When you visit the Graham’s Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, don’t miss the Sala do Baptismo. Halfway between the main entrance to the Lodge and the downhill entrance gate to the property is an arched doorway that opens directly from the drive way.
There has been a long tradition at Graham’s of inviting special guests to “baptise” one of the tonels of port ageing in this separate room of the lodge with a glass of our 20 Year Old Tawny. Exactly how, when and why the tradition began is uncertain, however the earliest record is from 1924, when HE M. Teixera Gomes, then President of the Republic of Portugal, baptised the tonel “O Presidente.”
Since then, many state dignitaries and special visitors have baptised the tonel of their choice: The Consul, The Minister, The Emperor, O Presidente, The Ambassador, The Minister, The Governor, the Royal Reserve or The Sportsman.
Some of the choices are natural and obvious, for example John Major (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1990-1997) and RJL Hawke (Prime Minister of Australia 1981 to 1993) have both baptised The Minister. The Royal Reserve has been baptised by a variety of Royal Highnesses from England and Nepal as well as representatives of several lines of the Braganças. The Ambassador tonel received a dousing from Stephen Hill, Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to Portugal, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of VE Day on the 8th of May, 1995. By the way, the tonels in the Sala are not just for show, all of them are in use, for example The Minister contains 8,400 litres of a 1972 wine.
Some interesting people have chosen to baptise the Emperor, including the restaurateur Michel Roux, the American winemaker Robert Mondavi, a Cardinal and a Bishop, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Georg Riedel, 10th generation of the family which makes the famous Riedel wineglasses.
The Sportsman was baptised by four members of the cricket team when Nasser Hussain’s England XI arrived to play the Portugal XI for the Lay and Wheeler Challenge in 2001 (who knew you could throw a googly with 20 Year Old Tawny?), and by Simon Fletcher, “Who in 1965 shot 2 elephants with one shot!”
Graham’s Port Lodge has also been honoured to host several important international conferences, including the summit of Foreign Affairs ministers from Portugal, Spain and all the Latin American countries; and an informal meeting of the Economic ministers of the European Union. In both cases, the ministers made time to visit the Sala do Baptismo during their visits, and pay their respects to The Minister with a glass of 20 Year Old.
The Sala do Baptismo now also honours some rather less well known individuals: there are wonderful photographic murals featuring the people who over the past 190 years have made Graham’s wines what they are, working in vineyards, wineries and the lodge.
As one guest wrote in our visitor’s book, “History in action – Great!!”