A Year in the Vineyards, March 2017

Frost on the vine in the vineyards of the Douro
Frost on the vine. Photograph: Fernando Alves
Miguel Potes, no stranger to the ups and downs of a year in the vineyards, talks about winter pruning, low temperatures, and a lot of hard work.

The winter pruning of the 2016/2017 viticultural year was largely concluded in our vineyards by the third week of February, a little later than usual due to the fact that in many of our properties in the Cima Corgo sub-region of the Douro work only began during the first half of December. Typically, winter pruning would be well underway during the month of November, but this year’s delay can be explained by the longer than usual vegetative cycle of the vines over the preceding season (2015/2016), which meant that after the vintage the vineyards were still relatively lush and the onset of leaf-fall was delayed by approximately two weeks. The above-average temperatures during the first half of November accentuated this further.

The relatively late start to the 2016 harvest also inevitably influenced the delay in winter pruning. In some of our principal vineyards such as Quinta dos Malvedos, picking during the harvest was halted on two occasions to work around some (beneficial) rain that arrived during the middle of September. Some of the finest grape varieties, including the Touriga Nacional, only began to be picked from September 26th, which meant that the harvest finished quite late, well into October.

Our pruning teams did not have to contend with much rain; in fact over the winter the lack of rain has given us some cause for concern, the shortfall being approximately 40% when compared to the 30-year-average. However, they did face very cold conditions, especially through January, which records showed as being the third coldest January of the last 30 years. The lowest temperature was registered at Quinta do Ataíde’s weather station on January 19th: 5.6°C below zero, which underlines the continental climate of the easternmost part of the Douro region.

Fortunately our pruners are equipped with electric secateurs, which not only increase productivity but also make the task much less physically demanding. They do, however, have to face the whims of winter weather for weeks on end, not to mention having to negotiate the steepness of the terrain, which really doesn’t make their task any easier.

Winter pruning of the vines is essential for their rejuvenation in the spring and one of its prime objectives is to influence the following season’s yield by controlling the number of buds and therefore those that will potentially burst and give rise to the desired number of bunches of grapes per vine.  Because it is so labour-intensive and time-consuming it accounts for around a third of the annual costs in our vineyards.

Electric secateurs notwithstanding, winter pruning in our vineyards is still an entirely manual task. It is one of the single most important periods of the year in the lifecycle of our vines for it is at this time that decisions are made that will determine the individual future of every single vine and have a significant impact on the success of this year’s crop. During the moments the pruner spends on each vine his or her decisions influence its growth over the new vegetative cycle, its fate quite literally in their hands. Manual pruning requires great skill, knowledge and experience if it is to be carried out successfully and one of its great advantages, as opposed to mechanical pruning, is the precision it offers given that each vine is tended with individual care, one of the indispensable prerequisites for the production of the finest possible wines.

 

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To New Beginnings

Sundial at Symington Family Estates Quinta do Vesuvio
Sundial, Quinta do Vesuvio. Photograph: Adriano Ferreira Borges

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.

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A Year in the Vineyards – Part 9

In this ninth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at the winemaking at Quinta dos Malvedos, whose winery is fitted with three modern lagares.

The vintage · Winemaking

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IS4MMMOoSgU]

Once grape harvesting gets under way it is a non-stop marathon of round-the-clock activity in the vineyards and in the winery. At the Malvedos winery as in all our other specialist wineries, the grapes are still trodden; today in modern stainless steel lagares, which are simply an evolution of the time-honoured traditional foot treading in large, shallow basins made of granite, called lagares. The modern variants of these at Malvedos were installed in time for the 2000 vintage and they have worked extremely well ever since, making consistently outstanding wines. The lessons learnt here were then used in our other wineries up and down the valley where modern lagares have also been installed, namely at Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta da Cavadinha and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira.

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Graham's Vintage Port Bonds

It has long been a tradition for special occasions to be marked by the laying down of Vintage Port from the year of the event. Problematically, due to the fact that a “Vintage year” is normally only declared in the second year after the harvest, the
recipient of the gift often has to remain empty handed until sometime after the celebration.Vintage Port Bond 03

In order to overcome this problem, Graham’s are now the first Port company to provide a Vintage Port bond which is available for purchase in the year of harvest. Allowing the purchase of Vintage Port while the wine is still on the vine guarantees that a certain quantity of the wine produced will be reserved for the holder of the bond.

The bond, which will be available from several UK wine merchants, including Berry Bros. & Rudd, Jeroboams, Selfridges, Tanners and Vintage Wine & Port, can be redeemed after 18 months, when the wine has been bottled and shipped. In the meantime, the buyer will be provided with a high quality presentation bond certificate with personalised calligraphy that can be presented to the recipient on the occasion being celebrated.

Graham’s Vintage Port Vintage Port Bond 01Bonds, limited in number due to the small amount of Vintage Port produced, are a very special and personal way to celebrate an event. Due to Vintage Port’s longevity, the wine can then be enjoyed throughout a person’s life, the qualities of the wine maturing alongside those of the drinker.

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Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar – “Portuguese Restaurant with the Best Wine Service”

The award winning Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar, located in Graham’s historic 1890 Lodge in V. N. de Gaia, has once again been honoured by being named as the “Portuguese Restaurant with the Best Wine Service”. The award, conferred by the Portuguese magazine Wine in their “Best of 2014 Awards”, singled Vinum out from among some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, further confirming its reputation as one of Portugal’s best.

Opened in 2013 as part of the renovation of the Graham’s 1890 Lodge, the partnership between the Symington family and the Basque restaurateurs Sagardi has been going from strength to strength, already having received several national and international awards and acclaim from both critics and the general public alike.

The year 2013 saw the restaurant granted the title of “Restaurant of the Year” by the magazine Revista de Vinhos, which was followed in 2014 by the attribution of an award for the “Best of Wine Tourism” in the category of wine restaurants by Great Wine Capitals (a network of 10 major cities in the worlds best wine producing regions). This accolade not only secured Vinum’s reputation in the Douro region and Portugal, but also among the greatest wine regions of the world.

A promising start to 2015, the most recent award from Wine magazine has praised Vinum for the quality and selection of the wines on offer, which represent not only the best of Douro DOC and Portuguese wines, but also of Port and international wines from other Primum Familiae Vini (an association of wine producing families) producers.  The food was also commended for being seasonal and variable, with some dishes, like the T-bone steak from 7/8 year old field raised cattle from Trás-os-Montes (a region in northern Portugal), quickly becoming classics.

When combined with the incredible surroundings of the recently renovated Graham’s Lodge, the spectacular views of the Douro and the city of Porto, and the impeccable service and knowledge of the Vinum staff, the restaurant comes highly recommended at any time by Wine magazine’s “Best of 2014” awards.

photo

Find out more about the award here: www.essenciadovinho.com/pt/revista-wine/read/1107-revista-wine-distinguiu-os-melhores-do-ano

Vinum website: www.vinumatgrahams.com/

Vinum website: www.vinumatgrahams.com/

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Portuguese Journalists Travel to Smythson of Bond St. to Learn More About Ne Oublie

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Smythson Bond Street store
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Smythson Bond Street store

On the 24th of October, three Portuguese journalists travelled to London to visit the world famous purveyor of luxury stationary and leather goods, Smythson of Bond Street. The objective of the visit was to gain an insight into both the design and production of the Ne Oublie presentation case and decanter. Ne Oublie, a very special and rare port wine dating from the arrival of Andrew James Symington in Portugal in 1882, was released this year and is contained in a crystal decanter (by Atlantis of Portugal) adorned with silver bands (by Hayward & Stott of Scotland), and housed in a presentation case by Smythson of Bond Street.

The journalists present were: Sandra Gato, director of the Portuguese edition of Elle magazine; Bruno Lobo, writer of the Diario Economico supplement, Fora de Série; and Vanda Jorge, a presenter from the TV program Imagens de Marca on the Portuguese television channel SIC Noticias. 

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Smythson Craftsman
Created with Nokia Smart Cam
Interview with Gordon Smith

The journalists were introduced to the Smythson brand and the concept of Ne Oublie with the Smythson designers in their flagship store at 40 Bond Street. They were also able to interview Gordon Smith, of Smith & Co., who designed the Ne Oublie decanter and came up with the initial concept for the presentation case. Graham’s partnership with Gordon Smith began in 2011 with the redesign of the tawny range, and the development of a limited edition tawny port bottled to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. After the interviews they spent some time with the craftsmen at Smythson and had the opportunity to see the fabrication of one of the presentation cases.

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Ne Oublie displayed in the museum space of the Smythson Bond Street store

Afterwards, it was revealed that Graham’s Ne Oublie would be proudly displayed in the museum section of Smythson in an exhibition focusing on the bespoke box work undertaken by the company throughout the years. Also displayed with Ne Oublie are a Post Box from 1902, a 1909 bridge card box, a 1902 Smythson workbox, the company’s founder Frank Smythson’s personal trinket box, and a Whiskey & Soda box from 1920.

The connection between Smythson and the Symington family goes back a long time as the grandfather of the current generation of the family, Maurice Symington, recorded his thoughts in leather diaries handmade by the founder Frank Smythson himself. The company was founded in 1887 by Frank Smythson, and throughout the years has produced leather goods for people such as Queen Victoria and Sir Edmond Hillary, among other illustrious clients.

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“The Silent Friend” whisky and soda box in the museum space of the Smythson store

 

           

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