Year of The Fox

THE 2014 DOURO HARVEST: THE YEAR OF THE FOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 'Malvedos Fox' caught in the act of trying to grab the winery team's breakfast (freshly delivered bread in the bag hanging from the trailer).
The ‘Malvedos Fox’ caught in the act of trying to grab the winery team’s breakfast (freshly delivered bread in the bag hanging from the trailer).
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THE 5TH GENERATION GAINS WORK EXPERIENCE AT MALVEDOS

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 helps select incoming Touriga Franca grapes on the sorting conveyor.
Oscar helps Luís select incoming Touriga Franca grapes on the sorting conveyor.

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.

One of Oscar's ligher duties: tasting a Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented Port with Malvedos winemaker, Henry Shotton.
One of Oscar’s ligher duties: tasting a Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented Port with Malvedos winemaker, Henry Shotton.

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!

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!

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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.

 

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THE RAIN MAKES AN APPEARANCE AT MALVEDOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert and Henry guide the visitors from the US through a tasting of recently made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
Rupert and Henry guide the visitors from the US through a tasting of recently made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
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HOLDING OUR BREATH HOPING THE RAIN STAYS WELL AWAY FROM MALVEDOS

Whilst some other areas of the Douro Valley have been visited by frequent showers over the last few days, at Malvedos we are into our third consecutive day with no rain at all. It is not infrequent for vineyards just 5 or 6 kilometres downriver or upriver from us to record downpours while this stretch of the valley remains largely dry. Still, we aren’t letting our guard down as the continuing unsettled conditions mean the winemaking team at the Quinta have to be prepared to change tack at a moment’s notice; nothing we aren’t used to.

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Thursday September 18th: An uneventful day during which we continued picking the Tinta Roriz, biding our time and allowing the welcome sunshine to dry the valuable parcels of our Touriga Nacional grapes. We heard that in Porto, about 100 km to the west where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the city had been deluged with showers all day long. It is fascinating to many of our overseas visitors how a country as small as Portugal can have such climatic variations, not just in terms of rainfall but air temperature as well. In our case this is easy to explain; between the humid Atlantic coastal plain to the west and the Douro wine country there is a mountain barrier running roughly north to south (1,415 metres/4,642 feet high), which effectively acts as a weather divide. Most of the rain transported by the prevailing westerlies tends to fall on these mountains (the Alvão/Marão/Montemuro ranges) resulting in gradually drier conditions on the lee side where the Douro wine region begins. At Vila Real, the regional capital on the sheltered side of the Marão range, average annual rainfall is 1,074 mm whilst at Malvedos it is virtually half that figure (624 mm). The distance between the two in a straight line is a mere 25 km (15.5 miles).

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Friday September 19th: Another mainly sunny day and during the afternoon some more welcome wind, very useful in helping to dry things out. We moved on to picking the Tinta Barroca and after lunch, Charles, Alexandre and Henry walked around several vineyard parcels and were relieved to find the grapes remaining on the vines still in fine condition (thus far we have harvested 45% of the grapes from the Malvedos vineyard and 58% from neighbouring Tua). The decision to restart picking the Touriga Nacional was confirmed and harvesting should continue during Saturday. Back in the winery Charles decided to co-ferment in one lagar some Tinta Barroca (showing high Baumé readings) with Touriga Franca. Charles and Henry then tasted the recently made Port from the Stone Terraces parcels of ‘Port Arthur’ and ‘Cardenhos’ (harvested Monday morning). Their smiles of satisfaction mirrored the evident quality of the wine in the glass; very floral nose and intense concentration in the mouth.

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View from the Malvedos winery, early Saturday morning, September 20th

Saturday September 20th: we awoke to a cool, fresh morning with clear blue skies and have therefore continued to bring the Touriga Nacional grapes into the winery. The first load of TN that came in this morning revealed a very satisfactory 14º Baumé. However to take maximum benefit from this spell of improved weather it has been decided to halt picking tomorrow to allow the remaining parcels of Touriga Nacional to fully ripen — the “compasso de espera”, as Alexandre put it, i.e., marking time. We’re in no hurry, what we want is to realize the grapes’ full potential to continue making the finest possible wines at Malvedos. The plan is to resume harvesting the Malvedos Touriga Nacional from Monday and on Tuesday to continue with this same variety but from Tua as well. Then on Wednesday the first Touriga Franca grapes (which show great promise) will be harvested at Tua.

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Henry explains the particularities of the Port made from the Stone Terraces at Malvedos. Nigel Barden of the BBC and other visitors listen intently

Later in the morning we were visited by João Vasconcelos, Graham’s market manager for the UK, who brought along a party of visitors from the UK, including Nigel Barden, the Food and Wine BBC Radio 2 Presenter. Henry treated them to a tasting of the magnificent Stone Terraces Port and this had everybody asking questions as to what the future prospects for this wine might be. The quality really is very good but it’s early days yet.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.
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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.

Crafting one of life's great traditions

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