Unsung Heroines of the Harvest

The saying goes that behind every great man is a woman.  Well, behind Graham’s great ports there are 8 great women who work behind the scenes to keep us all going during harvest.

First off, there are 5 women who prepare and serve 3 meals a day for more than 35 hungry men (and this hungry blogger) and keep up with the laundry for them all too during the three or four weeks of harvest.  Every day Dona Fatima (far right in photo), Arlindo’s wife, prepares breakfast at her house at Malvedos for that winery team, whilst the other three women serve it up for the Quinta do Tua winery team at Tua.  At lunch and dinner time, Fatima comes with the Malvedos gang over to Tua and helps serve up the meal to the two teams together.  Missing from the photo is Dona Sonia who is housekeeper at Quinta do Tua, where four of us are staying during harvest, and who also helps at mealtimes in Tua.

The food is home cooking, plentiful and good – typically fish, chops or chicken is grilled, or there will be some kind of meat stew, accompanied by bread and rice or pasta or potatoes (very often two or three of those at one meal).  There is salad before, and a vegetable soup afterwards, then a plate of apples and pears, and coffee.  Water and wine are on the table, and a bottle of aguardente is available to those who think the small cups of strong Portuguese coffee still aren’t quite strong enough.

Meanwhile, over at the house at Malvedos are Branca and Prazeres.  Fundamentally, this is a private home, which Rupert and his family as well as other Symington family members use throughout the year.  However, it is also used as a base for the many VIP or trade visitors who want to see where and how Graham’s ports are made, and as you may have noticed in the blog, we entertain a steady stream of guests during harvest.  Branca and Prazeres keep the house in pristine order, very often cleaning and making up all nine bedrooms (and nearly as many bathrooms) after breakfast, in time to start making lunch for a dozen or so.  It’s not uncommon to entertain different groups at each breakfast, lunch and dinner, and dinner is nearly always preceded by tea and/or aperitifs with something to nibble, if not a formal tasting of Graham’s wines organised by Rupert or whichever family member is hosting the current batch of guests.

The food served to guests at Malvedos is the apotheosis of home cooking.  Branca is a truly gifted cook, who can turn out bacalhau, grilled pork chops, or a roast beef cooked and carved to perfection, with meltingly tender slivered green beans and perfectly pan roasted new potatoes, preceded by a soup and followed by the most divine desserts intended to complement the fine ports served after dinner.  One favourite is called “Cream in Heaven” which is exactly what it sounds like, and is best enjoyed with Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny, another is the intense dark chocolate mousse served with either Six Grapes or a Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage port.  Finally, an immense cheese board of 7 or 8 cheeses and a bowl of fruit are placed on the table, to accompany whatever range of ports is on show that evening for the visitors.  Branca and Prazeres are both very camera shy, as you can see, Rupert had to capture Branca to make her take credit for the wonderful cabrito (roast baby goat) she served that night, while Prazeres resolutely stayed behind the photographer.

Finally, there is Jackie Thurn-Valsassina, our Public Relations Manager based in Gaia, who plans and organises all the visitors’ itineraries and travel arrangements, advises the house-keeping staff whom to expect and when, what foods and wines should be served, and when no family member is available, comes up to the Douro to entertain and guide the visitors herself.

Ladies, from the bottom of our hearts, we salute and thank you.

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