Category Archives: Born in the Douro

Injured Peregrine Falcon Recovers

At the beginning of December 2015, the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, Portugal, received into care a young injured male peregrine falcon. Shot, presumably by hunters, near the town of Esposende on the Northern coast of Portugal, the bird was making his first migration south for the winter.

We are happy to report that the bird has made a full recovery and will soon be returned to the wild in time to return to Northern Europe for the summer, this time fitted with a state-of-the-art GPS tracker in order for the centre’s dedicated team to follow its journey.

In this video, filmed several months ago, you can see the recovering bird making use of the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel.

Symington Family Estates supports the work of the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre and shares with it the values and commitment of protecting and preserving the wildlife and natural habitats of the Douro. We will be following the release of the falcon into the wild at a Symington Family Estate’s vineyard in the near future.

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 3

In a series of video clips to be shown throughout the year we will be exploring the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the third of the videos, documents bud-break.

Bud-break marks the end of winter dormancy and the start of the vines’ new vegetative cycle.

With the arrival of spring, buds begin to sprout during March; the timing varies with each grape variety and air temperatures.

 

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 2

In a series of video clips to be shown over the year we will be exploring the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the second of the videos, documents vine training and planting.

Training young vines and vine planting

Once winter pruning is concluded, the next task is to train the canes of the young two to three-year-old vines onto the lower wires of the vine trellises, known as the ‘fruiting wires.’ Vine-training in our vineyards follows the Royat single cordon system meaning that the cane (or cordon) is trained horizontally, only to one side of the vine trunk.

Starting in February and continuing through March is the planting (or replanting) of vines. Our vineyards are planted from the end of winter until the start of spring of the year after the preparation of the terrain, known as the surriba, which involves the turning over of the topsoil and subsoil, whilst at the same time building the terraces on which the new vines will be planted. In the past the vines were planted in two stages, one year apart; first the phylloxera-resistant rootstock was planted and a year later the scion of the chosen variety would be field-grafted onto it. In recent years the vast majority of our vineyards are planted with bench-grafted rootlings, which already combine the rootstock and the scion. The great advantage of this method is the greater uniformity of the planted vineyard, which thus comes into full production earlier.

SYMINGTON FAMILY ESTATES DONATE AMBULANCE TO VILA FLOR VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE

On Saturday 13th of February, Symington Family Estates donated a new ambulance to the Vila Flor Volunteer Fire Brigade. Since 2007 the company has donated nine ambulances to the Fire Brigades of the Douro Valley in recognition of the invaluable services, that range from combating forest fires to emergency medical assistance, that they provide to the region’s communities.

The Symington family have previously donated ambulances to the volunteer fire brigades of the following Douro municipalities: Pinhão (2007), S. João da Pesqueira (2009), Provesende (2010), Carrazeda de Ansiães (2011), Lamego (2012), Régua (2013) Foz-Côa (2014), Tabuaço (2015), and now Vila Flor in 2016.

 

A Year in the Vineyards: Part 1

In a series of video clips to be shown over the coming year we will explore the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the first of the videos, documents winter pruning.

Winter pruning (November – January)

Winter pruning of the vines is a crucial, almost entirely manual operation that marks the beginning of the viticultural year in the Douro. Normally starting during the second half of November, it can go on for up to three months and ideally should be 50% complete before the end of the year. Winter pruning of the vines is essential for their rejuvenation in the spring and because it is so labour-intensive and time-consuming, it accounts for around a third of our annual viticultural costs at Quinta dos Malvedos.

The process involves three separate stages. First, there is the pre-pruning, whereby the bulk of the redundant vine growth is removed with the use of cutters attached to small tractors. Next is the highly skilled manual task of pruning each vine, and removing the remaining tendrils caught in the trellis. Our pruners are equipped with electric secateurs, which increase productivity and make the task much less physically demanding. Finally comes the shredding of the spent canes lying on the ground. This plant fibre is then left to break down and adds much-needed organic matter to the rocky, schistous soil of Quinta dos Malvedos.

 

 

 

Douro Harvest Report 2015

‘The Franca lagares have been spectacular’*

*Charles Symington, 5th October 2015

An exceptional viticultural year is coming to a close in the Douro with farmers and winemakers pleased that a year’s work has resulted in some very good Ports and Douro wines.

The rainfall figures for the viticultural year show a reduction of 44% on the 21 year average, with just 359 mm registered at Quinta do Bomfim, in the heart of the Alto Douro, for the 11 months to the end September 2015. This level of rainfall would cause serious concern in many wine areas, but does not in the Douro where the indigenous vines are superbly adapted to be able to mature fruit in dry conditions, albeit resulting in the very low yields which are so characteristic of the region.

The geography of the Douro and its schistous soils has an amazing ability to retain the winter rain and this is evidenced by the springs that continue to supply the Quintas and the villages scattered across the hillsides even after 8 or 10 weeks without any meaningful rainfall. Dry farming has recently become a fashionable topic in the world of wine but this subject causes wry amusement in the Douro where farmers have been ‘dry farming’ for centuries and irrigation only covers a tiny percentage of the vineyards.

The little rain that did fall this year in the Douro was nicely timed in May and June and was of ‘the right sort’, being steady and prolonged. This is important as short spells of very heavy rain will simply run off the Douro’s terraces, bringing little benefit and can cause serious erosion. Hence the fact that Douro wine makers never give full credence to the published rainfall figures, knowing that very heavy rain does not always reach the vines and often just ends up in the river.

The period between March and June this year was simultaneously the hottest and driest period for 36 years and flowering and veraison took place between 8 and 10 days earlier than normal, as expected given these conditions. However, July and August were cooler than average and this was of extraordinary benefit to the vines. If the normal heat of August had occurred, dehydration and raisining would certainly have followed, given the dry conditions, and the vines would have been forced to shed their lower leaves, reducing vital shade cover. The grape bunches were in really excellent condition by early September and have seldom looked so fantastic. The cool night-time temperatures had done wonders for the natural acidity in the berries.

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Picking at Quinta dos Malvedos

The harvest started earlier than normal and the quality of the grapes was immediately apparent. Our sorting tables were seeing hugely reduced rejection levels to the delight of our farm managers and our winery teams. Heavy rain fell on Tuesday 15th September and on the morning of the 16th, but this was followed by a strong wind that very satisfactorily dried the grapes. After 10 weeks with no meaningful rain, the vines greedily absorbed the water and dilution in the berries inevitably followed. This was the critical moment of this year’s harvest and Charles immediately called a halt to picking in our best vineyards. This is never an easy decision given the unsettled weather that often comes towards the end of this month. Picking in our vineyards only resumed on 21st September and Charles said a few days later: ‘It is amazing how much difference 4 or 5 days can make’. Without this rain the final phase of maturation of the Touriga Nacional and especially the Touriga Franca would not have been ideal, as dehydration would certainly have occurred after such a prolonged period with no rain. In the circumstances the steady rain of 15th and morning of 16th September (77mm at Quinta da Cavadinha, 52mm at Quinta do Bomfim, 63mm at Quinta dos Malvedos and 27mm at Quinta do Vesuvio) was absolutely perfect, provided picking was suspended for a few days. The Nacional and Franca picked during the week of the 21st and that of 28th September were of simply extraordinary quality, as were some of the old mixed plantings picked during this period. The rain softened the skins, allowing the colour and flavours to merge superbly into the wine.

Yields were somewhat below the already small average in the Douro, and Charles recorded 25% less Franca at Quinta do Bomfim this year with just 1.05Kg per vine, but with a perfect level of ripeness.

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Picking at Quinta dos Malvedos

Only on Sunday 4th October (General Election day in Portugal) did the weather break and by then our very best grapes were safely in our wineries. Courage was needed to suspend picking in mid-September, but the days that followed the resumption of the vintage were beautifully sunny and calm: the risk was well worth taking and paid off handsomely. These 13 days, from 21st September to 4th October will come to be seen as the key to the great Ports and Douro wines made this year, we have no doubt.

Paul Symington.

Douro, Portugal

7th October 2015

2015 Vintage at Malvedos Concluded

On Wednesday September 30th the last grapes from the 2015 vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos arrived in the estate winery. After twenty days of late nights, early mornings and all-night shifts, the harvest was over. In the end, the vintage came in under the wire as on Friday another rainstorm bore down on the Douro, this time damaging some of the region’s vineyards. Malvedos escaped any significant damage, which was particularly fortunate when we consider the new vineyards being lain out at the western extremity of the quinta.

Work in the winery continued until the weekend but the winery team were content, both because the quality of the wines made was superb and also because a well-earned rest was just around the corner. The bulk of the work was now well behind them and they could begin to wind down the operation until next year. The door to the winery was finally closed on Friday evening after the fermentation of the last lagares and the cleaning of the winery. 

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Zimba, Charles Symington’s dog, enjoying a nap after the vintage.

While many of those involved in the harvest will now make the most of their welcome rest, Alexandre Mariz (viticulturist at Quinta dos Malvedos) is already planning the next year in the vineyards. At the same time he is also supervising the shaping of new terraces at the western end of the quinta. In February or March of next year 4.9 hectares will be planted with Alicante Bouschet, an increasingly important grape variety that until now has been under represented in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos.

The next viticultural year will kick off with winter pruning, which usually begins in November.

We will soon be publishing a full harvest report.

The last grapes from Quinta do Tua

Last week was indeed that of the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grape varieties at Quinta dos Malvedos. Since our last post several more lagares of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca (and a lagar of mixed Touriga Nacional/Franca) have been fermented, and all have shown the great colour and high Baumé readings required for the production of high quality Port.

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Three of Quinta dos Malvedos’ dedicated pickers.

On Thursday the last of the grapes from Quinta do Tua came into the winery at Malvedos signifying that we have moved well beyond the halfway point in this year’s vintage. However, given that at the last count 62% of Quinta dos Malvedos’ vineyard parcels had been picked, there is still some distance to go before the winery shuts its doors for another year. This can be explained by the fact that almost exactly one-third of the Malvedos vineyard is planted with the late ripening Touriga Franca, much of which still has to be harvested.

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Henry Shotton showing that we have reached the “fim do Tua” or the last of Quinta do Tua’s grapes!

Friday saw the fermentation of a mixed lagar of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from younger vines. It is worth noting that young plantings tend to produce less concentrated wines with lower Baumé levels, however, in years to come the vines will produce progressively more concentrated wines.

This last weekend Charles Symington and Alexandre Mariz decided to postpone picking at the quinta for the second week in a row. An unusual decision, but one that makes sense given that the long-range weather forecast predicted good weather conditions for the coming days and it was felt that the Touriga Franca could still benefit from another few days of ripening before picking. All told, on Friday Charles Symington was very happy with how the year is progressing so far and felt that suspending the picking over the previous weekend had very visible results in the quality of the lagares that were fermented through the week.

Last week the winery team was reinforced by the arrival of Sofia Zhang. Sofia will be taking on the role of sales development manager in China and will be based in Shanghai and she was spending a few days with Henry Shotton and his team in order to learn more about how premium Port is produced. Sofia holds a master’s degree in viticulture and oenology, which will no doubt help her to pick things up quickly!

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Sofia Zhang learns from Henry in the Malvedos winery.

Picking at Malvedos Postponed Over the Weekend

In the wake of tropical storm Henri, which passed overhead last Tuesday and Wednesday, the weather at Quinta dos Malvedos has thankfully returned to what would be considered normal for this time of year. These last few days have been sunny and warm, although not exceedingly so, and the long-range weather forecast suggests that things are going to stay this way for some time.

Henry and Nuno in the adega on the first evening
Nuno and Henry discussing the next few days in the winery.

However, in the aftermath of the heavy rain, Charles Symington (Graham’s head winemaker) and Alexandre Mariz (viticulturist at Malvedos and Tua) found it necessary to carefully re-evaluate the condition of the quintas’ vines, and although the grapes were not adversely affected by the storm, on Friday afternoon they decided to call off all picking at both Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua. The reason for this is to allow the berries to benefit from the dry and sunny conditions, which should recover the Baumé levels by at least half a degree. Picking is now scheduled to begin again first thing on Monday morning.

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Charles Symington and Alexandre Mariz rethinking the picking order.

This should work to counteract any dilution effect that the week’s rain may have had on the some of the quintas’ grapes, ultimately ensuring that they are able to fulfil the potential that is still very much in evidence.

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Charles’ dog, Zimba, agrees that the Touriga Nacional still needs some more days to fully ripen!

Henri pays Henry a Visit at Malvedos

Early in the week Henry and his team at Malvedos heard the weather forecast with some apprehension. Tropical storm ‘Henri’ was gathering strength over the Atlantic and fast approaching northwestern Portugal. On Tuesday, as predicted, ‘Henri’ hit the coast at Porto and quickly progressed inland where it buffeted the Marão mountains with strong winds and heavy rain. Vila Real, the district capital on the lee slopes of the range received 90mm of rainfall in just a few hours. As the front moved up the Douro Valley it lost some of its strength but it still delivered 54.8mm of rain over Malvedos on Tuesday alone, making September the wettest month at the quinta thus far this year. To offer some perspective, mean rainfall for September (30 year average) at Malvedos is 33.4mm.

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Drying grapes at Quinta dos Malvedos.

But there’s rain and there’s rain, as any viticulturist knows. As the day wore on, the initial sense of foreboding gave way to a sense of relief; the rain did come down in buckets as forecast but not in the form of intense, damaging downpours. Rather it came down steadily, spaced evenly throughout the afternoon and the evening, allowing the soil to gradually absorb what it needed and permitting the run-off to drain away without causing any damaging erosion as so often happens in the Douro. Furthermore the strong winds, which came hand in hand with the rain, continued well after the rain had stopped in the early hours of Wednesday having the very positive effect of swiftly drying the grape bunches on the vines.

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Henry Shotton working through the storm in the winery.

Once conditions became more settled Graham’s head winemaker Charles Symington, with Henry and Alexandre, took stock and decided that it was better to have had this rain rather than not have had it. Whilst the team at Malvedos initially feared a rerun of the 2014 harvest when the prospect of an excellent year was partially derailed by persistent rain halfway into the harvest, this year the situation is different. There was increasing concern that the hydric stress and consequent dehydration (following one of the driest springs and summers of the last half century) was beginning to take its toll on the vines.

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A dark sky over the Port Arthur stone terraces.

Charles feels that this rain may well prove opportune, stopping further dehydration and allowing the unpicked grapes to get back into balance and fully ripen. There are still some very good parcels of Touriga Nacional to come in, and of course the whole of the Touriga Franca to pick. At this stage only one third of the Malvedos vineyard has been harvested. This timely rain, combined with the fact that the weather forecast for the rest of the month points to dry and sunny conditions with warm, even temperatures, means that ideal conditions should be in place for realising the full quality potential of this year’s harvest.

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Glimmers of sun shining on the Malvedos’ winery, Wednesday afternoon.

To allow the finest grapes to dry fully and benefit from the favourable conditions developing in the vineyards, for the next few days at Malvedos the pickers will resume picking the Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, mixed plantings and younger plantings, leaving the Touriga Nacional for later. Meanwhile in the winery some exceptional lagares are being made from grapes brought in before the storm arrived; in particular two outstanding ferments of Touriga Nacional, which showed spectacular Baumés of 14.3º and 14.35º with amazing colour. Henry is impressed by the exceptional colour of the musts he is seeing in all the lagares so far this vintage; without exception all are displaying the maximum ‘A’ colour grading in the chromatic range of ‘A’ to ‘F’.

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The sunshine returns to Malvedos, perfectly timed with Johnny Symington’s visit. Johnny brought some of the company’s market assistants (Mónica, Patrícia, Teresa and Leonor) to witness the vintage first-hand.