Just a little before 7am this morning, under clear skies, Sr Arlindo and his 27 strong team of pickers began to harvest the first grapes for Graham’s at Quinta do Tua; like Malvedos a Graham’s vineyard, just a stone’s throw away from the latter. The sun hadn’t yet risen over the crest of the hills (remember we are in the world’s largest mountain vineyard) and the temperature was a pleasant 16ºC, very welcome to the pickers who later in the day had to face temperatures a little over 30ºC. We started by picking the very old mixed vines (60 years+) on the imposing stone walled terraces (hand built by legions of workers during the 19th century). Yields are very low but the quality of the grapes is superb and not surprisingly the energetic roga (team of pickers) completed the picking of this old vineyard in just under two and a half hours. Then it was time for a well deserved short pause to enjoy the almoço, a nourishing second breakfast to recharge batteries and return to the picking; next in the order of the day was the Tinta Amarela parcel, planted at Tua in 2008.
Some visitors from our recently appointed distributor in Belgium (“The Nectar”), who had spent the night at Malvedos, were keen to witness the first grapes being harvested in the beautiful Tua vineyard. After braving the steep climb up to the parcel where the pickers were at work, they were rewarded with commanding views over the remarkable stone terraces and the Douro River. Worn out by their trekking up and down the Tua terraces they were rewarded on their return to Malvedos by a delicious glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port.
The freshly picked grapes arrived at the Malvedos winery at around 9:30 am and Henry Shotton, resident winemaker (his 14th vintage at Malvedos), and his team selected the grapes by hand on a sorting conveyor, prior to feeding them through the crusher and conveying them into one of the three lagares housed in the small, original 19th century winery building. A sample of freshly pressed juice was collected by Fonseca, known to all as ‘the Fonz’ to obtain the baumé reading (sugar level), which showed a most satisfactory 14.35. The Tinta Amarela, which followed was a fraction above at 14.4.
Shortly after, Paul Symington arrived and showed a visiting International Herald & Tribune journalist, Patrick Blum, around the winery, explaining the workings of the lagares where the grapes are trodden and which since their installation in time for the 2000 harvest have turned out such remarkable Graham’s Vintage Ports as the 2000, 2003, 2007 and the much acclaimed 2011 (as well as other Graham’s premium Ports, amongst which the Malvedos Vintages, Six Grapes Reserve and the Late Bottled Vintage Ports).
As outside temperatures rose, so did the tempo of activity with the arrival of Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker who was making the first of his regular visits to discuss the morning’s progress and to drive around the property with Henry to carry out a sequence of on-site grape sampling checks so as to confirm the pre-established picking order of each grape variety from the many parcels which make up the Malvedos vineyard. In the event, Charles decided to make a few switches, principally because the constantly changing weather forecast is indicating some possible rainfall on Thursday and Friday, which could place under some risk our finest grapes, namely the Touriga Nacional (22% of the Malvedos vineyard). Accordingly, these valuable grapes, which show all the signs of producing some very good wines, will be harvested over the next three days (24th — 26th), almost to the exclusion of all others. Normally, the Tinta Barroca would be picked first but Charles is keen to safeguard the promising Touriga Nacional crop. On Thursday, the ‘Port Arthur’ and Vinhas das Cardenhas vineyards (from which the Graham’s 2011 The Stone Terraces Vintage Port was made) will also be harvested, as they contain a high proportion of Touriga Nacional grapes.
In the next few weeks, Charles will criss-cross the Douro Valley several times, making regular visits to the five Graham’s Quintas (Malvedos, Tua, Vila Velha, Vale de Malhadas and Lages) as well as to the other vineyards owned by his family and which supply Graham’s sister companies. Charles will literally cover thousands of miles in the coming weeks as he leads his team of dedicated winemakers and coordinates the vintage which this year involves a team of nearly 1000 people. No mean feat…