Injured Peregrine Falcon Recovers

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

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

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

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

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 3

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

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

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

 

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 2

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

Training young vines and vine planting

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

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

GRAHAM’S MARKS THE QUEEN’S 90TH BIRTHDAY WITH SPECIAL COMMEMORATIVE PORT

Hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd at their historic St. James’s Street offices in London, on Wednesday March 30th four members of the Symington family, together with their friends at Berrys, launched Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port, a limited edition of 500 bottles to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s forthcoming 90th birthday. Paul, Johnny, Rupert and Charlotte Symington presented the special commemorative Port to a group of UK wine writers and journalists, as well as two of Portugal’s leading wine writers. The Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, João de Vallera, was also present.

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Charlotte Symington pours the Graham’s 90 component wines in readiness for the tasting.

Paul introduced the three venerable cask-matured wines of which the Graham’s 90 is composed. He took with him from Portugal the original vintage records for those years, one of which written by his great grandfather Andrew James Symington. He read the entry dated 14th October 1935, the year in which one of the component wines for the Graham’s 90 was made. Andrew James Symington describes the quality of the year and alludes to the reigning monarch of the day, King George V (the Queen’s grandfather): “I am inclined to think that the quality and good colour inspires hope that the 1935 may prove good enough to make a Jubilee Vintage – quantity is less than last year – but quality appears to be better.”

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Paul (left) guides the Symington family’s and Berry’s guests through the tasting.

Johnny went on to explain that Port has long been used to toast royal and historic occasions by every conceivable British institution for centuries and this seemed an entirely appropriate association. This isn’t the first time that the Symington family and Berry Brothers have come together to mark a royal occasion. In 2012 they jointly launched the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. Again the challenge was to create an exceptional Port to pay a fitting tribute to the Queen’s dedicated lifetime of service to the nation. Port has always been served at every state occasion at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle during Her Majesty’s long reign and this has helped to project Port as one of the world’s premier wines.

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British and Portuguese wine writers scribble their notes as they put the Graham’s 90 component wines through their paces

Berry Bros. & Rudd, Port Buyer, Simon Field MW commented, “The prospect of working with Charles Symington [Graham’s head winemaker] is always one that we relish and when we approached Charles, Paul and Johnny for ideas for something rather special to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday we were confident that they would unearth something exceptional. They have.” These were Simon’s first impressions when he tasted this remarkable Port: “The fruits of very old casks from three venerable vintages, of which two are significantly over 90 years of age, this outstanding blend impresses immediately with its deep colour and richly generous aromas. The palate is even more intriguing, teasing initially with a beguiling cocktail of high spirits and spritely wisdom. It’s only with a little time in glass that the true greatness becomes evident…patience is rewarded. There is no substitute for experience, and our experience should be accompanied by humility and gratitude.” 

Victoria Moore in the Daily Telegraph (March 30th) also eloquently described the Graham’s 90 (“A very special toast to the Queen”) as follows: “Graham’s 90 blended by Charles Symington, is far more than the sum of its parts: a finessed, complex Port, with fine layer upon fine layer of flavour, like a mille-feuille, opening gradually, a kaleidoscope of roasted nuts, honey, raisins, tobacco and spice.”

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This rare Port will be available in the UK exclusively through Berry Bros. & Rudd as from March 30th 2016 and will be priced at £700 per bottle. From each bottle sold, a contribution will be made by Graham’s to the Patron’s Fund, which supports a collection of UK and Commonwealth charities of which Her Majesty is the patron. The minimum contribution guaranteed by the Symington family is £10,000.00. A very restricted number of bottles will be available for sale in Portugal, some of which at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge.

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GRAHAM’S VOTED THE WORLD’S MOST ADMIRED PORT BRAND

The 6th annual survey of the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands was recently conducted by the Drinks International magazine. The jury consists of over 200 leading figures in the wine sector, masters of wine, sommeliers and journalists.

The 2016 survey has nominated Graham’s as the World’s Most Admired Port Brand and the 14th Most Admired Wine Brand in the world.

Dow’s Port, also owned and managed by the Symington family, was placed 31 in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands.

Other wines in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands include Vega Sicilia, Penfolds, Château d’Yquem, Château Margaux, Guigal, Château Latour, Cloudy Bay, Mateus and Cheval Blanc.

The Symington family said; ‘We are very proud to have earned this prominent position amongst the best wines in the world. This wonderful endorsement is the result of generations of work in our Douro vineyards and in our caves in Vila Nova de Gaia, as well as to the loyalty and the great skill of the people who work with us in our project of excellence.’

SYMINGTON FAMILY ESTATES DONATE AMBULANCE TO VILA FLOR VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE

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

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

 

A Year in the Vineyards: Part 1

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

Winter pruning (November – January)

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

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

 

 

 

Injured peregrine falcon recovers in the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro

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

Since 2011 Symington Family Estates has supported the important work of this specialist centre with which it shares the values and commitment of protecting and preserving all forms of wildlife in the natural habitats of the Douro region. Of the Symington family’s total landholding of 2,118 hectares in the Douro Valley, approximately half is under vine and the remainder is largely made of natural vegetation, woodland, olive groves, fruit orchards, etc. —  besides which all the vineyards are managed under integrated production management and organic viticulture, which translates into minimum intervention in the vineyards. This helps safeguard a balanced environment and many of the properties are in effect havens for wildlife.

The young peregrine falcon was brought to the centre on the first of December with a broken wing resulting from a gunshot. He has since undergone surgery and is now being prepared to return to the wild. What is interesting about this particular bird is that he was ringed by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in Morvah, Cornwall in July of last year. As the first ringed bird the group have ever relocated alive in Portugal, it was with great interest that they learned of the 2000 kilometre journey he made before his unfortunate encounter. You can read what they say on their blog, here.

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The vets, Dr João Tomas and Dr Roberto Sargo examining the peregrine falcon

X-ray images show that the bird’s wing was fractured by a relatively close range shotgun blast and some of the shotgun pellets are visible in the x-ray (below), and will now remain in the bird.

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X-ray of the peregrine falcon
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The peregrine falcon’s injured wing

Since its surgery the bird’s fracture has consolidated, allowing him to move from intensive care to a semi-covered aviary in which he will be able to further heal. Although a fracture in a bird this size can recover in approximately 3 weeks, it takes significantly longer for a bird to once again become fit for the wild. If things are made too easy for them in captivity they have a tendency to become lazy, something that creates difficulties when they are reintroduced into their natural habitats.

The next step in the bird’s recovery is for him to be introduced into the centre’s flight tunnel. A two-storey, octagonal structure, it is the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula and enables recovering birds to fly continually at some height in order to recover muscle mass. It allows all but the largest birds to manoeuvre in mid-flight, something that would not be possible in smaller tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds, and in particular birds of prey. When the peregrine falcon is capable of flying 500 meters without stopping he will be deemed to have recovered enough muscle mass to be returned to the wild.

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Dr Daniel Mosteiro, Dr João Tomas and Dr Roberto Sargo (left to right) outside the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel

Long considered a noble bird, since the Middle Ages the peregrine falcon has been associated with the title of prince in the hierarchy of birds of prey. It is also the fastest member of the animal kingdom, and has been recorded flying at speeds of up to 389 kilometres per hour when diving to strike its prey.

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Dr Roberto Sargo preparing to weigh a Eurasian eagle owl

Also in the care of the centre at the moment is a magnificent Eurasian eagle owl, which following several months of care should soon be returned to the wild in one of Symington Family Estate’s vineyards.

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The Eurasian eagle owl in the care of the rescue and recovery unit

Hopefully by March the peregrine falcon will be fit enough to return to the wild accompanied by a GPS tracker that will trace his flight to his summer destination. In the meantime, we will follow his recovery, and the outstanding work of the centre’s dedicated team with several follow-up blog posts over the next couple of months.

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The Veterinary Hospital at UTAD

Mesa Marcada by Graham’s

Last Monday the Portuguese food blog Mesa Marcada held its annual award ceremony for the Top 10 Portuguese chefs and restaurants of 2015. Sponsored by Graham’s, the event was held at Honorato Hamburguers Artesanais in Lisbon, and awards were presented in several categories, including Best Restaurant, Best Chef, Mesa Diaria or “daily table” (for a reasonable priced/”day to day” restaurant) and Rising Chef (for a chef who placed significantly higher in the competition this year than the previous edition of the awards).

For the second year running it was José Avillez, and his two Michelin Star restaurant, Belcanto, that were awarded both Best Chef and Best Restaurant. Belcanto, which first opened in 1958 in Chiado, Lisbon (near the house where one of Portugal’s greatest writers and poets, Fernando Pessoa, was born), was refurbished by José Avillez in the Summer of 2011 and has since become a reference in Portuguese cuisine.

Second and third place for Best Chef were awarded to Leonel Perreira, of São Gabriel, and Hans Neuner, of Ocean, (which also placed second in the Best Restaurant category) respectively.

Over the course of what was a great evening, Graham’s filmed several interviews with some of the award winning chefs, and over the coming weeks we will publish them here. In order to sate your appetite until then however, below is a teaser of what is to come. You can also find the full list of winners and more information on the Mesa Marcada blog (in Portuguese).

High Water in Vila Nova de Gaia

After a week of heavy rains over Porto and further upstream in the Douro, last night saw high water and partial flooding in the lower lying area of Vila Nova de Gaia. Reaching its highest at around 3 o’clock in the morning, the water crept to within inches of the shop fronts and Port lodges on the quays. However, by 9.30, the water had receded to the just below the level of the street (pictured) and an impressive current was visibly carrying the water out to sea.

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View of Porto across the high water of the Douro

While floods are relatively common in Porto, now due to the construction of successive dams on the river throughout the 20th century, they have become fewer and less destructive. The dams allow some degree of control over the water coming from the Douro catchment area, and only release when it is safer to do so.

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Blue sky appearing above the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety for the first time in over a week

Graham’s is not in a position to worry too much however, as our lodge, constructed in 1890, is located about 50 meters above sea level, and as such is not in danger from flooding.

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Crafting one of life's great traditions