Bottling the Second Cask of 1961

Those of you who follow us on Facebook may recall our announcement last December about the release of Graham’s 1961 Single Harvest Tawny Port.  During his routine tasting of all the wines ageing in our Lodge, our head winemaker, Charles Symington, was so impressed with the 1961s he decided to take the tasting equivalent of a closer look at these wines.  Out of 14 casks Charles  picked three that were especially fine and deserving of presentation as a single harvest tawny (also known as a colheita), something Graham’s had never before released.

Each cask contained wine for 712 bottles, and the first cask was bottled and released for sale in late 2010.  The second cask was bottled last Thursday, 9th March, and the packaging was completed on Friday 10th March.  The wine has been so popular and demand so great that nearly all of Cask 2 is already committed for sale and the sales team is negotiating with the production department to schedule the bottling of Cask 3 soon.

Such an extraordinary wine merits very special packaging, and the press has commented favourably on the very handsome presentation as well as the superb wine.  How is it done?  Almost entirely by hand.

Gently tapping in the T-cork stoppers whilst four more bottles fill with wine
Double checking labels and polishing the bottle
Applying the IVDP label so it aligns perfectly with the front label

For such a small bottling run in the special “Oslo” style bottle, we used a very compact bottling station – no long conveyor lines or automated processes for this product.   Bottles are washed, then placed into and removed from the filling machine by hand, no more than four at a time.  The T-shaped cork stoppers are then gently tapped into place with a mallet, and the bottles are labelled, again placed by hand into the machine, two at a time.  After labelling, the bottles are then passed to a colleague who double checks that the labels are perfectly aligned and smooth, polishes the bottle and then places it back into a sectioned carton very carefully, to ensure the labels are not scratched or rumpled by the carton dividers.  It took approximately four hours for a team of four people to fill, cork and label 712 bottles.

On Friday, there were two operations to complete:  first, the numbered IVDP labels are carefully applied to every bottle by hand, and then a clear plastic capsule is placed over the stopper and neck by hand, and passed to a colleague who uses a machine to heat-seal the capsules in place.  The attention to detail is extraordinary:  the stoppers are twisted, if necessary, to ensure the Graham’s name on top faces the front of the bottle, the IVDP labels are placed in the same place on each bottle, crossing the word Graham’s on the stopper, and aligning the IVDP numbered seal with the centre front label.  Again at the conclusion of the process the bottles are meticulously inspected to ensure labels and seal are perfect and the bottles clean before they are replaced into the cartons.  Three people worked for about 3 hours to complete this part of the process.

João Magalhães numbers each bottle by hand, with both cask and bottle number
Certificates are also numbered by hand, sealed, and slipped into the presentation tube with the bottle
Each wooden box contains four bottles in their presentation tubes, and is sealed as further evidence of authenticity

The third and final procedure is the numbering and packaging.  Every bottle is numbered by hand on the back label and accompanied by an identically numbered certificate of authenticity which is included in every presentation tube.  Last summer we actually asked our employees to submit handwriting samples, to see who had the nicest writing for this purpose.  In the end, it was João Magalhães of Quality Control who was asked to be responsible for the hand-written labels and certificates.  We made a special cradle of styrofoam so the bottle would be held horizontal and level to make his job easier.

Each bottle is numbered, wrapped in tissue, set into the presentation tube with its certificate, and then four tubes are packed into each wooden case which is then sealed.  Both seals and wooden cases indicate the cask number from which the wine was bottled.  The cases are meticulously lined up on a pallet, and will be wrapped carefully for shipping around the world.  Five people worked together, every task by hand, for five hours to number and package the wine and prepare it for shipping.

Have you bought a bottle of Graham’s 1961?  Leave us a message and tell us the cask and bottle number you have purchased, and where in the world you will be enjoying it.

6 thoughts on “Bottling the Second Cask of 1961”

  1. Out of interest, can you tell is whether the IVDP have to taste and approve each different barrel of this wine if they simply taste and approve it once, leaving you free to bottle all three pipes without referring back to them?

    1. Hi Alex. I’ve checked with Ermalinda Gomes, our liaison with the IVDP. She tells me we register “colheitas” in the 7th year, so this would have been first registered with the IVDP in 1968. From that time we are free to bottle the wine as a colheita, if we choose, the only proviso being that every three years we renew the registration and send a new sample to the IVDP. All being well, we can bottle at any time. I believe the approval is for the entire lote of wine, not cask by cask (can you imagine…?)

      I have had it in mind to write about the IVDP process – I will try to get to that sooner rather than later. Thanks for your question!

    1. Hi Doug! Happy to help – It is available in the Far East, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, the UK and some but not all European countries – including Portugal, and you can buy it at our Lodge. With such a limited quantity available, we are not distributing in the USA. If you need more help, write to me at blogadmin at grahams-port dot com and let me know where you are (or might travel to), and I can check with colleagues next week about availablity nearest to you. Thanks for your inquiry!

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