On Saturday, November 25th Symington Family Estates presented, in the name of all its employees, a new ambulance to the Sabrosa Volunteer Fire Brigade in recognition of the vital services they offer to the local community in this rural area of the Upper Douro Valley. Since 2007, this is the 10th ambulance donated by the Symington family to fire services in the Douro region.
Symington Family Estates own 1,024 hectares of vineyards in the Douro and of its near 500 employees, 40% live and work in the region. Besides providing a livelihood for many families, Symington is a major contributor to the local economy, annually purchasing grapes from several thousand growers, as well as other goods and services essential to the smooth running of its operations in the Douro.
Present at the handover ceremony in representation of the company were Paul Symington, several other company directors as well as the head of Symington Viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa and Sr. Américo, the farm manager of Quinta da Cavadinha, which is just a few kilometres from Sabrosa.
This year’s terrible wildfires throughout Portugal, which tragically claimed over 100 lives have again demonstrated the selfless dedication and courage of the nation’s firefighters who besides combatting forest fires, provide local communities with vital emergency medical coverage.
The Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa spent part of his summer holidays in the beautiful Douro Valley, and during his stay visited the Symington family’s Quinta do Bomfim together with his wife and friends.
The PM was shown the vineyard, winery and cellars by Paul and Charles Symington, after which they gave him a tasting of some of the family’s renowned Ports and Douro wines.
The PM then enjoyed one of Quinta do Bomfim’s picnics while overlooking magnificent views across the Douro Valley from the terrace of Echo House, located in the middle of the estate’s vineyards.
It is with great sorrow that we learned that our friend and colleague Tim Stanley-Clarke passed away suddenly last week.
Tim joined the Symington Family from London wine merchant Christopher and Co., who at the time were the agents for Dow’s Port in the UK, in 1984. His good disposition, easygoing nature and obvious love for Port, and indeed all wines, made him not only the perfect addition to the company, but also immensely good company himself.
As a central figure in the UK Port trade, his humour and wit will be sorely missed by all who crossed paths with him.
During the release of a honey buzzard back to the wild at Quinta dos Malvedos, we spoke to Dr. João Tomás, of the Wild Birds Recovery Unit of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, about his life in the Douro and his passion for birds.
For more information on Wild Birds Recovery Unit visit their Facebook page, here (in Portuguese).
Adriano Ferreira Borges:Good morning. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living? João Tomás: Hello. My name is João Tomás and I’m a vet.
AFB:And where do you live? JT: At the moment in Vila Real, but originally, I’m from Batalha.
AFB:So, you’re not from the Douro then. Do you like it here? JT: Yes, of course! I came here to study in Vila Real, specifically, veterinary medicine in the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in 2008. When I finished my studies, I had the luck to be able to stay on in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) of the University Veterinary Hospital. However, I was born in the centre of Portugal, in Batalha, but now I think I am more than part Trásmontano (a person from Trás-os-Montes)… I like it in Vila Real, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but for now I like it here.
AFB:You said you worked in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit. Do you only work with birds, or do you also treat other animals? JT: We work with wild animals in general, including, wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Normally the animals that find their way to us are found injured on the street, and are brought to us by members of the public. We then try and figure out what’s wrong, and return them to their home in nature.
AFB:But you have a special relationship with birds, right? JT: Yes, since I was young I’ve been fascinated with them, something I inherited from my father who also loved to study them when he was young. In 2010, I volunteered in a recovery unit, and worked with a group of people passionate about birds, which made my interest grow even more. So now, a day doesn’t pass that I don’t look at a bird, and I don’t walk in the field with my binoculars to see what I can see. At this time, it is a passion and a hobby, and I hope in the future I can work in the area.
AFB:Did you ever work with wine? JT: To be honest, I never had much contact with it! I have a friend from secondary school whose family produce some wine, but just for their own consumption. And now that I think of it, I helped my uncle during the harvest when I was very young.
AFB:So, you have been living in the Douro nine years now, what changes have you noticed in this time? JT: Well, everything I like about it has stayed the same! The things that I can put my finger on are the more negative things, like the increase in forest fires in the summer, and this year even in the spring.
AFB:How do you imagine the Douro in ten years’ time? JT: In the last 10 or 15 years, the Douro has already changed for the better due to increased tourism and investment, something the region badly needed due to the desertification of the region in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that developments in the vineyards, and in winemaking are very positive for the local populations as it has created jobs and the opportunity for more companies to invest in the region. Tourism has also allowed new people to get to know this beautiful place.
AFB:So, you think tourism is a positive thing? JT: On one hand it is, due to what I said earlier. On the other, we must be careful, as we need to remember to preserve all living things, which need their own space. We need to protect what is already here.
AFB:Well, although you live in a beautiful place, you must go on holidays sometimes. Where do you go? JT: Good question! Basically, my holidays revolve around observing birds! I try and go to areas of the country that I know are inhabited by species of birds I haven’t seen before, and try to observe them.
AFB:That’s dedication! What sort of food do you like? JT: I like traditional Portuguese cooking, and principally my mother’s! AFB:Any favourite? JT: I love cozido á Portuguesa and posta Maronesa (steak maronesa)
AFB:Do you not mean to say Mirandesa (a breed of cow)? JT: No, no. The breed is Maronesa, from the Marão mountains, although now you find more of them in the Alvão.
AFB:I won’t argue with you! Thanks for talking to me. JT: You’re welcome!
A European honey buzzard — Pernis apivorus — nursed back to health by the UTAD (Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro) Wildlife Rescue Centre was returned to the wild at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos on May 18th. Peter Symington, the SFE’s retired winemaker, who has been staying at the quinta with family and friends, released the female honey buzzard from one of the property’s highest vineyards at 350 metres (1,148 feet).
The Malvedos honey buzzard was taken to the University’s Veterinary Hospital in August 2016 after it had been found by members of the public, downed and injured near Miranda do Douro, a town in the north-eastern extremity of Portugal where the Douro marks the international border with Spain. The bird had been illegally shot, sustaining two fractures in one of its wings. It was operated on successfully at the veterinary hospital — which works closely with the wildlife rescue centre — and from October it began its recovery programme which consisted of several months of flying exercises in the rescue centre’s dedicated circular flight tunnel, the only one of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s unique in that it allows large birds of prey to fly continuously, thus regaining muscular strength and recovering flying proficiency in preparation for a return to nature.
Although its steady recovery was completed during the middle of winter, the rescue centre could not release the bird as it belongs to a migratory species, which flies south to sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the European Autumn in search of better feeding grounds, returning to Europe only in the spring for the mating season. As its name suggests, the honey buzzard feeds on bees and wasps and their larvae, raiding their nests. Its thick plumage, its claws covered with thick protective scales and narrow slit nostrils, protect it from attack by its preferred prey.
Dr. João Tomás, the veterinarian who accompanied the honey buzzard for release at Malvedos explained to those present that during the second week of May, approximately 8,000 honey buzzards were tracked over the Strait of Gibraltar, flying north on their return to Europe where they will mate, usually with the same partner, build nests and raise their chicks. He said that sightings of honey buzzards had already been reported in the Douro Superior and in the Trás-os-Montes and Beira Alta districts of Portugal. This was the signal that the timing was right to release ‘their’ bird.
The Symington family has supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens — CRAS, for short) since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Malvedos is home to a remarkable variety of bird species, which include golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds such as black kites, which frequently nest in the wooded areas of the quinta. Just moments after the release of the honey buzzard, João Tomás identified a Bonelli’s eagle gliding effortlessly on the thermals above the vineyards.
Andrew James Symington was the first of the Symington family to work in the Port trade, and came to Porto in 1892. He is the great-grandfather of the current generation of the Symington Family running the company. In the below excerpt from his book, “A Life in the Port Trade”, James Symington briefly describes a Porto that once was, and his grandfather’s penchant for motoring.
“AJS (Andrew James Symington) prospered in the Port business and acquired a fine house in the Avenida da Boavista. This was a major new artery running from the city, through what up to that time had been farmland, down to the sea. His son, Maurice was born in this house in 1895 and was to die there in 1974, in the same room in which he had been born. The house had a fine garden and AJS built a lovely and very English drawing room which gave onto it. He also had a special ceiling constructed in the dining room with a ventilator so that the cigar smoke could escape.
My grandfather was an early enthusiast of motoring and acquired a 1912 Daimler in which he ventured on occasion to the Douro over the appalling roads of the time. More usually however the train was the comfortable and practical way to visit the Douro, some three and a half hours’ journey from Porto. Although AJS was a keen motorist his skill at the wheel never matched his enthusiasm and he regularly battered his cars. On one occasion when he had just acquired a new car – a 1922 Cadillac – he decided he did not much like its colour and resolved to have it repainted. His sons, knowing full well that it would require a repaint very soon in their father’s hands, persuaded him that the colour was very pleasant and so it remained unaltered. Sure enough a few weeks later whilst driving out of his front gate, he scraped the whole side of the car and it had to be repaired and was then painted in his chosen colour.”
As part of the anual Symington Family Estates’ sales and marketing meeting, the SFE team assembled eight bicycles that were donated to the Associação Protetora da Criança – Valadares(Association for the Protection of Children – Valadares).
The association, founded in Valadares (a parish of Vila Nova de Gaia) in 1953, aims to support disadvantaged children and young people on various levels, providing them with a stable environment within which to grow, both intellectually and emotionally.
Symington Family Estates is proud to support such a fine institution.
In this series we will interview the people that live, work and travel in the Douro Valley. This week, Adriano Ferreira Borges speaks to António Júlio Vieira.
AFB: Hello there. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?António Júlia Vieira: My names is António Júlio Vieira, and I work for myself.
AFB: Are you from Foz Tua? AJV: No, I’m from São Mamede de Ribatua (Alíjo).
AFB: Not too far away so! What sort of food do you like? AJV: All that’s good (laughs), but only if your paying!
AFB: Ah go on, you must have a favourite! AJV: I like diversity, and mostly greens. All sorts of greens!
AFB: And to wash it down? Do you have any connection with wine production in the region? AJV: Well, I’ve always worked for myself. I worked in construction and built my own house and buildings, but I don’t do that anymore. My children don’t want houses! On the side I produce wine for myself, and sell what’s left to the co-op winery.
AFB: How do you think the Douro will be in ten year’s time? AJV: I think it won’t change too much. The elderly are already dying and the young don’t want to work!
AFB: What about the increase in tourism? AJV: It’s true that its growing. And that’s a good thing, at least, as the region needs to make a bit of money somehow!
AFB: And what about yourself, do you ever go on holidays? AJV: Me? That depends. I’ve gone to Madeira and to the Azores. And some years I’ve just stayed here.
In this series we will interview the people that live, work and travel in the Douro Valley. This week, Adriano Ferreira Borges speaks to António Augusto Ribeiro, Douro farmer and ardent Benfiquista.
AFB: Good morning! What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?AAR: My name is António Augusto Ribeiro, and I’m a farmer.
AFB: Are you from around here? AAR: I am indeed. I’m from Fiolhal (Carrazeda de Ansiães).
AFB: Great! So you like living in the Douro I take it? AAR: Definitely! It’s the best place in the country!
AFB: What’s your favourite food? AAR: Feijoada à transmontana (this is a typical bean stew from the Trás-os-Montes region of Portugal).
AFB: Have you ever worked in wine production? AAR: Yes, many years ago, it must be 40 now, I worked for Smithes (referring to John Smithes, the pioneering Cockburn’s winemaker known as the “cowboy of the Douro”). Then we used to carry the grapes on our backs. It was hard work I’ll tell you!
AFB: And do you think the Douro has changed much since then? AAR: Or course. In the past, this was a difficult place to live and work, but now, with machinery it’s much easier.
AFB: In ten years, where do you see the Douro? AAR: How should I know! Why don’t you go and ask António Costa (the prime minister) and Marcelo (the president)!
For the last eight years, the Graham’s blog has routinely and reliably provided information on the ebb and flow of the viticultural year in Quinta dos Malvedos, along with other reports and updates from the Douro Valley and Vila Nova de Gaia. To our great satisfaction, our content appealed to a wide audience, from wine critics and writers, to wine enthusiasts and everyone with an interest in the wines of Symington Family Estates, and what is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world.
As such, after almost 650 posts, it is with some apprehension that we have decided to stop updating Graham’s blog and replace it with this, the Symington Family Estates’ blog. Of course, the Graham’s blog will remain online for some time, after which its contents will be archived here for future reference
Here we will continue to publish the content for which the Graham’s blog was known; updates from the viticultural year in our Douro vineyards, the yearly harvest reports, and other assorted announcements from the Port trade. However, we also want to tell the stories of what are Symington Family Estate’s greatest assets, our wines, our quintas, and the people of the region.
Who knows what platforms we will use to share our stories a decade from now, but we do know that many of the wines we produce, such as Graham’s 2009 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port, the first of our wines whose production was chronicled online, will still be slowly ageing, as they have been for generations.