Tag Archives: Port Harvest 2013

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.

Malvedos Harvest Update: ‘The Touriga Franca Week’

This week we checked on progress in Graham's other  vineyards. Here, pickers in action at Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.
This week we checked on progress in Graham’s other vineyards. Here, pickers in action at Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley, harvesting Touriga Franca from the Telheira block.

Henry Shotton gives his latest report from the Malvedos winery:

Henry shows Yusen Lin (Taiwan's leading wine writer/critic) freshly made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
Henry shows Yusen Lin (Taiwan’s leading wine writer/critic) freshly made Ports in the winery.

I’m tempted to call this last week the ‘Touriga Franca week’, so encouraged are we by the quality of the grapes as seen coming into the winery these last few days. The Touriga Franca is a late – ripening variety because it needs a great deal of sun and heat to fulfil its full maturation potential. This vintage began unusually late but that didn’t mean that we could start picking the Franca almost straight away — both because grape maturations generally were running late this year anyway (hence the delayed start to the vintage) but also because of the rainfall that visited when we were about a week into the vintage. That set back even a little further the completion of the full maturation cycle of the Touriga Franca.

Henry proudly shows us the  incredibly concentrated colour of the Touriga Franca lagar.
Henry proudly shows off the incredibly concentrated colour of this Touriga Franca lagar. The Baumé reading was a remarkable 14.5º and Henry was also impressed by the expressive floral aromas.
Freshly crushed Touriga Franca grapes about to be trodden in the lagar.
Freshly crushed Touriga Franca grapes picked at Malvedos about to be trodden in the lagar. The colour is remarkable and it put a big smile on Charles’s face.

Thankfully the rain did not persist and once clear blue skies and warm temperatures returned over a week ago, Charles wisely decided to hold off a few days before giving the order to start picking the Franca, allowing it time to benefit from several days of bright, warm sunny conditions. This has meant the TF (the most widely planted at Malvedos — 27% of the vineyard — and one of Port’s most important varieties) has had time to recoup it’s full potential which was showing such promise before the onset of the rain. The grapes are wonderfully ripe and concentrated, showing superb deep colour, soft skins (which eases extraction) and excellent sugar readings. The first TF grapes that we received from the Malvedos vineyard on Tuesday, October 8th were already giving us very good readings of 13.5º Baumé and as the week progressed, the values steadily increased to 14, and the latest lagar (filled yesterday, Thursday 10th) registered an impressive 14.5º Baumé. It is a pleasure to witness the deep colour of this lagar and sense its expressive, fresh and floral aromas.

Charles and Graham's head of viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa (left) decide on the picking order of the remaining Touriga Franca blocks at Malvedos.
Charles and Graham’s head of viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa (left) decide on the picking order of the remaining Touriga Franca blocks at Malvedos.

Charles commented today (Friday October 11th) at the winery that he is particularly impressed with the “exceptional colour of the Franca”  (not always achieved by this variety, as Charles stressed) and also by its low yields which have delivered superb concentration. He explained that when the vintage started, the TF was already well advanced in terms of the phenolics but more time was needed for the sugar levels to catch up in order to reach a full, balanced ripening. The fact we waited to start picking a few days after the rain stopped benefitted the Franca enormously by allowing it to complete it’s optimal maturation cycle, Charles explained. We will conclude picking the Franca on Monday, which effectively means we will have finished picking all the grapes at Malvedos. After that we still have a few days to conclude some fermentations in the lagares and to wind things down (post vintage cleaning, repairs and maintenance).

Charles, Henry and Pedro confer in the Malvedos winery, Friday, October 11th.
Charles, Henry and Pedro confer in the Malvedos winery, Friday, October 11th.
Meanwhile, outside the winery, Masai, Charles's faithful tawny-coloured Rhodesian Ridgeback, basks in the sunshine.
Meanwhile, outside the winery, Masai, Charles’s faithful tawny-coloured Rhodesian Ridgeback, basks in the sunshine.

Earlier in the week Charles and I also did the rounds of the two Graham’s Quintas that we haven’t had a chance to report on previously during this vintage; Vila Velha and Lages.

Lages: The caseiro (farm manager) of 24 years at Lages, Sr. António, was very upbeat about the quality of the grapes picked at the Quinta this vintage. He told us that notwithstanding the rain, the quality of the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca was very pleasing (22 and 21% of Lages, respectively). Our winemaking team confirmed the caseiro’s optimism reporting average graduations of 14º Baumé. That’s hard to beat. The Tinta Barroca topped the scales, occasionally showing 15º Baumé, but that is not at all unusual for this variety. On the day we called, a roga (team of grape pickers) of 14 people was picking the Telheira block, vertically planted (very unusual in our vineyards) with young Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca vines. Despite the young age of the vines, the grape bunches and the berries themselves had a good size and showed wonderful deep blue-violet coloured skins.

One of the oldest mixed blocks at Lages, planted in 1985, now a full mature vineyard, providing very good quality grapes.
One of the oldest mixed blocks at Lages, planted in 1985, now a mature vineyard, providing very good quality grapes.

The last grapes scheduled to be picked at Lages on Monday, October 14th will be from the organically farmed 4 hectare block, which was planted in 1989 with mixed varieties (consisting primarily of Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz). These grapes are earmarked for Graham’s Natura Reserve Port, one of the first Ports made with organically farmed grapes.

Organically farmed grapes: we have a 4 hectares at Lages, planted in 1989.
Organically farmed grapes: we have 4 hectares at Lages, planted in 1989.
The magnificent scenery of the Douro Valley; here the landsacpe at Quinta da Vila Velha.
The magnificent scenery of the Douro Valley; here the landsacpe at Quinta da Vila Velha.
The entrance gate to the Vila Velha, one of the Douro's most beautiful River Quintas.
The entrance gate to the Vila Velha, one of the Douro’s most beautiful River Quintas.

Vila Velha: the vintage at Vila Velha finished on Tuesday October 8th, the first Graham’s Quinta to conclude its grape picking. Vila Velha has the highest percentage of Touriga Franca planted of any Graham’s Quinta (31%) and, as seen at other Graham’s vineyards, some very good lagares have been made from these grapes, although we had to be a little more selective because here, the rain did create a few problems in some of the more sheltered blocks (less exposed to the sun), of which — fortunately — there are very few.

Malvedos Harvest: The Sun Returns to the Douro

The threat of rain has been constant during this last week. Charles and Henry Shotton have had to review daily the decision regarding the picking order of the various grape varieties. It has been like a game of musical chairs, trying not to get caught out by the weather and ensuring that our grapes are picked in the best possible condition.

Morning mist burns off the hills around Malvedos, early Friday morning, October 4th.
Morning mist dissipates around Malvedos, early Friday morning, October 4th.

Fortunately the weather changed on Thursday, October 3rd, the first day with no rain for a week. Friday started out a little overcast but this was mainly morning mist, which disappeared as the sun rose over the mountains. The afternoon temperature at Malvedos climbed to 24ºC, just what was needed to dry the grape bunches and to encourage the full maturation of our Touriga Franca, a late-ripening variety (27% of the Malvedos vineyard is Touriga Franca).

Today, Saturday October 5th is a lovely sunny day and the forecast for the next week could not be better — clear sunny skies with afternoon temperatures forecast to be above 20ºC. We could not ask for a better forecast.

Glorious blue skies have returned to Malvedos.
Glorious blue skies have returned to Malvedos.

Henry Shotton reports on the last few days at Malvedos:

Wednesday October 2nd 

A lagar with fermenting must from one of the Síbio blocks; the colour is impressive, hence Fonseca's broad smile.
A lagar with fermenting must from one of the Síbio blocks; the colour is impressive, hence Fonseca’s broad smile.

07h30:  The sky has some blue patches and the weather is definitely improving although the temperature is cooler. Some rain came down between 4 and 6.30 this morning. However from tomorrow, the forecast says that the clouds will clear up completely.We finished picking the Síbio blocks today and despite the showers we are pleased to register pretty good graduations, higher than expected given the wet conditions. Tomorrow we will pick the Tinto Cão and some Tinta Roriz which will fill a single lagar and will be fermented together. Tonight we will tread the last Síbio lagar picked today. 

Thursday October 3rd 

Through the day the patches of cloud finally cleared up and even more importantly, we had a constant wind blowing strongly up the valley. This was welcome as it helped to dry the grape bunches. With the sunny conditions, this dry wind brought forward the possibility of concluding the harvesting of the remainder of our Touriga Nacional grapes. Before we do that however, we will today be picking Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz, which we will also ferment in one lagar.

Charles and Henry are encouraged (not to say relieved) that the Touriga Nacional grape sat Malvedos have weathered the rain very well indeed; the bunches are ripe and healthy.
Charles and Henry are encouraged (not to say relieved) that the Touriga Nacional grapes at Malvedos have weathered the rain very well indeed; the bunches are ripe and healthy.

After lunch, Charles and I did the rounds of both Malvedos and Tua to set the picking order for the next few days. Despite the rain we are very encouraged to note that there are no signs of rot, the grapes have withstood the rain remarkably well. One of the advantages of our mountain vineyards is that when it rains, a fair proportion of the water runs down the steep hillsides before it has time to infiltrate the soil.

Tonight we will be treading a mixed lagar of Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz. Tomorrow we will pick the remaining Roriz which we will ferment with Tinta Barroca, making a wine that will be very interesting in due course.

While we have been very busy making wine, we have also had several visitors: from Russia, Taiwan and Germany. All in a day’s work… 

Friday October 4th

Sancha Trindade, helps Juca (or is the other way around) unload a trailer-load of grapes at the winery.
Sancha Trindade, helps Juca (or is the other way around?!) unload a trailer-load of grapes at the winery.
Sancha helps sorting Tinta Roriz grapes.
Sancha helps sorting Tinta Roriz grapes.

Today a couple of my colleagues came by for lunch, bringing with them a guest who will spend the weekend at the Quinta. Her name is Sancha Trindade, a leading Portuguese blogger and freelance journalist. Sancha spent most of the afternoon at the winery and helped the winery team unload the grapes coming in from the vineyard and she took turns on the sorting table, learning how to identify any less acceptable bunches and berries of Tinta Roriz.

Saturday October 5th

We made a very early start with Sr. Arlindo, our caseiro, driving up to the Touriga Nacional blocks on the higher part of the Quinta. We resumed picking the TN this morning because of the much better conditions. The Touriga Nacional is looking beautifully ripe and healthy.

Sancha gets stuck in eraly Saturday morning, helping to harvest the Touriga Nacional at Malvedos.
Sancha gets stuck in early Saturday morning, helping to harvest the Touriga Nacional at Malvedos.
Sancha (left) with Henry to her left, enjoys a well earned lunch after a busy morning, picking grapes. On the right is Joe Álvares Ribeiro (one of Graham's directors, with other guests.
Sancha (left) with Henry to her left, enjoys a well earned lunch after a busy morning, picking grapes. On the right (centre) is Joe Álvares Ribeiro, one of Graham’s directors, with other guests.
The lovely grass terrace at Quinta dos Malvedos
The lovely grass terrace at Quinta dos Malvedos.
The lovely, intense colours of 'Morning Glory' at Quinta dos Malvedos.
The lovely, intense colours of ‘Morning Glory’ at Quinta dos Malvedos.

Quinta dos Malvedos Harvest Update – October 1st

A group of guests from our German distributor, 'Smart Wines', visited Malvedos on Tuesday afternoon. Here, in front of the winery, built in 1890.
A group of guests from our German distributor, ‘Smart Wines’, visited Malvedos on Tuesday afternoon, photographed in front of the winery, built in 1890. On the left our market manager for Germany, Gonçalo Brito and on the far right, Henry Shotton, Malvedos winemaker (and to his right: Dominic Symington).

Since the last report, posted late Friday evening, the common denominator of the last three days has been overcast skies and rain; 25.7mm at Malvedos from Friday through to Monday — that’s more precipitation in 4 days than was recorded for the months of June, July and August combined.

Henry Shotton’s day-by-day account:

Saturday, September 28th

Most of the rainfall referred to above began to come down during dinner time on Friday the 27th and continued into the night of the 28th.  The morning started with some scattered showers interspersed with bright patches up until lunchtime. Similar pattern during the afternoon — a few showers with bright sunny intervals. A plentiful 20.7 mm of rain came down between 9am Friday and 9am Saturday.

The weather has played a few tricks with us over the last few days; alternately overcast, rainy, bright spells, rain showers on and off. Here the road descending towards the Douro River near Malvedos and Tua.
The weather has played a few tricks on us over the last few days, alternating between overcast skies and bright spells, with quite a few rain showers on and off. This landscape illustrates those conditions (route descending towards Malvedos and Tua).

Today the pickers have gone back to Quinta do Tua to pick the Sousão. Should the yields prove too low to fill a lagar then it will be topped up with Touriga Nacional, also from Tua. Fewer pickers showed up today – 20 people in total as opposed to the normal 24-25, most likely put off by the abundant rain during the night. Tomorrow, Sunday, there are local government elections and we fear that some of the pickers won’t turn up and that we will therefore pick less and not be able to fill a lagar.

Sunday, September 29th

Walked towards the winery at 07:30 under cover of dark grey clouds, which in the event discharged a paltry 1.8mm during the whole day.

Predictably, only 11 people showed up this morning for picking because many of the team understandably decided to exercise their right to vote in the local government elections. The bottom line is we’ll pick less grapes today. Tomorrow the roga will move to Quinta do Síbio, the adjoining property, which was acquired last year and incorporated into Malvedos. Síbio is planted with ‘MC’ — Mistura de Castas (mixed varieties) — all planted in 1990, hence now a mature vineyard with 23 years. By the looks of things yields will be low.

The first tractor load of grapes arrive at the winery from Quinta do Síbio.
Juca and Carlos unload the first grapes arriving at the winery from Quinta do Síbio.

The lagar from Tua trodden last night (55% Touriga Nacional & 45% Sousão) gave an excellent 13.55º Baumé and displayed a deep purple colour. Today we are plunging the cap (immersing the skins of the grapes back into the must) of the now fermenting lagar of Sousão and Touriga Nacional grapes. This co-fermented lagar is showing a superb deep colour. 

Monday, September 30th

Malvedos, from the grape reception area, looking east towards Tua (background left).
Malvedos, from the grape reception area, looking east towards Tua (background left).

A distinctly warmer feel this morning, although still overcast. At least there was no need to wear a sweater. Today, Sr. Arlindo and his roga will be harvesting grapes exclusively from the Síbio blocks (mixed varieties). This evening we started treading the first lagar from Síbio, and despite the rain, the graduations were excellent at 14.25º Baumé.

Tuesday, October 1st

Another start to the day with low-lying, rain-laden clouds, which released showers on and off during the morning and afternoon. However, we have received very good news from Charles Symington who has been closely monitoring the weather and the forecast for the next few days is for an end to the rain and the return of clear blue skies. Fingers crossed! The roga is continuing to pick the Síbio grapes all day today.

The Spirit of Chartwell cruises along the Douro, just below Malvedos, Tuesday, October 1st.
The Spirit of Chartwell cruises along the Douro, just below Malvedos, Tuesday, October 1st.

Our daily routine was briefly interrupted at about noon as the ‘Spirit of Chartwell’ quietly cruised by downriver, probably on its way to Porto. Readers will remember that this was the royal barge that carried the Queen and other members of the Royal Family during the Royal Pageant on the Thames, one of the high points of last year’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. Spirit of Chartwell was acquired by a Portuguese river cruise operator and and it has now become a familiar sight, plying the waters of the Douro.

The Spirit of Chartwell, previously of the Thames, now a familiar sight along the Douro River.
The Spirit of Chartwell, previously of the Thames, now a familiar sight along the Douro River.

Dominic Symington and Gonçalo Brito (who helps Dominic in the German market, among others) arrived by boat with a party of 7 guests from our German distributor for Graham’s: “Smart Wine”, which is based in Cologne. Following lunch at the house, the group visited the winery.

Tonight we will start treading our second lagar made up entirely of mixed grapes harvested from Síbio.

A visual representation of the Douro weather of the last few days; damp and wet.
A visual representation of the Douro weather of the last few days: damp and wet.

Vintage Update: Malvedos and Vale de Malhadas

The 'Port Arthur' vineyard (centre foreground) at Malvedos: Thursday morning, September 26th.
The ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard (centre foreground) at Malvedos: Thursday morning, September 26th.

The latest report from our Malvedos winemaker Henry Shotton:

Thursday 26th September

Weather

Night of Wednesday the 25th overcast but cool. Fortunately, the forecasted rain has not made an appearance.

On opening the winery on Thursday at 07:20 it felt refreshingly cool with a blue sky and some wisps of high white cloud. The promise of a warm day hung in the air.

Vineyard

The Malvedos grape pickers prepare to harvest the Port Arthur vineyard, one of Graham's The Stone Terraces two components.
The Malvedos grape pickers prepare to harvest the Port Arthur vineyard, one of Graham’s “The Stone Terraces” 2011 Vintage Port components (the other being from the Cardenhos vineyard).

Early today we picked perhaps some of our best looking Touriga Nacional; blocks 37 (the Cardenhos vineyard, just behind the house, facing North), and blocks 43 and 125 (the West-facing ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard). These vines are on the oldest (stone) terraces at the Quinta with just one row of vines on each terrace. They surround the house and it was from here that two years ago, almost to the day, we selected the grapes responsible for making the 2011 Graham’s ‘The ‘Stone Terraces’ Vintage Port, which has been very well received by customers and critics alike.

The Malvedos West-facing old stone terraces being harvested early Thursday morning.
The Malvedos East-facing old stone terraces (‘Port Arthur’) being harvested early on Thursday morning.

Winery

Our first lagar with the Tua Vinha Velha (from the first grapes picked during this harvest for Graham’s – on Monday the 23rd) was fortified yesterday during the afternoon.

Our cooling system broke down last night and we had to call Sr. David, our reliable handy man. Things often break down at the beginning of the vintage as all the machinery and equipment has not been in action since the last harvest. Luckily, as the weather has cooled no harm was done.

The first Touriga Nacional lagar (which we filled on Tuesday) was showing a deep almost purple colour with fresh, vibrant fermentation aromas and it was fortified at 3am this morning by the night shift — it comes with the territory, as they say…

'Weighing up' the visiting Portfolio team, which clocked in at 1,283 Kg - real heavyweights...
‘Weighing up’ the visiting Portfolio team, which clocked in at 1,283 Kg – real heavyweights…

“The Heavyweights” visit: Just before lunch, the team from Portfolio Vinhos, the Symington family’s own distribution company in Portugal, visited the Quinta and Henry showed them around the winery. He thought it would be fun to weigh them on the scale normally used for weighing incoming grapes. Their total weight was 1,283 Kg, the equivalent of a tractor load of grapes — a heavyweight team, without a doubt…

Friday 27th September

Rain clouds drift menacingly towards Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, early Friday morning.
Rain clouds drift menacingly towards Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, early Friday morning.

Yesterday during the evening, some ominously grey clouds began to appear, drifting in from the west, proof of the weather fronts, which have been gathering over the Atlantic Ocean for several days. Early this morning, some of us hopped across to Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, the Graham’s vineyard located furthest East in the Douro (Douro Superior sub-region), about 20km upriver from Malvedos as the crow flies. The caseiro, Sr. José Maria was marshalling his roga (team of pickers) as they harvested a 6 hectares (14.8 acres) block of Tinta Roriz grapes and another of mixed vines, both between 35 and 40 years old. We barely had time to exchange greetings when the heavily laden clouds presented us with a steady downpour, which sent everybody scattering for cover.

Picking an old mixed block (with primarily Tinta Roriz grapes) at Vale de Malhadas, just before the heavens opened...
Picking an old mixed block (with primarily Tinta Roriz grapes) at Vale de Malhadas, just before the heavens opened…

However, the shower  — although reasonably abundant — didn’t last for more than about 20 minutes, so there was no cause for alarm. In fact we’re very pleased with the appearance of the grapes, which looked well ripened and in very good condition. Some berries were promptly tasted and their lovely sweet and concentrated taste confirmed our positive impressions. Our viticulturist for Vale de Malhadas, Mário Natário, later confirmed that just 2mm of rain had fallen and that this had barely affected the grapes. For the next 3 to 4 days, Sr José Maria and his roga will continue to harvest primarily Tinta Roriz.

The Vale de Malhadas old winery, not currently in use (the grapes are vinfified at other Graham's quintas).
The Vale de Malhadas old winery, not currently in use (the grapes are vinfified at other Graham’s quintas).

As noted above, at Malvedos there was no rain last night, but when we arrived at the winery just before 8 this morning, the first drops began to fall and this was followed by a steady downpour which lasted perhaps half an hour. Intermittent showers followed and the afternoon, although quite overcast, was mainly dry. This is nothing compared to the rain that came down in buckets along the coast at Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The front progressed eastwards, but fortunately for us deposited most of its rain over the Marão – Montemuro mountains that shield the Douro Region from the brunt of the weather fronts that roll in from the Atlantic and effectively act as a weather barrier.

This is what the weather front looked like on Friday; fortunatelky most of its rain was deposited on the Marão Mountains (left, shrouded under thick cloud).
This is what the weather front looked like on Friday; fortunatelky most of its rain was deposited on the Marão Mountains (left, shrouded under thick cloud). The Marão range is the natural western border of the Douro region.

During the morning we were visited by Susan Smillie of the UK Guardian Newspaper. The previous day, Susan had visited the Graham’s 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia and enjoyed a “delicious” lunch (in her own words) in the VINUM restaurant there. As a Scot, Susan felt quite at home in the surroundings of the 1890 Lodge and at Quinta dos Malvedos, both of which of course reflect the entrepreneurial spirit and passion for winemaking of two Scottish familes: the Graham’s and the Symingtons.

Susan Smillie of the Guardian Newspaper visited Malvedos. Her interest in Port was reinforced by the time spent in Porto (1890 LOdge and VINUM restaurant) and in the Douro Valley.
Susan Smillie of the Guardian Newspaper visited Malvedos. Her interest in Port was reinforced by the time spent in Porto (1890 Lodge and VINUM restaurant) and in the Douro Valley. Here Henry explains the workings of the lagares: grape treading tanks.
A 35 year old vine (mixed block) at Vale de Malhadas, just before its grape bunches were picked.
A 35 year old vine (mixed block) at Vale de Malhadas, just before its grape bunches were picked.

Henry showed Susan around the Malvedos winery and she was fascinated by the lagares which she was able to compare with the stone lagares that she had seen the night before at Graham’s sister vineyard of Quinta do Vesúvio.

Due to this morning’s rain, Charles consulted with Henry and decided to make a slight alteration to the picking order and this may change again tomorrow, depending on how the weather works out. Flexibility is key. Although some further rainfall is forecast for the next few days it’s unlikely to be abundant and for the time being it’s therefore very much business as usual.

The small North-facing Cardenhos vineyard (located just behind the house at Malvedos), about to be harvested, early Thursday morning.
The small North-facing Cardenhos vineyard (located just behind the house at Malvedos), about to be harvested, early Thursday morning.

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.

The 2013 Harvest will Begin for Graham’s on Monday, September 23rd

Quinta dos Malvedos (left foreground and centre) and Quinta do Tua (left background) photographed hours after the timely rain that fell on September 5th.
Quinta dos Malvedos (left foreground and centre) and Quinta do Tua (left background) photographed hours after the timely rain that fell on September 5th.

The vintage (grape harvest) at the Graham’s Upper Douro Valley vineyards will commence early Monday morning, September 23rd. The harvest is quite late this year; normally we begin picking grapes at Malvedos and neighbouring Tua around mid-September. Last year we commenced harvesting at Tua on September 12th and just a few days later at Malvedos, so this year we are about 10 days behind schedule. Following three months of drought (not a single drop of rain fell during the whole of August), a heaven-sent 14mm of rain came down over Malvedos during the night of September 5th. Some initial reports had indicated 10mm, but we have since received confirmation that it was in fact 14mm of precipitation.

The rain fell gradually over several hours — just right for it to seep gradually into the parched soil. No further rainfall has been recorded during September and whilst our viticulture and winemaking team would have hoped for just a little more rain there is no doubt that the rain of early September was providential and has made a very positive  (perhaps decisive, even) contribution to the quality of the grapes.

Charles Symington — Graham’s head winemaker —  decided to put back the vintage starting date, partly because maturation was running a little late anyway (owing to an unseasonably cool spring) but also to allow the rain of early September to work its full benefit into the thirsty grapes. Charles has determined with resident winemaker, Henry Shotton, the initial picking order and Sr. Arlindo, the Malvedos caseiro (farm manager) knows he will take his roga (grape pickers) to Tua at the crack of dawn on Monday, where they will start harvesting the very old mixed vines on the west-facing 19th century sturdy stone terraces. They will be followed by the old mixed vines in the Síbio parcels, inside the Malvedos property. Charles tells us that the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca grapes are looking particularly fine at this stage. The Touriga Franca is a late-ripening variety and is thus thriving in the current ongoing dry, sunny conditions.

The old stone terraced vineyard (background left) at Tua will be the first Graham's grapes picked at this harvest.
The old stone terraced vineyard (background left) at Tua will provide the first grapes from a Graham’s Quinta at this harvest.

Charles is very upbeat about prospects for this year and told us,  The crop size looks to be average in size and the grapes are in excellent condition, with little or no raisining. Maturations are unusually homogenous within the same block, sugar readings and colour also being very balanced in development, i.e. when sugar levels reach the desired level colour should also be at ideal levels. This is very good news and is not the more usual pattern at this stage of high baumés with little colour. We currently also have very good acidity levels.” He added that it’s always a risky business delaying the vintage as far as we have, as it makes us more vulnerable to the weather, but it’s a risk worth taking as the rewards may well prove bountiful.

As in previous years, Henry Shotton and other members of the team will be providing regular in situ reports from the Quinta dos Malvedos winery and vineyard as well as from the other Graham vineyards (Tua, Vale de Malhadas, Vila Velha and Lages), in order to keep you abreast of progress throughout the vintage. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for clear blue skies to harvest all of our crop under ideal conditions (although the odd sprinkling of rain would not be amiss).

Malvedos, viewed from Sibio whose old mixed vineyards will be picked straight after the old Tua vineyard.
Malvedos, viewed from Síbio whose old mixed vineyards will be picked straight after the old Tua vineyard.