Malvedos looking west

NEW VINEYARD TERRACES TAKE SHAPE AT MALVEDOS

The surriba (terrain preparation) begun almost two months ago at the western extremity of Malvedos is making good progress. Men and machines are at work on the steep slopes expertly carving the terraces on which vines will be planted during February/March 2015. Due to the gradient of the terrain (50% inclines in some sections) these new terraces or patamares have a relatively narrow platform and their supporting earth walls have to be quite substantial in order to support the platforms adequately. Given their narrowness, each terrace will have only one row of vines planted, meaning lower plant density. Thus, adding to the very high cost of building the terraces and replanting vines in this unforgiving topography, one has to factor in lower production as well. Ultimately though, the return will come in the form of high quality grapes to make high quality wines.

The area being worked on amounts to 5.85 hectares (14.5 acres) and is part of the Síbio vineyard that was incorporated into Malvedos two years ago. Almost half of the terrain abuts onto a pronounced shoulder of land, which follows the sharp bend in the River Douro below and forms an east and southeast facing aspect, in visible contrast to the predominantly south facing aspect of Malvedos. This will influence the choice of grape varieties planted; according to Alexandre Mariz (the viticulturist in charge of Malvedos) these are likely to be Touriga Nacional on the east / southeast facing terraces and Touriga Franca on the south facing terraces (as a late ripening variety the Franca handles the extra heat well). Virtually the only other established east facing vineyard at Malvedos is the ‘Port Arthur’ traditional stone terraced vineyard whose grapes contributed to the outstanding Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port. It is hoped that the vines planted on this newly laid out vineyard will one day deliver grapes of similar quality.

The Douro has the largest area of mountain vineyard in the world and over the last couple of decades in particular, advanced techniques have been developed to best address the challenges posed in laying out vineyards in such intractable terrain. Laser technology is employed to ensure that the earth-banked terraces are constructed with the required slight inward and longitudinal cant (3%), which has a twofold purpose: water retention and combating erosion. This double cant of the terraces helps retain sufficient water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the soil whilst simultaneously allowing excess rainwater to drain off gradually without washing away the valuable topsoil or causing erosion, which — if left unchecked — can provoke the collapse of the terraces themselves. It’s very much about striking the right balance between the volumes of water one wants to retain and allow to drain away.

New Terraces Malvedos July 2014

The only other activity at Malvedos at this quiet stage of the year (from a viticultural perspective) is the ongoing rebuilding of sections of the old stone terraces at the main entrance to the property. As commented in previous reports, this undertaking has taken much longer than originally envisaged. In hindsight, this was to be expected because unlike the construction of patamares, the socalcos (stone terraces) have to be rebuilt in very much the same way they were originally built two centuries ago, i.e. entirely by hand. Furthermore, experienced stonemasons aren’t as plentiful as they once were, but fortunately for the preservation of the Douro landscape there is still a school in the region which continues to teach this age-old skill.

Weather wise, July has been an unusual month at Malvedos inasmuch as the rainfall for the first three weeks (18mm) was almost double the monthly average for the Quinta which is 10mm (July is the driest month of the year in the Upper Douro). Fortunately this part of the Douro Valley was spared the sudden deluge which hit some areas on July 3rd: 80mm fell in just one hour in parts of the Pinhão Valley and 26mm in the village of Pinhão; both locations just 8km downriver from Malvedos (where 5mm was recorded over the same period). This rainfall has proven a boon for Malvedos as the previous four months had registered well below average rain and there are no signs of hydric stress in the vines. August can be — and usually is — a make or break month for the grapes’ final ripening stage but Alexandre and the caretaker, Sr. Arlindo, feel this extra water in the soil (coupled with relatively cooler temperatures throughout the month, thus far) has provided the vines with good conditions to stay the course.

This time last year, Véraison (known locally as pintor) at Malvedos was running about a week late. This year and in step with the generally precocious 2013 – 2014 viticultural cycle, the pintor gave its first signs 10 days earlier than average at Malvedos and most of the grapes on the vines have now changed colour. The berries look very healthy with good even ripening of the grape bunches boding well for the next few weeks.

Malvedos Véraison "pintor" July 2014 Photos: Filipe Potes

 

Planting the Sousão at Quinta dos Malvedos

A vineyard in balance – May 31st 2014

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos is pleased with the vines’ development at the Quinta; the vineyard is thriving and everything is in balance at this stage in the viticultural cycle. It is some years since everything has appeared to be developing so well — at this particular stage in the season. It is a precocious year with bud-break and flowering coming two weeks earlier than usual at Malvedos; not unexpected given the abundant winter rainfall and the unseasonably warm conditions through the spring. April brought a heat wave with temperatures at Malvedos reaching 30ºC on the 10th, 15th, 17th and 18th. During two consecutive months (March and April) the highest temperatures in the whole of Portugal were recorded in the Douro region by the Portuguese Met Office.

Fruit set is advancing very favourably with beautifully formed clusters developing evenly on the vines throughout the Quinta’s 89 hectares (220 acres) of vineyard. Given the conditions mentioned above vegetative growth has been quite vigorous and a team of 16 skilled vineyard workers has been working flat out under the watchful eye of Sr Arlindo, the vineyard manager, curtailing excessive shoot growth whilst at the same time taking the opportunity to guide the shoots (those that they choose to leave on the vines) between the trellis wires. This is an entirely manual operation and it is a testament to the labourers’ skill to witness just how speedily they progress through these tasks, which are essential in ensuring that the vines channel their energies into berry development rather than excessive vegetative growth.

The Touriga Nacional and Sousão vineyard parcels, planted during the spring of 2013 are flourishing and it seems incredible that they are just one year old. The Sousão is a heat sensitive variety and was therefore planted on one of the Quinta’s highest vineyard parcels located at 350 metres (1148 feet) altitude to benefit from the cooler conditions that elevation bestows. Besides this, the Sousão is laid out in a west facing amphitheatre-like bowl where conditions are relatively cooler than the predominantly south facing Malvedos vineyard. Furthermore, this bowl faces the valley formed by the Sibio stream which provides some additional humidity.

The view from the new Sousão vineyards at Malvedos

Facing this new Sousão parcel across the valley is the Sibio vineyard which was incorporated into Malvedos in 2012. Sibio has a combination of vertically planted and terraced vineyards, some of which are old, mixed vineyards whose organic certification is imminent. If all goes according to plan, Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker may have at his disposal during the 2014 vintage the first organically grown grapes from Malvedos. He can choose to use these together with the organically grown grapes from Graham’s Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.

On the Quinta’s western extremity on high ground overlooking the sharp curve in the River Douro, machinery is at work preparing the terrain for replanting during the spring of 2015 (grape variety/ies to be decided). The terraces here had fallen into disrepair (they formed part of the Sibio parcels) and the vines planted on them were in a sorry state. The opportunity is being taken to lay out the new terraces (known locally as patamares) using the latest techniques which involve sculpting the earth-banked terraces with a slight inward and longitudinal cant. This helps retain just the right amount of water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the ground whilst simultaneously allowing the rainwater from heavy downpours to drain off expeditiously but without eroding the soil (sometimes provoking the collapse of the terraces themselves).

Not far away a stone ‘shredder’ towed by one of the Quinta’s small tractors has been busy breaking up the larger stones and rocks on some terraces, leaving behind what looks like powdered schist soil. This operation brings with it several advantages: it avoids having to physically remove the larger rocks (saving in fuel emissions and costs); it resolves the problem of where to physically store or dispose of these rocks; the break-up of the soil top layer improves its aeration and drainage; it facilitates the passage of small tractors through the narrow terrace platforms, and makes it easier for vineyard workers to work on the vines (not to mention picking during the vintage); and of course it adds to, rather than subtracts from, the soil top layer.

Chef Mike Colameco in the Vintage Room at Graham's Lodge

Mike Colameco Visits Vinum Restaurant on His Food Tour of Portugal

Sitting in the Vintage Room at Graham’s Lodge earlier this week, Mike Colameco, American celebrity chef, tasted Graham’s 20 Years Old Tawny Port and groaned with delight. “My mind just started racing with ideas for food pairings,” he said afterwards. He listed a series of exquisite dishes that he thought would pair well with this port, including lentil-based dishes, succulent meats and other savoury dishes. This was a real revelation. The joy of the world of food and wine is that the possibilities are endless and always changing.

Mike Colameco, is host of ‘Mike Colameco’s Real Food’ and ‘Weekend Food Talk’, which air on TV and radio across America. He visited Vinum Restaurant this week as part of his tour of Portugal in order to cook with Head Chef Celme as part of a new series of programmes he is filming.

His trip is in partnership with Wines of Portugal (Vini Portugal), who have ensured that Mike is introduced to the top food and wine spots across the country. His next engagement was to catch a boat to take him up the Douro Valley but not before he had got in the kitchen with the award winning Vinum team.

Celme introduced Mike to some typical Portuguese dishes and house specialities. He expressed his admiration for the Vinum kitchen, murmuring on one occasion, “I wish I had a kitchen like this.” On the menu were ‘Alheira’ (Portuguese smoked sausage) with roasted peppers, Bacalhau (Cod) steaks in kale soup, and Vinum’s signature prime rib-eye steak grilled on the open fire.

Mike’s dynamism was infectious. He enthused about the supreme quality of the cod and the beef, massaging it and exclaiming, “just look at that marbling.” He spoke very highly of all the ingredients in the kitchen as he was introduced to the delights of Portuguese cuisine.

After his work in the kitchen he settled back with Rupert Symington on the terrace at Vinum with a glass of Graham’s Six Grapes and some dark chocolate truffles. This popular pairing was, he said, perfect – and we would happen to agree. It is also exciting to hear though that one of America’s top chefs sees the opportunity for an innovative and exotic future for Port and food pairing. Our mouths are watering with anticipation.

Birth of a Region

Originally posted on Quentin Sadler's Wine Page:

We live in a golden age for wine, it has never been better made, more exciting or as affordable as now.

I often think though how much more thrilling it must have been to have been around while the great regions were emerging and while their reputations were being originally earned. All the truly great wine regions that we talk about in reverential and hushed tones – in the old world anyway – were established long ago and so now have something of the past about them. This is not to be critical by the way, merely acknowledging that these places are often steeped in tradition.

Of course what constitutes a great wine region can vary from opinion to opinion, but I am pretty sure there is a broad agreement about the very best wine regions. They must produce wines that talk of that place, be terroir wines, they must…

View original 2,363 more words

The lower stone terraces next to the Síbio stream being planted in the spring.

Planting The Sousão at Malvedos – April 7th 2014 – Tracking the Season

The abundant winter rainfall at Malvedos, whilst desirable in terms of replenishing the much needed water reserves deep in the subsoil, has adversely affected progress in the reconstruction of the dry stone-walls at the entrance to the Quinta (see the previous two Tracking the Season posts for November and February). It was hoped that the stonemasons would have managed to conclude their task by February, after which the terraces would have been planted with the chosen variety – the Alicante Bouschet (a first at Malvedos) as well as some Touriga Franca. Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos pragmatically accepts that this will now have to be postponed for a year — at least on the upper terraces.

The Síbio stream running high

The very audible gushing sound of running water in the Síbio stream, rushing by in the gully which borders the stone terraces, is quite unusual at this time of the year and is clear evidence of just how much rain has come down over the winter months: 364mm (December 2013 – February 2014) compared to the average for this three month period which is 234mm — in other words 64% more rainfall than would be expected over the season.

On a positive note the lower section of this vineyard has sturdy dry stone-walls that have not required much attention from the stonemasons, a testament to the skill of their 18th century counterparts who originally built them. The supporting walls are quite massive; the tallest are 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) high and up to 1.5 metres (5 feet) wide. This vineyard is directly opposite the ‘Port Arthur’ vineyard, the two divided by the Síbio stream, very close to where it flows into the Douro River.

Planting on these 5 larger terraces has therefore gone ahead as planned under the experienced supervision of Sr. Arlindo, the caretaker at Malvedos. He and his team of seven people have planted 1.400 bench-grafted Sousão vines over five days, starting on April 3rd. These particular terraces’ generous width has allowed for between two and three rows to be planted, the spacing between each row being 2 metres and the space between each vine just 80 cm. This planting of the vines close together is intentional, the aim being to encourage each vine to ‘compete’ with its neighbours for the scarce available resources (nutrients in the soil and water). In so doing they will generate berries with greater concentration and ultimately, finer quality wines.

The Sousão has been planted on these terraces located in the lower section of this west-facing slope because they are in a relatively sheltered area (the Sousão is susceptible to excessive heat and south-facing slopes are therefore generally avoided, unless they are planted at altitude). 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 our wines, principally due to its good levels of acidity and its deep colouring properties.

The stone terraces still undergoing reconstruction are higher up on a steeper section of the slope and they will each take just one row of vines and the varieties chosen are the Touriga Franca and the Alicante Bouschet, the latter a grape variety which Charles Symington has been championing in the Douro (more on the reasons for this in a future post).

Although the winter was very wet it was also quite mild, with mean temperatures above the average for all three months and this has brought forward the vegetative cycle of the vine by a little over than two weeks with bud-break occurring during the first week of March. Last year, bud-break was observed only during the last week of March.

Bud break and early leaf formation on the vines at Malvedos a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
Bud break and early leaf formation on the vines at Malvedos a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
Charles and his team assessing the wines from last year's harvest in the Tasting Room.

Graham’s 2013 Harvest – Tasting the Ports for the first time

When Charles Symington is in the Tasting Room it is very difficult to talk to him. He simply doesn’t hear you: he is intensely focused. All that can be heard is the sipping of wine, the clinking of glasses being placed back on the bench, and the low murmurs of the three tasters as they compare their impressions with one another.

“You need tranquility and peace when tasting,” Charles explains. There certainly is that in Graham’s Tasting Room: it is a place of deep concentration. Over recent weeks, samples of the 2013 Port Wine from each vineyard and each fermentation have been on their way from the Douro to the Tasting Room in Vila Nova de Gaia. Charles and his team, Nuno Moreira and Manuel Rocha, have been assessing each lote of young Port Wine and determining its future.

As they work through each sample, they determine which of Graham’s Ports the wine will be suitable for. This sometimes requires that they foresee the wine’s characteristics up to 40 years into the future for Graham’s 40 Years Old Tawny Port, for example. There is one special case though and that is Graham’s Six Grapes.

Charles explains that Six Grapes is so special that you only very rarely come across a wine of sufficient quality to make it. If you go looking for Six Grapes, you won’t find it: it is something that you come across while you’re not looking – and it doesn’t happen very often.

Like in an artist’s studio, the light in the Tasting Room is also extremely important. If it is not right Charles will often postpone his team’s work, especially when tasting Vintage Ports, which because of their deeper colour require the perfect conditions to be assessed properly. For the same reason, tasting is only done in the mornings.

It is a massive logistical challenge to gather all these samples. “You can’t just email wines around,” Charles remarks.

For some months after the brandy has been added to the wine, the young Port Wines cannot be tasted. They require this period of time to “fall bright”, that is, to become fully expressive in flavor and colour. During this period, the wine actually grows darker and the aromas intensify.

Charles and his team use this period to make fresh blends of Graham’s Aged Tawny Ports, which are then allowed to marry together for at least one year.

Charles, Nuno and Manuel conduct a quick first assessment of the wines, during which they record their first impressions and organize the wines accordingly into broad categories. They then work through them much more slowly, spending a long time over each lote, before deciding on their final classification.

Charles’ general comments about the 2013 wines were that they had remarkably good colour. A Port Winemaker, he then said, has to be fascinated by colour.

Have you got any questions for Charles regarding our 2013 wines? Ask him here – post us a comment.

Graham's Vintage Port

The best 2011 red wines anywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winter pruning at Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos is still all done by hand, for good reason.

Graham’s approach to winter pruning.

As the winter pruning concludes at Malvedos, there is time for reflection. Winter pruning is often thought to be the time of year when the mind switches into autopilot. But in Graham’s vineyards this is far from the truth. Pruning, which happens between November and February, is the single most important time of year in the lifecycle of our vines.

It is at this time that micro-viticultural decisions are made, which determine the individual future of every single vine and have a fundamental impact on the success of the next year’s crop of grapes. It is this that guides Graham’s approach and why we do not carry out mechanical pruning.

The other day, one of the men had just finished pruning one vine and was moving to the next one. He stood in front of it, bent over, examined the spurs where they grew out of the main cordon branch and examined each of the canes. Then after a few moments he made a few swift clips with his secateurs and moved on to its neighbour, where he repeated this process.

In those few moments, this pruner made the crucial decisions that will influence the growth of this vine over the next year. Its fate quite literally lay in the hands (holding the secateurs) of this man. It was then that the skill, knowledge and experience that these pruners have was fully impressed on me, proving that manual pruning of this nature really is an art form.

The pruners, guided by many years of experience, employ a different strategy for each vine in each vineyard parcel. In areas of low vigour, for example, they will reduce the number of fruit-bearing buds. This ensures that the yields of each vine are controlled in order to produce grapes of absolutely optimum quality. Each year, therefore, this strategy is altered depending on the present and previous year’s conditions. It is a dynamic process, designed in real time according to the needs of each vine.

Such individual care and personal attentiveness to the vines is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

How the right glass perfects a wine.

Riedel glass tasting at Graham’s Lodge

Georg Riedel, the 10th generation of crystal glass makers in his family, held a unique tasting at Graham’s Lodge last week revealing how the shape of the wineglass influences the flavours and aromas of the wine.

The tasting showcased Riedel’s innovative Grape Varietal Specific range of glasses and was hosted at the Lodge by Portfolio Vinhos, distributors of Graham’s Port and Riedel’s glassware in Portugal.

By guiding participants through a tasting of three grape varieties, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet and Pinot Noir, Georg Riedel illustrated the crucial role that the glass plays in showing the wine at its best.

The reason for this is that the aromas of the wine are conveyed differently depending on the design of the glass and the size of its aperture: different varieties express themselves best in glasses of different shapes. Georg Riedel illustrated this by leading a tasting of the wines first in the same plastic mug, in which their characteristics were dulled and their individual expressiveness reduced. When in the glass specifically designed for them, however, each wine sang strongly and in its own unique way.

Likewise, the size of the aperture determines exactly where on the palate the wine is directed. The human palate has specific areas for sensing each of the principle components of taste. The right glass allows the natural balance of the wine’s flavours to be properly felt.

Georg Riedel held another tasting with us in Portugal a couple of years ago in a quest to discover the perfect glass to drink Vintage Port from.

Do you have any thoughts? Send us a comment.

Here's proof that the wild boar still roam in the Douro.

Wild Boar in the Vineyards at Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

Walking through the vineyard parcel at Quinta do Vale de Malhadas early the other morning we came across proof of the infamous Douro wild boar. Proof, amidst the winter landscape, of this regions important biodiversity, which has a particular stronghold at Vale de Malhadas because of the 112 hectares of native scrubland that is conserved as a natural wilderness.

The mud on the track had frozen in the early hours of the morning preserving the hoof-prints of the wild boar that had passed through during the night.

These boars are native to the Douro and are often hunted. They can cause a lot of damage to property and vineyards, since they tend to forage with their tusks, digging up the earth like a plough.

In fact, our vineyards have previously been the victims of such damage.

Crafting one of life's great traditions

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