An Update from Malvedos

As August draws to a close and we come ever closer to the beginning of this year’s vintage, the typical scorching summer temperatures of the Douro Valley have not materialised. While there have been several hot days, with temperatures in the high 30s (Celsius), until now August has been the first month of the 2014/15 viticultural year with temperatures below the mean.

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Ripening grapes on the old vines (vinha velha) of Quinta dos Malvedos.

However, owing to the drought conditions throughout most of the viticultural year, these lower than average temperatures in August are a real boon. With just 4.8mm of rain falling over Malvedos since the beginning of July (see previous post), lower temperatures reduce the possibility of excessive hydric stress. Charles Symington, head winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos, reminds us that at this juncture air temperature is also extremely important for another reason.

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More ripening grapes on the old vines (vinha velha).

Very high temperatures during the final maturation cycle can lead to higher sugar concentration in the berries to the detriment of acidity, which is of course very important for the wines’ balance and ageing potential. The lower than average daytime and nocturnal temperatures will ensure grapes with homogeneous maturations which will almost certainly result in very high quality wines.

In any case, with moderate rain forecast for tomorrow it looks like Malvedos will have the benefit of both relatively low temperatures and some useful additional water; meaning everything is still on track for a stellar harvest.

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The east facing side of the Port Arthur stone terraces, still under a cloudy sky.

In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing regular updates on the harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos.

Looking Forward to the Harvest

We are now in the final weeks before the culmination of the viticultural year and the beginning of this year’s harvest at Quinta dos Malvedos. Although the Portuguese Meteorological Institute is currently announcing severe drought warnings for the entire country, the vines look robust and healthy, and the viticultural cycle is approximately ten days ahead of schedule. The vintage plan has now been drawn up, and although it will no doubt undergo several changes before we begin to bring grapes into the winery next month, we are currently aiming to begin harvesting at Malvedos on the seventh of September, four days earlier than last year, when the vintage started on the 11th.

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Quinta dos Malvedos on Monday (24th of August).

The Viticultural Year to the Present

On a whole the viticultural year was quite uniform, although unusual, as almost from start to finish it has been warmer than average, and very dry.

The yearly cycle began with an extremely wet November that saw 179mm of rainfall (more that twice the 30-year average of 67.5mm) falling over the quinta. However, these conditions were not to last and as we moved into December and the new year, rainfall decreased dramatically (to less than half the 30-year average), a trend that would continue throughout the year.

Over the course of the year average temperatures always kept above the mean, but when we look back at the year as a whole what marked it was the lack of rainfall. Apart from ample precipitation in November 2014, this viticultural year, and especially the summer months, has been extremely dry. With only 2.6mm of rain falling in July. We were fortunate to have 2.4mm fall over the quinta last weekend and with more forecast for next weekend, it should be some relief for the vines, which are already reaching their limit.

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Temperature and precipitation over the last viticultural period (March to end of July). Note the proximity of 2015 to 2011 (a phenomenal vintage).
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Rare August clouds over Quinta dos Malvedos on Monday (24th of August).

That being said the vines are now beautiful, and rarely in a year of such drought have they looked so fine. Still covered by a lush green canopy, only first growth lower leaves, now beginning to turn brown and dry, tell the story of their struggle for water throughout the year.

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A row of Touriga Franca planted in 1983 exhibiting fine green foliage.

The Vintage

Walking through the vineyards with Alexandre Mariz (the viticulturist responsible for Quinta dos Malvedos) as he tastes the grapes from each row of vines, evaluating them for the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness which indicates their level of maturation, you can see that he is quietly confident in the ability of the hardy Douro Valley grape varieties to withstand the severity of the region’s weather, and that this year’s vindima (harvest in Portuguese) promises to be a great one.

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Alexandre Mariz inspecting a row of Souzão, high above the river Douro.

One of the reasons for his confidence is that not only are the vines all in very fine condition, but that they are at the same level of maturation and their sugars, phenolic levels and acidity are all showing even development. In short, no variety is significantly lagging behind another.

This year the star of the vintage could be Touriga Franca, which is looking particularly good. Normally a late ripening variety, this year it started developing earlier than usual, giving it a head start and meaning that it will be perfectly matured closer to the beginning of the vintage rather than later, as is normal with this variety.

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The juice of a Souzão grape. This variety is known for the deep colour its wines.

Other Happenings at the Quinta

Besides preparations for the imminent vintage, work is also nearly complete on the creation of new terraces on the western side of the quinta. When complete, the 4.9 hectares of new terraces are due to be planted entirely with Alicante Bouschet, which at the moment only exists in very small quantity at Quinta dos Malvedos.

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The new terraces at Quinta dos Malvedos (looking eastward).

All told, the vineyards are in great condition and everyone is going into the vintage with high expectations. Although there are always unknowns, everything is pointing to a great year for the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos, and Graham’s Port.

In the coming weeks regular posts will be published providing regular updates on the harvest at the Malvedos winery.

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Alexandre Mariz looking over the vines high above the Douro.

Black Kites over Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

The wilds of the Douro Valley are a haven to many species of plant and animal, and you don’t have to spend long there to witness birds of prey in their natural habitat.

Home to several species of eagle, vulture, falcon, owl and kite, these large birds, which are the top of their respective food chains, are an impressive site to behold.

This pair of black kites were photographed flying over an area of uncultivated land between Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas and Quinta do Vesuvio, deep in the Douro Superior. The pair was accompanied by another, perhaps their offspring.

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Veraison in Quinta dos Malvedos

With temperatures already reaching the 40s in the Douro Valley, it is now the time of year when the grapes change colour from a light pea green to the various tones of dark red that signify that veraison is well and truly underway.

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Veraison, a French loanword, describes the phase in which the grapes ripen and become sweet. At the same time the fruit also becomes softer and begins to plump due to the concentration and accumulation of sugars under their thick skins.

The most common phrase heard in Portuguese vineyards at this time of year must be “o pintor chegou”, which means “the painter has arrived.” The fruit starts to change colour relatively quickly, although not uniformly, and it is normal to find a palate of different colours present on just one single bunch of grapes.

This year veraison began about 10 days early due to the dry, warm weather since the spring, and the grapes are already unusually sweet.

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This year veraison was about 10 days early due to the dry, warm weather since the spring, and the grapes are already unusually sweet.

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Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port in the pages of Decanter

In the pages of the current issue of Decanter (August 2015), Richard Mayson, a renowned authority on Port and author of the book “Port and the Douro” (published by Infinity Ideas) responded to a question on what vintage Ports are currently ready for drinking by naming the best wines of the early ‘90s and ‘80s before saying “If I could choose just one year to drink now it would be 1970, and if I could choose one wine it would be Graham’s.”

Coming from an exceptionally hot year, and (at the time) the first since the Symington family acquired Graham’s, the 1970 Vintage Port displays a beautiful dark amber colour, lifted floral aromas on the nose, and hints of mint and spice with a slight smokiness. On the palate it is extremely rich and structured, with a vibrancy of tannins, flavours of lovely soft leather, and some plummy black fruit flavours.

The Grand Tour 2015 Visits Porto

The Grand Tour is a motoring event that is neither a race nor a rally. The meeting sees its participants drive some of the most breathtaking roads in Europe while deciphering cryptic clues in an attempt to win points. The team with the most points at the end of the five day journey wins the year’s Grand Tour.

Now in its 26th year, this time the Grand Tour passed through Porto on its way from León, in the north of Spain, and onwards to Sagres, in the south of Portugal.

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The Palácio do Freixo

On the first stop of the trip that will see the drivers travel the length of the Iberian Peninsula, the Grand Tour set up camp in the 18th century Palácio do Freixo where they were greeted by a tasting of several of Graham’s Ports. What better way to unwind after a hard day on the road!

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The Graham’s tasting flight

The next day, the procession of classic cars continued on their way south and to their next stop, Cascais, near Lisbon.

Have a look at the tasting and some of the fantastic cars that made up the Grand Tour 2015 below:

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Graham’s Lodge Awarded TripAdvisor’s “Certificate of Excellence”

TripAdvisor has once again awarded Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia with a “Certificate of Excellence” for receiving consistently good reviews from its visitors on the online platform.

TripAdvisor is a travel website that provides user-generated reviews of places and attractions worldwide and besides awarding Graham’s with the Certificate of Excellence, TripAdvisor have also rated Graham’s Lodge as the number one “thing to do” in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Although now open to tourism, Graham’s Lodge still plays a fundamental part in the ageing of all of the company’s Port, as it did when it was built in 1890. Situated on a hilltop overlooking the twin cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, a trip to the region is not complete without a visit to the lodge and a tasting of Graham’s Port.

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Symington Family Estates Donate Ambulance to Tabuaço Volunteer Fire Brigade

On Saturday 13th of June, Symington Family Estates presented the Tabuaço Volunteer Fire Brigade with a new ambulance in recognition of the vital service that they provide to the local farming communities of the Douro. This is the eighth ambulance donated by Symington to the region’s volunteer fireman since 2007.

During the ceremony the volunteer firemen were commended for the dedication and courage that characterise the service that they provide to the local community. The firemen provide a vital lifeline in the case of medical emergencies, as well as combating the dangerous forest fires that occur annually in the Douro during the dry summer months.

The Symington family have previously donated ambulances to the volunteer firemen in the following Douro municipalities: Pinhão (2007), S. João da Pesqueira (2009), Provesende (2010), Carrazeda de Ansiães (2011), Lamego (2012), Régua (2013) Foz-Côa (2014) and now Tabuaço in 2015.

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Graham’s Ne Oublie awarded in the Clube de Criativos de Portugal Awards 2015

It was with great pleasure that we saw Graham’s Ne Oublie awarded across four categories at the Clube de Criativos de Portugal 17th annual award ceremony in May. The Clube de Criativos is a non-profit organisation that aims to recognise, promote and award the best of commercial creativity in Portugal.

A truly rare, very old tawny Port, Ne Oublie (which means never forget, and is the motto of the Graham family) was released in 2014. Dating to 1882, the wine was purchased by Andrew James Symington in the 1920s to commemorate his arrival in Portugal, and has been passed down through generations of the Symington family. Find out more here.

Ne Oublie

Bottled in crystal decanters, made by Atlantis in Portugal, wrapped by silver bands made by the Scottish silversmiths Hayward and Scott, and presented in a handcrafted leather box by Smythson of London, Ne Oublie is beautiful to behold.

The launch of the wine was accompanied by the creation of an online platform dedicated to the Port and a film, directed by Artur Serra Araújo, which captured the essence of the Douro and Ne Oublie. The film can be seen here. It was awarded gold for both “Best Brand Entertainment Film” and “Best Direction”. The project was also distinguished in the “Digital and Interactive” and “Overall Project” categories.

Replanting the “Port Arthur” Stone Terraces and the Origin of the Name

This year the west facing slope of the iconic “Port Arthur” stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos has been replanted. It will take some three years until the stone terraces, now planted with Touriga Franca and Alicante Bouschet, will once again produce fruit of sufficient quality to be part of Graham’s Port.

The west facing slope of the Port terraces
The west facing slope of the Port Arthur terraces

In the meantime, the east facing side of the terraces has been producing excellent grapes and has been the source of some of the best Port ever produced in the quinta.

In the Douro Valley vines were traditionally planted on terraces supported by large dry stone walls known as socalcos. They serve to support the soil and to create a flat place to work, enabling the cultivation of the steep hillsides of the Douro region. It is for these stone walls, which demonstrate the level to which human activity has shaped and sculpted the natural beauty of the area, that the Douro Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

The east facing slope of the Port Arthur stone terraces
The east facing slope of the Port Arthur stone terraces

But why are the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos known as the “Port Arthur” terraces?

The hallmark of the iconic quinta, the concentric walls of the stone terraces, particularly evident on the west facing side, tower over the Douro River like a citadel. While these terraces are known as  “Port Arthur”, not everyone knows why.

The Port Arthur stone terraces
The Port Arthur stone terraces
Port Arthur, China. Exact date of photograph unknown (early 20th century)
Port Arthur, China. Exact date of photograph unknown (early 20th century)

The most likely answer is that they were named after the heavily fortified Chinese city of Port Arthur (now known as Lüshunkou or Lyushunkou District). Port Arthur was an important deep-water harbour for both military and trade, and from the end of the 19th into the 20th century was leased to Russia by China. As Russia’s only warm water port in the Pacific, control over it was essential, and the cities defences were bolstered by heavy fortifications and the presence of a garrison of 50,000 men and 506 pieces of artillery.

Japanese soldiers attacking the fortification at Port Arthur, Artist Unknown
Japanese soldiers attacking the fortifications at Port Arthur, Artist Unknown

Im 1904 these defences would come under attack as Port Arthur became a fundamental point of contention in the Russo-Japanese War. The brutal Siege of Port Arthur (April 1904-January 1905), and the ensuing battles, saw the Japanese Third Army assault the concentric lines of defensive fortifications built on the three hills that protected the harbour. The siege and the battles that followed ultimately resulted in the the destruction of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the loss of Russian influence in the region, and increasing political unrest in Russia itself. This would have placed Port Arthur, and its colossal fortification very much in the public consciousness, and it is very likely where the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos got their name.

Japanese soldiers assaulting the Port Arthur defences, with a detail of the Russian surrender. Kobayashi Kiyochika. Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Japanese soldiers assaulting the Port Arthur defences, with a detail of the Russian surrender. Kobayashi Kiyochika. Boston Museum of Fine Arts



Crafting one of life's great traditions

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