Hopes were raised on the first day of the month that this year’s hideous climatic patterns might finally be changing for the better (i.e. worse) when we enjoyed the very lightest speckling of drizzle during the afternoon, but it was so little that at several of the weather stations the amount wasn’t even enough to register. Some more odd drops fell over the first weekend of the month but, as they say in these parts, it was barely enough to settle the dust. And then it got worse (or better?) as temperatures began to warm up considerably to the extent that we were into the high 20ºs C in some parts of the country by the middle of the next week. The heat, combined with the ongoing drought, was a recipe for wild fires with a number burning around the Vila Real area on the 15th. By this date, according to the Met Office, a huge 53 % of continental Portugal was under ‘extreme’ drought conditions, and the remaining 47 % was merely ‘severe’.
The sudden onset of this warm weather made quite a change since figures released by the Instituto de Meteorologia had just confirmed that on a national scale this winter (December to February) was the third coldest since records began in 1931, as well as the driest, needless to say. But the first hot spell was well and truly over by the 20th and we then had about a week of much cooler, cloudier days. But no more than that. Temperatures climbed back into the high 20ºs again by the end of the month and there was a definite summery feel in the air – which was the last thing that anyone wanted. Read Full Report
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.
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.
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.
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.
What actually happened in February is very easy to describe. Why it occurred, and what the consequences will be, is very much more complicated. So what did happen then? Basically, nothing. There was no wind. There were no clouds. There was certainly no rain. It warmed up nicely during the day under sapphire skies, but then it got very cold indeed at night. Portugal, along with much of the rest of Europe, was held in the grip of a very stable cool spell for several weeks. The lengthening days permitted quite warm maximum temperatures on occasions but the nights were bitter.
The absolute range of temperatures was therefore huge – with almost 30º C between the hottest and coldest recorded values at some quintas. But the cold easily outweighed the warm, and the month came in well below average on balance. Read Full Report
With the exception of a moderately moist first day of the month, which very few people can remember anyway so it doesn’t really count, the New Year got off to an extremely dry start. December’s fog still persisted in the Douro, however, although perhaps with a little less intensity. Indeed, pretty much the only factor which differentiated one day from another was the varying thickness of the capacete (layer of fog). When the fog was thin it burnt off quickly during the morning and the day warmed up quite pleasantly under a clear sky, but then of course the temperature amplitude was exaggerated since at night time it turned really quite cold due to lack of celestial insulation. On other days, when the fog was thicker, the sun didn’t get through until much later and temperatures remained more stable (but just as cold, almost). In spite of the actual numbers, the fact that there was plenty of sun certainly gave the erroneous impression (when the nights were taken into account too) that it was relatively mild for this time of the year. Weather reports indicated that some more southerly parts of the country experienced days with temperatures getting over 20º C nevertheless. Read Full Report
In addition to his work as research viticulturist, Miles Edlmann has responsibility for the maintenance of Graham’s Quinta da Vila Velha. Situated around a bend just downriver from Quinta dos Malvedos, Vila Velha is spread out over 140 hectares of land, with just 57 hectares under vine. The balance is olive groves and wilderness.
Along with the usual vineyard maintenance tasks, Miles has another major project on hand this year: the planning of a possible new vineyard at Vila Velha.
Over the years a number of small adjacent quintas have been purchased and added into the Vila Velha holdings. As a result, there are many small parcels of vines at the perimeter of the property, separated by large tracts of wilderness or olive grove from the main area of vineyards. For years we have enjoyed the grapes from these mature vines, but now a number of these parcels are past their best and need to be re-planted. On the other hand, it makes little to sense to re-plant in these locations. The logistics of managing these small parcels are awkward and expensive: as old vineyards with rows set too close together to allow a tractor to pass through, all the work of pruning, spraying and canopy management must be done entirely by hand, and during the vintage moving the picking team around to work in a series of small remote parcels is time consuming and inefficient.
Instead, we are looking at the possibility of tearing up the old vineyards – four small parcels which total about 2 hectares – but planting the new vines elsewhere, in a newly created, consolidated and more accessible plot. The proposed site for the new vineyard is what is known in the Douro as a mortuario: an old vineyard that was abandoned after the devastation of phylloxera in the late 19th century. It is a hillside riddled with ruined and half-buried stone walls, now planted with mature olive trees.
Our proposals must be worked out and documented very carefully and then approved by several different authorities before work can begin. Among the restrictions and considerations to be reckoned with:
we cannot create more vineyard than we already have – so the new planting must be no larger than the total of the old plantings
we will need planning permission to move and re-plant the olive trees we take out of the hillside to create the vineyard
some of the old stone walls are intact and will of course be preserved and worked into our plans, but we would have to be granted permission to remove the remains of walls which have fallen into ruins and are now half buried under the soil
our plans must include access roads
we need to plan for drainage, and work out how heavy rains might be channeled down the hillside to avoid damage to the new terraces
With all this in mind, the first work of the day was to have another good look at the hillside and decide the best position for the vineyard. Miles was joined by Artur Moreira, another of our viticultural team who works with many of our mapping and planning projects and has expertise in the use of GPS systems.
Miles and Artur placed stakes along the proposed lower edge and side of the vineyard, and after much lively discussion and adjustments to create an optimum contour, Artur took GPS readings. Whilst most of three sides of the proposed vineyard are already easily visible on photo-maps, they had to establish these other edges quite clearly in order to produce a new photo-map to include with our proposals. To do this, the stakes were placed and Artur was then able to use his GPS device to get the satellite readings to define the perimeter of the vineyards.
Planning for the management of run off was pretty straightforward – you can see quite clearly on the hillside where the water naturally courses down now. That will be taken into consideration as we define the contours of the terraces and the placement of the access roads, as the best way to manage water runoff is along the back of the terraces and into channels alongside the roadways. We can design the vineyard so the natural runoff from the crest of the hillside will easily enter this channel system, rather than cascade down and potentially damage the terraces and soil banks.
The next steps in the planning will mostly happen in the office, as we complete the necessary applications for permission. If all goes well, and permission is granted, then the work of moving the olive trees and creating the new terraces will begin this winter, after the harvest.
The first two or three days of the month suggested that it was going to be basically cold, grey and wet, rather predictably. But the rain immediately dried up and on balance December turned out just to be cold and grey. The amount of greyness experienced depended entirely on one’s location, however, as the truth of the matter is that there were precious few clouds around in the Douro in December, but plenty of fog. Low-lying towns and villages, especially those close to the river, spent much of the month barely seeing the sun, nestled as they were below a thick layer of fog. Those living on the tops of the hills had beautiful blue skies every day, almost without exception, whilst those somewhere in between generally woke up in the middle of the fog but then saw it clear by mid-morning. Read Full Report
After yet another dry month in October (and apparently also the warmest October since 1931 at a national level), it was pleasing to see that the roads in the Douro were running like rivers on the 2nd of November. The rain was torrential, and accompanied by high winds, but one felt nevertheless that the soil had been baked so dry and compacted over the long summer that this run-off was simply due to a lack of infiltration rather than the sheer volume of water itself. One of the greatest problems with mountain viticulture is that so much precipitation is lost to the slopes rather than seeping into the soil. In any case, what fell was welcome, and we enjoyed a very wet first week of the new agricultural year. Read Full Report
After a bit of a non-summer came an extraordinary autumn, bringing weather that the gods of grapes wouldn’t have dared to dream about. With just enough rain falling on the first of the month to refresh the vines and put the final gloss on maturation, we then enjoyed a seemingly endless summer, with absolutely perfect picking weather. The growing season thus far had brought innumerable viticultural difficulties and some not inconsiderable losses of potential production, so it was extremely pleasing to see that the surviving grapes that did eventually come into the wineries appeared to be in excellent condition. Read Full Report
Unlike some months so far this year, August was by no means atypical; on the contrary, both the temperatures and the total precipitation were very close to average. This makes it much harder to explain the extraordinary maturation of the grapes, but surely the very early veraison discussed in last month’s report must have been in part responsible. Basically it was clear and hot and dry. Perhaps the only real anomaly was that the habitual (and hot) evening winds were even stronger than usual but, contrastingly, there were also some surprisingly cool nights on occasions. The upshot of this was the appearance of some refreshing morning mists, particularly on the high ground and at the coast. Porto and Gaia were therefore untroubled by any really uncomfortable heat, and indeed many complained of a disappointing summer. The usual round of forest fires struck around the middle of the month and brought a sinister yellow tinge to the air as the sun struggled to shine through the smoke haze. Read Full Report
Quinta da Cavadinha, deep in the Pinhão valley, is the flagship quinta and winery for Graham’s sister brand, Warre’s.
Our research viticulturalist, Miles Edlmann, turns winemaker and runs the winery there just as Henry runs Malvedos during harvest. Yesterday he sent in his harvest update, which is now posted on the Vintage Port Site News feed, and this wonderful photo of the winery team there:
Standing (left to right): Costa, Gorito, Mourão, António José, Nuno, TóZé (motorista), Fonseca (big brother to our Fonseca at Malvedos), Alex, Duarte. Kneeling: the legendary Sr Acácio, Orlando, Miles.