1965 Revisited

In 2015, to mark 125 years since Graham’s first acquired Quinta dos Malvedos, a very limited quantity of Graham’s 1965 Quinta dos Malvedos Single Quinta Vintage Port was released. Now 50 years old, this exceedingly rare wine is as much a part of the history of one of the Douro’s greatest quintas, as it is proof of the remarkable longevity of Vintage Port. What better way to celebrate the wines of one of the greatest Douro Valley quintas than with a vertical tasting of some of the vineyard’s greatest wines of the last 50 years?

Organised to coincide with one of the most important Portuguese wine fairs, Encontro com o Vinho e Sabores, which takes place in Lisbon every year, a small group of journalists and wine enthusiasts assembled to taste nine wines produced at Quinta dos Malvedos between 1965 and 2014. However, before any event of this nature, a certain amount of preparation must be done.

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Johnny Symington examines the colour of the Quintas dos Malvedos 2014

A week before the tasting in Lisbon was due to take place, Johnny Symington spent an afternoon in the Graham’s tasting room in Vila Nova de Gaia tasting a number of Malvedos Vintages from the last half century. After much deliberation eight of the most representative examples of the unique terroir of Quinta dos Malvedos were selected join the 1965 at the tasting. From the most recent, the young and intense 2014, through the minty elegance of the 1995, and the surprising powerhouse of the 1986, the culmination of the tasting would undoubtedly be the fifty-year-old 1965.

A full house at the Quinta dos Malvedos vertical tasting in Lisbon
A full house at the Quinta dos Malvedos vertical tasting in Lisbon

Led by Johnny Symington and Henry Shotton, the winemaker at Malvedos, the tasting in Lisbon was a huge success, and both professional wine journalists and enthusiasts alike felt privileged to have the opportunity to experience some of the history of both Quinta dos Malvedos and of one of the world’s classic wines.

The power of the young Malvedos Vintage Ports, combined with the growing complexity of flavours and aromas found through the older wines was a tremendous experience, and when the tasting reached its pinnacle in the 1965, it was summed up in one word by Johnny Symington when he said, “paraíso” (paradise).

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Johnny Symington and Henry Shotton presenting the Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports

The full list of wines tasted was:

2014, 2010, 2004,1999,1995,1986,1982,1976,1965.

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Masters of Wine candidates visit the Douro Valley

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The Institute of Masters of Wine

From the 14th to the 16th of April, Graham’s received 19 students from the Institute of Masters of Wine. The students, of 7 different nationalities, spent time in Porto where they visited several Port lodges before travelling upriver to the quintas of the Douro Valley.

Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is a respected community of wine professionals, and one of the most prestigious wine qualifications in the world. To become a Master of Wine you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the difficulty of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 318 Masters of Wine worldwide, and it was with great pleasure that we received some of the current candidates in Porto.

Arriving on the evening of the 14th, they barely had time to set down their bags before they were on their way to the Vinum restaurant in the Graham’s Lodge for dinner. After being welcomed by Paul Symington, the group settled into a dinner accompanied by Altano, Chryseia 2012, and a tappit hen of Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port.

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Paul Symington and Antonio Agrellos speaking in the Porto Factory House

The next morning the group had an early start, being greeted by Paul Symington, Antonio Agrellos (Noval), and Nick Heath (Taylor’s) at nine o’clock in the morning in the historic Porto Factory House. The hub of the Port trade for more than two centuries, it was in these surroundings that the group tasted a variety of Ports from the different houses before departing to visit several of Vila Nova de Gaia’s Port lodges.

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The wines tasted at the Graham’s Lodge

By two o’clock the group were at the Graham’s Lodge for another tasting, this time led by Dominic Symington. Here they tasted wine from several of Symington Family Estates Port houses, such as Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s, finishing with a magnificent Graham’s 1955 Vintage. This tasting, which consisted of wines from 2011 to 1955, demonstrated how Vintage Port evolves and matures, and the various stages it passes through in this process. Not a group to stay in one place to long, they then set off for the Douro and Quinta dos Malvedos.

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The group in Quinta dos Malvedos

When the group arrived at the quinta they were greeted by a meal accompanied by Quinta do Vesuvio Douro DOC, followed by Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, before retiring for the night in preparation for a technical tour of Quinta dos Malvedos and its winery the following morning.

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Charles Symington and Simba

Waking up to a pleasant spring morning in a Douro Valley quinta is not something everyone gets to experience, but so it was that the Master of Wine candidates started their day. Met by Charles Symington (head winemaker), Henry Shotton (Vintage manager), and Charles’ dog Simba, (who as Charles himself says “gets more attention than the wine”), the group were shown around the famous quinta and its lagar winery, seeing first hand what they have been hearing about for the past two days. The visit to Quinta dos Malvedos came to an end with a tasting of five Quinta dos Malvedos Single Vintage Ports from 2009, 1996, 1988, 1979 and 1965. The group then departed for Porto, stopping off at several other Douro quintas along the way.

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Quinta dos Malvedos Single Quinta Vintages

 

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Inspecting vines at Quinta dos Malvedos

It was great to meet the candidates for the distinguished qualification of Master of Wine, and we hope that the information we imparted helps them to reach their goals. We wish them the best of luck in their studies.

 

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THE 5TH GENERATION GAINS WORK EXPERIENCE AT MALVEDOS

Henry’s Malvedos winery team was recently reinforced with the arrival of Oscar Symington one of the 5th generation youngsters of the family which owns and runs Graham’s. Oscar’s father, Rupert, is one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors. The 18 year old lost no time mucking in, carrying out the multitude of tasks required of him, from helping to unload the trailers of grape laden boxes, taking his turn on the sorting table as well as helping out with the envasilhamentos (running off the must from the lagares for fortification). Oscar soon discovered that this particular task is a bit like doing your watch on a ship, involving as it does taking turns with your colleagues in this round-the-clock activity which can happen anytime — day or night. The eight-strong winery team are glad to have this extra pair of hands to lighten their burden; they have all been working continuously for three weeks since the vintage began at Malvedos on September 11th.

Oscar helps select incoming Touriga Franca grapes on the sorting conveyor.
Oscar helps Luís select incoming Touriga Franca grapes on the sorting conveyor.

Oscar himself has barely had a chance to catch his breath since beginning his gap year; before coming to help out at Malvedos he had already worked for 10 days at the family’s Quinta do Sol winery followed by another 10 days at Quinta de Roriz jointly owned by the Symingtons and the Prats family of Bordeaux and where they produce one of the Douro’s iconic table wines — Chryseia. The majority of the grapes for Chryseia are sourced from the Roriz vineyard but an important element has always been drawn from the neighbouring property of Vila Velha, owned by Oscar’s grandfather, James Symington. Besides the contribution Vila Velha provides for the landmark Chryseia Douro red, the finest production is also supplied to Graham’s, making important contributions to the premium Ports it produces. The highly acclaimed Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port was comprised of components from all five Graham’s Quintas; Vila Velha making up 18% of the final lot.

One of Oscar's ligher duties: tasting a Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented Port with Malvedos winemaker, Henry Shotton.
One of Oscar’s ligher duties: tasting a Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented Port with Malvedos winemaker, Henry Shotton.

Like his siblings and cousins, Oscar is following in the tradition of young members of the family working a vintage at the family Quintas, during school or university holidays. Graham’s is a family wine business through and through and it is very much part of the philosophy to let the youngsters gain practical experience in what is after all the family’s lifeblood: producing the great wines of the Douro Valley. Oscar’s great-grandfather, Ron Symington who like his twin brother John and first cousin Maurice was passionate about the Douro is known to have often said, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” by which he meant that the older generation had to give the younger members of the family a chance to get involved. We’re not sure whether Oscar is comfortable with the metaphor but we are sure that he understands what his ancestor meant. Following his gap year Oscar will continue his higher education at Durham University in northern England.Ron Symington, Oscar's great-grandfather would often say, "You have to let the dog see the rabbit" — and he wasn't referring to his gun dog!

Ron Symington, Oscar’s great-grandfather would often say, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” — and he wasn’t referring to his gun dog!

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THE STONE TERRACES VINES HARVESTED THIS MORNING AT QUINTA DOS MALVEDOS

Early this morning our team of grape pickers (the roga) set to work picking by hand two of the most prized vineyard parcels at Quinta dos Malvedos; parcel 43 known as ‘Port Arthur’ (predominantly east but also south facing) and the Vinha dos Cardenhos, directly behind the Quinta house, facing north. These varying aspects are one of the principal differentiating factors of these tiny parcels as the majority of the Malvedos vineyard is south facing. Between them these vineyards barely add up to two hectares (with just 2,708 vines). The other most noticeable feature of these two small vineyards is that they are made up of traditional stone terraces built by hand in the 18th century.

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First to be picked this morning; grapes from the Cardenhos vineyard just behind the Quinta house, visible top left

Charles and Henry decided yesterday during one of their daily evening meetings at the Malvedos Winery to bring forward by a few days the picking of these two vineyards. The grapes, which are primarily Touriga Nacional but also other mixed varieties were already showing excellent ripeness and given the unpredictable weather, Charles didn’t want to take unnecessary risks by delaying harvesting any further. His decision proved a timely one because just as the last grapes were received safely inside the winery at noon the heavens opened and a generous albeit brief shower came down over the Quinta. Soon after, the cloud cover swiftly broke up and the sunshine returned.

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Above two pictures, perfect Touriga Nacional grapes being picked in the stone terraced Cardenhos vineyard

The Port wines made from these terraces have always been prized at the Quinta for their unique characteristics; the Port Arthur vineyard gets the full impact of the morning sun (primarily facing east) and the high stone walls become very warm. During the afternoon the sun no longer shines directly on the vines, but the schist walls radiate heat back onto each single row of vines, even during the night, ensuring a beautifully balanced ripening of the grapes. In the Vinha dos Cardenhos, the powerful July and August Douro sun is attenuated by its northerly aspect. Consequently, the wines made from these two vineyards are markedly different to those made on the remaining 87 hectares of Malvedos vineyards that mostly face south.

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After the Cardenhos parcel was harvested the roga moved round the corner of the ridge on which the Quinta house is sited to start picking the stone terraced Port Arthur vineyard

In 2011, the Symington family resolved to pick both vineyards at the same time and ferment the grapes together in one lagar. From this wine an exceptional Vintage Port was made for the first time: Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port. This Port of which only 250 cases (3,000 bottles) were released received outstanding reviews all around the world. Charles, Henry and the rest of the team are hopeful that 2014 will again deliver exceptional quality wines and judging by the potential of the grapes coming into the winery thus far, their hopes could well be borne out.

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‘BIG’ Nelson eagerly inspects the first trailer load of Touriga Nacional grapes picked in the Port Arthur and Vinha dos Cardenhos vineyards

The grapes received at the winery from both the Cardenhos parcel and the Port Arthur parcel were in very fine condition; small, well ripened compact bunches. Grapes from the Cardenhos parcel gave a Baumé reading of 14.5º (comparable to the 14.8º of the grapes harvested in 2011) whilst those from Port Arthur delivered a Baumé of 14.75º (a tad higher than the 14.10º recorded in 2011).

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Perfectly ripe bunches of Touriga Nacional grapes harvested from the Stone Terraces vineyard parcels at Malvedos this morning.

From Henry’s winery log: WEEKEND of 13th/14th September 2014 (day 3 and 4 of the harvest) .

Saturday September 13th:

First Lagar of this vintage (old mixed varieties from Síbio) being run off this morning with great colour! See below photo which registers the moment.

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Nelson says “repara nesta cor brutal!”  (something like: “check out this awesome colour!!”) as he referred to a sample from the first lagar of Sousão grapes harvested at Quinta do Tua. Henry’s comment on this same Sousão: “Excellent colour and vibrant and fresh aromatics!

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Reparem nesta cor brutal!!

This evening started treading the first Touriga Nacional that came in from Tua (Baumé: 14.4º).

Sunday September 14th:

07:00 continued picking TN from Tua under blue skies with some white cloud and no wind. Less people in the roga because it’s Sunday (it’s the same every year).

14:30 Clouding over.

15:24 Henry recoreds: “Rain has begun; it’s like a grey blanket creeping up the river” (see picture below). Luckily it was just a 15 minute shower which was followed by some useful wind: helps to dry the grapes swiftly pre-empting any adverse effect from the rain. Arlindo later reported that the Quinta weather station recorded just 0.9 mm, so nothing of any consequence.

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17:25 the sun returned.

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Hurray; the sun makes a speedy return

Charles was here – see photo – and we discussed picking using the map – and unless the weather takes a turn for the worse the next two days we will be picking TN from Malvedos – including the Stone Terraces tomorrow morning.

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Henry (left) and Charles decide on the picking order for the next few days inside the Malvedos winery.

 

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MALVEDOS HARVEST: DAY 2

The first day of the harvest at Malvedos on Thursday was entirely devoted to picking the old mixed vineyard parcels in the Síbio section of Malvedos. The first lagar was filled by the end of that afternoon and treading commenced during the evening. Henry is pleased with the colour this lagar has shown during fermentation.

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Fine looking Sousão grapes received at the Malvedos winery early Friday morning, September 12th; day 2 of the 2014 vintage at Malvedos

Yesterday the winery received the first Sousão grapes of this harvest, all from our neighbouring vineyard of Tua which has 4 hectares planted with this variety. Quinta do Tua is just a stone’s throw upriver from Malvedos, the two vineyards separated by the Tua River where it flows into the Douro. We have also planted Sousão here at Malvedos but the vines are still too young  (planted in 2013 and some planted on the reconstructed stone terraces earlier this year).

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The excellent deep colour of the first lagar of Sousão puts a smile on Henry’s face as Nelson (right) looks on approvingly

Henry is well pleased with the Sousão coming into the winery; the berries are in fine condition and the Baumé readings registered a perfect 14.4º. As the lagar filled during the day Henry and his team enthused over the excellent colour the Sousão is displaying. Just two weeks ago during the maturation studies done in the vineyard, Alexandre Mariz, Graham’s viticulturist, was pointing out how good the Sousão was looking this year (see above introductory image over the title of this post showing Sousão vines at Quinta do Tua in late August). The Sousão can be susceptible to excessive heat and it has been favoured this year by the relatively cool summer we have experienced thus far.

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The first lagar of the 2014 vintage at Malvedos (old mixed vines from the Síbio parcel of Malvedos) is showing very good colour. This lagar will be run off this Saturday morning, ready for fortification

Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker is an advocate of the Sousão, a variety somewhat forgotten by many growers in the Douro but which is now slowly making a comeback. It is proving an important component in making Graham’s wines, principally due to its good levels of acidity and its deep colouring properties (the first Sousão lagar in the winery is showing just that).

Charles and Henry were conferring in the winery Friday evening and a change to the picking order was decided for the next few days: Touriga Nacional will be picked from Tua through today (Saturday) and Sunday and then we will start on the first parcels of Touriga Nacional from Malvedos on Monday.  Blue skies continue overhead with the odd wisp of white cloud and it is very warm and sunny, exactly what is required.

 

 

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THE 2014 VINTAGE STARTS AT MALVEDOS

It’s day 1 of the 2014 harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos and we’re beginning a few days later than we had originally planned. Still, this year the vintage is starting almost two weeks earlier than last year. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker had set Monday September 8th as the starting date for the vintage but some rain came down over the weekend and although there wasn’t very much of it (4 mm at Malvedos and 6 mm at nearby Quinta do Tua) he opted to be cautious as atmospheric conditions were a little unstable and it was decided to bide our time. Fortunately no further rain has come down and Charles and his team are keeping their fingers crossed for dry weather so that the later ripening varieties can realize their full potential. As previously reported many of the grape varieties have been developing very well and the winemaking team at Malvedos is hoping for a very good year.

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The ‘roga’ (team of grape pickers) harvest grapes a little before sunrise at Malvedos

This morning the 25 grape pickers were up bright and early at 7:00 am to begin picking the first grapes from the Síbio vineyard at the western edge of Quinta dos Malvedos which is almost entirely made up of old mixed vines (40 years+), one of the predominant grape varieties in the mix being the Tinta Roriz. The grape picking team or roga is drawn as is traditional from the surrounding hamlets and villages of São Mamede de Riba Tua, Carlão, Tua and Alijó. Some of the faces are very familiar — not surprisingly as many of them have worked the vintage here as pickers for several decades. At around 9:00 am Arlindo, the Malvedos vineyard manager took them their breakfast which they were able to enjoy amongst the vines under clear skies.

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The roga pauses amongst the vines for a well earned breakfast

Shortly after breakfast the first trailer load of grapes was hauled by one of the Quinta’s small tractors to the winery where the (approximately) 1,500 Kg of grapes were sorted by hand, de-stemmed, crushed and conveyed into the first lagar. It will take another 6 or 7 trailer loads to fill the lagar which will start treading the grapes later today. First Baumé readings are encouraging at 13.55º.

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Henry Shotton, the winemaker at Malvedos who works under the direction of head winemaker Charles Symington and in close cooperation with Graham viticulturists, Pedro Leal da Costa and Alexandre Mariz is in his 15th harvest at Malvedos; an experienced pair of hands who has a seven strong team to help him in the relentless round the clock activity which will only cease once the last grape is picked at Malvedos and nearby Tua, between three and four weeks from now.

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The very first trailer load of grapes of the 2014 vintage arrives at the Malvedos winery

Rupert Symington welcomed the first overseas guests during this harvest and the visitors from Texas (D&E Fine Wine) and Louisiana were thrilled to witness the first day of the vintage at Malvedos. They were given a Graham’s Six Grapes component tasting and were in awe of the captivating mountain vineyard scenery which is the home of this Port so appreciated by their countrymen.

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The very first visitors at Malvedos for the 2014 vintage: Graham’s distributors from Texas and Louisiana.
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The first grapes unloaded at the winery gave a very satisfactory Baumé reading: 13.55º
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The sun has just risen at Malvedos and the first crates of grapes await collection
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The ‘roga’ enjoy breakfast before resuming picking
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The first lagar of the 2014 vintage is filled in the small, specialist Malvedos winery.
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A VERY GOOD YEAR IN THE MAKING

This time last year almost to the day (tracking the season August 30th, 2013) the temperature by mid morning had already reached 33º Celcius at Malvedos. The highest temperature recorded during August 2013 at the Quinta was a sweltering 42.6ºC. This year it’s a different story, the summer thus far has been appreciably cooler than in recent years and this morning it was 28ºC, and by way of comparison the maximum temperature recorded during August this year was 36.3ºC. During the night there was some negligible rainfall which the farm manager, Sr. Arlindo, reported as barely having registered in the Quinta’s weather station. If nothing else though these few drops do seem to have ‘cleaned the air’; the light is beautifully clear and visibility is pin sharp even into the far distance. Normally in August due to the very high temperatures, heat haze rapidly develops and such crisp, pure light is very rare.

Arlindo and Alexandre during the morning rounds on a luminous August morning.
Arlindo and Alexandre during their rounds at Malvedos on a luminous August morning.

Thus far, only 4mm of rain has been recorded at Malvedos during August and this figure is unlikely to change with only two days of the month left and no rain forecast. July was wetter than usual at Malvedos (18mm compared to the mean of 10mm) and this has helped to redress August’s lower than average precipitation (4mm against a mean of 13.6mm). But more important for the grapes’ maturation cycle have been the unseasonably cool temperatures, this being — at least thus far — the coolest summer in recent memory. The impact on the vines has been very beneficial; there has been very little hydric stress and the berries on the vines are looking very healthy. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, often points out that air temperature can be a more critical factor during the grapes’ final ripening cycle through the summer than rainfall (i.e., the lack of it).

Alexandre samples Touriga Franca berries at Quinta do Tua, Friday, August 29th.
Alexandre samples Touriga Franca berries at Quinta do Tua, Friday, August 29th.

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist who oversees Malvedos as well as Graham’s neighbouring Tua vineyard is very encouraged by the balanced maturation evident in the berries. He has been sampling the berries in both vineyards and is particularly impressed with the progress of the Touriga Franca, which makes up 28% of the Malvedos vineyard and 20% of Tua. When the Franca has reached such a favourable state of maturity at this stage leading up to the vintage, then results tend to be very good. All experienced Douro viticulturists and winemakers — and Douro farmers generally — know that when the Franca shows signs of developing its full potential then a very good year is in the making. Charles agrees with Alexandre and is upbeat about the prospects for a very good quality harvest. Last year at this stage, sugar readings had not achieved expected levels and phenolic ripeness was also lagging behind. Inevitably this lead to a delay in the vintage, which only kicked off at Malvedos and Tua on September 23rd.

Graham's Quinta do Tua, looking east. In the foreground, the Touriga Nacional vineyard planted in 2008.
Graham’s Quinta do Tua, looking east. In the foreground, the Touriga Nacional vineyard planted in 2008.

Based on maturation studies carried out over the last couple of weeks Charles has indicated September 8th as the likely start to this year’s harvest at Malvedos and Tua. Besides resorting to sophisticated vineyard mapping technology which uses infra-red aerial photography to reveal the ripeness of the various vineyard parcels (row by row), Charles — like his winemaking ancestors before him — also uses the well proven method of berry sampling in the vineyard. Over the last few days he has been able to confirm that sugars, phenolics and acidity in the berries are all showing an even and balanced development. The berries taste sweet with correct levels of acidity (showing no astringency) and when the berries are squeezed the juice already reveals good colour. Accordingly, a tentative picking order has been drawn up and is likely to be as follows: old mixed vines from Tua, followed by the Sousão and Tinta Amarela (also from Tua) and then from Malvedos the Barroca, Roriz and finally (from both vineyards) the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca.

The new vineyard taking shape at the western extremity of Malvedos.
The new vineyard taking shape at the western extremity of Malvedos.

As we bide our time with confident anticipation to get the vintage under way, the only other activity at Malvedos at this time is the ongoing surriba (terrain preparation) in the western boundary of the Quinta where 6 hectares will be replanted next winter, most likely with the two Tourigas, the Franca and the Nacional (see the previous tracking the season post, published a month ago). Some final work also continues in the rebuilding of the stone terraces (a section of the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard) at the other extremity of the Quinta.

In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing daily coverage of the harvest at the small Malvedos winery, where the winemaking team’s clear remit is always the same: to realize the Malvedos and Tua grapes’ maximum quality potential. Henry Shotton, the resident winemaker at Malvedos will keep readers up to speed with regular news on how the harvest is progressing.

Morning glory carpets a slope at Malvedos. In the distance, the new vineyard terraces ('patamares') taking shape.
Morning Glory carpets the slope that descends from the house at Malvedos down to the railway. In the distance, the new vineyard terraces (‘patamares’) taking shape.
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Conclusion of the 2013 vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos

HarvestPost_7(MalvedosPlaque)The 2013 vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos lasted for three weeks; we started picking at Graham’s neighbouring Quinta do Tua on Monday, September 23rd and at Malvedos itself the next day. Harvesting of all the grapes was concluded by Sunday, October 13th, the last grapes (Touriga Franca) arriving at the Malvedos winery also coming from Quinta do Tua. Over this three week period Henry and his team worked flat out with few pauses, often well into the night (or through the night…) to ensure that they turned the high quality grapes into the best possible Graham’s Port wines. You can’t put a fermentation ‘on hold’, while you go off for a good night’s sleep, and our team had to organize itself to work the usual round the clock shifts. Exhausting, but rewarding.

The Malvedos 2013 vintage winery team: Tiago, Luis, Armando, Alexandre (weating cap), Henry, Carlos, João, (BIG)  JUCA and Fernando.
The Malvedos 2013 vintage winery team: Tiago Fonseca, Luis, Armando Fonseca, Alexandre (wearing cap), Henry, Carlos Fonseca, João, (BIG) JUCA and Fernando.

Roughly speaking we can describe the vintage at Malvedos as follows: one week of rain sandwiched between two weeks of dry, sunny conditions. In other words, the vintage got off to a perfect start, with 5 days of glorious sunny weather (average temperature at Malvedos for September was 25º C), ideal for picking and for the ongoing maturation of the late-ripening varieties. Conditions then changed as rain made an appearance at Malvedos from the 27th, coming and going over a 6 day period (56mm in total). Fortunately, this precipitation was evenly spread in the form of showers interspersed with drier intervals meaning the grapes didn’t suddenly soak up too much water.

Charles and Henry discuss some of the freshly made Ports in the winery as Charles's wife, Marta, looks on.
Charles and Henry discuss the freshly made Ports in the winery as Charles’s wife, Marta, looks on approvingly.

Frequent monitoring of detailed weather forecasts by Graham’s head winemaker, Charles Symington, translated into picking schedules being switched around on an almost daily basis to circumvent any possible risks posed by the expected rain. Thus, Charles and Henry brought forward by a few days the picking of the Malvedos Touriga Nacional crop, a decision that proved spot on because over 90% of it was picked before the rain arrived. In a similar vein it was decided to leave the (still ripening) Touriga Franca grapes on the vines until the rain stopped and again this proved a good decision because they then benefitted from up to 10 days of dry, sunny weather, thus completing their maturations very satisfactorily. This cat and mouse tussle with the weather worked out in our favour and it all came down to the resourcefulness and resilience of our winemaking and viticulture crews. Flexibility was key throughout.

João, Luís, Henry and Carlos  make raise their glasses, celebrating the successful conclusion of one more vintage at Malvedos
João, Luís, Henry and Carlos raise their glasses, celebrating the successful conclusion of one more vintage.

It is of course premature to produce a full and balanced assessment of the wines made but it is safe to say that Charles and Henry believe that at Malvedos, despite the weather challenges referred to above, we came through pretty much unscathed and some very fine Ports have been made, largely through the very good showing of the Tourigas — the Nacional and the Franca, which — combined — make up 49% of the Malvedos vineyard.

Paul Symington (centre, with his boxer, Mungo) surrounded by the full Malvedos vintage 2013 team.
Paul Symington (centre, with his boxer, Mungo) surrounded by the full Malvedos vintage 2013 team.

Just after the last grapes were received at the winery on Sunday, October 13th, Paul Symington, Graham’s Joint Managing director, observed tradition and hosted the entire team involved with the vintage at the grass terrace of the house, where food and drinks were enjoyed by all in a relaxed, celebratory mood. Paul thanked everybody for their usual commitment and enthusiasm and reminded everyone that “we’ll do it all over again next year!”

Traditional Portuguese tiles (azulejos) decorate the interior of the Malvedos winery. This represents a barco rabelo loaded with pipes of Port from Malvedos.
Traditional Portuguese tiles (azulejos) decorate the interior of the Malvedos winery. This represents a barco rabelo loaded with pipes of Port from Malvedos (inspired from a photo dating from 1905 in the Graham’s archives).

Also in keeping with tradition, Henry and his crew enjoyed their usual end of vintage dinner at the Calça Curta restaurant in the nearby hamlet of Tua. To recharge their batteries, the menu included the usual house specialities: arroz de polvo (octopus rice) and large steaks, both enjoyed with some very good wines.

The Quinta dos Malvedos house, viewed from the vineyards, high up behind the building.
The Quinta dos Malvedos house, viewed from the vineyards, high up behind the building.
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Malvedos Harvest Update: 'The Touriga Franca Week'

This week we checked on progress in Graham's other  vineyards. Here, pickers in action at Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.
This week we checked on progress in Graham’s other vineyards. Here, pickers in action at Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley, harvesting Touriga Franca from the Telheira block.

Henry Shotton gives his latest report from the Malvedos winery:

Henry shows Yusen Lin (Taiwan's leading wine writer/critic) freshly made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
Henry shows Yusen Lin (Taiwan’s leading wine writer/critic) freshly made Ports in the winery.

I’m tempted to call this last week the ‘Touriga Franca week’, so encouraged are we by the quality of the grapes as seen coming into the winery these last few days. The Touriga Franca is a late – ripening variety because it needs a great deal of sun and heat to fulfil its full maturation potential. This vintage began unusually late but that didn’t mean that we could start picking the Franca almost straight away — both because grape maturations generally were running late this year anyway (hence the delayed start to the vintage) but also because of the rainfall that visited when we were about a week into the vintage. That set back even a little further the completion of the full maturation cycle of the Touriga Franca.

Henry proudly shows us the  incredibly concentrated colour of the Touriga Franca lagar.
Henry proudly shows off the incredibly concentrated colour of this Touriga Franca lagar. The Baumé reading was a remarkable 14.5º and Henry was also impressed by the expressive floral aromas.
Freshly crushed Touriga Franca grapes about to be trodden in the lagar.
Freshly crushed Touriga Franca grapes picked at Malvedos about to be trodden in the lagar. The colour is remarkable and it put a big smile on Charles’s face.

Thankfully the rain did not persist and once clear blue skies and warm temperatures returned over a week ago, Charles wisely decided to hold off a few days before giving the order to start picking the Franca, allowing it time to benefit from several days of bright, warm sunny conditions. This has meant the TF (the most widely planted at Malvedos — 27% of the vineyard — and one of Port’s most important varieties) has had time to recoup it’s full potential which was showing such promise before the onset of the rain. The grapes are wonderfully ripe and concentrated, showing superb deep colour, soft skins (which eases extraction) and excellent sugar readings. The first TF grapes that we received from the Malvedos vineyard on Tuesday, October 8th were already giving us very good readings of 13.5º Baumé and as the week progressed, the values steadily increased to 14, and the latest lagar (filled yesterday, Thursday 10th) registered an impressive 14.5º Baumé. It is a pleasure to witness the deep colour of this lagar and sense its expressive, fresh and floral aromas.

Charles and Graham's head of viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa (left) decide on the picking order of the remaining Touriga Franca blocks at Malvedos.
Charles and Graham’s head of viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa (left) decide on the picking order of the remaining Touriga Franca blocks at Malvedos.

Charles commented today (Friday October 11th) at the winery that he is particularly impressed with the “exceptional colour of the Franca”  (not always achieved by this variety, as Charles stressed) and also by its low yields which have delivered superb concentration. He explained that when the vintage started, the TF was already well advanced in terms of the phenolics but more time was needed for the sugar levels to catch up in order to reach a full, balanced ripening. The fact we waited to start picking a few days after the rain stopped benefitted the Franca enormously by allowing it to complete it’s optimal maturation cycle, Charles explained. We will conclude picking the Franca on Monday, which effectively means we will have finished picking all the grapes at Malvedos. After that we still have a few days to conclude some fermentations in the lagares and to wind things down (post vintage cleaning, repairs and maintenance).

Charles, Henry and Pedro confer in the Malvedos winery, Friday, October 11th.
Charles, Henry and Pedro confer in the Malvedos winery, Friday, October 11th.
Meanwhile, outside the winery, Masai, Charles's faithful tawny-coloured Rhodesian Ridgeback, basks in the sunshine.
Meanwhile, outside the winery, Masai, Charles’s faithful tawny-coloured Rhodesian Ridgeback, basks in the sunshine.

Earlier in the week Charles and I also did the rounds of the two Graham’s Quintas that we haven’t had a chance to report on previously during this vintage; Vila Velha and Lages.

Lages: The caseiro (farm manager) of 24 years at Lages, Sr. António, was very upbeat about the quality of the grapes picked at the Quinta this vintage. He told us that notwithstanding the rain, the quality of the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca was very pleasing (22 and 21% of Lages, respectively). Our winemaking team confirmed the caseiro’s optimism reporting average graduations of 14º Baumé. That’s hard to beat. The Tinta Barroca topped the scales, occasionally showing 15º Baumé, but that is not at all unusual for this variety. On the day we called, a roga (team of grape pickers) of 14 people was picking the Telheira block, vertically planted (very unusual in our vineyards) with young Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca vines. Despite the young age of the vines, the grape bunches and the berries themselves had a good size and showed wonderful deep blue-violet coloured skins.

One of the oldest mixed blocks at Lages, planted in 1985, now a full mature vineyard, providing very good quality grapes.
One of the oldest mixed blocks at Lages, planted in 1985, now a mature vineyard, providing very good quality grapes.

The last grapes scheduled to be picked at Lages on Monday, October 14th will be from the organically farmed 4 hectare block, which was planted in 1989 with mixed varieties (consisting primarily of Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz). These grapes are earmarked for Graham’s Natura Reserve Port, one of the first Ports made with organically farmed grapes.

Organically farmed grapes: we have a 4 hectares at Lages, planted in 1989.
Organically farmed grapes: we have 4 hectares at Lages, planted in 1989.
The magnificent scenery of the Douro Valley; here the landsacpe at Quinta da Vila Velha.
The magnificent scenery of the Douro Valley; here the landsacpe at Quinta da Vila Velha.
The entrance gate to the Vila Velha, one of the Douro's most beautiful River Quintas.
The entrance gate to the Vila Velha, one of the Douro’s most beautiful River Quintas.

Vila Velha: the vintage at Vila Velha finished on Tuesday October 8th, the first Graham’s Quinta to conclude its grape picking. Vila Velha has the highest percentage of Touriga Franca planted of any Graham’s Quinta (31%) and, as seen at other Graham’s vineyards, some very good lagares have been made from these grapes, although we had to be a little more selective because here, the rain did create a few problems in some of the more sheltered blocks (less exposed to the sun), of which — fortunately — there are very few.

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Malvedos Harvest: The Sun Returns to the Douro

The threat of rain has been constant during this last week. Charles and Henry Shotton have had to review daily the decision regarding the picking order of the various grape varieties. It has been like a game of musical chairs, trying not to get caught out by the weather and ensuring that our grapes are picked in the best possible condition.

Morning mist burns off the hills around Malvedos, early Friday morning, October 4th.
Morning mist dissipates around Malvedos, early Friday morning, October 4th.

Fortunately the weather changed on Thursday, October 3rd, the first day with no rain for a week. Friday started out a little overcast but this was mainly morning mist, which disappeared as the sun rose over the mountains. The afternoon temperature at Malvedos climbed to 24ºC, just what was needed to dry the grape bunches and to encourage the full maturation of our Touriga Franca, a late-ripening variety (27% of the Malvedos vineyard is Touriga Franca).

Today, Saturday October 5th is a lovely sunny day and the forecast for the next week could not be better — clear sunny skies with afternoon temperatures forecast to be above 20ºC. We could not ask for a better forecast.

Glorious blue skies have returned to Malvedos.
Glorious blue skies have returned to Malvedos.

Henry Shotton reports on the last few days at Malvedos:

Wednesday October 2nd 

A lagar with fermenting must from one of the Síbio blocks; the colour is impressive, hence Fonseca's broad smile.
A lagar with fermenting must from one of the Síbio blocks; the colour is impressive, hence Fonseca’s broad smile.

07h30:  The sky has some blue patches and the weather is definitely improving although the temperature is cooler. Some rain came down between 4 and 6.30 this morning. However from tomorrow, the forecast says that the clouds will clear up completely.We finished picking the Síbio blocks today and despite the showers we are pleased to register pretty good graduations, higher than expected given the wet conditions. Tomorrow we will pick the Tinto Cão and some Tinta Roriz which will fill a single lagar and will be fermented together. Tonight we will tread the last Síbio lagar picked today. 

Thursday October 3rd 

Through the day the patches of cloud finally cleared up and even more importantly, we had a constant wind blowing strongly up the valley. This was welcome as it helped to dry the grape bunches. With the sunny conditions, this dry wind brought forward the possibility of concluding the harvesting of the remainder of our Touriga Nacional grapes. Before we do that however, we will today be picking Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz, which we will also ferment in one lagar.

Charles and Henry are encouraged (not to say relieved) that the Touriga Nacional grape sat Malvedos have weathered the rain very well indeed; the bunches are ripe and healthy.
Charles and Henry are encouraged (not to say relieved) that the Touriga Nacional grapes at Malvedos have weathered the rain very well indeed; the bunches are ripe and healthy.

After lunch, Charles and I did the rounds of both Malvedos and Tua to set the picking order for the next few days. Despite the rain we are very encouraged to note that there are no signs of rot, the grapes have withstood the rain remarkably well. One of the advantages of our mountain vineyards is that when it rains, a fair proportion of the water runs down the steep hillsides before it has time to infiltrate the soil.

Tonight we will be treading a mixed lagar of Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz. Tomorrow we will pick the remaining Roriz which we will ferment with Tinta Barroca, making a wine that will be very interesting in due course.

While we have been very busy making wine, we have also had several visitors: from Russia, Taiwan and Germany. All in a day’s work… 

Friday October 4th

Sancha Trindade, helps Juca (or is the other way around) unload a trailer-load of grapes at the winery.
Sancha Trindade, helps Juca (or is the other way around?!) unload a trailer-load of grapes at the winery.
Sancha helps sorting Tinta Roriz grapes.
Sancha helps sorting Tinta Roriz grapes.

Today a couple of my colleagues came by for lunch, bringing with them a guest who will spend the weekend at the Quinta. Her name is Sancha Trindade, a leading Portuguese blogger and freelance journalist. Sancha spent most of the afternoon at the winery and helped the winery team unload the grapes coming in from the vineyard and she took turns on the sorting table, learning how to identify any less acceptable bunches and berries of Tinta Roriz.

Saturday October 5th

We made a very early start with Sr. Arlindo, our caseiro, driving up to the Touriga Nacional blocks on the higher part of the Quinta. We resumed picking the TN this morning because of the much better conditions. The Touriga Nacional is looking beautifully ripe and healthy.

Sancha gets stuck in eraly Saturday morning, helping to harvest the Touriga Nacional at Malvedos.
Sancha gets stuck in early Saturday morning, helping to harvest the Touriga Nacional at Malvedos.
Sancha (left) with Henry to her left, enjoys a well earned lunch after a busy morning, picking grapes. On the right is Joe Álvares Ribeiro (one of Graham's directors, with other guests.
Sancha (left) with Henry to her left, enjoys a well earned lunch after a busy morning, picking grapes. On the right (centre) is Joe Álvares Ribeiro, one of Graham’s directors, with other guests.
The lovely grass terrace at Quinta dos Malvedos
The lovely grass terrace at Quinta dos Malvedos.
The lovely, intense colours of 'Morning Glory' at Quinta dos Malvedos.
The lovely, intense colours of ‘Morning Glory’ at Quinta dos Malvedos.
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