Henry’s Malvedos winery team was recently reinforced with the arrival of Oscar Symington one of the 5th generation youngsters of the family which owns and runs Graham’s. Oscar’s father, Rupert, is one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors. The 18 year old lost no time mucking in, carrying out the multitude of tasks required of him, from helping to unload the trailers of grape laden boxes, taking his turn on the sorting table as well as helping out with the envasilhamentos (running off the must from the lagares for fortification). Oscar soon discovered that this particular task is a bit like doing your watch on a ship, involving as it does taking turns with your colleagues in this round-the-clock activity which can happen anytime — day or night. The eight-strong winery team are glad to have this extra pair of hands to lighten their burden; they have all been working continuously for three weeks since the vintage began at Malvedos on September 11th.
Oscar himself has barely had a chance to catch his breath since beginning his gap year; before coming to help out at Malvedos he had already worked for 10 days at the family’s Quinta do Sol winery followed by another 10 days at Quinta de Roriz jointly owned by the Symingtons and the Prats family of Bordeaux and where they produce one of the Douro’s iconic table wines — Chryseia. The majority of the grapes for Chryseia are sourced from the Roriz vineyard but an important element has always been drawn from the neighbouring property of Vila Velha, owned by Oscar’s grandfather, James Symington. Besides the contribution Vila Velha provides for the landmark Chryseia Douro red, the finest production is also supplied to Graham’s, making important contributions to the premium Ports it produces. The highly acclaimed Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port was comprised of components from all five Graham’s Quintas; Vila Velha making up 18% of the final lot.
Like his siblings and cousins, Oscar is following in the tradition of young members of the family working a vintage at the family Quintas, during school or university holidays. Graham’s is a family wine business through and through and it is very much part of the philosophy to let the youngsters gain practical experience in what is after all the family’s lifeblood: producing the great wines of the Douro Valley. Oscar’s great-grandfather, Ron Symington who like his twin brother John and first cousin Maurice was passionate about the Douro is known to have often said, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” by which he meant that the older generation had to give the younger members of the family a chance to get involved. We’re not sure whether Oscar is comfortable with the metaphor but we are sure that he understands what his ancestor meant. Following his gap year Oscar will continue his higher education at Durham University in northern England.
Ron Symington, Oscar’s great-grandfather would often say, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” — and he wasn’t referring to his gun dog!
Given 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!!!”
As 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.
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.
On 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.
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.
This past weekend Paul, Rupert and Dominic Symington were in Burgundy together with their colleagues from Primum Familiae Vini, a group of eleven of the most prestigious winemaking families in the world.
Every year the members come together to show their wines in a key market – this past February in London and in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil. But in addition to the rather spectacular public events, including gala dinners, charity auctions and press tastings, the group also meet for private working weekends. This weekend in Burgundy was the annual meeting to to share best practice, discuss developments in the wine world, and agree on activities for the coming year, as well as transfer the presidency – this year from Frederic Drouhin to Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild for 2013.
Dominic wrote in to say “It was great fun, with many members of all the families, including a good number from the next generation. It’s always nice to mix with friends and fellow wine-makers in an environment away from commercial pressure.” Though their wineries are located in a dozen different regions, the group share many common concerns not just of wine production and distribution, but managing and ensuring the future of a family business, and the protection of their vineyards, regions and unique heritage.
Business and pleasure naturally go together among winemakers, and Dominic describes the weekend’s events as a combination of serious discussions and brilliant wine and food:
At the end of the Annual Meeting we had a picnic lunch in Drouhin’s Premier Cru Clos de Mouches vineyards south of Beaune which began with a delicious Chablis Premier Cru aperitif, followed by both white and red wines from the Clos de Mouches. During the picnic we enjoyed a fascinating talk from Aubert de Villaine, proprietor of Domaine de la Romanée Conti, on the history and terroir of Burgundy and his efforts to get the region classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site. This was followed by a very technical presentation on the geology and different soil types within the region and their influence on the wines.
At the Christmas party Friday I did a quick survey of the Symington family members to ask which Ports they would be enjoying over the holidays?
Charles’s first answer was, I haven’t had time to see what’s in the cellar! With a moment’s reflection, he decided he would bring up some 1970 Graham’s. At the Port Walk tasting at Berry Brothers & Rudd in 2010 I remember Charles saying this wine was served at his wedding as well as several other special occasions – so clearly this one is a favourite for sentimental reasons, besides being a great Port.
Charles’s father Peter is also planning to enjoy a 1970 Vintage Port, but in his case, a 1970 Dow’s.
Paul and Dominic are also both planning on drinking Dow’s Vintage Ports, both from vintages that are underrated: Paul will enjoy the Dow’s 1955 and Dominic will be pouring the Dow’s 1966 which has always been unfairly overshadowed by the 1963.
Rupert will be enjoying the Quinta dos Malvedos 1964 – this is his birth year, and he still has another 30 bottles or so in his cellar, so he makes a point of opening one every year, to make sure it is still ageing as well as he is!
Johnny can’t tell me what his family will be served – it is a sample wine, which, if it passes muster with the family over the holiday, we may hear about in 2012!
Symington family members and staff from Graham’s and Symington Family Estates’ offices in Vila Nova de Gaia, the Lodge and all our Douro properties, came together this afternoon for the annual Christmas lunch and party.
Paul made a pithy speech, reviewing the accomplishments of our employees and the firm in the past year. 98 of our employees – almost 30% of the workforce – have been with the firm 25 years or more, which is an outstanding testament to the dedication of our employees and to the incredible depth of experience that SFE can bring to all its endeavours. Two employees marked their 43rd year with us.
In 2011 our Port brands again substantially outperformed the overall Port market, particularly in the sales of premium Ports. Despite the financial crisis, the Symingtons continue to invest heavily in a wide range of projects, including critical in-house computer systems, the successful re-launch of Cockburn’s Port and the Altano table wines, replanting 25 hectares of vineyards, a new winery adjacent to Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, and of course the re-design of the Graham’s Lodge here in Gaia.
To celebrate, we enjoyed an excellent meal, a lavish dessert banquet, and a spin on the dance floor afterwards. I can tell you that while Johnny definitely has the moves, it was Paul’s flawless lip-synch to that disco classic “YMCA” that really impressed me!
The Symington Family and everyone at Graham’s and Symington Family Estates wish all of you a joyous and safe holiday season and a prosperous 2012.
Today was a lovely fresh morning with blue sky and like yesterday it turned into a hot day. Out in the sun it feels much more like a summer’s day (ideal for the beach in fact) than autumn and the 1st of October.
This is perfect Vintage weather and we could not ask for better.
The pickers continued their way down the Quinta and finished the smaller parcels in the northwest part of the vineyards, although overall they picked slightly less as they were 3 down today (there was a christening in the nearby village of Tua today apparently). Tomorrow we begin on the two larger block up there; however as it’s Sunday let’s see how it goes in terms of numbers of pickers.
The Franca we received today was again in excellent condition, and I must once more stress just how good the Franca is looking in 2011 with perfect ripeness in terms of flavour, colour and baumé. It really doesn’t get better than this.
The vinhaço (marc) lorry arrived at 08:00 this morning which was a bracing start to the day! The lads were obviously hungry and put their back into is, because all 6000 Kgs were loaded and the lorry left the winery in time for us to get to breakfast on time at 09:00.
It was a busy day in the winery today what with the vinhaço lorry, two fortifications (fortunately not too late!), and various wine transfers apart from the usual tractor loads of grapes.
The Franca lagar we filled today and have already trodden this evening has given 14º Baumé and I am very pleased that all the Franca lagares so far have given baumés of between 13.7º and 14º, as its not every year (in fact it only happens in very very good years) that this sort of ripeness is achieved.
James and Rupert are spending the weekend at Malvedos with their families and friends, and after breakfast they all came to visit the winery, dogs and all. They were very interested in having a taste of the wines and all three generations gave their opinions regarding the quality of the 2011s, which I am glad to say was very favourable.
I also showed Rupert on the Quinta map what the picking order is for the rest of the Franca.
Readers may recall our mentioning Rupert Symington’s visit to Vancouver last March, where, together with Roy Hersh, he presented “Elegance, Power and Complexity” a vertical tasting of eight of Graham’s Vintage ports since 1970.
If our readers are not yet familiar with Roy, we are pleased to introduce him to you here. Roy has enjoyed a long career in the food and wine industry, as wine critic, judge, writer and teacher. In 2003 he was one of just two Americans invited to join the Confraria do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Brotherhood) here in Porto. To fulfill his oath to promote Port, he launched For the Love of Port, a website which is a terrific resource to the Port lover, as it includes an active discussion board, a database of members’ tasting notes, and a subscriber’s newsletter, as well as offering annual insiders’ tours to Porto, the Douro and Madeira.
Below is Roy’s report on the Vancouver tasting, with his own tasting notes. (Note: The following material is Copyright July 2011, Roy Hersh)
The scene was set at the 33rd annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. A gathering of consumers and media members packed the room to partake in a very special tasting of Port. Just moments before the presentation was to begin Rupert Symington approached me to join him on the podium to present a vertical tasting of eight extraordinary vintages of Graham’s Port ranging from 2007 to 1970.
This was one of the premiere tastings featured this year, as “Fortified Wine” was one of the two main themes featured during the weeklong festival. The room was filled with a mix of curious wine enthusiasts and some avid Port fans seeking to gain a greater understanding of Graham’s while sipping on some mighty impressive Vintage Ports. I felt somewhat unprepared, not even knowing what was included in the lineup; but how do you say no to Mr. Symington?
Rupert had prepared an agenda and eloquently spoke about the history of Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos and other vineyards involved in the mix, and he provided fine descriptions about treading in lagares, the cellar worthiness of Port and a brief discussion of the important period between 1720 and 1890, as well as the typical production levels for vintage releases of Graham’s. Great info!
We then turned directly to the actual tasting session, which began with the youngest Vintage Port, the 2007 and headed back in time to 1970:
2007 Graham’s Vintage Port – Opaque magenta with a purplish edge. Lush floral aromas with mocha and chocolate. Plum and boysenberry flavors with medium ripe tannins and a seamlessly, long finish. From a small crop that yielded only 72,000 bottles. I think it’s safe to say the 2007 Graham’s should age very well for 30-40 years. 94+ points
2003 Graham’s Vintage Port – Fantastic fragrance of freshly crushed grape exhibiting great purity and seasoned by scents of menthol and esteva. Dark fruit flavors prevail, bright, rich and concentrated. Although a powerful Port, its refined tannins and sublime texture lead up to a most stunning finish. Drink now to 2048. 9,000 cases produced. Graham’s excelled in this hot vintage! ~ 95+ points
2000 Graham’s Vintage Port – Aromatically this was a bit reticent, but some coaxing allowed the red fruit notes to emerge. Medium weight and seemingly more vinous than either the 2003 or 2007. Smoky and spicy black cherry, cocoa and eucalyptus flavors melded beautifully. The 2000 is still very tannic and will support long term cellaring, improving for many years and showing more grip than either previous Port. Drink now or cellar through the middle decades of the century. A gorgeous young Vintage Port, it deserved more hours in decanter and it would have performed even better. But why quibble about a great Graham’s like this? ~ 94+ points
1994 Graham’s Vintage Port – Vinous, extremely balanced and offering scents of red licorice and raspberry fruit with a mocha note. The 1994 offers focused and concentrated fruit that stands out in a crowd. The acidity and ripe, round tannins deliver deft balance. This is going to reward patience and although easy to sip now, Graham’s ’94 will evolve at a high level for another 5 decades and should be permitted to improve in bottle. It’s a remarkable, classic Vintage Port. ~ 95+ points
1985 Graham’s Vintage Port – The audience realized after having tasted their way through half of Graham’s stellar vintages; that they were onto something special with this 1985 offering. Great depth of color and deeply extracted, with no clue we were drinking a Port possessing a quarter century of bottle age. Great intensity and extraordinary density; this 1985 is unbelievably youthful. Spicy and sweet ripe plum and sandalwood seasoning, crisp acidity along with soft and mouth coating tannins. It is a Port for the ages; I look forward to seeing how well this will drink in 25 more years. ~ 94+ points
1980 Graham’s Vintage Port – 1980 is likely the most underrated of the vintages included in this tasting. I have always been a great fan of the Dow, Warre, Gould Campbell & Graham’s Ports from this year. The Symington family seemed to “own the vintage.” Delicious, soft, classic Graham’s style; it’s still showing prominent tannins at 31 years of age. Sweet grenadine and ripe fig flavors along with eucalyptus, cocoa powder and a sublimely soft, smooth mouthfeel and persistent finish. 1980 was never considered a legendary vintage, but it just goes to show how soundly Graham’s performs even in vintages that were not appreciated by the critics when young. 1980 Graham’s will easily drink well for 15-20 more years from here. 92+ points
1977 Graham’s Vintage Port – I will admit when I am wrong. Throughout the early part of the 1990’s and up to the mid-point of the past decade, I was never a fan of the 1977 Graham’s. It was too hot and spirituous for my liking and I couldn’t see how after so many years, this would ever resolve itself. The last six bottles I’ve been a part of since 2005, have proved me wrong. The 1977 has finally morphed and today, it presents really well. Notes of prune, tea leaf, herbs and bouquet garni elicit an evocative aromatic profile. Delicious and finely balanced with vibrancy and round tannins providing structure at nearly 35 years of age. I see this continuing to improve for at least another 15 years before hitting a plateau. The “comeback kid” has arrived. ~ 93+ points
1970 Graham’s Vintage Port – This was the first Vintage Port produced as the Symingtons purchased the firm from the Graham’s brothers in 1970. James Symington (Rupert’s father) actually made this very first vintage under the new ownership. I’ve always been a huge fan of this particular Graham’s and it is up there with other exalted Ports like Nacional, Fonseca & Taylor which is rarified territory in this brilliant vintage. This particular bottle was exemplary, a really fine showing; with an amazingly youthful appearance and a hedonistic, silky mouthfeel of great length. ~ 96+ points
Graham’s has proven again, that the consistency of its Port is its hallmark. It is my opinion, having led or participated in vertical tastings of all the major Port houses, that since WW2, no other Port producer has achieved the same level of excellence, regardless of vintage, as has Graham’s. Another remarkable quality of this shipper is the ability of its Vintage Ports to consistently age 50+ years.
Note: Roy’s tastings notes on these wines have now been added to the Knowledge Base of our Vintage Port Site, where you can read more about Graham’s and all the Vintage Ports made by Symington Family Estates.
Think “sales meeting” and you think dreary sunless business hotel conference centres and endless slide presentations, facts and figures.
Luckily for Premium Port Wines, the Symingtons think differently. We feel strongly that the best way to understand and appreciate our wines is to understand the family and traditions behind them, the attention to quality in every step of the production process, and the vineyards and region they come from. With several new members on the team and so much to learn about the region, a week-long sales meeting in Porto, Gaia and the Douro was the obvious solution.
To that end, 13 members of PPW came from all over the United States to Porto, and were welcomed with a dinner at The Factory House, the 200 year old home of the British Port shippers in Porto.
The next day in Vila Nova de Gaia, the team saw for themselves how Graham’s uses the best of high tech where appropriate, as at our bottling plant, and low tech, for example in our cooperage, where centuries-old skills and procedures are still the best for repairing the old casks in which we age our wines. PPW had the tour of our Lodge, as well as our head office, where they were tutored through an extensive tasting of a full range of our wines in the Sala de Provas, and enjoyed meeting the family and directors at lunch.
Next, they headed up to the Douro, to stay at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos for three nightswith Quinta do Tua taking up the overflow. Days were spent visiting many of the Symington quintas, not just those which supply the grapes for Graham’s, but also Quinta do Vesuvio, Dow’s Senhora da Ribeira, Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais,Dow’s Quinta do Bomfimand Quinta de Roriz which makes the Prats & Symington Douro DOC wines, Chryseia and Post Scriptum.
And while there were in fact presentations anddiscussions of strategy and numbers, there was also lots of sun and fresh air, hikes through the vineyards to better understand Douro viticulture, and severalwine tastings.
On Thursday morningRupert divided the team into two groups, and challenged them to blend for themselves Graham’s 10 and 20 Year Old Tawnies from their component wines. This is an incredibly difficult exercise, even when given the exact component wines that make up the current blend. Rupert said one of the PPW teams did get respectably close – within about 80% of the correct blend – showing fine potential as blenders. (You can read more about this type of blending exercise, conducted with another group during last year’s harvest, in another blog post)
PPW also enjoyed a vertical tasting of Quinta dos Malvedos vintage ports, including 1965, 1987, 1995, 2001 and 2006. Rupert was very pleased with how the wines were showing, mentioning the 2001 and 1987 as particularly outstanding right now. The group commented on how consistent the Quinta style had been over more than four decades, with most of the wines showing the signature esteva (gum cistus or rock rose) aroma and black cherry fruit.
Finally, lest there be any doubts they weren’t in Kansas any more, Rupert took the team to the Calça Curta – the local restaurant in Tua – and treated them to a dinner of local specialities including pike, perch and eels from the river Douro.
Another memorable visit by PPW to the Douro !
The full PPW team in the Douro:
Front and center: Chili Second row, kneeling: Christine Solga-Bradburn, Vince McCarthy, Louis Charton, Peter Scott Third row, standing: Rupert Symington, Maria José Marques (SFE), Gloria Chow, Sheryl Sankey, Michael Donygan, Greg Murray, John Linklater, Arnold Trabb Back row: Paul Mugnier, Andre Pomp, Drew Kligman
Last weekend Rupert Symington went to Vancouver, British Columbia, to show Graham’s wines at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. This event, which began very humbly in 1979 as a fund-raiser for the Playhouse has long since turned into one of the most important international wine shows, and Graham’s has been proud to participate for many years. This year, the Festival had a special focus on Fortified Wines.
Rupert manned the tasting table himself, together with colleagues from Mark Anthony Wine Merchants, our Canadian distributor, pouring Graham’s Six Grapes, The Tawny, 10 Year Old Tawny, 2005 Late Bottled Vintage and the Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 Vintage Port for our visitors and answering their questions about Port.
In addition, for those who could not resist the promise of “Elegance, Power and Complexity” there was a special vertical tasting of eight Graham’s Vintages: 2007, 2003, 2000, 1994, 1985, 1980, 1977 and 1970. For this, Roy Hersh of For The Love of Port joined Rupert to co-moderate the tasting. The wines lived up to their billing and were showing superbly, the 1985 in particular just staggered the audience, as an example of Vintage Port in its absolute prime.
When it was all over, Rupert had his reward: together with Dan Wildermuth of Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma and Chris Hoffmeister of Mark Anthony, he landed a 7’8″ (2.30 metre), roughly 300 pound white sturgeon in the Fraser River in British Columbia. It was released again after the photo op, so no caviar that night, alas!
We are pleased to announce that Catarina has won our contest, correctly identifying all seven Symington family members as well as António and Miles. A case of 6 bottles of Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage 1999 and a bottle of our 40 Year Old Tawny will be sent out to her home, here in Portugal. Catarina enjoys Graham’s and has visited our Lodge in Gaia – clearly she paid attention during her tour! Congratulations Catarina!
The correct answer is:
1- Dominic Symington (son of Michael, brother of Paul and cousin of John, Charles and Rupert)
2- Michael Symington (Father of Dominic and Paul)
8- Isabel (wife of Michael Symington and mother of Paul and Dominic)
9- António Silvano (Caseiro at Quinta da Cavadinha)
19- Paul Symington (Son of Michael, brother of Dominic and cousin of John, Charles and Rupert)
23- Charles Symington (cousin of Dominic, Paul, John and Rupert)
25- Miles Edlmann
26- John Symington (cousin of Paul, Dominic, Charles and Rupert)
27- Rupert Symington (cousin of John, Paul, Charles and Dominc)
On the other hand, your blogger learned a hard lesson in proofreading, and has forfeit a bottle of wine to Miles for having mis-spelled his name in the original post (now fixed)!
Thank you to everyone who responded to the contest!