mostly clear and cooler than usual – lower to mid 20s Celcius for the most part, versus the temperatures in the 30s we would expect, though it was 29º yesterday.  As you can see in the views below, it was a beautifully clear sunny day, warm but quite breezy.

Our Touriga Franca vine continues to put on leaf, and if you compare to the photo from 1 June, you can clearly see how the vines have grown and their foliage is filling in the space between the middle and upper wire; many of the vines now extend well above.  The work of tucking the vines in between the wires is mostly done, though as we walked through the vineyards Alexandre paused to take care of a few exuberant strays.

There has been no significant rainfall at Malvedos and Tua (though we have had a showery few weeks in Gaia), and Alexandre confirmed there are still no sign of oidium or mildew.  Also good news is the fact that our vines here, so far, have shown no signs of hydric stress, though we remain concerned that if the temperatures do rise to normal or higher levels in the coming months after the dry winter we could have trouble.  Hydric stress is not entirely a bad thing – up to a point – as it concentrates flavours, and our Douro grape varieties are well adapted to handle it.  The development of the vines generally is perhaps a little behind normal, given the relatively cool conditions the past few weeks, but nothing to concern us or that couldn’t be caught up over the next couple months.

Over at Quinta do Tua, the view gets greener every fortnight, and the new plantation of Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional continues to thrive.  Though irrigation is generally not permitted in the Douro wine growing region, an exception is made for new plantations in their first year.  So far, we have not watered the new vines, but we are monitoring them closely and are prepared to do so when needed.

Quinta do Tua 15 June 2012, 18:03

A bonus feature this week:  yesterday Alexandre had business up in Vila Flor – viticulture is surprisingly paperwork intensive! – and on the way to Malvedos and Tua we stopped at a point where we could look out over the valley of Vilariça.  This is in the far northeast part of the Douro region, where the landscape is much more open and relatively level, though there are some gentle gradients within vineyards (consult this map of the Douro to get your bearings).  This photo shows Quinta do Ataide, one of the quintas where we organically farm the grapes for the Symington Family Estates Altano Douro DOC wines.  Just left of centre in the photo below is a cluster of trees and buildings (the quinta house, caseiro’s house and offices) and the vineyards extend just a bit to the left and then in front and to the right, bordered by the barren areas top and bottom and a loop of road at the lower right edge of the property.

Very different from the steep hillsides and terraces of Graham’s vineyards!

SFE’s Quinta do Ataide in the Vilariça valley, far northeast of Douro demarcated region
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Master of Wine Master Class Wrap Up

Graham’s and other SFE Ports lined up in the Tasting Room for the IMW programme tasting
Charles Symington and Raul Riba D’Ave savouring the aromas of Graham’s Ports
Paul Symington, Lynne Sherriff MW, and Charles Symington

Twenty four Portuguese wine professionals concluded their introduction to the Master of Wine programme at Graham’s offices in Vila Nova de Gaia this week.  This intensive three day course introduces attendees to the Institute of Masters of Wine and gives them a taste of the breadth and depth of the knowledge as well as the rigorous analysis and communication skills expected of all Masters of Wine.

Naturally, one highlight of the programme was an intensive tasting of Port wines.  For this they left the main meeting room and joined Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, in the tasting room upstairs, where he perfects the final blends of all our Port wines and, together with his cousins Paul, Rupert, Johnny and Dominic Symington, makes the final decision about Vintage declarations.

Paul Symington was also able to join the group in the tasting room and hosted a special dinner Monday night at the Factory House in Porto, which is the home of the British Association, the 200-year-old league of English Port shippers in Portugal.  Paul writes:

I was delighted and proud that our family company was the catalyst that put the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) together with 24 of the brightest people in the Portuguese wine trade.  These candidates will be future opinion leaders in Portugal and internationally.

Portugal has been home to my family since the 19th century and it is a pleasure when we are able to give something back.

The IMW was founded in 1955 in England and in the past 25 years has made huge efforts to internationalise itself, with the past President being Austrian, the current one South African and the next American.  More than one third of the current 297 MW’s come from many different countries outside the UK, and Symington Family Estates feels strongly that Portugal, with the quality of its wines and the quality of its people, should be represented by at least one Master of Wine.  This is what we hope will happen following this seminar.

Symington Family Estates together with Revista de Vinhos and The Institute of Masters of Wine have created the Symington Scholarship, which will help a talented Portugese wine professional study for their Master of Wine qualification.  Manuel Carvalho, senior Editor of the Publico newspaper and responsible for their Wine content, was also present at the Factory House dinner and is supporting the campaign; he will be one of the judges who will choose the recipient of the bursary.

Graham’s and Symington Family Estates wish the best of luck in both their studies and wine careers to all of the participants in the IMW Master Class.

Attendees of the IMW Master Class in Porto, with Mai Tjemsland, Philip Tuck, Lynne Sherriff and Siobhan Turner of the IMW on the bench centre front.
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Master of Wine Master Class Begins

Sunday the Master Class for aspiring Masters of Wine kicked off at Graham’s offices in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Twenty four Portuguese wine professionals, including winemakers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, journalists, distributors and wine marketing specialists convened to begin an intensive 3-day introduction to the Master of Wine qualification.

Lynne Sherriff MW

Lynne Sherriff MW, Chairman of the Institute, welcomed the students and introduced the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) and the value of the Master of Wine qualification for wine professionals.  The emphasis at the IMW is on knowledge and integrity, and the value of the Master of Wine self-study programme goes well beyond the obvious “learning more about wine” to mastering specific skills of methodical analysis, problem solving, and clear communication.  Lynne also emphasised that the candidates will learn discipline and sheer perseverance – the entire program is founded on a rigorous self-study scheme and almost no one passes every exam paper the first time; it takes real dedication to study independently, learn from your exam results and carry on to try again.

Lynn also spoke of the fact there are nearly 300 Masters of Wine and another 300 students currently studying for their MW, and not one is Portuguese.  Symington Family Estates have always been supportive of the IMW and recently Paul Symington has been working with the Institute to find a way to encourage Portuguese wine professionals to study for and achieve this qualification.  The result is this Master Class, the first to be held in Portugal, and the Symington Scholarship which will be offered to one candidate who is accepted to the Study Programme this autumn.

Philip Tuck MW

Philip Tuck MW and Mai Tjemsland MW then reviewed the exam syllabus and got down to the first and most fundamental of skill sets:  wine tasting.

Interestingly, they began by re-arranging the participants to work in three groups – one of the sommeliers and journalists, another of the wine makers, and the third of those on the commercial side of the trade.  They were asked to evaluate two white wines as they do now, and report to the larger group their assessment.  The sommelier table described the first wine in very expressive, almost poetic terms, emphasising the elegance and aromas.  They focussed on the qualities – and used language – that make a wine appealing.  The winemakers, describing the same wine, were far more technical in their assessment, speaking of the development of the wine, the phenolics, oxidation, and alcohol levels.  The commercial team were very pragmatic:  their first observation was that this was an entry level wine and they focussed on the “style” of the wine.

Philip and Mai then introduced the approach used in the MW papers, which teaches the student to analyse what is in the glass by its appearance, nose, palate and finish.  In addition, students should be prepared to discuss the winemaking techniques, origin and quality of the wine based on their blind tasting sample.  Whilst all the observations made during the first round were valid, Philip and Mai went on to explain how to present those observations in a succinct and systematic way that supports the student’s conclusion identifying the wine.

The group have an intensive programme ahead, which will include one broad tasting of Bordeaux and Burgundies, and another of sparkling, sweet and fortified wines.  Several sessions will focus on wine topics such as grape varieties, wine making and markets, and a round table discussion of wine industry trends, whilst other sessions will concentrate on the skills of critical thinking, planning and writing, which are vital not only for the MW exam papers, but for the ongoing communication and education role of a Master of Wine.  Monday evening Paul Symington will host the group at dinner at The Factory House in Porto.  Finally, Tuesday afternoon, those who wish to apply for the Study Programme this autumn will have the opportunity to take the entry exam.

Behind the scenes, Graham’s own staff are providing logistical support for the program:  Júlia Furtado, one of our management assistants, has been the key liaison in the planning and organisation of the three day event, and Nuno Moreira of our Tasting Room is assisting the IMW team to set up and serve the tasting flights.

Graham’s wishes all the attendees good luck over these three days, and with their exam and studies if they decide to pursue their Master of Wine beginning this autumn.

Update: Keep an eye on the IMW Facebook page to keep up with more news and photos from the session in Porto, as well as year round news of IMW activities.


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Tracking the Season – 1 June

The past two weeks at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua have been good for the vines – mostly sunny and warm, with temperatures of 30ºC or more most days, according to our viticulturist Alexandre Mariz.  Importantly, after the showers of April and early May there have been no significant signs of oidium or mildew; the extraordinarily dry conditions this winter may have done us one small favour in killing off (at least for now) these two funguses which live and linger in the vines in humid conditions.

As you can see from the photo above, our Touriga Franca vine has put on leaf and fills the space between the lowest and middle wires of the trellis, and is beginning to fill the space up to the upper wire.  We will be starting the next round of shoot thinning shortly.

The flowering finished during these weeks under very good conditions.   It is noticeable that the flowering occurred over an extended period, so at this moment the infant grapes are all different sizes – the grapes on the Touriga Franca we have been tracking since late March at Malvedos are still quite tiny, and the bunches still have some dried flowers remaining.  On the next lower terrace in the same plantation of Touriga Franca, another vine has comparatively quite large grapes formed.  Alexandre assures us this will naturally even out in the coming weeks.

Fruit set on “our” Touriga Franca – quite young and small berries so far
On the next terrace down, another Touriga Franca is more advanced, having flowered a little earlier
3 hectares cleared on western side of Malvedos, formerly Tinta Roriz

We have finished the job of tearing out the old vines and posts from three hectares of Tinta Roriz at Malvedos.  The hillside looks oddly bare and featureless right now compared with the the terraces above and below which are clearly defined by lines of increasingly green lush vines.  The work of bulldozing and re-sculpting the new vineyard will start probably late June or early July.

We stopped into the Malvedos adega for a look around.  All during harvest the winery team were teasing the blogger about bats, but we only rarely saw one or two outside in the flood light.  On this visit, around noon, we let ourselves into the adega, and when we were on the walkway above the fortification tanks and turned on the light, we disturbed a small colony that had been roosting in the rafters!  Alexandre assures me their presence is another good sign of the health and natural equilibrium in our vineyards.  It was hard to focus on that while they were dive-bombing me and squeaking madly.  Sadly, they eluded the camera.  Maybe next time.

Finally, the view to the east across Quinta do Tua continues to get greener and greener with every visit.  On a clear day, the vista ends at the last west-facing hillside at the bend in the river just before the Valeira Dam, which is 10 km away by river.

So far, so good!

Quinta do Tua, 1 June 2012, 14:29
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Johnny Symington at The Queen’s Jubilee

Sunday 3 June marked one of the highlights of the public celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Johnny Symington of Graham’s was there, on a balcony overlooking the river, along with over a million people lining the banks of the Thames to watch the barge carrying Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pass by.

The Queen waves to Johnny Symington as he toasts her with a glass of Graham’s 1952 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Johnny Symington writes for the Graham’s Blog:

Today I and my family and friends watched the magnificent Royal Pageant on the Thames.  It was the most exceptional spectacle with over 1000 boats in the flotilla, the likes of which has not happened for 350 years and may never happen again.  And of course we all raised a glass of Grahams 1952 Diamond Jubilee to Her Majesty, as she sailed by and waved to us!

The second photo is of the Queen and Prince Philip sailing past a bottle of Grahams 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port on the Royal Barge on their way to join other members of the Royal Family aboard the Sprit of Chartwell by Chelsea Bridge.

The last photo shows myself holding up a bottle of Grahams 1952 Diamond Jubilee as the row barge Gloriana passes, rowed by a crew of 18 oarsmen including 4-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent and 5-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Steve Redgrave.  They were followed by a flotilla which included row boats, boats from the evacuation of Dunkirk, musical barges and more.

Click on any photo to view it full size, and use your browser back button to return to the Graham’s Blog.

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