Category Archives: Our People

Victory for Symington Family Estates in the 1st Great Douro Vineyard Run

Yesterday saw the Symington running team take part in the first edition of the Great Douro Vineyard Run. Formed by members from diverse areas of the company, Symington Family Estates won first place in the team event and saw every member placing highly, with second place in the women’s race going to Mariana Ameixieira, and third in the men’s to Pedro Silva, the team’s invaluable trainer.

The winners of the women’s race (from left to right): Mariana Ameixieira, Tânia Fernandes, Irene Monte
The winners of the men’s race (from left to right): Abilio Ribeiro, Joaquim Lopes, Pedro Silva

The event, which was one of the first of its kind in the Douro, saw almost 300 runners compete in a gruelling trail half marathon through some of the most beautiful vineyards of the Douro. From the starting line on the banks of the Douro in Pinhão, the course rose and fell through the vineyards of Quintas Junco, Cavadinha, Terra Feita, Cruzeiro, Noval, Bomfim and finally Roeda, before crossing the finish line on the riverfront in Pinhão.

A view from the top of the final steep descent towards Quinta do Bomfim

The half marathon was also accompanied by a 12km walk, which saw almost 1000 participants take part.

The SFE team at the podium

With high temperatures and a total elevation gain of 1000m, the race was not easy, but the determination of the 10-man team from Symington Family Estates, and the support of everyone at Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Cavadinha, meant a great overall result. Congratulations to all involved!

Master of Wine Candidates Visit Porto and the Douro

For the third consecutive year, candidates for the title of Master of Wine have once again paid a visit to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia before travelling up the Douro Valley to visit some of the regions most famous vineyards. While an important visit for the students, the fact that the Demarcated Douro Region has been recognised by the Institute of Masters of Wine as an important part of the curriculum of such a distinguished qualification, also makes the visit very important for Port, and the Douro Valley as a whole.

Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is one of the most prestigious communities of wine professionals in the world. To become a member you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the challenge of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 343 Masters of Wine worldwide.

The first stop for the 18 MW students from all over the world who arrived in Porto on the 19th of April was Vinum, the restaurant located in Graham’s 1890 Lodge, for a dinner hosted by Paul Symington. Finishing with Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, it was a fitting start to what would be three days immersion in the world of Port.

Henry Shotton, Quina dos Malvedos’ winemaker

The next day saw the candidates participate in a tasting of Graham’s, and other leading producer’s, wines.

The tasting in the Factory House

They then departed for the Douro Valley, where they visited Quinta do Bomfim, another of Symington Family Estate’s prime vineyards, where Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos’ winemaker, Henry Shotton (also a MW student himself), gave an in-depth explanation of the winemaking process, before being shown around the vineyards.

Douro visit 3
This year’s Master of Wine students 

Once again, it was a pleasure to spend some time with the Master of Wine students, and we wish them the very best of luck in their studies.







Masters of Wine candidates visit the Douro Valley

The Institute of Masters of Wine

From the 14th to the 16th of April, Graham’s received 19 students from the Institute of Masters of Wine. The students, of 7 different nationalities, spent time in Porto where they visited several Port lodges before travelling upriver to the quintas of the Douro Valley.

Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is a respected community of wine professionals, and one of the most prestigious wine qualifications in the world. To become a Master of Wine you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the difficulty of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 318 Masters of Wine worldwide, and it was with great pleasure that we received some of the current candidates in Porto.

Arriving on the evening of the 14th, they barely had time to set down their bags before they were on their way to the Vinum restaurant in the Graham’s Lodge for dinner. After being welcomed by Paul Symington, the group settled into a dinner accompanied by Altano, Chryseia 2012, and a tappit hen of Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port.

Paul Symington and Antonio Agrellos speaking in the Porto Factory House

The next morning the group had an early start, being greeted by Paul Symington, Antonio Agrellos (Noval), and Nick Heath (Taylor’s) at nine o’clock in the morning in the historic Porto Factory House. The hub of the Port trade for more than two centuries, it was in these surroundings that the group tasted a variety of Ports from the different houses before departing to visit several of Vila Nova de Gaia’s Port lodges.

The wines tasted at the Graham’s Lodge

By two o’clock the group were at the Graham’s Lodge for another tasting, this time led by Dominic Symington. Here they tasted wine from several of Symington Family Estates Port houses, such as Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s, finishing with a magnificent Graham’s 1955 Vintage. This tasting, which consisted of wines from 2011 to 1955, demonstrated how Vintage Port evolves and matures, and the various stages it passes through in this process. Not a group to stay in one place to long, they then set off for the Douro and Quinta dos Malvedos.

The group in Quinta dos Malvedos

When the group arrived at the quinta they were greeted by a meal accompanied by Quinta do Vesuvio Douro DOC, followed by Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, before retiring for the night in preparation for a technical tour of Quinta dos Malvedos and its winery the following morning.

Charles Symington and Simba

Waking up to a pleasant spring morning in a Douro Valley quinta is not something everyone gets to experience, but so it was that the Master of Wine candidates started their day. Met by Charles Symington (head winemaker), Henry Shotton (Vintage manager), and Charles’ dog Simba, (who as Charles himself says “gets more attention than the wine”), the group were shown around the famous quinta and its lagar winery, seeing first hand what they have been hearing about for the past two days. The visit to Quinta dos Malvedos came to an end with a tasting of five Quinta dos Malvedos Single Vintage Ports from 2009, 1996, 1988, 1979 and 1965. The group then departed for Porto, stopping off at several other Douro quintas along the way.

Quinta dos Malvedos Single Quinta Vintages


Inspecting vines at Quinta dos Malvedos

It was great to meet the candidates for the distinguished qualification of Master of Wine, and we hope that the information we imparted helps them to reach their goals. We wish them the best of luck in their studies.


Graham’s Profile: Peter van Houtert of Verbunt Wijnkopers

Graham’s Ports are distributed in 50 markets around the globe, and our own market managers here in Vila Nova de Gaia rely on the expertise of our world-wide network of distributors to share their enthusiasm for Port in their own regions and countries.

Peter van Houtert, standing right, leading a tutored tasting of Graham’s Ports

In Holland, Peter van Houtert, Purchasing and Sales Director of Verbunt Wijnkopers, is passionate about Port wines, and his broad knowledge and love of fine wine, fine dining and cigars have made him an extraordinary ambassador for Graham’s.

Peter organises 100 events a year to educate both the on-trade wine and food professional customers of Verbunt and the retail consumers of affiliate Wijnkring.  Many of these events go beyond basic education and tastings to demonstrate how wines can be enjoyed in the context of fine dining.

Typical of his approach is the masterclass held at DaVinci Restaurant last year.  The idea came about when Peter and his family stopped there for lunch themselves one day, and Peter enjoyed a dish of hare which had been prepared with chocolate.  It occurred to him that Port could pair well with the dish, and he spoke with Margo Reuten, the two-star Michelin chef of DaVinci, about his idea.  Intrigued, Margo agreed to collaborate with Peter on an event to showcase Port with both savoury main course dishes as well as desserts.  The resulting event was a tremendous success, and the video produced by Verbunt does a wonderful job of conveying the curiosity, pleasure and enthusiasm of the diners for both the wines and the food pairings.

Similarly, Peter himself takes great pleasure in the combination of Port with cigars, as he feels that Port has the optimum alcohol level and flavour profile to balance well with fine handmade cigars.  He has teamed up with Hajenius, a nearly two-century old cigar emporium in Amsterdam, to hold regular tastings of Graham’s Ports with selected cigars.  These tastings have proven very popular, and have introduced many people to Port who might not otherwise have explored the wine.

Paul Symington and Euan Mackay welcomed Peter, centre, as a member of the Confraria do Vinho do Porto

In recognition of his passion and innovation in promoting Port Wine in the Netherlands, Graham’s Sales Director Euan Mackay nominated Peter to become an Honorary Member of the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, the Porto-based organisation of Port wine professionals.  Peter was enthroned just before the São João holiday, and went on to spend the weekend in the Douro at Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim and Graham’s own Quinta dos Malvedos with Euan, returning on Sunday in time to join the annual race of the barcos rabelos aboard Graham’s boat.

We are looking forward to working with Peter on some special events this year – if you are in Holland watch the Verbunt, Wijnkring and Hajenius websites for notices, and of course we will continue to highlight his extraordinary dinners and tastings here on the Graham’s Blog.

Graham’s Profile: Jorge Nunes

Jorge Nunes decanting the Malvedos 1999 Vintage Port before a tasting event

Graham’s Market Manager for the Far East, Pacific and Middle East, Jorge Nunes, is about to change the way we do business in those regions.  Before he re-locates from Portugal to Hong Kong, we decided to catch up with him to learn more.

With a qualification in winemaking (including harvest work experience at Quinta dos Malvedos in 2002 with Henry Shotton) and experience running tastings and educational programs for a top Portuguese wine magazine, Jorge joined Graham’s in 2007 with the dual remit of winemaking and hosting premium and VIP tastings at our Lodge.

By 2008 we knew the Far East and Pacific markets needed far more personal attention than the existing sales team could provide, and Jorge was asked to help them organise tastings and other events in the region.  Although he continues as one of the Symington winemaking team during each harvest, Jorge ultimately left the Lodge and joined the Market Management team full time to develop these markets.  With the sharp increase of interest in fine wine the past few years, the next logical step is a move to a base in the Far East and near total immersion.

Banner welcoming visitors to a Graham’s tasting event at Justin Bistro in Taipei last winter

With a strong network of top distributors, restaurants, bars and retail outlets across the region, Jorge’s role will be to support that network by providing training and education for wine and food professionals, as well as organising educational, tasting and food pairing events for the public.  He hosted some wonderful events in Japan and Taipei last year, and will be able to do much more once he is based in Hong Kong.

Jorge says the consumers in these markets are particularly keen to learn.  “The Port wine range can be complicated to understand, but the taste is just so easy to enjoy.  Asian consumers appreciate the quality and rarity of fine wines like the Graham’s 1961 and 1969 Single Harvest Tawnies and fine Vintage Ports, particularly more mature Vintages.  It is very clear to them that Port really is one of the fine wines of the world, and they value the history behind Port and the Douro as well as the superb and long standing reputation of the Symington family within the trade.”  With their eagerness to learn and understand, Jorge’s technical wine making knowledge is a huge benefit as well, as he is besieged with questions at events.

Jorge will be in Hong Kong May 29-31 for Vinexpo, the premier wine show for the entire Pacific and Far Eastern region.  Together with Paul Symington, he will be showing Graham’s Ports as well as a selection of Ports and Douro DOC wines from other Symington Family Estates brands.  Look for them as part of the Primum Familiae Vini group of family owned producers of fine wines, together with Marchesi Antinori, Hugel & Fils and Perrin & Fils.  Jorge will be serving Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny from a 4.5 litre Jeraboam – which should be impressive!  Each day they will be serving a different Vintage port from Magnum as well.

With Michel Wendel of Wendel’s German Bakery and Bistro in Taipei, selecting the best Graham’s Ports to pair with his wonderful pastries (photo courtesy of Thomas Kuo for Milk Magazine)

After Vinexpo Jorge will begin his travels around the region, and is looking forward to some great food pairing events in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai later this summer and autumn.   He will be with Euan Mackay in late October at The Vintage Port Academy which is in its third year in Hong Kong and will be offered in Shanghai for the first time this year as well.  But in September he will be back to the Douro for harvest – he is still a winemaker!

The Winery Team’s 2011 Recruit

Carlos and Lisa taking the baumé of a lagar of Touriga Nacional

This year the Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos winery team has welcomed Lisa Mcbain, an Area Sales Account Manager for the UK’s largest on-trade drinks wholesaler Matthew Clark.  Lisa has enjoyed a varied career path within the drinks trade, including years managing cocktail bars and events in London, a harvest season with an Australian boutique winery producing Rieslings, and four years with Michael Broadbent and Stephen Spurrier at Christie’s, running wine courses and pre-auction tastings and cataloguing items for the auctions.

Lisa’s passion is not sales per se, but rather a passion for the products, the wines she sells, and the experience they can create for diners.  Most of all, she wants to be able to tell the stories behind the wines and give her on-trade clients the best possible advice, so they in turn can select the best wines to suit their menus and clientele.  Many of her clients, Lisa feels, are missing an opportunity to enhance their guests’ dining experience by promoting Ports on their menus.

But Port was the wine Lisa knew least well herself, so she decided to seek a harvest experience in the Douro to learn more.  As she believes in working only with the best, she approached Graham’s winemaker Henry Shotton, who agreed to have her on the winery team, and Lisa arrived at Quinta dos Malvedos for the start of harvest on 15 September.

Lisa and the blogger both enjoyed the interview

When asked about the difference between her harvest experiences here and in Australia, she said she was impressed by how efficient and yet flexible and relaxed it was at Malvedos.  “The guys here are happy, well looked after, the whole experience is a pleasure, it’s hard work, but it’s fun and still incredibly productive.  Learning how they do it, being surrounded by obviously very successful people, the whole experience for me has been absolutely fabulous, the guys on the winery team, the food, Henry, and what a beautiful setting!  Malvedos never loses its appeal, you could never be bored with the view out there.”

She has been impressed with the quality of the grapes coming in and has learned a lot from Henry about the varieties and the characteristics each one brings to Port blends.  Lisa commented that Port wine making seemed to be about letting the grapes do the work and as winemakers we are just helping along the way.  She liked the respect for the Douro region implicit in this approach.

Lisa helps Juca pile up 35 kg bags of vinhaço outside the winery

The cultural exchange has been intense:  Lisa knew only a few Portuguese phrases and except Henry the winery team do not speak English.  This has proved to be an irrelevance, as they have mimed and laughed their way through explanations and conversations.  The lads have taught her Portuguese, Port winemaking and the difference between Benfica and Porto football clubs, and on the flip side “Senhora Cenoura” (Miss Carrot) has taught them about the importance of vitamins and stretching to good health, and proven a girl can pull her weight on the winery team.

Much as she has enjoyed the experience (as have the lads, by the way) she realises she really likes her sales role with Matthew Clark not only because of all the people she meets and the variety of her days, but most of all because she enjoys seeing “her” wines on menus at so many venues. 

Now, with her experience of helping to make the Graham’s Port wines for 2011, it is exciting to know her own hands were involved in making a product that will be sold thousands of miles away from the Douro, in the UK and all around the world.

Harvest Visitors

Friends Simon Berry Green and Johnny Symington treading at Quinta do Vesuvio

The stream of visitors continues through Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos.  Johnny Symington and his wife Helen are entertaining guests at Quinta dos Malvedos for a few days.  Among them are good friends Simon Berry of Berry Brothers and Rudd, and his wife Lucy.

In addition to his responsibilities as Chairman of Berry Brothers, Simon is also the Cellarmaster to the Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Household.  In this capacity he advises the Queen on her cellar and serving recommendations for her State Banquets.  Symington Family Vintage Ports regularly feature on state occasions such as the state visit of President Sarkozy when the classic Dow’s 1977 vintage port was served.

Accompanying Simon and Lucy Berry were their friends Veronica and Jeffery Berman who are serious port afficianados, as well as Tim and Dounie Stanley-Clarke, Tim has played a key PR role for the Symington family in the UK for  over 30 years.

Last night the group visited Quinta do Vesuvio, joining Paul and Jane, and Peter Symington, and many more guests from Vesuvio and Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais.  Twenty seven sat down to an excellent dinner featuring local roast beef and a Quinta do Vesuvio 2008 Douro DOC, rounded off with a board of traditional Portuguese cheeses and magnums of Dow’s 1977.

Afterwards, Simon, Johnny and some of the guests joined the roga (the quinta’s picking team) in the adega, to tread Tinta Roriz in one of the famous granite lagares.  We had 54 people treading 25 pipes of grapes (roughly 20,000 kilos of grapes).

Simon Berry, Jeffery Berman and Tim Stanley-Clarke in the winery at Quinta dos Malvedos

Today Johnny’s guests visited the winery and enjoyed tasting a small flight of Malvedos ports, including the 1999 and sample bottles of the Malvedos 2006 and 2009 Vintage Ports, which are ageing in our Lodge until ready for release.  Later they toured the vineyards at Malvedos, and then cooled off with a boat trip up and down the river to see some of the Symington’s other river quintas.

What Charles Does in the Off Season

Charles Symington

What does the winemaker’s calendar look like for the other ten or eleven months of the year, when he is not harvesting and making the new port wines?  Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, describes the annual cycle of his “To Do” list.

Tastings are a year round occupation.  After the new harvest wines are made, they remain in the Douro to settle in the cool winter conditions.  There is a major tasting of all new wines in December, on the basis of which Charles can begin to make decisions about blending lotes (batches).  As the wines are brought down from the Douro between approximately December and April the wines can be blended as necessary upon arrival for storage in our Lodge in Gaia.  Typically for Graham’s we will have ended harvest with around 100 lotes, and by this time the following year they will have been consolidated into roughly 65 wines.

Just some of the samples in our Tasting Room

Wines typically close up after harvest for a period of about six months, and often can get much darker, as well as generally developing their character, getting bigger and better (or perhaps not).  For this reason, beginning in April Charles again systematically tastes all the new wines to confirm or amend their quality categorisation and likely use, e.g. wines earmarked for possible use in Vintage ports, LBV, tawnies, and so on.  This is also the time of year when he reviews the wines initially flagged for likely Vintage use, and can begin the triage to move wines from Vintage to Six Grapes designation.

By the second January following harvest, he will have made his decision and if necessary his final blend for a Graham’s Vintage declaration or Quinta dos Malvedos  bottling.

In parallel with the assessment of the prior harvest wines, Charles and Manuel Rocha and Nuno Moreira of the Sala de Provas (Tasting Room) routinely review all our wines, of all appropriate ages, that have been earmarked for use in a particular style of wine.  For example, just recently they reviewed all the possible Reserve and LBV wines (stocks between 4 and 7 years old) and Charles finished blending the Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage 2007.  This new LBV will shortly be registered with the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, the Port trade’s regulating body) and will be bottled in January 2012.  Charles is very pleased with the 2007 wine – if any of you are familiar with the Vintage Ports from 2007, you know what a wonderful year it was.

When blending new batches of non-vintage wines, the team compare them with previously bottled wines to ensure consistency.

While ensuring we blend and bottle our ports of a specific harvest in a timely fashion (Vintages for release roughly 18 months after harvest, Crusted 2 to 3 years after harvest, and LBVs 4 to 6 years after harvest), Charles also keeps an eye on stocks of our blended wines, for example all our entry level and Reserve ports, as well as our 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Tawnies, and plans to blend and bottle new supplies of those products as needed.

July is typically the time of year when stocks are lowest, so a full inventory is taken and double checked against our records before pretty nearly the entire firm takes holiday the first two weeks of August, and then begins countdown to the next harvest.

And no, Charles didn’t say a word about plans for 2010 declarations or bottlings.  Even the blogger will have to wait till next spring for that news.

Henry in the Spotlight Once More

Henry Shotton, Graham’s winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos during the harvest, gets to do many of the best tastings, lucky man.

Graham’s was recently contacted by David Swaddle, a UK based wine educator who is preparing new video materials for use in WSET training as well as independent e-learning wine courses and short YouTube videos about Port.

David met first with Dominic Symington, who chatted with him (and the camera!) about the Symington family and the Port trade.  David and Henry then went on to the Graham’s Lodge and there, Henry tasted and talked through a broad range of Graham’s wines, including our full range of Tawnies, the Crusted 2003, and five different Vintage Ports:  Malvedos 1999 and a sample of the just bottled 2009, and Graham’s 2007, 1994 and 1983.

What was particularly interesting, and will be a great help to learners when the materials are released, was the comparisons of wines – for example Henry compared and contrasted the Late Bottled Vintage 2006 with the Six Grapes, and the difference in “house styles” of Graham’s tawny ports versus the Otima tawnies produced by our sister brand, Warre’s.

And yes, when the filming was all over, we did let David taste the wines too!  Stay tuned for links to his materials as they become available on the internet in the coming months.

Do You Know Your Symingtons?

As mentioned in a previous post, the Symington family, SFE directors and many other staff were in Provesende recently for the blessing of the new ambulance.  Here is another photo of everyone gathered and looking on during the ceremony.

There are seven members of the Symington family in this photo.

If you can identify by the red numbers in the photo above all seven members of the family by name, and also define the parent/child relationships fully and correctly, you will win a case (6 x 75 cl) of Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 Vintage Port.

If you can spot Miles Edlmann in the crowd and António Silvano, the caseiro at Quinta da Cavadinha (the flagship Warre’s quinta), you will win a bottle of Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny.

Note that if you click on the photo it will open full size and you can see a little more clearly.  You will need to use your browser back (<) button to return to the blog page.

Full rules, read carefully:

1.  We turned off the comments function for this post, you must respond by sending an email to us at:  blogadmin at grahams-port dot com (we are spelling it out here to avoid spam, but you need to use the usual symbols for at and dot).  Give us the red number and the name of each of the seven Symingtons, and describe the parent/child relationships among the people in the photo.

2.  You must be of legal drinking age for your country and state or province.

3.  Employees of Symington Family Estates or their distributors and family members are not eligible.

4.  The winner will be the first email received with the correct answer.  We will identify one winner for the case of vintage and one winner for the bottle of tawny.

5.  The wines can be shipped to you anywhere in the world, or if you are (or will be) in Porto, we can arrange for pickup at the Lodge (and give you a free tour whilst you’re there!).

6.  Decision of the judges is final.  We will announce the completion of the contest and the winners here in the blog.