Category Archives: Our 1890 Lodge

Graham’s Lodge Renovations: Accommodating a Surprise

One feature of the renovations at the Graham’s Lodge has been to improve accessibility for our visitors.  As we were beginning alterations to install a lift, we made an unexpected discovery:  a water cistern underneath a space near the rear of the building.

Our Lodge is situated near the top of a hill at a bend in the Douro River, and the area is in fact one of the oldest inhabited parts of Vila Nova de Gaia.  With the rainy climate here (average rainfall is normally over 1100 mm per year) there are many linhas de agua – that is, natural water run-offs.  Over the centuries, many of these have been channeled into man-made canals to capture and use the water, and it seems that when the Lodge was built, this cistern was created to capture rain water for use cooling and cleaning the building.

But it seems that the linha de agua which fed this cistern was blocked upstream many years ago, so at some point it was simply built over to create additional floor space above, hence our surprise when we unearthed it during our work.

Our architects were able to modify the building plans to re-locate the lift and incorporate the cistern as a feature.  When you take your tour through the renovated space later this summer, you will be able to see this detail of our Lodge’s history for yourself.

Graham’s Lodge Team 2012

Every year Graham’s gears up for the summer season by hiring and training additional guides for the Lodge.  Our guides are simply the best:  friendly and knowledgeable, and fully prepared to answer all your questions about Port wine, the Douro, Graham’s and Symington Family Estates.

The new team began work in mid-March and spent their first week simply watching and working alongside the veteran staff, and only began their formal training last week.  Paul Symington makes a point every year of personally welcoming the guides and getting to know them at an informal Monday morning breakfast gathering in our head office.  He spoke to the group about the long history and commitment of the Symington family to the Port trade, the Douro and to Graham’s and the importance of the Lodge guides’ role in conveying all of that to our visitors.  Afterwards Henri Sizaret of our Marketing department spoke to the team about the brand heritage and image, and how their role at the Lodge fits into and supports the messages we try to convey in all our marketing efforts.

After lunch and for the balance of the week, the group enjoyed – really enjoyed! – training sessions on a wide variety of subjects – anything, in fact, that our visitors may want to know.

João Pedro Ramalho at the Douro map explaining the sub-regions and climates to the Lodge Guides

Most important of course is learning about our wines.  João Pedro Ramalho and Pedro Correia of our wine making team each spent an intensive half day with the guides teaching them about Port and Douro DOC wines respectively.  This included detailed explanations of everything from climatic conditions in the Douro and their effect on the quality of our wines to the morphology of grapes, as well as a thorough review of the logistics and technicalities of harvesting, winemaking, blending, ageing, bottling and serving.  Finally – and most importantly – the guides learned to simply appreciate our wines.  To this end they were served samples of every Graham’s port style as well as a range of our Douro DOC wines.  The wine makers then talked through each of the wines and explained how the flavour profiles are a direct result of the specific winemaking techniques behind that particular style of wine.

Sr. Emilio explaining how Graham's maintains our casks in our own cooperage

Additional sessions led by veteran guides covered the various kinds of tours and tastings we offer, the Lodge Shop and our wine shipping services.  The team also visited our bottling plant and the tanoaria – the cooperage – where Sr. Emilio showed them how we maintain all the wooden casks in which we age our Ports.

Finally, the team spent two full days in the Douro to see our vineyards and wineries for themselves and meet the viticulturists whose work is so critical to the quality of Graham’s ports.  Based at Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua for their stay, where Alexandre Mariz met them and showed them the Malvedos adega, they visited other key Symington properties across the region, including Quinta do Vesuvio,  Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais, Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and Quinta do Bomfim, and Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha where our research viticulturist Miles Edlmann gave them an intensive lesson in viticulture.

The team are now back in Vila Nova de Gaia and ready to make your visit to the Lodge a pleasure, and answer all your questions.  All our team are multi-lingual and as always we are able to offer tours in English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, German and Italian.  This year we have guides fluent in Russian and Polish as well.

Graham's Lodge team 2012

Kneeling in front, left to right: Serafim, Bruno, Yulia, Nuno, Markus, Ana.  Standing in back:  Luis, Rosalina, Raul, Jorge, João, Emiliano, Tom, Mariana, Cátia, Anastasia, Delphine, Dorota, Carolina, Herminio, Ana

The Graham’s Lodge begins its summer hours on Monday 2 April, and will be open seven days a week from 10:00 until 18:00 through October.  Note that we will be closed on Sunday 8 April for the Easter Holiday.

Graham’s Lodge Renovations: The Floors

Taking up old concrete paths to be replaced with granite stones and earth

The building works to re-design the tourist spaces at the Graham’s Lodge are progressing well, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to the new space later this year.  Between now and the grand opening, we thought you might be interested in learning more about some of the challenges and details involved in the modification of this historic building.

To start from the bottom up:  what about the floors?  On the one hand, the lodge is an important working space, where we age all our wines for anything from 18 months to 50 years or more, both in cask and in bottle.  We must be able to receive the new harvest’s wines from the Douro each winter into casks, and remove wines from cask when we are ready to bottle.  On the other hand, it is a space where we welcome our guests, last year over 60,000 of them, and their visit includes a walk through of the armazém, or warehouse, where our wines are held in cask. We need to balance the ideal conditions for ageing and handling the wines with considerations of traffic and safe footing for all our visitors.

The wines above all need cool conditions and fresh, slightly humid air.  As the wines age in cask, there is actually a process of respiration going on:  oxygen enters through microscopic pores in the wood and mellows the wine, and the wine evaporates through those pores slowly over the months and years.  The wine lost in this process is known as the “angels’ share.”

A row of pipes, small 550 litre casks, of Port ageing in the Graham's Lodge, and bare earth floor

To maintain the optimum environment for this micro-oxygenation, the floors of the Lodge have traditionally been bare earth.  As a general rule, conditions here in Vila Nova de Gaia, on a corner between the Douro River and the Atlantic Ocean, are temperate and gently humid, but if we experience a particularly dry or hot spell we literally hose down the floors, and let the water soak into the earth.  The subsequent slow evaporation of that water from the bare earth helps to cool the Lodge and restore the humidity levels needed for ageing the wines.  But bare earth floors, particularly if they have just been wetted down, are not a good surface on which to entertain thousands of visitors, and additionally, that volume of traffic would quickly tamp down the floors so the earth could barely breathe or absorb water.

The solution was to create firm, paved walkways in the main corridors of the lodge where our guests will walk through as they learn more about how we make and age our wine, and see for themselves the different casks used to age different styles of wine.  What sort of pavement, though?

One of our lodgemen rolling a cask off the old concrete pavement - which will be removed - onto a section of the new granite paving

Again, we had to think in terms of the working life of the Lodge, which involves moving pipes – long narrow wooden barrels which hold 550 litres of wine – by rolling them along.  Our architectural team actually laid down samples of different paving materials in a back passage in 2010 when we began planning these works and asked our lodgemen to try them out, and let us know which material and paving pattern was best for moving the pipes around.  All involved laying down stone into the bare earth, so we maintained a natural, breathing surface.  We tried several different arrangements of blue schist, thinking we might have a new use for these traditional stone vineyard trellis posts, as well as a sample of the granite micro cubo (small cube-shaped) paving stones that are traditional in streets all over Portugal.  The lodgemen opted for the micro cubo.

The granite visitor pathway and the gravel areas under the balseiros - finished on right, still in progress on left

So the main visitor pathways will be paved with small granite cubes deeply embedded in the earth, whilst the rest of the paths between the long rows of pipes will remain terra batida (bare earth tamped down – see photo above of the alley of pipes).  Another change will be the areas under the giant balseiros – the vertical wooden casks that hold tens of thousands of litres of wine.  These areas will be boxed and filled with gravilha – light coloured granite gravel stones.  The boxing means we can, if need be, soak the area under the casks with water to cool the lodge without getting water on the the visitor walkways, and the light coloured gravel will make it easier for us to see if any balseiro should be leaking – something that can be hard to detect on the bare earth floors.  This doesn’t happen often, but naturally we want to know as soon as possible so we can repair the cask and not lose our precious wines.

The works at Graham’s Lodge are ongoing, even as we remain open and continue to welcome our visitors, and you can already see some of the completed paving in public areas now.  We are working hard to minimise the disruption to visits, but ask your tolerance for a little dust or occasional noise.

Graham’s Lodge Renovations

For the past 120 years the Graham’s Lodge has played a critical role in creating our legendary wines, as the warehouse in which we gently age Graham’s ports in cask and in bottle.  For more than 20 years we have welcomed visitors to the Lodge and shown them how great Port is made and how it tastes.  But now, previously un-used space is being re-designed to create an unparalleled experience for the more than 60,000 Port lovers who visit us each year.

Paul Symington, right, consulting with other key members of the Lodge project. In a few months, the space where they are standing will be a restaurant.

Last June we announced the official inauguration of works at the Graham’s Lodge.  Since then, Paul Symington, Chairman and Joint Managing Director, has been making regular tours of the site to inspect the progress of the works.  He knows the Lodge intimately and takes a keen interest in every detail of the project, from the discovery of hitherto unsuspected architectural details, to the logistics of the construction project, to the “flow” of the tourist visit from one area to another.  Paul is very keen that our guests be able to appreciate this unique and historic building as well as the story of Graham’s and the wine making and ageing processes that create our superb Port wines.  As he toured the site recently Paul remarked, “We already have the friendliest and most knowledgeable Lodge team in town, now we will have the best space in which to welcome and entertain our visitors.”

This will be your view as you relax on the veranda outside the restaurant with a glass of Graham's Port.

In addition to a new entrance area, tasting room and shop, the renovated Lodge will include a museum and purpose-built multi-media room.  But the most eagerly anticipated change will be the opening of the restaurant.  The wine list will include the full array of Graham’s Ports and a selection of Ports from other Symington Family  Estates brands, as well as the SFE Douro DOC wines.  Naturally the menu will offer visitors the opportunity to taste our wines in combination with superb food.  We can already imagine our guests relaxing on the veranda overlooking the spectacular view upriver, and debating the best dish and flavour combination to enhance their appreciation of, for example, our 20 Year Old Tawny or a fine older Vintage Port.

Watch the Blog and our Facebook page in the coming months as we begin to reveal more details of the project leading up to the grand opening later in the year.

Throughout the project the Lodge continues to be open to visitors as always – see the Graham’s Port Lodge website for more details of opening hours and visits.

Graham’s Lodge Now Recruiting

Graham's Lodge Team: Emiliano, Bruno, Carolina, Raul, Rosalina, Serafim, Luis

With the start of the new year it is time for Graham’s Lodge to hire additional staff for the 2012 tourist season.  Would you like to join us?

The blogger asked members of the current Lodge team what they think is most important for applicants to bring to the job.  Raul, who has been with Graham’s for 5 years, promptly replied “A passion for wine and for people.”  Watching and listening to him lead tours or serve wine, he certainly has both!  Rosalina, who has been at the Lodge for 15 years said Teamwork was very important, then added “You have to like, no, you have to love working with the public.”  Emiliano, who has been with us since last March, also emphasised the need to be customer driven and a great communicator to be an ambassador for Graham’s.

If you have that passion for customer service and love to work with people, but worry you don’t know very much about Port… don’t worry.  When you are hired, you will receive training and experience far beyond what many specialist wine courses offer.  Last March the blog reported on the induction training in a series of articles – start by reading about the 2011 Lodge Team and follow them through every session of the week.

You may also want to look at the Graham’s Lodge website, which includes a map and directions if you would like to visit us to drop off your CV.

Can you captivate Graham's visitors as Emiliano (right) is clearly doing?

Please read the job description below and either stop by the Lodge with your CV or respond directly to the email below – using the usual symbols for the address (they are spelled out here to avoid spam).  Please do not use the blog comments fields to indicate your interest or the blogadmin email address, as it will only slow down your inquiry – contact the Lodge directly with your questions and your CV.  Good luck!

Procuramos Guia para o Centro de visitas da Graham’s

O Centro de Visitas da Graham’s é uma óptima oportunidade para se ficar a conhecer mais sobre os Vinhos do Porto Graham’s e também sobre o Vinho do Porto em geral. Todos os candidatos seleccionados têm formação específica em Gaia e no Douro com membros seniores da equipa comercial e de vitivinicultura da Grahams e sairão da empresa com uma formação superior sobre Vinho do Porto. Será nas caves Graham’s, construídas em 1890 com o objectivo de armazenar os vinhos da empresa e deixá-los a maturar nas melhores condições possíveis que cada candidato irá desenvolver as suas capacidades comerciais e de interacção com os cerca de 60.000 visitantes de várias nacionalidades que nos visitam anualmente. A função do Guia é receber estes visitantes, explicando a história da Graham’s, da família Symington e do vinho do porto e dando a provar os vinhos e acompanhando os turistas na compra de vinhos.

Procuramos jovens do sexo femenino ou masculino com as seguintes características:

  • Fluência em pelo menos 3 línguas
  • Forte espírito de Equipa
  • Discurso coerente e fluído
  • Dinamismo e capacidade de cativar
  • Capacidade de Aprendizagem
  • Licenciatura ou frequência universitária
  • Disponibilidade horária

As entrevistas vão decorrer durante o mês de Fevereiro para iniciar funções a partir do dia 12 de Março de 2012.

Se estiver interessado deve enviar o seu CV para grahams at grahamsportlodge dot com  (usa simbolos em vez de palavras) ou entregar na Rua Rei Ramiro nº 514, 4400-281 V.Nova de Gaia.

Graham’s Lodge in Winter

Graham’s Lodge is open throughout the winter, and after your tour, it’s nice to relax and savour some warming Ports, without the bustle of summer crowds.

But be aware – the Lodge will close Friday 23rd December at 12:00 noon and be closed on Monday 26th December as well.  From the 27th, we resume normal winter hours, Monday through Friday, 9:30 to 13:00 (last tour 12:00), and 14:00 to 17:30 (last tour 16:00).

For a map and more information, visit the Lodge’s own website.

Reasons to Visit Graham’s Lodge

August is the month almost everyone takes at least some time off work.  Have you thought of coming to visit Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia?  There are lots of good reasons to come to our Lodge, some of which are featured in the gallery below.

If you have a large group, contact Isabel or any of the team at grahams at grahamsportlodge dot com to make arrangements (use the usual symbols, we just spell it out here to avoid spam).

Click into the first thumbnail below to open the photo into a full size page, then use the hyperlinks at the base of the photo to scroll back and forth through the gallery and read more about what’s on offer at the Lodge.

Inauguration of Works at the Lodge

Dr Luis Filipe Menezes, President of the Municipal Council of Vila Nova de Gaia

Today marked the official launch of building works to expand and improve the visitor experience at Graham’s Lodge. Paul Symington and Dr. Luis Filipe Menezes, President of the Municipal Council of Vila Nova de Gaia marked the occasion by signing a certificate commemorating the event, and placing it in a time capsule which has been buried in the floor.

Luis Loureiro, SFE architect and responsible for the planning and building works, explained the plan of works to the President and other visitors from the Municipal Council and the Press.  The Lodge will continue to fulfil its primary role of ageing Graham’s finest ports in the mild climate of Vila Nova de Gaia, as it has for more than 120 years.

However, with more than 60,000 visitors a year, changes are needed to improve the visitor experience.  The re-designed space will include a museum, expanded space for tastings and a new wine shop (built over the time capsule!).  Best of all, the plans include a new restaurant where you will be able to enjoy all our Ports as well as Symington Family Estates’ Douro DOC wines, and a menu with choices designed to enhance them all.  Look for the grand opening in 2012.  The restaurant will enjoy the spectacular view upriver, of the Ponte Dom Luis and the riverfronts of both Porto and Gaia.

Louis Loureiro (back to camera) explains the plans to Dr. Menezes and Paul Symington

The project represents an investment of €2 million.  Paul Symington, Chairman and Joint-Managing Director says ‘At a time of considerable economic uncertainty in Portugal and across Europe, this is proof of my family’s continued confidence in the future of Port and Douro wines.  The Graham’s lodge has long been famous for the quality of its visits and this new project will substantially improve what is already one of the best Tourist destinations in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.’

The launch was wrapped with a quick tour through the Lodge and into the current reception area, where the group celebrated with a glass of Graham’s The Tawny.

Lodge Team Training Wrap-up

Corks for Graham's Vintage 2007

Visitors to the Graham’s Lodge frequently have questions about the corks we use, so this year, for the first time, the training week included a visit to Amorim & Irmãos, who supply the corks for Graham’s ports.  Like Graham’s they are a family-owned business of several generations’ standing, and have a passion for quality.

Joana Mesquita, Public Relations for Amorim, met us at their headquarters and plant in Santa Maria de Lamas, south of Porto, and began our visit with a tour of their museum, to explain how cork is grown and harvested and was traditionally cut and sorted before mechanisation.

Freshly cut corks of the quality level used for vintage port

We passed through the storage areas for both raw materials and finished corks and then entered the factory, where we were shown how the finest cork stoppers, such as those used for vintage port, are still individually cut by hand, one at a time.  We were also shown how corks of other qualities, such as those used for storing shorter-lived wines or dry materials, are cut by machine or even robotically.  All the corks then pass through three levels of quality control, two of which involve the same kind of scanning equipment used at airports.

Joana Mesquita of Amorim explains to the Graham's Lodge team the final quality control process for their corks

Joana showed us the sorting tables for the final review, which is done by women who actually look at every cork in a quality batch as they pass by slowly on a sorting table, and hand-select and remove those that are not of the correct quality level.  This is, naturally, considered the most critical and demanding job of the entire process.

Once again, the Graham’s team had many questions and enjoyed seeing and learning about a product so important to the wine trade.

After a well-earned rest on Sunday, the team will be back to work on Monday and look forward to guiding you through your visit and a tasting at the Graham’s Lodge this year.

The 2011 Grahams Lodge team at Quinta dos Malvedos, flanked by Alexandre Mariz, the Malvedos viticulturist on the left and Sr. Arlindo, the Malvedos caseiro on the right:  Marta, Ricardo, Delphine, Melanie, Alexandra, Bruno, Rosalina, Francisco, Marisol, Serafim, Isabel, Paulo, Carolina, Emiliano, Luis, Augusta and Raul.

The Lodge Meets the Douro

Cloud mass sitting atop the Marão mountains, as we drive up into the Douro

Thursday morning early, the Graham’s Lodge team boarded a bus at the Lodge to go up to the Douro for two days.  Having been told about all about our quintas and our grapes and winemaking, it was time to see what everyone had been talking about.

The trip upriver by bus was long and tiring, but gave the team a bit of a lesson in Douro weather patterns.  From Gaia into the Marão mountain range (which runs north/south and defines the western end of the DOC region) it was pretty clear and dry – mixture of sun and clouds, but not unpleasant by any means.  As we approached the crest of the Marão we could see a cloud mass sitting on top of the hills – see photo.  We drove into that, and stayed in it for a pretty long stretch down the eastern side of the range, so it was cloudy (clearly!), drizzly, damp and chilly.  By the time we had passed through the Baixo Corgo and reached Alijó, a village more or less north of Quinta dos Malvedos in the heart of the Cima Corgo, the weather was about like what we had left in Porto – some cloud, but dry and pleasant.  In the Ribalonga, a valley east of Malvedos and Tua, we passed briefly through a light rain shower, and when we got to Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, in the Douro Superior, the sun was out, and we were removing our coats and looking for sunglasses – the perfect dry and sunny spring day in the Douro.

Between the best of old and new - traditional wooden toneis for ageing wine and robotic lagares. Ricardo Carvalho, centre
A lesson in traditional treading, as still carried out today at Vesúvio. Mário Natario standing far left.
Alexandre Mariz, centre, stops in the doorway of the Tua winery to answer a few more questions. Leaning on the rail left are Joaquim, responsible for the Tua and Malvedos wineries, and Arlindo, Malvedos caseiro

Ricardo Carvalho met the team at Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and reviewed the wine making process – but this time standing in front of the receiving area, then moving on to the traditional lagares, to the robotic lagares and finally the toneis where the 2010 wines are still stored.  Clearly seeing the winery and equipment made all the difference to their understanding of the process.  Ricardo also described how the same variety of grape will ripen at a different times, depending on its situation and micro-climate on the hillside, and indicated various parcels on the hills above and around us to illustrate his point.

From there, by boat across the river to Quinta do Vesúvio where we had lunch in the magnificent old quinta house, then visited the adega.  Mário Natario, the viticulturalist for Vesuvio and also for Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, which is just next door upriver, talked through the traditional treading process in some detail, as it is still carried out for every wine made at Vesúvio.  The team were then rewarded for their attention with a tasting of some wine from cask.

Back across the river to our bus, and back down river to Graham’s Quinta do Tua.  We were joined by Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturalist for both Tua and Malvedos, who told us a bit about the history of the quinta, which was built early in the 19th century and served as a way station for those travelling into the Douro Superior, and then gave us a tour of the winery and house.

Across the Tua River to Quinta dos Malvedos, where we walked through the winery where Henry Shotton makes the wines for Graham’s own ports.  The 2010 harvest map was still up on the wall, and caught everyone’s attention, so Sr. Mariz explained how we track our progress picking the grapes parcel by parcel on a giant map of the quinta.  We visited the house, and then came down river again, this time to Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, where we have had dinner and are spending the night.

Tomorrow, viticulture with Miles Edlmann.