Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Saturday, 29 September

This morning the temperatures were mild and it turned into a warm sunny day, perfect conditions in which to fine tune the ripeness of our Touriga Franca to perfection.

It was a quiet day in the winery today as we were not receiving grapes.  As I knew it would be calmer today I called in the bagaço truck to take out the marc.  This is the solid  material left after we have pressed the last drops of wine out of the pips and skins from the cap which rises during fermentation.  After each pressing we empty this dry cake-like material into bags and stack them up beside the back door of the winery.  Periodically during harvest the bagaço truck arrives to take this away, to someone who distills it to make marc.

We arrived at 8:oo am to the winery for bracing start to the day and work up an appetite for breakfast.  Asking the team to lug 6,000 Kg first thing in the morning did not exactly make me popular!


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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Friday, 28 September

Tinta Amarela at Quinta dos Malvedos

At 07:00 an overcast morning with moderate temperatures, which continued throughout the day.  These conditions – bright overcast and mild warm temperatures – are perfect for ripening the Touriga Franca.

Today the pickers polished off the last of the Malvedos Touriga Nacional and we filled the remainder of the lagar with Tinta Amarela, which we were also able to pick entirely this afternoon.

As previously mentioned we are suspending the picking over the weekend and will re-commence next Monday 1st October.  Because of the rain we experienced last Sunday and Tuesday it was felt that we needed a pause before picking our Touriga Franca grapes (a significant proportion of the vineyard at Malvedos) at their ideal maturity.  There is of course always a risk of more rain, but as the weather forecast predicts clear weather for the next fortnight, we felt this was a risk worth taking which will certainly pay off in terms of greater phenolic ripeness and concentration of the sugars.

Charles examining the Touriga Franca
Juca grilling chouriço for midnight supper

Charles was here today accompanied by Euan Mackay (Sales Director) and we visited all the Touriga Franca parcels in both Malvedos and Tua in order to determine the picking order for when we restart the vintage on Monday.  Based on tasting berries and the softness of the skins (and their readiness to impart colour) it was decided to begin with the Touriga Franca from Tua on Monday, then on Tuesday to pick the remaining Tinta Roriz at Malvedos, mixed with an old Vinha Velha plot from Tua, before moving to the Malvedos Touriga Franca on Wednesday next week – with the objective of having everything picked and in the winery by next weekend.

This evening we had a night shift, and Juca was kind enough grill some chouriços for us, which we enjoyed with a cold beer at the end of the shift.

Review of the 2012 Wines So Far

We also took advantage of Charles’s visit to taste all the wines that we have made so far.  He felt that generally speaking the wines have good colour, a balanced acidity, and a unique freshness in comparison to some other years, which is due to cooler temperatures and fewer raisins.

Euan Mackay, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton reviewing the 2012 Malvedos Ports made so far

All the wines had the same inky dark colour, which was an opaque purple, and the Barrocas and Nacionals were particularly intense.

The Barrocas expressed a powerful black berry aroma with a structured, velvety and almost overpowering richness.  The blend of Barroca and Mistura Casta (a vineyard planted with a mixture of Douro varieties) was earthier in character with a slightly drier and more elegant finish.  The pure Mistura Casta wines demonstrated the rich and concentrated fruit flavours of old vine mixed planting.  Finally, the Nacionals (one each from Malvedos and Tua) exhibited vibrant aromas of dark fruits such as blackberries and floral hints of violets and nuances of peppery spice.

All of the 2012 Malvedos Ports made so far this harvest, lined up for Charles’s review
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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Thursday 27 September

Malvedos Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca plantations, 9:45 in the morning 27 September
Touriga Nacional planted 2005

At 07:30 it was a cool and clear morning with just a little mist in the valley.  The afternoon was sunny and warm rather than hot (like last week) and just what we need to get the Touriga Franca at perfect maturity for picking next week.

We picked Touriga Nacional all day from the patamares (soil banked terraces) below the Valdossa house.  These parcels were planted in 2005 and are now producing some excellent grapes and this evening we will be treading our 3rd lagar of Malvedos Nacional.

Tomorrow we will fill a mixed lagar with the last of the Touriga Nacional and some old vine (planted 1984) Tinta Amarela.  We have made Nacional / Amarela lagares in the past with excellent results.  Given the maturity of the fruit I therefore think we can expect a structured and intensely fragrant wine with good acidity from this lagar before we move to the Touriga Franca next week.

Today was another busy day with a late night shift, including fortifications and transfers.

As we will be suspending the vintage over the weekend we will be posting our mid-vintage review tomorrow.  Samples from each of the ports have been prepared and are ready for tasting tomorrow morning – we will be tasting Barrocas, a field blend of old vines (vinha velha), and the Nacionals so far.

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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Wednesday 26 September

View of Malvedos from the top of the new plantation works 11:00 AM

It was a bright blue sky this morning without a ripple on the river; however, as the day wore on there was a mixture of sun and clouds.  Fortunately there was no more rain!  Charles says the forecast is for clear weather ahead – let’s hope so.

Charles made a brief visit yesterday, and decided to suspend the Touriga Nacional for now and to pick block 17 of Tinta Roriz instead, as he felt the former required another day after the rain while the latter was ready to go.  As a result we filled a lagar today of Tinta Roriz, which has good colour and looks promising.

Charles has also decided to suspend picking this weekend due to the heavy rain that we received yesterday.  This will give the Touriga Franca a little more time to concentrate its sugars again and will then be ready by Monday.  In the meantime we will finish off the Malvedos Touriga Nacional on Thursday and Friday.

Whilst not every harvest is going to give us a declared Vintage Port, this kind of flexibility in responding to weather conditions and the maturation of the grapes, and adjusting our plans so we can harvest each variety at its peak, is one of the reasons Graham’s is known for the consistently high quality of all our Port wines over the years.

Tracking the picking on the quinta map in the winery

Throughout the harvest we gradually fill in a large map of the Quinta to track our progress with the picking.  You can see the pink-filled areas on the western end of the quinta, where we picked all the mixed variety vineyards of Sibio, the pale green on the eastern side is the Barroca we picked in the first few days, and the Touriga Nacional picked so far is in bright blue.  Block 17 of Tinta Roriz was still showing white at the beginning of the day, in the centre of the map, just to the right of the striped parcel (which represents an uncultivated gorge).  As you can see, we still have a long way to go to harvest all the remaining Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca!

The first lagar of Touriga Nacional from Malvedos is an incredibly rich colour

Today was a busy day in terms of operations in the winery. We transferred two lots of fortified port to the storage lodge just below the winery, each one to its own separate tank. We also fortified our first lagar of Malvedos Touriga Nacional, which was an intense and deep purple colour – perhaps the darkest so far.

We also had an incredibly busy morning in terms of visitors.  First Rupert arrived from the Malvedos house with a group of Americans who came out with our California-based U.S. distributor, Premium Port Wines, and then Miguel Potes of our Marketing Department arrived with a group of international bloggers.

Just as these two groups were moving on, Paul and Charles arrived with Victoria Moore of the Daily Telegraph.  As luck would have it, we were just receiving a delivery of grapes, so she could see the winery activity from the very start.  After watching this, Paul conducted Victoria over the winery to explain the Port making process in both the traditional lagares (we have two at the Malvedos winery) and the modern lagares.  Afterwards,  Charles, Paul and Victoria all tasted the Ports made so far this year, of which her personal favourite was the Touriga Nacional made from Quinta do Tua.  Finally, we also laid out for her a vertical tasting of Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports from 2009 to 1965 in the front of the old tonels in the lower level of the winery.


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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Tuesday, 25 September

7:00 AM sky over Tua was promising…

This morning it was decidedly cool and overcast, but with no rain and some wind. By mid-morning the wind dropped and there was some light rain which became heavier towards lunch time. After lunch by mid afternoon it had cleared up and we expect the weather to clear further overnight.

Today the pickers continued with the Malvedos Nacional, however, due to a heavy downpour during the lunch break it was decided to stop picking so we did not receive any more grapes in the afternoon. This allowed us to turn our attention to making several adjustments to the wines that have already been made.

Henry and Gonçalo showing our Angolan distributors the lagares

After having received the full analysis for some of our wines, Juca and Paulo were able to begin making some final corrections to the alcoholic strength and pH by the respective additions of aguardente and tartaric acid.

This afternoon we received some visitors from our Angolan distributor Cinco Sentidos accompanied by Gonçalo Brito who were very interested to see how the automated lagars worked and they also tasted some of our 2012 Ports.

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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Monday, 24 September

Early morning at Malvedos 24 September
Picking the east facing Touriga Nacional near the top of Quinta dos Malvedos

There were some more showers last night, but this morning the clouds have cleared and it’s a relatively cool temperature. Throughout the day there were some threatening clouds but fortunately no more rain fell.

Today our viticulturist, Alexandre Mariz, Harry and I went to visit the pickers, who were in the East of the Quinta near the ‘Mario Assunção’ house.  We tasted the grapes which were particularly fruity in flavour and should make a great wine. They picked Nacional again all day and the bunches were dry despite yesterday’s rain.  The strong winds that we experienced yesterday had fortunately completely dried them out.

On the way back to the winery we stopped by what used to be Tinta Roriz block 30, which is now being re-terraced and will be re-planted  as part of an on-going program of vineyard renovations for Graham’s.  The vineyard will be planted with Touriga Franca as this grape variety will benefit the most from the block´s low lying position just above the river and its south facing aspect with plenty of sunlight.  Planting should start next February.  While we were there some demolition charges were being placed to clear the larger rocks.

We have now fortified the Touriga Nacional lagar from Tua (six in the morning!) and this evening will tread the second Nacional lagar from Malvedos.

Graham’s team at the Calça Curta in Tua

This evening was quiet and so we took the opportunity to eat at our regular haunt, the Calça Curta, which is the best restaurant in Tua.  It was (L to R in photo) Fonseca, Juca, Eliana, Harry, Tiago, Henry, and Mr. Fix It – David, and we had the polvo (octopus) and the posta (a huge steak!) with the football on in the background.  Eliana, from our Marketing Department, has just arrived to supervise the filming of the new video for the Graham’s Lodge in Gaia, and it is great to have her with us for the next few days.

If you are keen for more news of the harvest both here at Graham’s and for all the Symington Port brands, please visit the blog on The Vintage Port Site, where our harvest blogger, Cynthia, is also writing.  Yesterday she posted a summary of the state of harvest to date at all five Graham’s quintas.

Re-building the old Tinta Roriz vineyard at Malvedos
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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Sunday, 23 September

Dramatic skyscapes as occasional showers passed through the Douro

The weather has well and truly changed today.  I woke at 4am with a huge thunderclap overhead in the early morning and there were light showers.  We had some more sporadic rain after lunch.  The autumn equinox was yesterday 22nd September and it usually brings with it some instability in the weather as was the case today.  The rain was accompanied by a strong east wind blowing up river which will have helped to dry out the grapes.  So at this stage there is no cause for concern, however let’s see what next week brings us in terms of weather.  Temperatures are now cooler which is also advantageous for the grapes at this stage of the Vintage as more hot weather could lead to raisining.

Today the pickers began on the Malvedos Touriga Nacional (there were only 22 pickers today due to the fact it’s Sunday and the unstable weather), starting with block 106 down by the river.  This old vineyard planted in 1984 has 2843 vines and gave just 538Kg – 189 grams per vine!  They then progressed to the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard whose imposing stone walled terraces often produce some of the best Touriga Nacional at the Quinta, and this year gave an excellent 14.25 Bé.

Harry cleaning out the fortification tank

This was a good first day for the Malvedos Touriga Nacional and we are expecting more of the same tomorrow.

Today we had another finished Port to run off from the fortification tank into tonel, and it was Harry’s turn to spade out the cuba.

Yesterday Paul and his family dropped by the winery.  It was a good chance to show Paul some of our first lots of wine and it was also great to see his son Robert again who, like Harry this Vintage, worked at the Malvedos winery during the 2002 harvest.  He obviously has fond memories of the selection carpet!


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The Spirit of Chartwell: From the Thames to the Douro

The Spirit of Chartwell, shortly after its arrival from the UK, moored alongside Oporto’s ‘Ribeira’ quarter. Photo courtesy of Adelaide Carneiro

On Friday, 14th of September, just a couple of days before the vintage started at Malvedos, the Spirit of Chartwell crossed the bar of the Douro after completing its sea voyage from Ramsgate in Kent. Readers will no doubt remember that this was the Royal barge in which the Queen and other members of the Royal Family sailed down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on June 3rd — the highlight of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The Portuguese entrepreneur, Mário Ferreira, whose thriving company, ‘Douro Azul’ operates river cruises along the Douro River, acquired the Spirit of Chartwell from its British owner, Philip Morrell. The latter was unable to obtain from the relevant authorities a license to operate the vessel on a tourist route along the Thames.

The Spirit of Chartwell, in its new home: Oporto, from where it will sail up the Douro River on regular cruises from March 2013.

In a shrewd move, Mário Ferreira contacted Philip Morrell, whom he has known for a long time and made an offer to purchase Spirit of Chartwell. His approach was well timed as it pre-empted other prospective buyers and the deal was swiftly sealed in June, just weeks after the royal pageant on the Thames. The Spirit of Chartwell will join Mário Ferreira’s growing fleet of river cruisers whose customers are drawn from all over the world, attracted by the magnificent scenery of the Douro and — of course — by its renowned wines.

Mário Ferreira (left) presents a bottle of Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to Oporto’s Mayor, Rui Rio, as Johnny Symington looks on.

The 64 metre Spirit of Chartwell, fitted with 14 luxury cabins and one royal suite, will operate exclusive luxury cruises on the Douro, whose theme will be centred very much around the valley’s fine wines, which the cruise programmes will showcase amidst the exceptional surroundings of the Quintas’ terraced vineyards. It is likely that Spirit of Chartwell will become the Douro Azul flagship vessel and given its royal associations it will undoubtedly attract a great deal of interest from travellers from around the world, keen to experience for themselves The Spirit of Chartwell’s regal comforts. According to local press reports, the vessel will begin regular cruises from March next year.

Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Colheita Port

On the evening of September 15th, Johnny Symington attended the inauguration party on board Spirit of Chartwell, which served to present the unique craft to local dignitaries and to other guests. Johnny has reached agreement with Mário Ferreira for Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to be served and sold to guests on board Spirit of Chartwell. This will mark an interesting and meaningful association between two participants of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. During the reception aboard Spirit of Chartwell, Mário Ferreira presented a bottle of Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to the Mayor of Oporto, Rui Rio.

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Malvedos Winemaker's Update: Saturday, 22 September

Quinta do Tua Touriga Nacional showing excellent colour even before treading
Touriga Nacional bunches are exceptionally small this year

It was another hot day at Malvedos, although in the afternoon the wind got up, stirring up some dust storms, and it does look as if the weather will change tomorrow.

Today we are began receiving Touriga Nacional from Quinta do Tua.  This is a mixture of mature plantings over 10 years old and some younger ones from 2008. When we received the first load in the lagar this morning, one could already see the intense dark colour of the juice just from the weight of the grapes, even before treading.  This is a very good sign.

As I expected the yields were low and the 27-strong vineyard team picked just 9,866 Kg today.  The grape bunches and berries are small but in very good shape. We are treading the first deeply coloured lagar tonight.

The Tua Nacional was finished today and tomorrow morning we begin with the Nacional from Malvedos.

Today we had a small problem with one of the lagares and Batista, the electrician, came round to fix some wiring that had been causing trouble with Lagar nº3, and was preventing the hydraulics from lifting it up for unloading – fortunately it is empty at the moment and it is now okay and ready to receive grapes tomorrow.

Harry Symington writes for the blog:

UK Ambassador Jill Gallard and her family with Harry, Henry and Tom
Dinner at Malvedos: Harry, Henry, Jill Gallard, and Rupert Symington with his daughter

This afternoon Johnny arrived with the British Ambassador Jill Gallard and her family. After a quick look around the winery, she was able to taste the first sample of the Barroca, whilst her two young boys charged around the lagares poking Juca with their plastic pirate swords.

In the evening Henry, Harry and Tom were asked for dinner up at the house with the ambassador.  After the sopa and bifinhos (soup and steaks) had been served, Johnny produced three incredibly special ports.  There was one Quinta vintage, a Graham´s vintage, and a very well aged tawny.  Plenty of guesses were thrown around the table until Johnny hinted that the two vintages were in honour of our guests and were quite old but still had the vitality of young wines.  This prompted the ambassador and her husband to suggest their birth years, 1968 and 1970 – the former is a 1968 Malvedos Quinta Vintage and the latter is a 1970 Graham´s Vintage.  The tawny was the Graham´s 1952 Jubilee Tawny Port, and a wonderful end to the evening.

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The Next Generation: Tom Symington

Tom Symington in the adega at Quinta dos Malvedos

Tom Symington, Johnny’s son, is getting his gap year off to a fine start with a couple weeks in the Douro.

He began working the week of the 10th at Quinto do Sol, where he assisted in maturation studies for the second year in a row, and also spent some time assisting our research enologist Steve Rogerson with some of his microvinification projects, before coming to work in the Malvedos winery when it opened on the 17th.

The first day’s work of receiving grapes he found really hard and a bit repetitive, and he could not imagine three or four weeks of it, but once the winery was in full swing with not just grapes coming in, but fermentations to monitor, the running off and fortifications, and the full variety of tasks to do, he has found it really fun, with never a dull moment.  It helps that the team is great, he finds some of them absolutely hilarious and has really enjoyed the week here, and now wishes he could stay longer.

Tom is no stranger to the Douro of course, growing up here in Portugal.  Once he was tall enough to see over the edge of the lagar he was treading grapes every year at Vesuvio until his mid-teens, when the school years began too early for him to stay in the Douro for harvest.  He is looking forward to treading again tonight – it is traditional for the entire family to get together one night in the lagares and his parents will be there along with Paul and most of Paul’s family.

Tom (left) and his cousin Harry unloading crates of grapes

After this week at Malvedos he returns to Porto briefly and then begins an internship in the London shop of Berry Brothers & Rudd – it will be shock to go from the blinding sun and heat of the Douro to the cool quiet shop and wine cellars of London.

At the moment his plans beyond BBR are to travel for some months early next year – still trying to co-ordinate friends, transport and destination – and then study biology at Exeter.

Ultimately he would like to come into the family business, on the winemaking and research side of things, but he is realistic that there are far more candidates in his generation than likely openings in the firm, and if he cannot work for Symington Family Estates he will look for another opportunity.  Whatever happens, there is no question in his mind that he will be returning to the Douro.

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