Tag Archives: Quinta do Tua

ON THE HOME STRAIGHT BUT IT’S STILL TOUCH AND GO WITH THE WEATHER

We thought that we were almost home and dry (literally) but following a welcome spell of three days in a row with no rain and quite a lot of sunshine, the rain put in an appearance again yesterday (Saturday). Thursday and Friday started off with crisp, sunny conditions, the maximum temperature reaching a balmy 28ºC on Friday and although yesterday was still quite warm (26ºC) the rain returned, dashing our hopes of a final stretch of harvesting under completely dry conditions. We were counting on no more rain in order to give the late ripening Touriga Franca a chance to dry off and ripen completely. Alas it was not to be.

Picking the Touriga Franca from parcel 15 at Quinta dos Malvedos.
Picking the Touriga Franca from parcel 15 at Quinta dos Malvedos.

On Thursday, as planned we started bringing in the Touriga Franca (TF), initially from Quinta do Tua and then from Malvedos as well. The first lagar of TF from Tua gave 12.5º Baumé, evidently reflecting some dilution resulting from the wet as well as humid conditions of the last week or so. Subsequent loads began to show improved Baumés of around 13 and 13.5º. In the vineyards our pickers have been quite selective and this has meant we have been receiving good fruit in the winery. Objectively however, we have to accept that the rain that arrived about halfway through our vintage here at Malvedos did have some adverse effects on the Touriga Franca. But we count ourselves lucky because we have faired much better than many other Quintas, particularly downriver from us.

Picking the Touriga Franca above the house at Malvedos, while clouds laden with rain loom overhead.
Picking the Touriga Franca above the house at Malvedos, while clouds laden with rain loom overhead.

Charles pointed out that Malvedos has had by far the least amount of rain of any of the vineyards owned by the Symington family and he can categorically say that the wines made so far (in particular before the Franca was harvested) here at Malvedos have been exceptionally good. The weather really has been totally unpredictable and the fact that Malvedos has had comparatively less rain is indicative of just how localized some storms have been. And then there’s rain and there’s rain…Charles explained that whereas at Malvedos and further upriver into the Douro Superior the rain has come mainly in the form of sudden concentrated downpours which run off quite easily down the vineyard slopes, the persistent rain in the lower Douro that has fallen on and off has created a situation of continuous humidity with inevitable results. In Charles’s opinion, this difference in the way the rain has come down in certain areas will almost certainly prove decisive in the outcome of this vintage.

Quinta dos Malvedos looking towards the West.
Quinta dos Malvedos looking towards the West.

Johnny Symington, one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors came by Malvedos on Wednesday on his whistle-stop tour of some of the family’s Douro wineries. Johnny tasted the newly made wines at each Quinta visited. He started at Vesuvio and wound his way down the valley to Senhora da Ribeira, Canais, Malvedos, Bomfim and ended up at Sol. He was accompanied by Paula Pontes, who was reviewing the telecommunication systems at the various adegas (wineries), ensuring the systems were functioning well and seeing what improvements can be made for the future.

Johnny and Paula tasting a Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented wine.
Johnny and Paula tasting a Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented wine.

Johnny was especially impressed with the excellence of the wines from Malvedos and from the Douro superior Quintas. Of exceptional note, were the Touriga Nacional wines, some of them fermented together with Sousão grapes (including some of the lots vinified at Malvedos). They were very impressive. “It is certainly a great Touriga Nacional year from what I have seen”, said Johnny.

Paula and Johnny joined Charles Symington, Henry Shotton and the winery teams from Malvedos and Tua for lunch in the Tua canteen. They seemed equally impressed with the excellence of the lunch.  A healthy black bean stew with grilled pork, rice and plenty of vindima banter round the table. It was a welcome break during their whistle-stop tour. Johnny said it was magnificent to see the Bomfim lagar winery up and running and making some excellent wines. Again, it was two Touriga Nacional wines that won the day from this impressive new facility.

Finishing off at Sol, presented an opportunity to taste the Douro DOC wines the Symington family also produces. Pedro Correia tasted with Johnny three beautiful Vesuvio lots that show real potential. A quick visit to the Sol canteen (not to eat this time!) to see how the cooks, Filomena and Adelina, were coping with the 120 meals served at breakfast, lunch and dinner each day to the winery and administration teams. As usual, they were full of beans as were the extra-large cooking pots. The excellent aroma of the evening barbeque was proof enough that the old military adage “An army marches on its stomach” is equally applicable to the good functioning of a winery team.

 

PLAYING CAT AND MOUSE WITH THE WEATHER

Over the last couple of days it’s been a little like playing cat and mouse with the weather on account of the erratic atmospheric conditions which leave Charles, Henry and the rest of the team here at Malvedos constantly guessing as to how best to proceed. Each evening Charles and Henry consult the weather forecast and then pour over the picking schedules which have to be constantly updated with additional input from our viticulture team. This constant vigilance and preparedness to alter the picking sequence at short notice is very much part of the philosophy which ensures that we are able to circumvent most of the unpredictable situations the weather sends our way.

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Henry and Charles pour over the picking schedule to decide on the best course of action for the next 24 hours.

On Monday evening Charles did indeed determine a new picking schedule which meant switching from the Touriga Nacional, due to have been picked from early Tuesday morning, to the remainder of the old mixed vines from the Síbio sections of Malvedos. This will allow the Touriga Nacional to dry off thoroughly (we hope) and to be picked in ideal conditions two or three days from now. To help keep Henry and his team on their toes the winery reception area scales decided to malfunction (probably due to the rain) but luckily we can use the scales at nearby Tua; an inconvenience but little more than that.

Charles&HenryMalvedos2014Today, Wednesday the 17th started off overcast but the rain (another fifteen minute shower) only arrived in the afternoon at about 3pm. Charles popped by the winery in the morning to take a first look at some of the recently made Ports and then confirmed the picking order for the day: old mixed vineyards from Síbio and the first Tinta Roriz grapes from block 17. By the end of the day we will have concluded harvesting the old mixed vines and henceforward, besides the Tinta Roriz we will be starting on the Tinta Barroca.

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Charles assesses the wonderful colour of a recently fortified lagar of Touriga Nacional.

Dutch_MWLater in the afternoon Henry, who is an aspiring Master of Wine, was visited at the winery by a recently qualified Master of Wine, Cees van Casteren (see photo on the left) — just the second person from the Netherlands to achieve the world’s most prestigious wine title (bringing the total number of MWs in the world to 301, from 24 countries). Cees is a well known author writing on wine and food and is also a noted wine educator in his home country. Cees was fascinated with the recently vinified lagares of Sousão and Touriga Nacional (both from the neighbouring Tua vineyard).

During the first half of September, 15 mm of rain has fallen at Malvedos, less than half of the monthly mean for the Quinta (33.4 mm). Most of this precipitation has taken the form of brief ten to fifteen minute showers, usually followed by some welcome wind which helps to quickly dry the grape bunches on the vines. Thus far then nothing to worry too much about especially as the forecast for the next few days indicates mainly dry conditions with the odd light shower and pleasant mild conditions with temperatures in the 20ºC to 25ºC range which is what is needed to help keep the grapes dry and to conclude the final stretch of ripening (particularly important for the late ripening Touriga Franca).

The 2014 Malvedos Winery Team, from left to right: Pedro, Fernando, Luís, Nelson, Henry, António, Nuno and Tiago.
The 2014 Malvedos Winery Team, from left to right: Pedro, Fernando, Luís, Nelson, Henry, António, Nuno and Tiago.
Nelson can't help being impressed by the incredible colour of the Sousão that came in from Graham's sister vineyard of Quinta do Tua.
Nelson can’t help being impressed by the incredible colour of the Sousão that came in from Graham’s sister vineyard of Quinta do Tua to be vinified at the Malvedos winery.

 

THE STONE TERRACES VINES HARVESTED THIS MORNING AT QUINTA DOS MALVEDOS

Early this morning our team of grape pickers (the roga) set to work picking by hand two of the most prized vineyard parcels at Quinta dos Malvedos; parcel 43 known as ‘Port Arthur’ (predominantly east but also south facing) and the Vinha dos Cardenhos, directly behind the Quinta house, facing north. These varying aspects are one of the principal differentiating factors of these tiny parcels as the majority of the Malvedos vineyard is south facing. Between them these vineyards barely add up to two hectares (with just 2,708 vines). The other most noticeable feature of these two small vineyards is that they are made up of traditional stone terraces built by hand in the 18th century.

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First to be picked this morning; grapes from the Cardenhos vineyard just behind the Quinta house, visible top left

Charles and Henry decided yesterday during one of their daily evening meetings at the Malvedos Winery to bring forward by a few days the picking of these two vineyards. The grapes, which are primarily Touriga Nacional but also other mixed varieties were already showing excellent ripeness and given the unpredictable weather, Charles didn’t want to take unnecessary risks by delaying harvesting any further. His decision proved a timely one because just as the last grapes were received safely inside the winery at noon the heavens opened and a generous albeit brief shower came down over the Quinta. Soon after, the cloud cover swiftly broke up and the sunshine returned.

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Above two pictures, perfect Touriga Nacional grapes being picked in the stone terraced Cardenhos vineyard

The Port wines made from these terraces have always been prized at the Quinta for their unique characteristics; the Port Arthur vineyard gets the full impact of the morning sun (primarily facing east) and the high stone walls become very warm. During the afternoon the sun no longer shines directly on the vines, but the schist walls radiate heat back onto each single row of vines, even during the night, ensuring a beautifully balanced ripening of the grapes. In the Vinha dos Cardenhos, the powerful July and August Douro sun is attenuated by its northerly aspect. Consequently, the wines made from these two vineyards are markedly different to those made on the remaining 87 hectares of Malvedos vineyards that mostly face south.

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After the Cardenhos parcel was harvested the roga moved round the corner of the ridge on which the Quinta house is sited to start picking the stone terraced Port Arthur vineyard

In 2011, the Symington family resolved to pick both vineyards at the same time and ferment the grapes together in one lagar. From this wine an exceptional Vintage Port was made for the first time: Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port. This Port of which only 250 cases (3,000 bottles) were released received outstanding reviews all around the world. Charles, Henry and the rest of the team are hopeful that 2014 will again deliver exceptional quality wines and judging by the potential of the grapes coming into the winery thus far, their hopes could well be borne out.

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‘BIG’ Nelson eagerly inspects the first trailer load of Touriga Nacional grapes picked in the Port Arthur and Vinha dos Cardenhos vineyards

The grapes received at the winery from both the Cardenhos parcel and the Port Arthur parcel were in very fine condition; small, well ripened compact bunches. Grapes from the Cardenhos parcel gave a Baumé reading of 14.5º (comparable to the 14.8º of the grapes harvested in 2011) whilst those from Port Arthur delivered a Baumé of 14.75º (a tad higher than the 14.10º recorded in 2011).

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Perfectly ripe bunches of Touriga Nacional grapes harvested from the Stone Terraces vineyard parcels at Malvedos this morning.

From Henry’s winery log: WEEKEND of 13th/14th September 2014 (day 3 and 4 of the harvest) .

Saturday September 13th:

First Lagar of this vintage (old mixed varieties from Síbio) being run off this morning with great colour! See below photo which registers the moment.

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Nelson says “repara nesta cor brutal!”  (something like: “check out this awesome colour!!”) as he referred to a sample from the first lagar of Sousão grapes harvested at Quinta do Tua. Henry’s comment on this same Sousão: “Excellent colour and vibrant and fresh aromatics!

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Reparem nesta cor brutal!!

This evening started treading the first Touriga Nacional that came in from Tua (Baumé: 14.4º).

Sunday September 14th:

07:00 continued picking TN from Tua under blue skies with some white cloud and no wind. Less people in the roga because it’s Sunday (it’s the same every year).

14:30 Clouding over.

15:24 Henry recoreds: “Rain has begun; it’s like a grey blanket creeping up the river” (see picture below). Luckily it was just a 15 minute shower which was followed by some useful wind: helps to dry the grapes swiftly pre-empting any adverse effect from the rain. Arlindo later reported that the Quinta weather station recorded just 0.9 mm, so nothing of any consequence.

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17:25 the sun returned.

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Hurray; the sun makes a speedy return

Charles was here – see photo – and we discussed picking using the map – and unless the weather takes a turn for the worse the next two days we will be picking TN from Malvedos – including the Stone Terraces tomorrow morning.

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Henry (left) and Charles decide on the picking order for the next few days inside the Malvedos winery.

 

MALVEDOS HARVEST: DAY 2

The first day of the harvest at Malvedos on Thursday was entirely devoted to picking the old mixed vineyard parcels in the Síbio section of Malvedos. The first lagar was filled by the end of that afternoon and treading commenced during the evening. Henry is pleased with the colour this lagar has shown during fermentation.

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Fine looking Sousão grapes received at the Malvedos winery early Friday morning, September 12th; day 2 of the 2014 vintage at Malvedos

Yesterday the winery received the first Sousão grapes of this harvest, all from our neighbouring vineyard of Tua which has 4 hectares planted with this variety. Quinta do Tua is just a stone’s throw upriver from Malvedos, the two vineyards separated by the Tua River where it flows into the Douro. We have also planted Sousão here at Malvedos but the vines are still too young  (planted in 2013 and some planted on the reconstructed stone terraces earlier this year).

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The excellent deep colour of the first lagar of Sousão puts a smile on Henry’s face as Nelson (right) looks on approvingly

Henry is well pleased with the Sousão coming into the winery; the berries are in fine condition and the Baumé readings registered a perfect 14.4º. As the lagar filled during the day Henry and his team enthused over the excellent colour the Sousão is displaying. Just two weeks ago during the maturation studies done in the vineyard, Alexandre Mariz, Graham’s viticulturist, was pointing out how good the Sousão was looking this year (see above introductory image over the title of this post showing Sousão vines at Quinta do Tua in late August). The Sousão can be susceptible to excessive heat and it has been favoured this year by the relatively cool summer we have experienced thus far.

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The first lagar of the 2014 vintage at Malvedos (old mixed vines from the Síbio parcel of Malvedos) is showing very good colour. This lagar will be run off this Saturday morning, ready for fortification

Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker is an advocate of the Sousão, a variety somewhat forgotten by many growers in the Douro but which is now slowly making a comeback. It is proving an important component in making Graham’s wines, principally due to its good levels of acidity and its deep colouring properties (the first Sousão lagar in the winery is showing just that).

Charles and Henry were conferring in the winery Friday evening and a change to the picking order was decided for the next few days: Touriga Nacional will be picked from Tua through today (Saturday) and Sunday and then we will start on the first parcels of Touriga Nacional from Malvedos on Monday.  Blue skies continue overhead with the odd wisp of white cloud and it is very warm and sunny, exactly what is required.

 

 

THE 2014 VINTAGE STARTS AT MALVEDOS

It’s day 1 of the 2014 harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos and we’re beginning a few days later than we had originally planned. Still, this year the vintage is starting almost two weeks earlier than last year. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker had set Monday September 8th as the starting date for the vintage but some rain came down over the weekend and although there wasn’t very much of it (4 mm at Malvedos and 6 mm at nearby Quinta do Tua) he opted to be cautious as atmospheric conditions were a little unstable and it was decided to bide our time. Fortunately no further rain has come down and Charles and his team are keeping their fingers crossed for dry weather so that the later ripening varieties can realize their full potential. As previously reported many of the grape varieties have been developing very well and the winemaking team at Malvedos is hoping for a very good year.

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The ‘roga’ (team of grape pickers) harvest grapes a little before sunrise at Malvedos

This morning the 25 grape pickers were up bright and early at 7:00 am to begin picking the first grapes from the Síbio vineyard at the western edge of Quinta dos Malvedos which is almost entirely made up of old mixed vines (40 years+), one of the predominant grape varieties in the mix being the Tinta Roriz. The grape picking team or roga is drawn as is traditional from the surrounding hamlets and villages of São Mamede de Riba Tua, Carlão, Tua and Alijó. Some of the faces are very familiar — not surprisingly as many of them have worked the vintage here as pickers for several decades. At around 9:00 am Arlindo, the Malvedos vineyard manager took them their breakfast which they were able to enjoy amongst the vines under clear skies.

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The roga pauses amongst the vines for a well earned breakfast

Shortly after breakfast the first trailer load of grapes was hauled by one of the Quinta’s small tractors to the winery where the (approximately) 1,500 Kg of grapes were sorted by hand, de-stemmed, crushed and conveyed into the first lagar. It will take another 6 or 7 trailer loads to fill the lagar which will start treading the grapes later today. First Baumé readings are encouraging at 13.55º.

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Henry Shotton, the winemaker at Malvedos who works under the direction of head winemaker Charles Symington and in close cooperation with Graham viticulturists, Pedro Leal da Costa and Alexandre Mariz is in his 15th harvest at Malvedos; an experienced pair of hands who has a seven strong team to help him in the relentless round the clock activity which will only cease once the last grape is picked at Malvedos and nearby Tua, between three and four weeks from now.

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The very first trailer load of grapes of the 2014 vintage arrives at the Malvedos winery

Rupert Symington welcomed the first overseas guests during this harvest and the visitors from Texas (D&E Fine Wine) and Louisiana were thrilled to witness the first day of the vintage at Malvedos. They were given a Graham’s Six Grapes component tasting and were in awe of the captivating mountain vineyard scenery which is the home of this Port so appreciated by their countrymen.

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The very first visitors at Malvedos for the 2014 vintage: Graham’s distributors from Texas and Louisiana.
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The first grapes unloaded at the winery gave a very satisfactory Baumé reading: 13.55º
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The sun has just risen at Malvedos and the first crates of grapes await collection
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The ‘roga’ enjoy breakfast before resuming picking
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The first lagar of the 2014 vintage is filled in the small, specialist Malvedos winery.

A VERY GOOD YEAR IN THE MAKING

This time last year almost to the day (tracking the season August 30th, 2013) the temperature by mid morning had already reached 33º Celcius at Malvedos. The highest temperature recorded during August 2013 at the Quinta was a sweltering 42.6ºC. This year it’s a different story, the summer thus far has been appreciably cooler than in recent years and this morning it was 28ºC, and by way of comparison the maximum temperature recorded during August this year was 36.3ºC. During the night there was some negligible rainfall which the farm manager, Sr. Arlindo, reported as barely having registered in the Quinta’s weather station. If nothing else though these few drops do seem to have ‘cleaned the air’; the light is beautifully clear and visibility is pin sharp even into the far distance. Normally in August due to the very high temperatures, heat haze rapidly develops and such crisp, pure light is very rare.

Arlindo and Alexandre during the morning rounds on a luminous August morning.
Arlindo and Alexandre during their rounds at Malvedos on a luminous August morning.

Thus far, only 4mm of rain has been recorded at Malvedos during August and this figure is unlikely to change with only two days of the month left and no rain forecast. July was wetter than usual at Malvedos (18mm compared to the mean of 10mm) and this has helped to redress August’s lower than average precipitation (4mm against a mean of 13.6mm). But more important for the grapes’ maturation cycle have been the unseasonably cool temperatures, this being — at least thus far — the coolest summer in recent memory. The impact on the vines has been very beneficial; there has been very little hydric stress and the berries on the vines are looking very healthy. Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, often points out that air temperature can be a more critical factor during the grapes’ final ripening cycle through the summer than rainfall (i.e., the lack of it).

Alexandre samples Touriga Franca berries at Quinta do Tua, Friday, August 29th.
Alexandre samples Touriga Franca berries at Quinta do Tua, Friday, August 29th.

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist who oversees Malvedos as well as Graham’s neighbouring Tua vineyard is very encouraged by the balanced maturation evident in the berries. He has been sampling the berries in both vineyards and is particularly impressed with the progress of the Touriga Franca, which makes up 28% of the Malvedos vineyard and 20% of Tua. When the Franca has reached such a favourable state of maturity at this stage leading up to the vintage, then results tend to be very good. All experienced Douro viticulturists and winemakers — and Douro farmers generally — know that when the Franca shows signs of developing its full potential then a very good year is in the making. Charles agrees with Alexandre and is upbeat about the prospects for a very good quality harvest. Last year at this stage, sugar readings had not achieved expected levels and phenolic ripeness was also lagging behind. Inevitably this lead to a delay in the vintage, which only kicked off at Malvedos and Tua on September 23rd.

Graham's Quinta do Tua, looking east. In the foreground, the Touriga Nacional vineyard planted in 2008.
Graham’s Quinta do Tua, looking east. In the foreground, the Touriga Nacional vineyard planted in 2008.

Based on maturation studies carried out over the last couple of weeks Charles has indicated September 8th as the likely start to this year’s harvest at Malvedos and Tua. Besides resorting to sophisticated vineyard mapping technology which uses infra-red aerial photography to reveal the ripeness of the various vineyard parcels (row by row), Charles — like his winemaking ancestors before him — also uses the well proven method of berry sampling in the vineyard. Over the last few days he has been able to confirm that sugars, phenolics and acidity in the berries are all showing an even and balanced development. The berries taste sweet with correct levels of acidity (showing no astringency) and when the berries are squeezed the juice already reveals good colour. Accordingly, a tentative picking order has been drawn up and is likely to be as follows: old mixed vines from Tua, followed by the Sousão and Tinta Amarela (also from Tua) and then from Malvedos the Barroca, Roriz and finally (from both vineyards) the Touriga Nacional and the Touriga Franca.

The new vineyard taking shape at the western extremity of Malvedos.
The new vineyard taking shape at the western extremity of Malvedos.

As we bide our time with confident anticipation to get the vintage under way, the only other activity at Malvedos at this time is the ongoing surriba (terrain preparation) in the western boundary of the Quinta where 6 hectares will be replanted next winter, most likely with the two Tourigas, the Franca and the Nacional (see the previous tracking the season post, published a month ago). Some final work also continues in the rebuilding of the stone terraces (a section of the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard) at the other extremity of the Quinta.

In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing daily coverage of the harvest at the small Malvedos winery, where the winemaking team’s clear remit is always the same: to realize the Malvedos and Tua grapes’ maximum quality potential. Henry Shotton, the resident winemaker at Malvedos will keep readers up to speed with regular news on how the harvest is progressing.

Morning glory carpets a slope at Malvedos. In the distance, the new vineyard terraces ('patamares') taking shape.
Morning Glory carpets the slope that descends from the house at Malvedos down to the railway. In the distance, the new vineyard terraces (‘patamares’) taking shape.

The Five Components of Graham’s Vintage Port

If you were to ask Charles Symington, Graham’s Head Winemaker, what makes Vintage Port special amongst the fine wines of the world he would tell you that it is the harmony created by the combination of wines from different vineyards. There is no other fine wine in the world that uses the grapes from multiple properties, each with different characteristics, to make their greatest wine.

Graham’s wines are all made from grapes taken exclusively from five mountain vineyard estates spread across the Douro Valley. Each one has a unique aspect, soil composition and microclimate. The five properties are Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua (both in the heart of the Douro Valley on the north bank), Quinta das Lages (in the famous Rio Torto Valley), Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (high up the Valley in the Douro Superior) and Quinta da Vila Velha (on the south bank of the River). Charles talks eloquently about the different characteristics that each one of these Quintas (vineyard estates) brings to Graham’s Vintage Port.

The wines from Quinta das Lages are lighter, more ethereal, with floral, slightly resinous aromas: they are important for the elegance they bring to the wine, rather than their structure. The Rio Torto Valley is one of the greatest sub-regions of the Douro, famous for producing some of the finest Vintage Ports in history. Lages is the only one of the five Quintas not owned by either Graham’s or a member of the Symington Family. But since 1927 Graham’s has had very close relationships with this property, buying all its production and personally farming it.

Quinta da Vila Velha is predominantly north facing. It brings finely balanced acidity to Graham’s Vintage Port. And in particularly hot years the higher altitude and the cooler north facing vineyards can be a distinct advantage.

Quinta do Vale de Malhadas has only 400mm of rainfall a year: two-thirds of what falls at Malvedos. The property is also north facing: an advantage here because it keeps the vines cooler, not being exposed to direct sunlight in the middle of the day. Establishing vineyards here is the viticultural limit. But the wines are worth it. Typically, Malhadas wines have chocolate, blackberries and very ripe, smooth tannins. Charles notes that climate change will have a profound impact on vineyards such as Malhadas, which is already right at the extremes of survivability.

The wines from Quinta do Tua have powerful aromas, concentration and length. They are not as elegant as others, being noticeably more rustic in style. But they contribute good body and structure. This is a result of the high proportion of old vines on the estate, which have tiny yields, between 300g and 500g per vine.

Finally, there is Quinta dos Malvedos, Graham’s original Quinta since 1890, in one of the best locations in the Douro Valley. The Malvedos wines are usually the main component in Graham’s Vintage Port and are perfectly balanced and refined in their own right. Malvedos adds profound aromas of Esteva, or gum cistus flower, redolent with mint and eucalyptus. It also has powerful but ripe and velvety tannins and a great complexity of black fruits.

The process of making Vintage Port is a fine-tuned art. Charles selects specific parcels of vines from each of these properties to create a perfect harmony and balance. The proof is in the tasting. Graham’s Vintage Port is more than the sum of its parts. If you’ve tasted any, we think you’ll agree.

Graham’s roses amongst the vines

As you walk through Graham’s vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua you will pass roses planted at the head of each row of vines. But this splash of colour in the winter landscape is not only an eye-pleaser; it is also an ingenious and ornate part of our vineyard management: a natural method of disease diagnosis.

As is so often the case, this traditional viticultural practice provides a sustainable and minimum interventionist solution to a perennial concern. It is also a good example of how local knowledge, preserved by families who have worked the soil for generations, plays a major part in our vineyard management.

Since the mid-19th century Powdery Mildew, also known as Oidium, has been prevalent in European vineyards. It originated in the U.S.A and was the first fungal disease to be described by science.

Rose bushes are in fact more prone to contracting the Powdery Mildew fungus than the vines and they will therefore show signs of the disease before the latter. The rose bushes, therefore, act as a kind of ‘canary in the well shaft’: if they display signs of the disease then treatment can be applied immediately to the vines before they actually show visible signs of infection.

Powdery Mildew is a fungal mould that attacks vines and fruit-trees. It is a very visible disease, spreading a translucent, cobweb-like growth around the infected area, which later sprouts greyish spores. To the eye, the mould looks like a powdery white ash or soot: hence its name. This disease affects all green parts of the vine and will reduce fruit set and ripening of the grapes. No wine is made from vines that become infected by the Powdery Mildew.

As a prevention of this disease an organic copper sulphate mixture can be applied to the vines. The roses in the Douro tell us when it is necessary to treat the vines and when not, ensuring minimum intervention. We also have an ally in nature. The dry climate of the Douro Valley helps to moderate the risk of fungal infections to the vines. But the risk is still there. Planting roses at the head of each row and at strategic places throughout the vineyards is a traditional Douro method of pre-diagnosing the presence of Powdery Mildew in the vineyard.

This means that we only apply the absolute minimum amount of treatment against the disease and only in a localized way when it is needed. Nothing is ever done en masse in the Douro. Less intervention with the vines and with nature, in our view, produces better wines that are more intense and better express their natural varietal characteristics and the uniqueness of our terroir.

February 6th 2014 – The Stone Terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos

The tranquility of the winter landscape at Quinta dos Malvedos is broken only by the sound of the rushing torrent of the Síbio stream, swollen by January’s 133mm of rainfall — well above the monthly average of 78.7mm for this area. The Síbio divides in two the 18th century stone terraces at Malvedos known as ‘Port Arthur’, sections of which are still being restored, and in parts rebuilt, by a seven strong team of skilled Douro stonemasons who specialize in repairing dry stone vineyard terrace walls  (see Tracking the Season – 28th November 2013).

These artisans’ work is not easy, combining as it does substantial physical exertion with deft movements as the men manoeuvre schist rocks of various shapes and sizes, constantly calculating where the best fit is to be found, coaxing them into position with just their hands, aided by all manner of hammers, picks and mallets. This activity is no different to when the original vineyard terrace walls were built in the Douro over three centuries ago. The only concession to the twenty-first century is the use of one of the quinta’s small tractors to transport the heavier schist slabs close to the wall under repair where one of the master stonemasons expertly breaks them up into more manageable sizes.

Skilled Douro Stonemasons individually shape each stone to build the dry-stone terrace walls.
Skilled Douro Stonemasons individually shape each stone to build the dry-stone terrace walls.

When the stonemasons first begin on a section of wall it is difficult to imagine that what initially appears to be nothing more than a jumble of rocks can be so adeptly transformed into the pleasingly symmetrical end result: a straight and level retaining wall. Besides fulfilling its practical function it will also add to the beauty of the landscape: a perfect example of man and the environment working in harmony.

Today, the Douro’s terraced vineyards are principally sculpted by machinery, which construct earth-banks along the contours of the steep slopes of the Valley, the world’s largest area of mountain vineyard. Such contemporary terraces are known as patamares, Portuguese for step or platform. Where possible, however, great effort (and expense) is put into preserving the original dry stonewalls, known locally as socalcos.

The symmetry of a partially completed stone wall.
The symmetry of a partially completed stone wall.

Some of the finest examples of socalcos in the Douro are to be found at Malvedos and at the neighbouring Quinta do Tua, also owned by Graham’s. The Symington family, which owns and manages Graham’s, is thus conscious of playing its part in the upkeep and preservation of this important feature of the Douro’s traditional vineyard landscape. This helps to safeguard the Upper Douro Wine Country’s UNESCO World Heritage Site classification.

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos and Tua is a little concerned that the work of the stonemasons is running behind schedule, hampered by the constant rain during the second half of December and through January. These terraces should have been ready for replanting during the month of February but this may have to be postponed to March. The 1.7 hectares involved will be replanted in even proportions with the Alicante Bouschet, Sousão and Touriga Franca varieties. It is the first time that Alicante Bouschet will be planted at Malvedos. More on this in the next Tracking the Season post.

 

Gum Cistus – the taste of the Douro

Sometimes, a smell or taste strikes us and we are transported to a specific place and moment in time. Wine, for example, has the ability to express a sense of place, which has been captured in the bottle and is then released in your glass.

This notion that wine reflects the essence of its origin, its Terroir, is not limited to only the soil or aspect of any given vineyard but also encompasses the native flora and fauna of the region. Vineyards are an integrated part of their native ecosystem, not as disconnected from it. Every aspect of the environment in which the vines grow contributes the final quality of the wine.

In the Douro Valley, we have a great example of this: the wild aromatic plant known variously as Esteva, Rockrose, or Gum Cistus. Gum Cistus, which grows in low banks of scrub, imparts its refreshing peppermint and eucalyptus flavours to the grapes in the neighbouring vineyards. As a result, Graham’s Ports gain the ability to inspire those olfactory ‘madeleine moments’ that recall the magic and the atmosphere of the Douro.

The 'Gum Cistus', 'Esteva', or 'Rock-rose' of the Douro Valley

The leaves of the Gum Cistus are coated with a natural resin, which protects the plant from the summer sun and bush-fires. In the heat, this resin vapourises and fills the air around the vineyards with a perfume that none who have visited the Douro in summer will easily forget.

The skins of the grapes similarly have a waxy coating, which captures aromas and particles from the atmosphere around the vineyards. These flavours are then imparted to the wine when the grapes are fermented with their skins (as they are when making Port or red wine).

Grapes from the Douro Superior, the eastern-most of the Douro’s three subregions, have a particularly pronounced ability to capture some of the characteristics of the Gum Cistus. There is also a noticeable difference across grape varieties. The Touriga Nacional, one of Portugal’s most famous varieties, expresses the essence of its native Douro terroir more than any other grape does.

This is perhaps the greatest power that wine has over us: to express the unique character of a magical place. It reminds us that wine is intimately connected to the soil and environment in which it is produced and that its taste is closely interwoven with its provenance.