Tag Archives: Paul Symington


Paul Symington sums up the 2014 Douro harvest. From the Douro, October 13th, 2014 —

This was a challenging year in the Douro. We had a very wet period from December through to February with 44% more rain than normal. Apart from the difficulties encountered by those engaged in replanting vineyards, this rain was most welcome. It was coupled with mild temperatures that encouraged early bud-break in the first week of March at Malvedos. The weather remained unsettled through the early summer and on 3rd July a huge rainstorm hit parts of the Douro, with over 80mm falling in a few hours, mainly around Pinhão. This caused extraordinary damage, flooding the local railway station and precipitated an avalanche of rock and mud that destroyed the car of a well-known wine maker in the village (fortunately nobody was in the car at the time). Many farm roads were ruined and for a few days the River Douro ran golden yellow with the large amounts of precious soil that had been washed off the hillsides, once again highlighting the challenge of farming in the largest area of mountain vineyard on earth. Thankfully no hail fell and the vines themselves were largely unharmed, but the farmers had the unwelcome added expense of getting JCB’s in to re-build their farm tracks.

Clouds were a common feature in the skies over Malvedos during this harvest.
Clouds were a common feature in the skies over Malvedos during this harvest.

Once the mess caused by this July storm was cleaned up, it became clear that the vines were enjoying the cooler weather which persisted through August. In fact we all began to think of 2007, when an equally cool August delivered some stupendous quality grapes to our wineries.

The maturation continued some two weeks ahead of last year and picking started on 11th September at Malvedos, earlier at our more easterly vineyards. The grapes were in really lovely condition; soft skins, full berries and balanced sugars and acidity, perfect for making great Port and very good Douro wines. But Mother Nature was not in a mood to help us and the weather remained unsettled. In some areas this caused problems, in others the rain made little impact. It is clear that some extraordinarily good wines were made in the Douro Superior which had only occasional rainfall and that was of short duration and therefore ran off quickly.

Parts of the Alto Douro had an excellent vintage, other areas less so, and unfortunately parts of the Baixo Corgo had a difficult time. Charles Symington commented: ‘It has been an extraordinary vintage, the difference in rainfall between Pinhão and Tua being almost hard to believe’.

Touriga Nacional was consistently good this year, showing its undoubted class. But what was surprising was how very well Touriga Franca performed. This variety ripens late and its tight bunches and thin skins are a recipe for danger in a year like this. Nevertheless some wonderful wines are emerging from this variety. Souzão was also a star of this vintage.

Inevitably our wine makers had to make difficult choices, so the less blue-eyed varieties had to take second place and some suffered. Various vineyards located near water courses and in the tighter and lower valleys were damaged, as was predictable. The hand-picking that predominates in the Douro, with increasingly heavy cost implications on producers, delivered a huge advantage to us in our winemaking in 2014 as a crucially important selection is made by the pickers, something that is impossible in a machine-picked vineyard.

In a region that is over 90 km long and with an average annual rainfall that varies from nearly 1,000 mm in the west to under 400mm in the east, it is simply not possible to give a blanket assessment of any year and in particular this year. What is certain is that it was not a glorious harvest right across the region as it might have been if the weather had held during September and overall yields will be down, possibly by a significant amount. But equally certain is that in such a diverse region some real gems will have been made as the grapes were in such lovely condition at the outset. The vineyards that were lucky enough to escape the rain, and many did, will have made some really lovely Ports and Douro wines.

Winding down at Malvedos; the last trailer load of grapes of the 2014 vintage is emptied at the winery reception.
Winding down at Malvedos; the last trailer load of grapes of the 2014 vintage is emptied at the winery reception.

Furthermore those winemakers lucky enough to be able to get grapes from various locations across the Douro will certainly have made some brilliant Ports and wines. It was a year to take full advantage of judicious vineyard investment in the best sub-regions.

As if to force home the point about the weather and just as the harvest was being wound up, another astonishing rain storm hit at about 7.00 AM last Wednesday 8th October. In just two hours over 80mm of rain fell in parts of the Douro, again causing extensive damage to farm tracks (some just recently rebuilt after the July storm) and causing great difficulties to those still harvesting and making the river run golden yet again.

Why ‘The Year of the Fox’? The fox is a wily creature and this year it was necessary to be wily (and lucky) and also because our wine maker at Malvedos, Henry Shotton, was fast asleep and alone one night on a mattress in the darkened winery, waiting for a lagar of must to be ready to run off sometime in the night. He awoke to feel something tugging at his boot laces. His fear can only be imagined, and when he sat up he saw that a small fox was trying to steal his boot. Very early the next morning the fox returned, this time to try and eat the fresh bread just delivered by the Tua baker that was hanging on the vineyard trailer…

The 'Malvedos Fox' caught in the act of trying to grab the winery team's breakfast (freshly delivered bread in the bag hanging from the trailer).
The ‘Malvedos Fox’ caught in the act of trying to grab the winery team’s breakfast (freshly delivered bread in the bag hanging from the trailer).


BlogLagarRunOffGiven the continuing atmospheric instability it was almost inevitable that the rain finally caught up with us at Quinta dos Malvedos, namely over the last two days with 12.4 mm recorded on Monday and 4.4 mm recorded yesterday. However, picking up from where we left off since the last post (on Saturday), the decision to halt harvesting on Sunday proved correct because just a light shower was felt (insufficient to record anything in our weather station) besides which it was one of the hottest days of the month thus far — the maximum temperature reaching 30.1ºC (86.18º Fahrenheit). This is precisely what was required to help dry the Touriga Nacional grapes still remaining on the vines at Malvedos and Tua. In the evening a Touriga Nacional lagar was run off (above right) and Henry was extremely pleased with the amazing colour of the must: “fantastic colour!!!”

BlogSpiritChartwellAs planned, picking was resumed first thing Monday morning (Touriga Nacional from Malvedos) and although it did rain, most of it came down during the night thus making life easier for our roga (grape pickers) in the vineyards. We had some visitors on Monday; the first was the “Spirit of Chartwell” (see above), the Royal barge in which the Queen and other members of the Royal Family sailed down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012 — the highlight of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The vessel, which cruised by at half past seven in the morning, is now owned by a Portuguese company operating cruises along the Douro River carrying visitors from all around the world, attracted by the Douro’s magnificent scenery and wines.

Paul and Henry taste the superb Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented wine.
Paul and Henry taste the superb Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented wine.

The second visitor was Paul Symington, Graham’s Joint Managing Director, cousin of Charles, our head winemaker. Like Charles, Paul farms his own vineyard privately and he was interested to compare the grapes from his own Quinta with those being harvested at Malvedos. Henry showed Paul a selection of the recently made Ports and Paul was especially impressed with the wine made from a co-fermentation of Touriga Nacional (80%) and Sousão (20%). Henry agreed with him that this is a fine example of good balance in a wine; combining the vibrant aromas and compact fruit of the Touriga Nacional with the freshness provided by the characteristic acidity of the Sousão.

Fernando Alves, our R&D viticulture specialist looks at a Touriga Nacional fermentation with Henry
Henry and Fernando Alves, our R&D viticulture specialist discuss a Touriga Nacional fermentation in one of the three Malvedos winery lagares.

Blog24Set_Featured4On Tuesday we started off again with overcast conditions with most of the day’s 4.4 mm falling between 11am and noon. During the afternoon the weather improved and scattered clouds allowed the sun to show itself again. Better to have the rain in more concentrated showers like this than spread out and falling persistently all through the day. This was in fact demonstrated — rain notwithstanding — by the very good quality of the (Touriga Nacional) grapes coming into the winery. The first trailer load of the day gave a reading of 14.2º Baumé and the last 14.65º. No dilution of the grapes here! Henry is well pleased by the excellent, deep purple colour displayed by the latest TN fermentations. Our research and development viticulturist, Fernando Alves, paid a visit during the afternoon just as this last load was coming into the winery and he was pleasantly surprised to see the grapes with such quality, despite the rain we’ve been having (see picture above left). Fernando commented that the fruit is still largely in fine condition. We shall see if we’re as lucky with the Touriga Franca which we hope to start picking from Thursday.

The rain that fell on Tuesday between 11 am and noon is represented by the Portuguese Met Office's radar picture (see top centre in blue)
The rain that fell on Tuesday between 11 am and noon at Malvedos is captured by the Portuguese Met Office’s radar picture (see top centre the large blue patch).
Rupert (left) and Peter Scott of PPW from the US taste the wines at Malvedos.
Rupert (left) and Peter Scott of PPW from the US taste the wines at Malvedos.

Wednesday, September 24th: Quite a chilly and overcast morning with mist hovering low over the Douro. Today we aim to conclude picking the remaining parcels of Touriga Nacional from Malvedos: block 70 (planted 2005); block 88 and block 97 (both planted in 2000). Later in the morning Rupert Symington, one of Graham’s Joint Managing Directors came round to the winery with a group of visitors from the United States, including a team from our US importer and distributor, Premium Port Wines.

Rupert and Henry guide the visitors from the US through a tasting of recently made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
Rupert and Henry guide the visitors from the US through a tasting of recently made Ports in the Malvedos winery.

The best 2011 red wines anywhere

The mesmerizing Salão Arábe in Porto’s Palácio da Bolsa was the perfect setting for this special tasting. Framed by the intricately carved walls and stained-glass windows of this sublime room the Mayor of Porto and Rui Falcão, one of Portugal’s top wine journalists, introduced Paul and Charles Symington and the family’s 2011 Vintage Ports.

The 2011 Vintage Ports have made a lot of noise in the wine world since they were declared earlier last year. Jancis Robinson, wine-writer for The Financial Times, praised them as, “The best 2011 reds anywhere”. These wines, she said, have put Vintage Port firmly back on the world’s fine wine map. Proof of this, some other influential people were in the audience, amongst them Manuel Moreira, former sommelier of the year, and André Ribeirinho, the food and wine journalist.

Charles and Paul talked eloquently about the wines their family had made. A Port Winemaker, they explained, is like a painter who needs to have a whole array of colours before him on his palate to choose from. Vintage Port is a wine made from the grapes of multiple complimentary vineyards; the result is that the final wine achieves a balance and complexity that surpasses any of the individual lotes. This makes Vintage Port unique amongst the fine wines of the world.

“Charles came to me some years ago saying, ‘I need more small tanks,’” said Paul. The reason for this, he explained, was to allow Charles to store small quantities of wine separately, thereby avoiding the need to blend the wines from different parcels of vineyard at 3am during the Vintage time when there was no conceivable way of properly assessing the wines. Simply put, this expands the ‘palate’ of wines available to Charles and his winemaking team.

The skill and precision that this process involves was demonstrated in the first part of the tasting. Charles guided the audience through a tasting of the component wines in Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port from each of Graham’s five Douro Quintas. Each property has distinctive characteristics, which these wines expressed. And the job of the winemaker is to marry them together to create the perfect balance. (More detail on this part of the tasting and the individual characteristics of the component wines from Graham’s Quintas will be published here soon.)

There was still more to come, though. Graham’s Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port was next on the stage. This year was the first in which this wine was made. It is a very specific expression of micro-terroir, made only from two small old terraced vineyards next to the river, below the house at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, one North-facing and the other South-facing. It couldn’t be more different, in terms of the approach to winemaking, to the Graham’s Vintage Port.

The success that this potentially quite challenging wine has achieved since it was made has been amply demonstrated by the awards lavished upon it. It was voted amongst the Top 10 Portuguese Wines by a panel of 18 international journalists at Essência do Vinho and subsequently selected as the Best Port Wine. Revista de Vinhos gave it 19/20 points. Jancis Robinson gave it 18.5/20 describing it as “stunning…racy…distinctive”. While James Suckling and the Wine Spectator each gave it 97/100 points.

No one was left in any doubt by the end of this tasting as to the appropriateness of Jancis Robinson’s remarks: “the best 2011 reds anywhere”. But more than anything, it was quite clear that there was a lot more to come from these wines … Stay tuned to find out more.

Paul Symington named Wine Personality of the Year

Paul Symington was humbled and honoured to receive Wine Magazine’s Wine Personality of the Year award on behalf of the Symington family on Friday night.  This award, from one of Portugal’s leading wine publications, was made in recognition of the continued commitment and investment that the family company, Symington Family Estates, has made in the Douro region and in Port Wine over the last few years.

The awards ceremony was held in the Porto suburb of Foz, where the Douro River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, having run its course through the whole latitude of Portugal and beyond into Spain. It is here that the two places that in Port Wine’s lifecycle converge. Port is born in the Douro Valley, where the grapes are grown, and then in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Foz and Porto, the young Port Wine matures and is bottled.

It was therefore fitting that this should be the setting for this event.  The Port Wine man Paul Symington, whose ancestors have been ambassadors for Port and the Douro for over a century, is very much rooted in this place and by this river. And it is always the Douro and the people in the vineyards that he celebrates.

The Symington family has remained unwaveringly committed to the Douro region throughout the difficult economic times in Portugal. 2013 saw the family initiate a number of significant projects to raise the profile of the Douro, a region whose economy is almost completely focused on Port and wine.

The renovation of the Graham’s 1890 Lodge and Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar in Vila Nova de Gaia at the beginning of the year put Port and of the Douro in the limelight once again, adding to the world class wine and gastronomic experiences on offer in Porto. This was followed by the declaration of the fine 2011 Vintage Ports, which it seems likely will evolve to be monumental wines.

The Symington family is also building a state of the art visitors centre in the Douro town of Pinhão, next to the family’s Quinta do Bomfim. Easily accessible by train and road, this will give visitors the opportunity to visit the beautiful Douro Valley, to taste wines in the family’s vineyards and to understand firsthand what Port is all about. This, along with the family’s other Douro projects, exemplifies unrivalled commitment to the Douro region, its people and its economy.

Paul was described as passionate about the Douro, about Port and about Portugal; both the Portuguese and the British claim him as their own. This is true not just of Paul but of the whole Symington family: a family that has lived and breathed the Douro and Port for many generations.

Master of The Vintners’ Company Baptizes Cask at Graham’s

Michael Cox points to THE MASTER, the large cask he was about to baptize (with a glass of Port) in the Graham's 1890 Lodge on October 24th.
Michael Cox points to the evidence on “THE MASTER”  of the baptismal ceremony he has just carried out in the Graham’s 1890 Lodge, following in the footsteps of many of his predecessors.

Michael Cox, who recently completed his year as The Master of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, followed in the footsteps of previous Master Vintners by baptizing the MASTER’S CASK in the Graham’s 1890 Lodge on Thursday October 24th, whilst on a visit to Oporto and the Douro where he spent some time at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos. Like his uncle before him, Guy Gordon Clark O.B.E. (Master Vintner in 1989), Michael baptized the Master’s cask by throwing a glass of Graham’s Port against it (only after taking a sip beforehand). The ceremony at Graham’s dates back to 1928, when the visiting Master began this tradition at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge.

The Worshipful Company of Vintners is one of the oldest and most respected of the Great Twelve Livery Companies of the City of London, having received its first charter from Edward III in 1363. In 1928 it became the first of these venerable Guilds to make an overseas visit, namely to Portugal. The visit, which did much to rekindle the interest of the British in Port, also enhanced the prestige of the Vintners, demonstrating how it could further the interests of the United Kingdom Wine Trade. Michael began his term as Master Vintner in the year the Company celebrated 650 years since receiving its first Royal charter.

Michael prepares to hurl a glass of Port against the large cask — "The Master", thus 'baptizing it.
Michael prepares to launch a glass of Port against the large cask — “The Master”, thus ‘baptizing it.

Michael is one of the most well-liked and respected figures in the UK wine trade and comes from a long line of wine professionals; his great-great-great grandfather founded the successful wine importing business of Matthew Clark & Sons in 1810 (long time distributors of Graham’s Ports in the UK). His successful career led to his appointment as Wines of Chile Europe Director, a role in which he has excelled, having firmly established Chilean wines amongst the most popular and admired by the British wine consumer. In 2010 and in recognition for his services, President Piñera of Chile made Michael a Commander of the Order of Merit of Chile, the highest honour that can be bestowed to a non-Chilean.

Paul Symington (left), Graham's Joint Managing Director who hosted his friend, Michael Cox at the Graham's 1890 Lodge for the traditional baptismal ceremony.
Paul Symington (left), Graham’s Joint Managing Director who hosted his friend Michael Cox at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge for the baptismal ceremony, a tradition dating back to 1928 during the Vintners’ Company first overseas visit.

Conclusion of the 2013 vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos

HarvestPost_7(MalvedosPlaque)The 2013 vintage at Quinta dos Malvedos lasted for three weeks; we started picking at Graham’s neighbouring Quinta do Tua on Monday, September 23rd and at Malvedos itself the next day. Harvesting of all the grapes was concluded by Sunday, October 13th, the last grapes (Touriga Franca) arriving at the Malvedos winery also coming from Quinta do Tua. Over this three week period Henry and his team worked flat out with few pauses, often well into the night (or through the night…) to ensure that they turned the high quality grapes into the best possible Graham’s Port wines. You can’t put a fermentation ‘on hold’, while you go off for a good night’s sleep, and our team had to organize itself to work the usual round the clock shifts. Exhausting, but rewarding.

The Malvedos 2013 vintage winery team: Tiago, Luis, Armando, Alexandre (weating cap), Henry, Carlos, João, (BIG)  JUCA and Fernando.
The Malvedos 2013 vintage winery team: Tiago Fonseca, Luis, Armando Fonseca, Alexandre (wearing cap), Henry, Carlos Fonseca, João, (BIG) JUCA and Fernando.

Roughly speaking we can describe the vintage at Malvedos as follows: one week of rain sandwiched between two weeks of dry, sunny conditions. In other words, the vintage got off to a perfect start, with 5 days of glorious sunny weather (average temperature at Malvedos for September was 25º C), ideal for picking and for the ongoing maturation of the late-ripening varieties. Conditions then changed as rain made an appearance at Malvedos from the 27th, coming and going over a 6 day period (56mm in total). Fortunately, this precipitation was evenly spread in the form of showers interspersed with drier intervals meaning the grapes didn’t suddenly soak up too much water.

Charles and Henry discuss some of the freshly made Ports in the winery as Charles's wife, Marta, looks on.
Charles and Henry discuss the freshly made Ports in the winery as Charles’s wife, Marta, looks on approvingly.

Frequent monitoring of detailed weather forecasts by Graham’s head winemaker, Charles Symington, translated into picking schedules being switched around on an almost daily basis to circumvent any possible risks posed by the expected rain. Thus, Charles and Henry brought forward by a few days the picking of the Malvedos Touriga Nacional crop, a decision that proved spot on because over 90% of it was picked before the rain arrived. In a similar vein it was decided to leave the (still ripening) Touriga Franca grapes on the vines until the rain stopped and again this proved a good decision because they then benefitted from up to 10 days of dry, sunny weather, thus completing their maturations very satisfactorily. This cat and mouse tussle with the weather worked out in our favour and it all came down to the resourcefulness and resilience of our winemaking and viticulture crews. Flexibility was key throughout.

João, Luís, Henry and Carlos  make raise their glasses, celebrating the successful conclusion of one more vintage at Malvedos
João, Luís, Henry and Carlos raise their glasses, celebrating the successful conclusion of one more vintage.

It is of course premature to produce a full and balanced assessment of the wines made but it is safe to say that Charles and Henry believe that at Malvedos, despite the weather challenges referred to above, we came through pretty much unscathed and some very fine Ports have been made, largely through the very good showing of the Tourigas — the Nacional and the Franca, which — combined — make up 49% of the Malvedos vineyard.

Paul Symington (centre, with his boxer, Mungo) surrounded by the full Malvedos vintage 2013 team.
Paul Symington (centre, with his boxer, Mungo) surrounded by the full Malvedos vintage 2013 team.

Just after the last grapes were received at the winery on Sunday, October 13th, Paul Symington, Graham’s Joint Managing director, observed tradition and hosted the entire team involved with the vintage at the grass terrace of the house, where food and drinks were enjoyed by all in a relaxed, celebratory mood. Paul thanked everybody for their usual commitment and enthusiasm and reminded everyone that “we’ll do it all over again next year!”

Traditional Portuguese tiles (azulejos) decorate the interior of the Malvedos winery. This represents a barco rabelo loaded with pipes of Port from Malvedos.
Traditional Portuguese tiles (azulejos) decorate the interior of the Malvedos winery. This represents a barco rabelo loaded with pipes of Port from Malvedos (inspired from a photo dating from 1905 in the Graham’s archives).

Also in keeping with tradition, Henry and his crew enjoyed their usual end of vintage dinner at the Calça Curta restaurant in the nearby hamlet of Tua. To recharge their batteries, the menu included the usual house specialities: arroz de polvo (octopus rice) and large steaks, both enjoyed with some very good wines.

The Quinta dos Malvedos house, viewed from the vineyards, high up behind the building.
The Quinta dos Malvedos house, viewed from the vineyards, high up behind the building.

The 2013 Vintage Starts at Quinta dos Malvedos

The team in charge of the Malvedos winery; Henry Shotton, Alexandre Mariz and Charles Symington
The team in charge of the Malvedos winery; Henry Shotton, Alexandre Mariz and Charles Symington

Just a little before 7am this morning, under clear skies, Sr Arlindo and his 27 strong team of pickers began to harvest the first grapes for Graham’s at Quinta do Tua; like Malvedos a Graham’s vineyard, just a stone’s throw away from the latter. The sun hadn’t yet risen over the crest of the hills (remember we are in the world’s largest mountain vineyard) and the temperature was a pleasant 16ºC, very welcome to the pickers who later in the day had to face temperatures a little over 30ºC. We started by picking the very old mixed vines (60 years+) on the imposing stone walled terraces (hand built by legions of workers during the 19th century). Yields are very low but the quality of the grapes is superb and not surprisingly the energetic roga (team of pickers) completed the picking of this old vineyard in just under two and a half hours. Then it was time for a well deserved short pause to enjoy the almoço, a nourishing second breakfast to recharge batteries and return to the picking; next in the order of the day was the Tinta Amarela parcel, planted at Tua in 2008.

Our guests from our newly appointed distributor in Belgium: "The Nectar", enjoy a well deserved glass of chilled Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny on the charming grass terrace at Malvedos
Guests from our newly appointed distributor in Belgium: “The Nectar”, enjoy a well deserved glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny on the charming grass terrace at Malvedos.

Some visitors from our recently appointed distributor in Belgium (“The Nectar”), who had spent the night at Malvedos, were keen to witness the first grapes being harvested in the beautiful Tua vineyard. After braving the steep climb up to the parcel where the pickers were at work, they were rewarded with commanding views over the remarkable stone terraces and the Douro River. Worn out by their trekking up and down the Tua terraces they were rewarded on their return to Malvedos by a delicious glass of chilled Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port.

The very first grapes of the 2013 harvest arrive at the Malvedos winery.
The very first grapes of the 2013 harvest arrive at the Malvedos winery.
The grapes are hand-sorted on a conveyor.
The grapes are hand-sorted on a conveyor.

The freshly picked grapes arrived at the Malvedos winery at around 9:30 am and Henry Shotton, resident winemaker (his 14th vintage at Malvedos), and his team selected the grapes by hand on a sorting conveyor, prior to feeding them through the crusher and conveying them into one of the three lagares housed in the small, original 19th century winery building. A sample of freshly pressed juice was collected by Fonseca, known to all as ‘the Fonz’ to obtain the baumé reading (sugar level), which showed a most satisfactory 14.35. The Tinta Amarela, which followed was a fraction above at 14.4.

Shortly after, Paul Symington arrived and showed a visiting International Herald & Tribune journalist, Patrick Blum, around the winery, explaining the workings of the lagares where the grapes are trodden and which since their installation in time for the 2000 harvest have turned out such remarkable Graham’s Vintage Ports as the 2000, 2003, 2007 and the much acclaimed 2011 (as well as other Graham’s premium Ports, amongst which the Malvedos Vintages, Six Grapes Reserve and the Late Bottled Vintage Ports).

Charles indicates the picking order for the next few days as Alexandre and Henry look on.
Charles indicates the picking order for the next few days as Alexandre and Henry look on.
The pickers enjoy a supplemental breakfast to recharge batteries for the rest of the day's picking.
The pickers enjoy a supplemental breakfast to recharge batteries for the rest of the day’s picking.

As outside temperatures rose, so did the tempo of activity with the arrival of Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker who was making the first of his regular visits to discuss the morning’s progress and to drive around the property with Henry to carry out a sequence of on-site grape sampling checks so as to confirm the pre-established picking order of each grape variety from the many parcels which make up the Malvedos vineyard. In the event, Charles decided to make a few switches, principally because the constantly changing weather forecast is indicating some possible rainfall on Thursday and Friday, which could place under some risk our finest grapes, namely the Touriga Nacional (22% of the Malvedos vineyard). Accordingly, these valuable grapes, which show all the signs of producing some very good wines, will be harvested over the next three days (24th — 26th), almost to the exclusion of all others. Normally, the Tinta Barroca would be picked first but Charles is keen to safeguard the promising Touriga Nacional crop. On Thursday, the ‘Port Arthur’ and Vinhas das Cardenhas vineyards (from which the Graham’s 2011 The Stone Terraces Vintage Port was made) will also be harvested, as they contain a high proportion of Touriga Nacional grapes.

Sr Arlindo, the Malvedos farm manager ('caseiro') organizes his pickers on the old stone terraces at Quinta do Tua.
Sr Arlindo, the Malvedos farm manager (‘caseiro’) organizes his pickers on the old stone terraces at Quinta do Tua.

In the next few weeks, Charles will criss-cross the Douro Valley several times, making regular visits to the five Graham’s Quintas (Malvedos, Tua, Vila Velha, Vale de Malhadas and Lages) as well as to the other vineyards owned by his family and which supply Graham’s sister companies. Charles will literally cover thousands of miles in the coming weeks as he leads his team of dedicated winemakers and coordinates the vintage which this year involves a team of nearly 1000 people. No mean feat…

Picking the first Tinta Amarela grapes of the Graham's Port harvest at Quinta do Tua.
Picking the first Tinta Amarela grapes of the Graham’s Port harvest at Quinta do Tua.
7:30 am high up on the old stone terraces at Tua, picking grapes from vines that are over 60 years old.
7:30 am high up on the old stone terraces at Tua, picking grapes from vines that are over 60 years old.
Fonseca, one of Henry's trusted winery hands collects a sample of juice from the first lagar being filled this morning.
Fonseca, one of Henry’s trusted winery hands collects a sample of juice from the first lagar being filled this morning.
Tiago and Carlos unload the trays of grapes as Juca prepares to tip them onto the sorting table, or conveyor.
Tiago and Carlos unload the shallow grape containers as Juca prepares to tip them onto the sorting table/conveyor.

Graham’s Provides New Ambulance for Douro Fire Service

The Symington family, owners of Graham’s, have the largest vineyard holding in the Douro Valley with a total of 965 hectares (2,385 acres) under vine; the five Graham’s quintas alone comprising 257 hectares (635 acres). These vineyards enable the family to meet most of their requirements (100% for Vintage and other premium Ports), although further grapes are bought in from a large number of small independent growers throughout the region. In this way, Graham’s and the Symington family are major contributors to the economic fabric of the Douro, which is heavily reliant on wine production for its livelihood.

The family’s social responsibility extends beyond this and over the years it has made donations to local fire brigades in the form of new ambulances to help provide adequate medical coverage for local populations. On Saturday, 31st August, on behalf of all Symington family members and their employees, Paul Symington handed over to the Régua Fire Brigade Chief a new ambulance to serve the local community. This is the 6th ambulance donated in as many years by the family to several Douro fire services.

Paul Symington (centre) hands the new ambulance over the the Regua Fire Chief (on his right).
Paul Symington (centre) hands the new ambulance over to the Régua Fire Chief (on his right).

 It is particularly apt that this ceremony took place at this time, as Portugal has suffered one of its worst ever summers of forest fires; large parts of the country have been covered in smoke with as many as 250 fires recorded simultaneously on one occasion. Special fire-fighting planes were flown in from Spain and France and even from as far afield as Croatia to assist in fighting the flames. Sadly though, 5 volunteer firemen, including two young women in their early twenties have lost their lives and over 40,000 hectares of woodland have burnt in the month of August alone (more than in the whole of 2008 which was the worst year in recent history for forest fires). In fact as the ambulance was being handed over, many of the Régua firefighters were out tackling yet another fire.

Paul and Dominic Symington accompanied by several Graham's employees who witnessed the handing over of the new ambulance.
Paul and Dominic Symington accompanied by several Graham’s employees who witnessed the handing over of the new ambulance to the Régua Fire Brigade.

In years to come, it is the Symington family’s intention to continue providing ongoing support to the Douro Fire Services, which contribute so many essential services in the Douro. Living and working in the region ourselves helps us to better understand the needs of the community.

Wine Critics Praise the 2011 Vintage Ports

Grahams_2011_LabelThe recently announced 2011 Vintage Port declaration has met with considerable interest in Portugal and overseas. At Graham’s, we are very proud of our wines and it is very encouraging to register the excitement the 2011 Vintage is generating. This week, Jancis Robinson MW , one of the world’s leading wine critics wrote, “…anyone with an interest in superbly made top-quality red wine worth ageing for decades should arguably turn their backs on Bordeaux 2012 and look instead at Port 2011…There is little doubt that 2011 produced some stunning vintage ports, into which more effort and skill has gone than any other previous vintage in the Douro. And I find it impossible to think of any other wine region, anywhere in the world, that produced better wines.” In her assessment of 31 different Vintage Ports, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port and Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port were among the highest ranked, deserving exceptionally high marks: 18.5/20 and 19/20, respectively.

In similar vein, Manuel Carvalho, writing in Portugal’s respected ‘Público’ newspaper on April 27th, described Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 as a “masterpiece”, going on to write: “For its exuberant aromas of fruit, mint and Douro shrubs, for its suggestions of black tea, for its intriguing spice notes, such is its complexity and richness. For its volume on the palate, the power of its tannins, which announce decades of longevity whilst at the same time combining with the acidity and fruit to render it immediately approachable.” His wine critic colleague — Pedro Garcias — was so impressed with the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port that he summed up as follows, “One simple adjective suffices to describe this Port: superb”. Furthermore he predicted that the 2011 Vintage has what it takes to aspire to a legendary status in the history of Port.

The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham's Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.
The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham’s Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.

2011 Vintage Port tasting, Graham’s Lodge, April 30th: The first showing of the 2011 Vintage Ports produced by the Symington family was on April 18th (scroll down to see previous post) in which Portuguese journalists were hosted by Paul and Charles Symington. The family decided to organize a second tasting, earlier this week in response to the enormous interest shown in Portugal following the declaration, barely two weeks ago. We will spare our followers repetition, but it is worth reproducing here some interesting, complementary aspects — recounted by Paul and Charles in both tastings — that weren’t touched on in the previous post.

Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
  • Paul Symington emphasized the importance that Vintage Port declarations play as personal and career-defining moments, just as they were for previous generations who are remembered very much for the Vintages that they made ‘on their watch’. Paul has been involved in 9 Vintage declarations and Charles in 5 declarations, thus far.
  • All the 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family were 100% from their own vineyards, a natural development given their sustained investment in vineyards since the late 1970s (vineyard acquisitions and vineyard replanting). With a total of 965 hectares (2,385 acres) of vineyards, dotted across the finest sub-regions of the Douro Valley and representing an incredible diversity of terroirs, the family has remarkable scope in selecting wines for their Vintage Ports.
  • For the first time in half a century (specifically since the 1963 vintage in the Douro) the Vintage Ports in 2011 were 100% vinified in lagares (shallow treading tanks) and this shows through in the superb quality displayed by all the 2011 wines.
  • A point not often explained but one that has a great bearing on the family’s capacity to consistently produce outstanding Vintage Ports is the tremendous benefit of owning and operating several small micro-wineries (referred to by some as ‘boutique’ wineries) with independent winemaking teams (coordinated by Charles Symington) whose sole objective is the production of the best possible Port. There is no loss of focus in the pursuit of this goal because they are not distracted by the requirement to make styles of Port other than those with the potential to be graded as Vintage Port.
  • Leading on from the above, Charles was also keen to stress the significance of the substantial investment made over the last 10 to 15 years in numerous small storage tanks at these specialist wineries. This allows each fermentation to be kept separate until such time as the winemakers and tasters decide how to best use them. Paul reinforced that the possibility of keeping such ‘diamonds in the rough’ separately is a key contributor in the making of exceptional Ports.
  • During this second tasting session, Charles and Paul made a bit of a joke about the distinction made between old vines and the others — when describing the provenance of grapes that contribute to Vintage Port blends. The fact is that when we refer to old vines, we really should say very old mixed vines (50 years+) because ‘the others’ are 25 to 30 years old and thus, by any standard, are themselves old, mature vines (planted in single varietal parcels during the early 1980s).
The line-up of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family
The lineup of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family

Following this second tasting which involved 13 different wines (the 5 components of the Graham’s 2011 Vintage + 8 Vintage Ports; two Graham wines; two Vesuvio wines and one each from Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Quinta de Roriz), the 15 guest tasters were invited to lunch at the new Vinum restaurant at Graham’s where the highlight was a lovely Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port, celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant
Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant

Graham’s Declares the 2011 Vintage Port

Portugal was the first country in which the 2011 Vintages were shown. The UK, USA and others will follow in the coming weeks.
Portugal was the first country in which the recently declared 2011 Vintage Ports were shown. The UK, USA and others will follow in the coming weeks.

This has been an eventful week for Graham’s. On Monday, April 15th, Graham’s declared the 2011 Vintage Port. A few days later on Thursday the 18th, Charles and Paul Symington hosted a tasting of the family’s 2011 Vintage Ports at the recently renovated Graham’s 1890 Lodge. Their guests were Portuguese wine journalists and this event marked the first time that a declared Vintage Port was first shown in Portugal, before any other country. Some of the country’s leading wine critics came to this tasting, keen to gain their first impressions of the wines that have been generating considerable interest. Judging by the very positive comments it is clear that our guests agree with us that the 2011 is an outstanding Vintage.

Many of Portugal's most influential wine writers gathered at the Graham's Lodge to gain their first impressions of the 2011 Vintage Ports.
Many of Portugal’s most influential wine writers gathered at the Graham’s Lodge to gain their first impressions of the 2011 Vintage Ports.

The event started with an opportunity to taste the component wines that comprise the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port. This wine is a careful selection of the finest wines produced at Graham’s five Douro Quintas. This proved an interesting experience in helping the tasters to understand what makes a classic Graham’s Vintage Port. Charles started with the Quintas whose aromatic contributions are more evident: Lages, Vila Velha and Malvedos. Lages wines have long been favoured for their elegant complexity, showing fine violet aromas, characteristics no doubt influenced by the property’s (cooler) north and east-facing aspects in the Rio Torto. Similarly, Vila Velha, with a predominantly west-facing aspect, has a relatively cool maturation cycle, which allowed its late-ripening Touriga Franca grapes to excel and deliver superb aromas of rockrose and violets in 2011. Malvedos, the cornerstone of Graham’s Vintage Port since 1890, provides floral characteristics of eucalyptus and mint with soft violet overtones as well as rich flavours of cassis, mulberry and blackberries. Quinta do Tua and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas were the last two component wines tasted and they each showed the muscularity for which they are known, in the form of tremendous concentration and weighty tannins which add great structure and staying power to the final wine.

Paul and Charles Symington talk the guests through the wines
Paul shares some anecdotes with his guests
The line up of component wines which comprise the Graham's 2011 Vintage Port blend.
The line up of five component wines which comprise Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port

Leading on from the fascinating terroir tasting of the component wines, it was time to sample the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port, whose final blend is made up as follows: 35% Malvedos; 19% Vale Malhadas ; 18% Vila Velha; 16% Tua; 12% Lages. Both Charles and Paul explained the sequence of events that laid the foundations for this Vintage year: Abundant 2010/2011 winter rains, which replenished the water reserves deep in the Douro subsoil and compensated for an otherwise very dry year; a very dry June and July, followed by an ideal weather pattern immediately leading up to and during the vintage (opportune rain showers in late August/early September, followed by weeks of dry, sunny conditions); perfectly ripened grapes with copybook balance of baumés (sugar content), phenolics (pigments, tannins) and acidity (freshness and longevity).

The tasters put the wines through their paces
The tasters put the component wines from Graham’s five Quintas (vineyards) through their paces

A very interesting characteristic is apparent in the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port, as well as in the other Symington family’s 2011 Vintage Port houses, namely a marked schistous minerality which lends the 2011 wines a very distinctive profile. They have an exceptional depth of colour and concentration, superb aromatic elegance and well-structured schist-edged tannins. Paul described this schist character as akin to the smell of the parched, powdery Douro schist soil just after rain when it exudes a wonderful, fragrant wet-earth scent. Charles explained that this very attractive aromatic character also owes much to the exceptional performance of the Touriga Franca varietal in this vintage. He explained that as a late-ripening variety, the Touriga Franca thrived in the idyllic conditions leading up to and during the vintage (it was the last variety to be picked in October). In other words, the weeks of uninterrupted dry sunny conditions, which followed the well-timed rain of August 21st and 1st/2nd of September allowed the Touriga Franca to ripen evenly and completely, delivering its full quality potential. Charles is a great believer in the Touriga Franca and explained that this variety is often unjustly overshadowed by the Touriga Nacional. It can be a tricky varietal to grow in less favourable weather, but when conditions are right, it has a great deal to offer, particularly in aromatic finesse. Accordingly there was a higher inclusion of Touriga Franca — 31%, compared to 25% in the previous declared Vintage, the 2007.

IMG_1969Of the total production from Graham’s five Quintas (88,855 cases), and following months of exhaustive tastings, Charles and his cousins selected just 9% — or 8,000 cases — to release as Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port.

Graham's TST labelPaul and Charles then revealed that together with their cousins, they had decided to offer for the first time, alongside Graham’s classic Vintage Port, a very small bottling (250 cases, or 3,000 bottles) of Vintage Port drawn from two very special parcels of traditional stone-terraced vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos. Accordingly, they named the wine, Graham’s ‘The Stone Terraces’ Vintage Port. These two 18th century terraced vineyards have consistently produced extraordinary Ports. One of the two vineyard parcels was originally called Port Arthur and has eleven schist stone terraces, ten of which have only a single row of vines on each. The other vineyard is known as Vinha dos Cardenhos and between them, the two parcels amount to a tiny fraction (1.8 hectares) of the Malvedos vineyard (89 hectares). The latter has a predominantly South-facing aspect, whereas the Port Arthur and Vinha dos Cardenhos vineyards are East-facing and North-facing. These cooler aspects mean the grapes mature very gradually and evenly and being shielded from the powerful July and August Douro afternoon sun, their unique aromatic properties come more readily to the fore. This is a very individual and distinct Vintage Port of extraordinary intensity and quality.

The north-facing Vinha dos Cardenhos, behind the Quinta house at Malvedos
The north-facing Vinha dos Cardenhos vineyard parcel, behind the house of Graham’s historic Quinta dos Malvedos

Paul Symington’s tasting note for the 2011 Graham’s The Stone terraces Vintage Port: This wine is very individual; it has highly specific characteristics with a very intense tannic structure and a colour of purple-black intensity. The easterly and northerly aspect of these two small vineyards results in fresh scented aromas of violets and mint. There is a complex palate of weighty and spicy tannins combined with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. This is an extraordinary wine of great power and elegance; it is a new departure for Graham’s and the Symington family.

The Cardenhos and Port Arthur vineyards, shown here in a 1925 survey of Quinta dos Malvedos.
The Cardenhos and Port Arthur vineyards, shown here in a 1925 survey of Quinta dos Malvedos. The original survey chart is exhibited at Graham’s Museum in the 1890 Lodge

Following this tasting session, which included a further six 2011 Vintage Ports from Graham’s sister companies (Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, Quinta do Vesuvio and Quinta de Roriz), the tasters were invited to lunch at the recently opened Vinum restaurant, contained within the Graham’s Port lodge. The food was served with various Symington Douro wines, including the Chryseia 2004 Douro DOC (made jointly by the Symington family and Bruno Prats) and — to end the meal on a particularly high note — Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port (served from two magnum bottles). The Vintage Port was simply sublime, 50 years old and still so vital and complete. Curiously some commented that this Port too showed the ‘schistous’ aromatic notes that Paul had earlier associated with the 2011 wines. There were also wonderful aromas of tea-leaf and mint, bergamot and cinnamon and a seductive palate, complex and very, very refined. An absolute delight. We believe that in 2061, when the 2011s reach fifty, they too will offer up a similarly extraordinary experience.

What better way to end a fabulous meal than with two magnums of Graham's superb 1963...
What better way to end a fabulous meal than with two magnums of Graham’s superb 1963…
The tasting was followed by a delicious meal served at Graham's VINUM restaurant
The tasting was followed by a delicious meal served at Graham’s VINUM restaurant