Category Archives: Our 1890 Lodge

A Visit to the Bottling Plant

After learning how to make wine and how to enjoy it from a proper glass, the Graham’s Lodge team spent yesterday afternoon learning about one of the most important steps in between:  the bottling process and quality control.

Francisco Santiago explains the bottling operations to the team
In the quality control lab, discussing corks and stoppers
Sr. Lacerda and a few of his labels

After lunch the group travelled just up the hill and around the corner to São Marco, where we have our bottling plant.  Francisco Santiago, who is the senior manager of quality control, showed the group around.

The team were absolutely fascinated by the bottling process, and impressed by the attention to detail every step of the way.  Francisco and the group also visited the laboratories where we perform rigourous quality control testing on corks and bottles, and continued their tour into the one of the most critical areas:  the stock control room for labels.

Your first thought may be, how difficult is it to afix a label to a bottle?  That part is relatively easy – it’s all the planning and logistics to get the right label to the right place at the right time in sufficient quantity for a given bottling run.  For one thing, we have 4,000 different possible labels for all the SFE produced wines.  Graham’s wines alone are distributed to 50  different markets, each of which seems to have unique regulations about what can and cannot be printed on a bottle of wine, and of course there are all those languages.    But as you can see, Sr. Lacerda, who is responsible for the labelling inventory, is very relaxed and cheerful.

2011 Lodge Team – End of Day One

First order of business after lunch was to make sure the blogger got it right!

After that, Gustavo Devesas, a Lodge veteran who joined the SFE sales team just before Christmas, returned to his roots:  he spent the afternoon giving the new guides a grounding in Douro terroir, explaining to them the unique characteristics of the region generally, and then the three sub-regions and Graham’s own quintas more specifically.  There were some lively questions, and they covered quite a lot of ground:  250,000 hectares to be exact, of which 32,233 is under vine, which is broken up into 139,000 different plots, farmed by 33,000 farmers (figures for the entire Douro region).

Given Gustavo’s encyclopedic knowledge and passion, and willingness to share it all, the next training session, in the Lodge Shop, started an hour late, but no one seemed to mind.  Rosalina, who has responsibility for the shop, did a show and tell so the team understood the wide range of goods available for sale.

Meanwhile, it was business as usual in the Lodge, with tours and tastings going on, including one rather special little group from the nearby São Marco school.  Don’t worry, Marisol did not offer them a tasting, though they seemed to really enjoy their tour of the Lodge.

Tuesday’s agenda:  tastings in the morning, and then more tastings in the afternoon.

2011 Lodge Team

The new guides for the 2011 season at Graham’s Port Lodge have begun their training in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Last week they were in the Lodge, simply watching and listening as the veteran guides went about their work.  This week, the training gets serious.

Paul Symington, far right, welcomes the new Lodge team to Graham's

9:00 Monday morning the Lodge team reported to the head office of Graham’s for breakfast with the boss, Paul Symington, and the start of formal training sessions about Graham’s and their responsibilities.

Paul welcomed the group and spoke about Graham’s heritage and the Symington family:  their passion for Port, the family’s 13 generation heritage in the Port trade, and their commitment to the Douro.

Paul went on to impress upon the new guides the importance of their role, as ambassadors for Graham’s.  There are many excellent wines out there, however Paul emphasised it is up to our guides to represent Graham’s and make clear to our visitors all the qualities that makes Graham’s unique among port wines.

Next, Joe Alvares Ribeiro, Director for Tourism, made a presentation to the group about Graham’s core values, not just rattling off the words, but providing concrete examples of how, in our day to day business, Graham’s lives up to its values of Quality, Family, Innovation, Terroir and Leadership.  He then moved on to list Graham’s expectations of the guides.  Above all:  smile!

The morning concluded with a presentation by Henri Sizaret about Graham’s marketing strategy, and a tour of the offices.

The blogger has joined the team for their training this week and will be reporting regularly on the activities and progress of the new guides.  Stay tuned!

Repairing a Tonel

Tonel at Malvedos showing freshly planed staves from a repair early in 2010

Last summer we saw how a small port cask, or pipa, was repaired and re-built at Graham’s cooperage in Vila Nova de Gaia.  But how do we repair one of the giant toneis up in the Douro?

As it happens, one tonel at Malvedos was repaired last summer, but last week Dominic was visiting Quinta do Vesúvio, home of another Symington Port and Douro DOC wine brand, and finding the coopers in the middle of a repair job there, stopped to take these photos of the process for us.

One of the 14,000 litre toneis at Vesúvio was leaking a bit, so the wine was run off into another vat temporarily so the tonel could be repaired.  After careful examination the cooper decided to remove and repair a total of 14 staves.

As you can see in the first photo, the tonel was turned a bit on its cradle and the staves numbered before the hoops were removed and the staves taken out.  Most of the staves just needed a bit of cleaning up and planing, and were set back into place in numerical order.  Small pieces of board have been tacked on to hold them until the hoops are put on again.  The gap is where the replacement stave must be fitted in very carefully. As in the repair of the pipa in Gaia, dried reeds are wedged in between staves and also between the stave ends and the barrel head – you can see the tuft of reeds in the gap for the new stave.

The second photo shows how the end of each stave is notched to fit snugly around the edge of the barrel head.  Again you can see a few odd reed ends sticking out.

The cooper fitted all the old staves back into place, then worked on the replacement stave, planing it down by hand a millimetre at a time.  He was back and forth repeatedly planing a little, testing the fit into the tonel, planing a little more, to get it to fit just right.  You can see the sawdust that’s accumulated as they worked!

Wine in storage – whether in cask or bottle – will throw a perfectly natural and harmless deposit, mostly of tartaric acid crystals.  This deposit can build up in wooden casks, so every two or three years we try to catch all our casks at an empty moment and clean out this deposit.  If it is too thick, it can block the pores of the wood and prevent the micro-oxygenation – the passing through of minute quantities of oxygen – which helps age and give a softened, mellow character to the wine.  Micro-oxygenation works the other way too – the wine evaporates from the cask in what is known as “the angel’s share”, and we would not want to short change our good angels.  Here you can see someone inside the tonel scraping down the sides and shovelling out the deposit.

We actually keep a stockpile of cask parts from all kinds and sizes of casks to use for replacements.  We want Graham’s ports to benefit from the micro-oxygenation that wood allows, but we do not want the wood to influence the flavour of our ports, hence the consistent use of old casks and old wood to repair them.  Last summer whilst visiting Malvedos we tried to peek inside an old house at the top of the quinta; it was too dark versus the glare of sun outside to see anything, so we just stuck the camera in and took a picture.  Lo and behold – we discovered one such stockpile of old cask components, staves, heads, hoops, everything, neatly stored ready for re-use.  Recycling at its best.

Here’s Your Chance

Great photo of the interior of the Lodge, taken by one of our Facebook friends, Adrian J Cassar Gheiti.

At Graham’s, we receive a lot of inquiries about working for us.  We don’t blame you – we think it’s an enviable job to work anywhere in the Port trade, whether in Gaia or the Douro, in the offices, the Lodge or the vineyards.

So… here’s your chance.  We are looking for guides to work at our Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia this summer. Though “only a summer job” (which in fact starts in March and runs into the autumn) it is an incredible opportunity – you will learn more about Port in this job than you could ever learn in most specialist wine courses, and you will have the opportunity to taste some extraordinary wines and visit our vineyards and wineries as part of your training.

Wonderful group who visited us from Turkey, with their guide, Herminio, on the left.

On the other hand, don’t underestimate the work of being on your feet all day helping our visitors – this is a demanding job.  You will be leading tours, ranging from one person to a couple dozen, through our lodge all day, explaining how and where our wines are made and about the people behind the wines, and when the tour of the lodge is complete you will serve port to our visitors.  You need to be able to do all of this, as well as answer lots of questions, in at least three different languages.  When you are successful, our visitors feel a real connection with Graham’s and continue their relationship with us long after their visit as a direct result of your ability to share your knowledge and enthusiasm.

Given the volume of applications, both already received and expected this month, we will only be able to respond to those which we wish to take further.  We are interviewing and making decisions this month, so don’t delay!  Please also understand, if you are not from the area, we cannot assist you with accomodation or other logistics – those arrangements are entirely up to you.

Gustavo Devesas, one of our veteran guides, after a particularly comprehensive tasting with a visitor group from Norway. Photo from one of our Facebook friends.

For more information about Graham’s Lodge and the Visitors’ Centre consult these sources:

The Graham’s Lodge website:

You will get a lot of insight to life at the Lodge from many of our blog and Facebook stories, but this particular blog article talks about the guides’ training as well as the visitor experience at the lodge:  Graham’s Port Lodge

Please read the job description 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 – go straight to Turismo 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. Funciona 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. Todos os anos recebemos cerca de 60.000 visitantes de várias nacionalidades. A função do Guia é receber estes visitantes, explicando a história da Graham’s e do vinho do porto.

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

– Fluência em pelo menos 3 línguas
– Espírito de Equipa
– Discurso coerente e fluído
– Dinamismo
– Capacidade de Aprendizagem
– Licenciatura ou frequência universitária
– Disponibilidade horária

As entrevistas vão decorrer durante o mês de Janeiro para iniciar funções a partir do dia 14 de Março de 2011.

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

Meanwhile, Back in Gaia

In addition to his responsibilities marketing Graham’s vintage ports around the world, Johnny Symington is the British Honorary Consul in Oporto.  The two roles converged recently, as he accompanied His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent on his visit to Oporto, which included a private dinner in the directors’ dining room at Graham’s Port Lodge hosted by the Symington family and attended by Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Portugal, Mr Alex Ellis.

The Duke of Kent was invited by the Portuguese Ministry of Defense to a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Buçaco on 27 September 1810, when the combined Portuguese and British forces under the leadership of the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s Marshal Masséna.  This was a turning point in the Peninsular War, and Masséna ultimately retreated back to Spain.

His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent and Paul Symington in the Graham's Lodge in Gaia

His Royal Highness was shown round the Graham’s lodge and vintage port cellars by Paul and was then invited to baptise the Royal Reserve port vat.  The baptism was followed by a dinner.  It was a relaxing and most enjoyable evening following a busy schedule of official engagements.

The Sala do Baptismo

Entrance to the Sala do Baptismo

When you visit the Graham’s Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, don’t miss the Sala do Baptismo.  Halfway between the main entrance to the Lodge and the downhill entrance gate to the property is an arched doorway that opens directly from the drive way.

There has been a long tradition at Graham’s of inviting special guests to “baptise” one of the tonels of port ageing in this separate room of the lodge with a glass of our 20 Year Old Tawny.  Exactly how, when and why the tradition began is uncertain, however the earliest record is from 1924, when HE M. Teixera Gomes, then President of the Republic of Portugal, baptised the tonel “O Presidente.”

Since then, many state dignitaries and special visitors have baptised the tonel of their choice:  The Consul, The Minister, The Emperor, O Presidente, The Ambassador, The Minister, The Governor, the Royal Reserve or The Sportsman.

The Minister, hard at work ageing a 1972 port

Some of the choices are natural and obvious, for example John Major (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1990-1997) and RJL Hawke (Prime Minister of Australia 1981 to 1993) have both baptised The Minister.  The Royal Reserve has been baptised by a variety of Royal Highnesses from England and Nepal as well as representatives of several lines of the Braganças.  The Ambassador  tonel received a dousing from Stephen Hill, Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to Portugal, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of VE Day on the 8th of May, 1995.  By the way, the tonels in the Sala are not just for show, all of them are in use, for example The Minister contains 8,400 litres of a 1972 wine.

Some interesting people have chosen to baptise the Emperor, including the restaurateur Michel Roux, the American winemaker Robert Mondavi, a Cardinal and a Bishop, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Georg Riedel, 10th generation of the family which makes the famous Riedel wineglasses.

Googlies of Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny

The Sportsman was baptised by four members of the cricket team when Nasser Hussain’s England XI arrived to play the Portugal XI for the Lay and Wheeler Challenge in 2001 (who knew you could throw a googly with 20 Year Old Tawny?), and by Simon Fletcher, “Who in 1965 shot 2 elephants with one shot!”

Graham’s Port Lodge has also been honoured to host several important international conferences, including the summit of Foreign Affairs ministers from Portugal, Spain and all the Latin American countries; and an informal meeting of the Economic ministers of the European Union.  In both cases, the ministers made time to visit the Sala do Baptismo during their visits, and pay their respects to The Minister with a glass of 20 Year Old.

The Sala do Baptismo now also honours some rather less well known individuals:  there are wonderful photographic murals featuring the people who over the past 190 years have made Graham’s wines what they are, working in vineyards, wineries and the lodge.

As one guest wrote in our visitor’s book, “History in action – Great!!”