It has long been a tradition for special occasions to be marked by the laying down of Vintage Port from the year of the event. Problematically, due to the fact that a “Vintage year” is normally only declared in the second year after the harvest, the
recipient of the gift often has to remain empty handed until sometime after the celebration.
In order to overcome this problem, Graham’s are now the first Port company to provide a Vintage Port bond which is available for purchase in the year of harvest. Allowing the purchase of Vintage Port while the wine is still on the vine guarantees that a certain quantity of the wine produced will be reserved for the holder of the bond.
The bond, which will be available from several UK wine merchants, including Berry Bros. & Rudd, Jeroboams, Selfridges, Tanners and Vintage Wine & Port, can be redeemed after 18 months, when the wine has been bottled and shipped. In the meantime, the buyer will be provided with a high quality presentation bond certificate with personalised calligraphy that can be presented to the recipient on the occasion being celebrated.
Graham’s Vintage Port Bonds, limited in number due to the small amount of Vintage Port produced, are a very special and personal way to celebrate an event. Due to Vintage Port’s longevity, the wine can then be enjoyed throughout a person’s life, the qualities of the wine maturing alongside those of the drinker.
Earlier this month Garrafeira Nacional, one of the most renowned wine merchants in Portugal, unveiled a new window display celebrating several of Symington Family Estates Ports, focusing especially on Graham’s and Dow’s. Located in the Baixa Pombalina in downtown Lisbon, Symington Family Estates has been given pride of place in the window of the famous vintner.
Founded in 1927, and currently managed by Jaime Vaz, Garrafeira Nacional is a family run business that prides itself on having one of the finest selections of wine in Portugal. The new display, designed by Will Creative with the help of Symington Family Estates, highlights the quality of the fine Ports that the company is producing, and the reputation they are earning Portuguese wine on the world-stage.
One half of the shop’s facade is taken up by a homage to Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port, the wine named Wine Spectator’s “Number 1” wine of 2014 in their “Top 100” wines of the year. In the display, a 15 litre bottle of Dow’s 2011 Vintage is standing proud atop a staircase of Douro vineyard terraces.
Framed in schist, which divides the display and pays tribute to the Douro Valley, is a tribute to the craft of cooperage, and its contribution to fine Port. In it a series of mechanical coopers can be seen carrying out their traditional tasks, and images of several of Graham’s coopers are on display. As the only Port company with a full time team of coopers, Symington Family Estates are particularly proud of the contribution they make to the company’s aged tawny Ports.
To see the company’s wines as the centrepiece of the window display of one of the most well respected wine merchants in the country is to see them on their ideal stage, and is a tribute to the hard work of everyone at Symington Family Estates and the wines they produce.
The award winning Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar, located in Graham’s historic 1890 Lodge in V. N. de Gaia, has once again been honoured by being named as the “Portuguese Restaurant with the Best Wine Service”. The award, conferred by the Portuguese magazine Wine in their “Best of 2014 Awards”, singled Vinum out from among some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, further confirming its reputation as one of Portugal’s best.
Opened in 2013 as part of the renovation of the Graham’s 1890 Lodge, the partnership between the Symington family and the Basque restaurateurs Sagardi has been going from strength to strength, already having received several national and international awards and acclaim from both critics and the general public alike.
The year 2013 saw the restaurant granted the title of “Restaurant of the Year” by the magazine Revista de Vinhos, which was followed in 2014 by the attribution of an award for the “Best of Wine Tourism” in the category of wine restaurants by Great Wine Capitals (a network of 10 major cities in the worlds best wine producing regions). This accolade not only secured Vinum’s reputation in the Douro region and Portugal, but also among the greatest wine regions of the world.
A promising start to 2015, the most recent award from Wine magazine has praised Vinum for the quality and selection of the wines on offer, which represent not only the best of Douro DOC and Portuguese wines, but also of Port and international wines from other Primum Familiae Vini (an association of wine producing families) producers. The food was also commended for being seasonal and variable, with some dishes, like the T-bone steak from 7/8 year old field raised cattle from Trás-os-Montes (a region in northern Portugal), quickly becoming classics.
When combined with the incredible surroundings of the recently renovated Graham’s Lodge, the spectacular views of the Douro and the city of Porto, and the impeccable service and knowledge of the Vinum staff, the restaurant comes highly recommended at any time by Wine magazine’s “Best of 2014” awards.
Mesa Marcada, a renowned Portuguese food blog, announced the winners of it’s “10 Preferidos Restaurants e Chefes” (10 best restaurants and chefs) of 2014 last Monday at an award ceremony in Lisbon. Graham’s had the pleasure of sponsoring the illustrious event, which saw the best of the Portuguese culinary world evaluated by an international panel of judges.
First prize, for both best restaurant and chef, went to José Avillez, for his restaurant “Belcanto” in Lisbon.
An honourable mention must also go to Pedro Lemos, who won the “Chef Revelação” (chef revelation), and André Magalhães from A Taberna das Flores.
On the 24th of October, three Portuguese journalists travelled to London to visit the world famous purveyor of luxury stationary and leather goods, Smythson of Bond Street. The objective of the visit was to gain an insight into both the design and production of the Ne Oublie presentation case and decanter. Ne Oublie, a very special and rare port wine dating from the arrival of Andrew James Symington in Portugal in 1882, was released this year and is contained in a crystal decanter (by Atlantis of Portugal) adorned with silver bands (by Hayward & Stott of Scotland), and housed in a presentation case by Smythson of Bond Street.
The journalists present were: Sandra Gato, director of the Portuguese edition of Elle magazine; Bruno Lobo, writer of the Diario Economico supplement, Fora de Série; and Vanda Jorge, a presenter from the TV program Imagens de Marca on the Portuguese television channel SIC Noticias.
The journalists were introduced to the Smythson brand and the concept of Ne Oublie with the Smythson designers in their flagship store at 40 Bond Street. They were also able to interview Gordon Smith, of Smith & Co., who designed the Ne Oublie decanter and came up with the initial concept for the presentation case. Graham’s partnership with Gordon Smith began in 2011 with the redesign of the tawny range, and the development of a limited edition tawny port bottled to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. After the interviews they spent some time with the craftsmen at Smythson and had the opportunity to see the fabrication of one of the presentation cases.
Afterwards, it was revealed that Graham’s Ne Oublie would be proudly displayed in the museum section of Smythson in an exhibition focusing on the bespoke box work undertaken by the company throughout the years. Also displayed with Ne Oublie are a Post Box from 1902, a 1909 bridge card box, a 1902 Smythson workbox, the company’s founder Frank Smythson’s personal trinket box, and a Whiskey & Soda box from 1920.
The connection between Smythson and the Symington family goes back a long time as the grandfather of the current generation of the family, Maurice Symington, recorded his thoughts in leather diaries handmade by the founder Frank Smythson himself. The company was founded in 1887 by Frank Smythson, and throughout the years has produced leather goods for people such as Queen Victoria and Sir Edmond Hillary, among other illustrious clients.
W & J Graham’s 1890 Lodge has once again received international accolades, this time from the “Great Wine Capitals”, a network of ten major cities around the world which aims to promote travel, education, and business exchanges between the most prestigious wine regions in the world. The Graham’s Lodge was awarded the “Best of Wine Tourism 2015” in the category of “Wine Tourism Services” for outstanding offerings in the fields of service, innovation, creativity and authenticity.
Coupled to that, the well known Spanish wine enthusiasts website, Vinopack.es has listed Graham’s Lodge shop as one of the twelve most spectacular in the world. The list, featuring architecturally diverse spaces from around the world specifically praises the historic lodge, whose renovation was overseen by the architect Luis Loureiro and designer Nuno Gusmão. Their work has been recognised for its minimalist style which has successfully transformed the historic building without losing the authenticity or uniqueness of the space.
Also mentioned in the list are the flagship of the Société des alcools du Québec in Montreal, Vintage Fine Wines of Manhattan, New York, and Altaya Wine’s “Etc” in Hong Kong. It is an honour to see Vila Nova de Gaia among the names of some of the world’s greatest cities.
The lodge is going from strength to strength since opening its doors only two years ago, also receiving a “Certificate of Excellence” from “Trip Advisor” for consistent excellent reviews from local and international visitors.
The news of the award from “Great Wine Capitals” comes only a year after the restaurant and wine bar Vinum, located in the heart of the Graham’s lodge, was awarded the “Best of Wine Tourism 2014” in the “Wine Restaurants” category. Vinum has also been voted the “restaurant revelation” of the year in the “best of 2014” by the readers of the highly influential Portuguese food blog, “Flavors & Senses”, and was distinguished by one of Portugal’s leading wine magazines, “Revista de Vinhos”, in the restaurant category of its “best of 2013”.
A special mention must be made of the multi-national team of expert guides without whom this award would not have been possible. In constant training with both our viticulture team in the Graham’s quintas and our wine makers, the staff have first hand knowledge of all aspects of port. Our team is currently comprised of 11 different nationalities: Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Danish, German, and Dutch.
The “Best of Wine Tourism” awards are internationally renowned as a celebration of excellence and innovation in worldwide wine tourism. And so it is with great pride that Graham’s receives these honours, as they bear witness to the hard work and effort put into the W & J Graham’s 1890 Lodge since its refurbishment.
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.
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.
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…
Henry’s Malvedos winery team was recently reinforced with the arrival of Oscar Symington one of the 5th generation youngsters of the family which owns and runs Graham’s. Oscar’s father, Rupert, is one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors. The 18 year old lost no time mucking in, carrying out the multitude of tasks required of him, from helping to unload the trailers of grape laden boxes, taking his turn on the sorting table as well as helping out with the envasilhamentos (running off the must from the lagares for fortification). Oscar soon discovered that this particular task is a bit like doing your watch on a ship, involving as it does taking turns with your colleagues in this round-the-clock activity which can happen anytime — day or night. The eight-strong winery team are glad to have this extra pair of hands to lighten their burden; they have all been working continuously for three weeks since the vintage began at Malvedos on September 11th.
Oscar himself has barely had a chance to catch his breath since beginning his gap year; before coming to help out at Malvedos he had already worked for 10 days at the family’s Quinta do Sol winery followed by another 10 days at Quinta de Roriz jointly owned by the Symingtons and the Prats family of Bordeaux and where they produce one of the Douro’s iconic table wines — Chryseia. The majority of the grapes for Chryseia are sourced from the Roriz vineyard but an important element has always been drawn from the neighbouring property of Vila Velha, owned by Oscar’s grandfather, James Symington. Besides the contribution Vila Velha provides for the landmark Chryseia Douro red, the finest production is also supplied to Graham’s, making important contributions to the premium Ports it produces. The highly acclaimed Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port was comprised of components from all five Graham’s Quintas; Vila Velha making up 18% of the final lot.
Like his siblings and cousins, Oscar is following in the tradition of young members of the family working a vintage at the family Quintas, during school or university holidays. Graham’s is a family wine business through and through and it is very much part of the philosophy to let the youngsters gain practical experience in what is after all the family’s lifeblood: producing the great wines of the Douro Valley. Oscar’s great-grandfather, Ron Symington who like his twin brother John and first cousin Maurice was passionate about the Douro is known to have often said, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” by which he meant that the older generation had to give the younger members of the family a chance to get involved. We’re not sure whether Oscar is comfortable with the metaphor but we are sure that he understands what his ancestor meant. Following his gap year Oscar will continue his higher education at Durham University in northern England.
Ron Symington, Oscar’s great-grandfather would often say, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” — and he wasn’t referring to his gun dog!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Given the continuing atmospheric instability it was almost inevitable that the rain finally caught up with us at Quinta dos Malvedos, namely over the last two days with 12.4 mm recorded on Monday and 4.4 mm recorded yesterday. However, picking up from where we left off since the last post (on Saturday), the decision to halt harvesting on Sunday proved correct because just a light shower was felt (insufficient to record anything in our weather station) besides which it was one of the hottest days of the month thus far — the maximum temperature reaching 30.1ºC (86.18º Fahrenheit). This is precisely what was required to help dry the Touriga Nacional grapes still remaining on the vines at Malvedos and Tua. In the evening a Touriga Nacional lagar was run off (above right) and Henry was extremely pleased with the amazing colour of the must: “fantastic colour!!!”
As planned, picking was resumed first thing Monday morning (Touriga Nacional from Malvedos) and although it did rain, most of it came down during the night thus making life easier for our roga (grape pickers) in the vineyards. We had some visitors on Monday; the first was the “Spirit of Chartwell” (see above), the Royal barge in which the Queen and other members of the Royal Family sailed down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012 — the highlight of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The vessel, which cruised by at half past seven in the morning, is now owned by a Portuguese company operating cruises along the Douro River carrying visitors from all around the world, attracted by the Douro’s magnificent scenery and wines.
The second visitor was Paul Symington, Graham’s Joint Managing Director, cousin of Charles, our head winemaker. Like Charles, Paul farms his own vineyard privately and he was interested to compare the grapes from his own Quinta with those being harvested at Malvedos. Henry showed Paul a selection of the recently made Ports and Paul was especially impressed with the wine made from a co-fermentation of Touriga Nacional (80%) and Sousão (20%). Henry agreed with him that this is a fine example of good balance in a wine; combining the vibrant aromas and compact fruit of the Touriga Nacional with the freshness provided by the characteristic acidity of the Sousão.
On Tuesday we started off again with overcast conditions with most of the day’s 4.4 mm falling between 11am and noon. During the afternoon the weather improved and scattered clouds allowed the sun to show itself again. Better to have the rain in more concentrated showers like this than spread out and falling persistently all through the day. This was in fact demonstrated — rain notwithstanding — by the very good quality of the (Touriga Nacional) grapes coming into the winery. The first trailer load of the day gave a reading of 14.2º Baumé and the last 14.65º. No dilution of the grapes here! Henry is well pleased by the excellent, deep purple colour displayed by the latest TN fermentations. Our research and development viticulturist, Fernando Alves, paid a visit during the afternoon just as this last load was coming into the winery and he was pleasantly surprised to see the grapes with such quality, despite the rain we’ve been having (see picture above left). Fernando commented that the fruit is still largely in fine condition. We shall see if we’re as lucky with the Touriga Franca which we hope to start picking from Thursday.
Wednesday, September 24th: Quite a chilly and overcast morning with mist hovering low over the Douro. Today we aim to conclude picking the remaining parcels of Touriga Nacional from Malvedos: block 70 (planted 2005); block 88 and block 97 (both planted in 2000). Later in the morning Rupert Symington, one of Graham’s Joint Managing Directors came round to the winery with a group of visitors from the United States, including a team from our US importer and distributor, Premium Port Wines.