Category Archives: Stories

WSET Diploma Awards: Graham’s Port Scholarship

Wine & Spirit Education Trust Awards & Graduation Ceremony at London’s Guildhall – Monday 21st of January.

On Monday evening, January 21st, over 500 Graduates, Scholarship prize winners and other guests gathered at the City of London’s historic Guildhall to celebrate the successes of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) students in the past academic year (2011 – 2012). Paul Symington, Joint Managing Director of Graham’s was there to hand over the Graham’s Port Scholarship to the winner: Adam Guy (Antique Wine Company) in recognition of his achievements in the Fortified Wine exam. Adam has won a five day trip to Portugal’s Upper Douro Valley where he will visit Graham’s vineyards, including the flagship estate: Quinta dos Malvedos.

Paul Symington presents Adam Guy with the Graham's Scholarship prize. Jancis Robinson looks on.
Paul Symington presents Adam Guy with the Graham’s Scholarship prize, as Jancis Robinson looks on.

Opening the ceremony, the WSET Honorary President, Jancis Robinson OBE MW commented on the changing dynamics of the global wine world as reflected in WSET’s business, noting: “Despite the continued growth of student numbers in the UK, the fact is that Greater China is set to overtake the UK as WSET’s biggest market this year, something I would have never imagined possible when I did my Diploma”.

In her introduction to the 2013 WSET Yearbook, Jancis Robinson very aptly writes, “There really is a strong argument that the spread of wine, wine drinking and wine study is akin to the spread of cultural life.”

Graham’s is proud to be associated with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, which provides wine education and qualifications on a truly global scale (present in 60 countries).


The Wine Society’s 12th Annual Festive Dinner with Paul Symington

Paul (lower left) with his brother (directly behind) and his cousins at Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos
Paul (lower left) with his brother (directly behind) and his cousins at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos

Paul Symington will be the guest of honour at The Wine Society’s 12th Annual Festive Dinner, which will be held on Tuesday, December 18th in the magnificent surroundings of Merchant Taylor’s Hall in the City of London. The Wine Society extended the invitation as a way of celebrating Portugal and the wines of the Douro, with Paul’s Decanter Man of The Year 2012 Award still fresh in people’s memory.

Portuguese cuisine will also take centre stage: Rui Paula, one of Portugal’s most talented chefs, was asked to prepare a special menu for the occasion consisting of 5 courses, which will be served with a selection of Douro DOC table wines produced by the Symington Family in their own Douro Quintas, and of course with Graham’s Ports as well. The Vintage Port will be one of Graham’s 20th century classics, but we don’t want to spoil the surprise by identifying the year (for the benefit of those fortunate enough to have booked a place for the dinner, which was sold out not long after being announced).

The Graham’s Dry White Port will be served as the aperitif and another two Graham’s Ports are to be served with the dessert and cheese courses. Superb food and wine matches will be the order of the evening; Rui Paula has designed the menu around wines that he is well acquainted with, not least because he was born in Oporto and his family comes from the Douro region, which has long provided one of the main sources of inspiration for his creations.

Rui Paula, enjoying a glass of Graham's 20 Years Tawny at his 'DOP' restaurant in Oporto.

Rui Paula, enjoying a glass of Graham’s 20 Years Tawny at his ‘DOP’ restaurant in Oporto.

The Wine Society, founded in 1874, is the world’s oldest wine club and its declared mission is to “introduce members to the best of the world’s vineyards at a fair price.” The Symington family’s relationship with this unique organization has been a very fruitful and enduring one; the family has supplied The Wine Society since its very beginnings in the 19th century.

Watch this space, in the comings days we will let you know how the evening went.

The Next Generation: Anthony Symington

What do you do during that interval between finishing university and landing a job?  If you are a Symington, and it’s September, you could go to work in a Douro winery.

Dominic’s son, Anthony, had already worked the 2007 harvest at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, so this year he asked to work with our Douro DOC winemaking.  He is spending the harvest season at the Prats + Symington winery at Quinta de Roriz where, in collaboration with Bruno Prats, we make the elegant Douro DOC wines Chryseia, Post Scriptum and Prazo de Roriz, as well as Vintage Port.

Anthony was keen to learn the winemaking techniques which of course are very different from Port making, and has found a wonderful teacher in Luis Coelho, the resident viticulturist and oenologist.  Luis has ensured that Anthony has worked at every task in the winery, and that he understands what he is doing and why and how it affects the finished wines.  They have tasted the wine lots together daily to monitor the fermentation and development of the wines, which has been a great learning experience too.

After studying languages and history (he speaks both Portuguese and Spanish) including 6 month placements in each Brasil and Spain, Anthony is very interested in the political and business environments in South America, and hopes to find work to suit these interests.  Like his cousins Harry and Tom, he would like eventually to work for the family firm if there is an opportunity and a place for him, but feels it is important to work outside first for some years.  He understands, as they do, that he will have to prove his business skills and have something to offer when and if there is an opening.

His grandfather Michael used to dip his finger in a glass of Port so Anthony and the other grandchildren could have just a taste when they were small, and as they grew older he would give them a sip from his own glass  – Michael was very keen for the children to learn about Port.  Later, when Anthony and Paul’s son Harry had a joint celebration of their 21st birthdays, they chose to have what he called “a very Douro meal” at Paul’s Quinta das Netas:  a soup (served with Altano Branco), roast pork, green beans and batatas a murro (bashed potatoes), served with an old Quinta de Roriz Reserva and for the Port they enjoyed Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 1989 Vintage Port in honour of their birth year.

Many of Anthony’s friends are very keen on food and cooking, and he helps them with the wine pairing for their dishes.  With their passion for good food and wine, Port is a natural fit, but he does feel that Port needs to change its historically rather grand image to be marketed successfully to this younger generation.  He spoke of a memorable picnic meal in the Douro of rather light Moroccan or Greek dishes of chicken or lamb with couscous and a salad of rosemary, chicken and plum tomatoes, and how a very old, delicate and nuanced Vintage Port was the perfect conclusion to this eclectically flavoured meal.  An example, if ever there was one, of how to simply enjoy Port, as the pleasure it is, at any time, in any setting.  We like Anthony’s approach!

On Line and In the Douro

Bloggers capturing the incredible views of Symington Quintas from a lookout point high over the Douro

If you are reading this blog from Graham’s or follow our blog on The Vintage Port Site, you know how brilliantly the internet can bring you into remote wine regions, and how much you can learn about wine on-line.  Graham’s was one of the first Port producers to commit to an on-line presence, and as we have expanded our activities, it has been a pleasure to meet and entertain many other writers, photographers and videographers whose curiousity and passion for wine is shared on-line.

Last week we entertained some of the most creative of the new generation on-line wine enthusiasts as they made a harvest tour of the Douro Valley, starting with a convivial dinner at sister brand Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim near Pinhão, hosted by Charles and Marta Symington.  The next morning Miguel Potes of our Marketing Department played Pied Piper leading them over the mountains through tiny Douro villages (and narrow roads!) to show them some of the most breathtaking outlooks over the region.  The journey ended at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos where they enjoyed a tour of the winery with Miguel and Henry Shotton.

Spectacular view of Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim on the Douro at Pinhão

Watch their sites for news and information about the Douro, Port and Douro DOC wines and their experiences here, and enjoy their unique approaches to learning and sharing information about wine:

Ryan Opaz of Catavino – Ryan and Gabriella Opaz were among the first to focus on Iberian wines through this lively site which brings  together a broad range of content and personal insights to the food, wine, travel opportunities and cultures of Portugual and Spain from a great team of collaborators.

Robert McIntosh of Thirst For Wine – In this site, Robert writes of his own tasting and wine travel adventures, with particular focus on the UK wine scene.  Together with Ryan and Gabriella, Robert has been a leader in leveraging digital and social media outlets to bring wine to the non-specialists, and this site also includes his observations on many aspects of the wine business and communications.  Robert found a few moments in the middle of the week long itinerary to post Catching My Breath in the Douro.

Tara O’Leary is the UK-based Wine Passionista.  It’s an appropriate name as writer and sommelier Tara’s passion for wine comes through in her engaging videos which help viewers learn about wine with a fun but down-to-earth approach to get past the potential confusion and straight into the sheer enjoyment of wine.

On the West Coast of America, Madeline Puckette, together with Justin Hammack and their team, are also aiming to educate the novice wine drinker on their site Wine Folly, which “bridges the gap between wine geekery and pop culture.”  Madeline is a sommelier based in Seattle who is using a variety of media to help you learn about wine; whether you want guidance through the maze of selecting a wine, wonder what minerality is about, or want to settle down to an on-line wine course, her site will have something to educate and entertain.

Duncan Rhodes is the Barcelona-based founder and editor of the Urban Travel Blog, for the adventurous traveller who isn’t remotely interested in the usual top-sights-and-Michelin-starred-restaurants itinerary.  A vast collective of writers from around the world contribute feature articles and City Guides which report not just on the travel experiences, but local trends and culture as well as nightlife, eco-tourism and the occasional foray beyond the city limits.

Many thanks to Bárbara Ameal of the IVDP, the Port and Douro DOC wine regulator, who organised and hosted this trip.

L to R Justin Hammack, Barbara Ameal, Robert McIntosh, Tara O’Leary, Charles Symington, Ryan Opaz, Cynthia Jenson (SFE) and Madeline Puckette

The Spirit of Chartwell: From the Thames to the Douro

The Spirit of Chartwell, shortly after its arrival from the UK, moored alongside Oporto’s ‘Ribeira’ quarter. Photo courtesy of Adelaide Carneiro

On Friday, 14th of September, just a couple of days before the vintage started at Malvedos, the Spirit of Chartwell crossed the bar of the Douro after completing its sea voyage from Ramsgate in Kent. Readers will no doubt remember that this was the Royal barge in which the Queen and other members of the Royal Family sailed down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on June 3rd — the highlight of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The Portuguese entrepreneur, Mário Ferreira, whose thriving company, ‘Douro Azul’ operates river cruises along the Douro River, acquired the Spirit of Chartwell from its British owner, Philip Morrell. The latter was unable to obtain from the relevant authorities a license to operate the vessel on a tourist route along the Thames.

The Spirit of Chartwell, in its new home: Oporto, from where it will sail up the Douro River on regular cruises from March 2013.

In a shrewd move, Mário Ferreira contacted Philip Morrell, whom he has known for a long time and made an offer to purchase Spirit of Chartwell. His approach was well timed as it pre-empted other prospective buyers and the deal was swiftly sealed in June, just weeks after the royal pageant on the Thames. The Spirit of Chartwell will join Mário Ferreira’s growing fleet of river cruisers whose customers are drawn from all over the world, attracted by the magnificent scenery of the Douro and — of course — by its renowned wines.

Mário Ferreira (left) presents a bottle of Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to Oporto’s Mayor, Rui Rio, as Johnny Symington looks on.

The 64 metre Spirit of Chartwell, fitted with 14 luxury cabins and one royal suite, will operate exclusive luxury cruises on the Douro, whose theme will be centred very much around the valley’s fine wines, which the cruise programmes will showcase amidst the exceptional surroundings of the Quintas’ terraced vineyards. It is likely that Spirit of Chartwell will become the Douro Azul flagship vessel and given its royal associations it will undoubtedly attract a great deal of interest from travellers from around the world, keen to experience for themselves The Spirit of Chartwell’s regal comforts. According to local press reports, the vessel will begin regular cruises from March next year.

Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Colheita Port

On the evening of September 15th, Johnny Symington attended the inauguration party on board Spirit of Chartwell, which served to present the unique craft to local dignitaries and to other guests. Johnny has reached agreement with Mário Ferreira for Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to be served and sold to guests on board Spirit of Chartwell. This will mark an interesting and meaningful association between two participants of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. During the reception aboard Spirit of Chartwell, Mário Ferreira presented a bottle of Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to the Mayor of Oporto, Rui Rio.

The Next Generation: Tom Symington

Tom Symington in the adega at Quinta dos Malvedos

Tom Symington, Johnny’s son, is getting his gap year off to a fine start with a couple weeks in the Douro.

He began working the week of the 10th at Quinto do Sol, where he assisted in maturation studies for the second year in a row, and also spent some time assisting our research enologist Steve Rogerson with some of his microvinification projects, before coming to work in the Malvedos winery when it opened on the 17th.

The first day’s work of receiving grapes he found really hard and a bit repetitive, and he could not imagine three or four weeks of it, but once the winery was in full swing with not just grapes coming in, but fermentations to monitor, the running off and fortifications, and the full variety of tasks to do, he has found it really fun, with never a dull moment.  It helps that the team is great, he finds some of them absolutely hilarious and has really enjoyed the week here, and now wishes he could stay longer.

Tom is no stranger to the Douro of course, growing up here in Portugal.  Once he was tall enough to see over the edge of the lagar he was treading grapes every year at Vesuvio until his mid-teens, when the school years began too early for him to stay in the Douro for harvest.  He is looking forward to treading again tonight – it is traditional for the entire family to get together one night in the lagares and his parents will be there along with Paul and most of Paul’s family.

Tom (left) and his cousin Harry unloading crates of grapes

After this week at Malvedos he returns to Porto briefly and then begins an internship in the London shop of Berry Brothers & Rudd – it will be shock to go from the blinding sun and heat of the Douro to the cool quiet shop and wine cellars of London.

At the moment his plans beyond BBR are to travel for some months early next year – still trying to co-ordinate friends, transport and destination – and then study biology at Exeter.

Ultimately he would like to come into the family business, on the winemaking and research side of things, but he is realistic that there are far more candidates in his generation than likely openings in the firm, and if he cannot work for Symington Family Estates he will look for another opportunity.  Whatever happens, there is no question in his mind that he will be returning to the Douro.

Malvedos Hosts Filming for La Cage Dorée

Ruben Alves, Director of La Cage Dorée, with William Graham, one of the founders of Graham’s

Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos has hosted a lot of guests in the past 120 years or so, mostly wine trade professionals, friends of the family, and the occasional head of state.  Some months ago Franco-Portuguese film director Ruben Alves sent a reconnaissance team to visit all the Symington quintas as well as other properties in the Douro and the director fell in love with Quinta dos Malvedos, as most people do.  As a result, last week Ruben returned with cast and crew to shoot scenes for a new movie.

Jackie Thurn-Valsassina, Graham’s Visits and Events Manager, who organises all visits to our quintas, was there during the shooting, and writes for the blog:

Last week Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos was the stage for the last days of the making of the French film La Cage Dorée.  Franco-Portuguese film director Ruben Alves chose Quinta dos Malvedos as part of his first feature film due to its spectacular location in the Douro valley.

Filming began in Paris two months prior with principal Portuguese actors, Joaquim de Almeida and Rita Blanco, playing a Portuguese couple who emigrated to Paris at a very young age.  After 30 years of living in France and having two children, they decide to return to Portugal earlier than planned, due to the inheritance of a house in the Douro.

The story of the film rolls out as a bittersweet comedy with the couple encountering many difficulties:  a group of friends who try to restrain them from returning home, family problems and adapting to life in Portugal after many years living away.

Well known Portuguese comedian actress Maria Vieira plays the emigrant housekeeper for a French family and leading Franco-Portuguese actress Barbara Cabrita and French actress Chantal Lauby also play prominent roles.

The French feature film will be released in cinemas in the Spring of 2013.

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New Ambulance Donated to Lamego Fire Department

The new ambulance for the Bombeiros Voluntários de Lamego, donated by the Symington Family

Graham’s and Symington Family Estates have donated a fully equipped ambulance to the Bombeiros Voluntários de Lamego, the Volunteer Fire Department of Lamego, to mark the celebation of their 135th year of service to their community.  The fire-fighting and emergency services in this town are carried out by volunteers who have other employment but when called upon drop everything to rescue and assist their neighbours.

Lamego is the district south of the Douro River opposite Régua, and Symington Family Estates have several properties in the area, including the Quinta do Sol winery where our Douro DOC wines are made, and Peter Symington’s own Quinta da Fonte Branca, where he spends much of his time and produces many of the white grapes used in our wines, including Graham’s white ports.  During harvest we employ well over a hundred people at these properties, and a smaller number year round, so we have close ties with this community.

Peter Symington welcomes the ambulance with champagne while Dr. Helder Santos, President of the Bombeiros de Lamego and Paul Symington (behind the spray of champagne) look on.

The ambulance arrived in rather dashing style in a shower of confetti and Peter Symington himself, Graham’s head winemaker before retiring and handing over to his son Charles, welcomed it with a champagne bath.  Further celebrations on Sunday included a remembrance service for those who had given their lives in the volunteer service, as well as a dinner featuring Rancho à Bombeiro, a tradtional and very sustaining casserole of several kinds of meat, potatoes, chickpeas, kale, and pasta.

The Symington Family have for some years now donated medical and emergency equipment to Douro community organisations – we live and work here ourselves so we understand the needs of our neighbours and communities.  Previously we have donated ambulances to the Fire Departments of Carrazeda de Ansiães, Provesende, São João de Pesqueira, and Pinhão, as well as specialist medical equipment to the hospitals of Vila Real and Alijo and to the Red Cross Association of Sabrosa.

Primum Familiae Vini in Burgundy

This past weekend Paul, Rupert and Dominic Symington were in Burgundy together with their colleagues from Primum Familiae Vini, a group of eleven of the most prestigious winemaking families in the world.

Every year the members come together to show their wines in a key market – this past February in London and in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil.  But in addition to the rather spectacular public events, including gala dinners, charity auctions and press tastings, the group also meet for private working weekends.  This weekend in Burgundy was the annual meeting to to share best practice, discuss developments in the wine world, and agree on activities for the coming year, as well as transfer the presidency – this year from Frederic Drouhin to Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild for 2013.

Miguel Torres and Francois Perrin in earnest discussion waiting for the bus

Dominic wrote in to say “It was great fun, with many members of all the families, including a good number from the next generation.  It’s always nice to mix with friends and fellow wine-makers in an environment away from commercial pressure.”  Though their wineries are located in a dozen different regions, the group share many common concerns not just of wine production and distribution, but managing and ensuring the future of a family business, and the protection of their vineyards, regions and unique heritage.

Business and pleasure naturally go together among winemakers, and Dominic describes the weekend’s events as a combination of serious discussions and brilliant wine and food:

At the end of the Annual Meeting we had a picnic lunch in Drouhin’s Premier Cru Clos de Mouches vineyards south of Beaune which began with a delicious Chablis Premier Cru aperitif, followed by both white and red wines from the Clos de Mouches.  During the picnic we enjoyed a fascinating talk from Aubert de Villaine, proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, on the history and terroir of Burgundy and his efforts to get the region classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site.  This was followed by a very technical presentation on the geology and different soil types within the region and their influence on the wines.

Jean-Pierre de Beaumarchais, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, Paul Symington

In the evening the team from the Michelin starred restaurant Hostellerie de Levernois served dinner in the Chambre du Roi at the Hospices de Beaune.  Naturally more superb wines from fellow PFV members were served including Pol Roger 2002 magnum, Meursault Premier Cru Perrières 2002, Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche Grand Cru 2004 magnum, Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2001, an outstanding Griotte Chambertin Grand Cru 1985 and a fantastically youthful Warre’s 1980 Vintage Port.

Vintage Port Site Mobile

Would you like to have information on all your favourite Graham’s Vintage Ports at your fingertips?  Now you can.  The Vintage Port Site – the ultimate reference for both novice and connoisseur – has been optimised for viewing on a mobile device.

When you access The Vintage Port Site from your phone or tablet device you will automatically be redirected to the mobile version, which takes you straight to the Knowledge Base at the heart of this great reference site.  Search for wines by year or brand, or search for the wines reviewed by your favourite critic or wine publication.  The site has details of every Vintage Port made by Symington Family Estates since 1945 – almost 300 different wines.  From the list of results, click on your choice of wine to see release notes and quick reference information on decanting, serving and storing your Vintage Port.

One-click sidebar navigation takes you to a view of the most recent tasting notes from top critics, or the Harvest Report for that year.  Want to share the information with a friend?  Click to enter an email function to send a message and the link for the most recently viewed wine to your friends, together with a print-friendly version of all the details and reviews of the wine and the Harvest Report.  Alternatively, you can post the link directly to your Facebook page or send it in a Twitter message.

Browsing the database raise questions in your mind?  You can go to the Links list to enter the full on-line version of the VPS with its wealth of detailed reference articles and news stories, or click on Ask the Expert to send your question directly to us, and we will post your question with our reply on the Vintage Port Site, normally within two business days.

We think you will find this pocket reference a great help, whether you are at your wine merchant’s trying to choose which Vintages to buy, want detailed information about the wine and the harvest year to share with friends at table, or are looking for a quick way to share your wine choice with friends through social media.  Enjoy!