PEREGRINE FALCON RETURNED TO THE WILD AT QUINTA DOS CANAIS

On a sunny morning at the end of June a young peregrine falcon, nursed back to health by the Wildlife Rescue Centre of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) at Vila Real, was returned to the wild at Quinta dos Canais in the Douro. Canais is one of the Symington family’s remotest vineyards and is home to a rich variety of wildlife, and for both those reasons it was a natural choice for the falcon’s release. In particular, Canais has a remarkable variety of bird species, which include hoopoes, golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle-doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds of prey such as black kites and short-toed eagles.

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Injured during its first migratory flight from the British Isles to southern Europe in December 2015, the young falcon was treated at the University’s Veterinary Hospital, and over the last 7 months it has made a full recovery. Originally marked by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in the UK in November 2015, the bird’s provenance was clear.

The injured bird was found along the northern coast of Portugal and was first taken to the Parque Biológico de Gaia, a wildlife park and rehabilitation centre not far from the Symington family’s Port Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. The bird had sustained multiple fractures in one of its wings as a result of illegal gunfire. Lacking the proper facilities to treat the bird, the wildlife park swiftly organized its transfer to the University Veterinary Hospital at Vila Real, one of the finest in the Iberian Peninsula.

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The veterinary hospital works hand in hand with the university’s wildlife rescue centre which specialises in treating and nursing back to health birds of prey. Approximately 350 birds are treated each year and on average their recovery period lasts from 6 to 7 months. The rescue centre has a large octagonal flight tunnel, the only one of its size in the Iberian Peninsula. It allows all but the largest birds to make manoeuvres in mid-flight that would not be possible in more traditional tunnels, and is thus a very effective facility for the rehabilitation of wild birds and in particular birds of prey. In this way they exercise and gradually regain their strength in readiness for a return to the wild.

The Symington family have supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years.  Conditions for the release at Quinta dos Canais were perfect, the high temperatures (30ºC) generating the thermals that help birds gain altitude rapidly. Just before it took to the freedom of the skies the falcon was aptly named ‘Canais’. The falcon had not been fed intentionally on the morning of the release in order to sharpen its hunting instincts and thus increase its chances of survival. It was observed over the skies of Canais for several hours after the release and the vineyard caretaker, Sr. Orlando reports that he continues to spot ‘Canais’ flying over the property, a very encouraging sign that the bird’s return to the wild has been a complete success.

Victory for Symington Family Estates in the 1st Great Douro Vineyard Run

Yesterday saw the Symington running team take part in the first edition of the Great Douro Vineyard Run. Formed by members from diverse areas of the company, Symington Family Estates won first place in the team event and saw every member placing highly, with second place in the women’s race going to Mariana Ameixieira, and third in the men’s to Pedro Silva, the team’s invaluable trainer.

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The winners of the women’s race (from left to right): Mariana Ameixieira, Tânia Fernandes, Irene Monte
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The winners of the men’s race (from left to right): Abilio Ribeiro, Joaquim Lopes, Pedro Silva

The event, which was one of the first of its kind in the Douro, saw almost 300 runners compete in a gruelling trail half marathon through some of the most beautiful vineyards of the Douro. From the starting line on the banks of the Douro in Pinhão, the course rose and fell through the vineyards of Quintas Junco, Cavadinha, Terra Feita, Cruzeiro, Noval, Bomfim and finally Roeda, before crossing the finish line on the riverfront in Pinhão.

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A view from the top of the final steep descent towards Quinta do Bomfim

The half marathon was also accompanied by a 12km walk, which saw almost 1000 participants take part.

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The SFE team at the podium

With high temperatures and a total elevation gain of 1000m, the race was not easy, but the determination of the 10-man team from Symington Family Estates, and the support of everyone at Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Cavadinha, meant a great overall result. Congratulations to all involved!

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 5

In this fifth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at flowering in the vineyards of Quinta dos Malvedos.

Flowering in the Douro vineyards usually occurs around the middle of the month of May, approximately two months after bud-break. This year flowering was up to 10 days later than last year in most of our vineyards, on account of the unusually wet and cool conditions of this spring. After the embryo bunches begin to flower, pollination is triggered almost immediately and is followed by fertilization, resulting in the formation of tiny berries. Fruit set, involving the rapid transformation of the embryo bunches into small clusters of green, pea-like berries, follows on quite swiftly from flowering. The berries gradually expand and ultimately become grapes.

The vine continues with its vegetative growth although at this stage there is a gradual slowing down of the vigour of the growing tips in favour of the developing bunches. Further canopy management is required at about the same time as flowering, namely guiding the shoots upwards through the twin wires of the trellis known as the foliage wires. This entirely manual operation is known as shoot positioning and ensures a good layout of the vine canopy in order to facilitate ongoing operations in the vineyard as well as helping to prevent vine diseases.

A YEAR IN THE VINEYARDS – PART 4

In this fourth video of our series ‘A year in the vineyards’ we look at shoot thinning (spring pruning) in the vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos.

The early spring is always a busy time for us as the vegetative vigour of the vines gets into its stride and the timely interventions of our teams in the field are essential to safeguard the success of the vines’ growing season. The first major operation that occupies us during April is shoot thinning, which is also referred to as spring pruning and is known locally as despampa. It entails the removal by hand from each and every vine of superfluous shoots, leaving only those deemed sufficient to deliver an optimum number of grape bunches. Limiting the number of shoots thus allows us to influence production, leaving behind only what the vine is able to support and thus concentrating its vigour, which leads to greater concentration of flavour and sugar in the berries that ultimately take form. Furthermore, this control ensures a balanced canopy layout with less dense foliage encouraging good aeration of the vines — important in minimizing the appearance of diseases such as downy mildew and powdery mildew.

 

Master of Wine Candidates Visit Porto and the Douro

For the third consecutive year, candidates for the title of Master of Wine have once again paid a visit to Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia before travelling up the Douro Valley to visit some of the regions most famous vineyards. While an important visit for the students, the fact that the Demarcated Douro Region has been recognised by the Institute of Masters of Wine as an important part of the curriculum of such a distinguished qualification, also makes the visit very important for Port, and the Douro Valley as a whole.

Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is one of the most prestigious communities of wine professionals in the world. To become a member you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the challenge of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 343 Masters of Wine worldwide.

The first stop for the 18 MW students from all over the world who arrived in Porto on the 19th of April was Vinum, the restaurant located in Graham’s 1890 Lodge, for a dinner hosted by Paul Symington. Finishing with Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, it was a fitting start to what would be three days immersion in the world of Port.

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Henry Shotton, Quina dos Malvedos’ winemaker

The next day saw the candidates participate in a tasting of Graham’s, and other leading producer’s, wines.

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The tasting in the Factory House

They then departed for the Douro Valley, where they visited Quinta do Bomfim, another of Symington Family Estate’s prime vineyards, where Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos’ winemaker, Henry Shotton (also a MW student himself), gave an in-depth explanation of the winemaking process, before being shown around the vineyards.

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This year’s Master of Wine students 

Once again, it was a pleasure to spend some time with the Master of Wine students, and we wish them the very best of luck in their studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Port Academy Vintage Port Decanting Competition in Shanghai

Last month the Vintage Port Academy organised the first Port decanting competition in Shanghai. With eight two-person teams made up of sommeliers and service staff from the city’s leading hotels and restaurants taking part, there was a lot at stake!

Formed by Symington Family Estates and the Fladgate Partnership, the Vintage Port Academy aims to develop an understanding and enjoyment of Vintage Port among wine consumers and professionals around the world through a programme of seminars and courses for wine trade and hospitality personnel, as well as tastings and workshops for fine wine consumers, and collectors.

The decanting competition was judged on two elements; clarity (as in the lack of sediment in the poured wine) and wastage. Time would also be used as a tiebreaker if the teams were tied on clarity and wastage.

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The judges evaluating the decanted wines

The winning team was Courtyard by Marriott, represented by Lobby Lounge Manager Jessi Peng and Café Supervisor Jacky Ma, who scored 17.5 out of 20 and each received a two bottle presentation box of 2003 Vintage Port.

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The participants in the Vintage Port decanting competition

Injured Peregrine Falcon Recovers

At the beginning of December 2015, the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real, Portugal, received into care a young injured male peregrine falcon. Shot, presumably by hunters, near the town of Esposende on the Northern coast of Portugal, the bird was making his first migration south for the winter.

We are happy to report that the bird has made a full recovery and will soon be returned to the wild in time to return to Northern Europe for the summer, this time fitted with a state-of-the-art GPS tracker in order for the centre’s dedicated team to follow its journey.

In this video, filmed several months ago, you can see the recovering bird making use of the centre’s octagonal flight tunnel.

Symington Family Estates supports the work of the Wildlife Rescue and Recovery Centre and shares with it the values and commitment of protecting and preserving the wildlife and natural habitats of the Douro. We will be following the release of the falcon into the wild at a Symington Family Estate’s vineyard in the near future.

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 3

In a series of video clips to be shown throughout the year we will be exploring the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the third of the videos, documents bud-break.

Bud-break marks the end of winter dormancy and the start of the vines’ new vegetative cycle.

With the arrival of spring, buds begin to sprout during March; the timing varies with each grape variety and air temperatures.

 

A Year in the Vineyards – Part 2

In a series of video clips to be shown over the year we will be exploring the annual cycle of the vine at Quinta dos Malvedos, culminating in the vintage during September/October. This, the second of the videos, documents vine training and planting.

Training young vines and vine planting

Once winter pruning is concluded, the next task is to train the canes of the young two to three-year-old vines onto the lower wires of the vine trellises, known as the ‘fruiting wires.’ Vine-training in our vineyards follows the Royat single cordon system meaning that the cane (or cordon) is trained horizontally, only to one side of the vine trunk.

Starting in February and continuing through March is the planting (or replanting) of vines. Our vineyards are planted from the end of winter until the start of spring of the year after the preparation of the terrain, known as the surriba, which involves the turning over of the topsoil and subsoil, whilst at the same time building the terraces on which the new vines will be planted. In the past the vines were planted in two stages, one year apart; first the phylloxera-resistant rootstock was planted and a year later the scion of the chosen variety would be field-grafted onto it. In recent years the vast majority of our vineyards are planted with bench-grafted rootlings, which already combine the rootstock and the scion. The great advantage of this method is the greater uniformity of the planted vineyard, which thus comes into full production earlier.

GRAHAM’S MARKS THE QUEEN’S 90TH BIRTHDAY WITH SPECIAL COMMEMORATIVE PORT

Hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd at their historic St. James’s Street offices in London, on Wednesday March 30th four members of the Symington family, together with their friends at Berrys, launched Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port, a limited edition of 500 bottles to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s forthcoming 90th birthday. Paul, Johnny, Rupert and Charlotte Symington presented the special commemorative Port to a group of UK wine writers and journalists, as well as two of Portugal’s leading wine writers. The Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, João de Vallera, was also present.

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Charlotte Symington pours the Graham’s 90 component wines in readiness for the tasting.

Paul introduced the three venerable cask-matured wines of which the Graham’s 90 is composed. He took with him from Portugal the original vintage records for those years, one of which written by his great grandfather Andrew James Symington. He read the entry dated 14th October 1935, the year in which one of the component wines for the Graham’s 90 was made. Andrew James Symington describes the quality of the year and alludes to the reigning monarch of the day, King George V (the Queen’s grandfather): “I am inclined to think that the quality and good colour inspires hope that the 1935 may prove good enough to make a Jubilee Vintage – quantity is less than last year – but quality appears to be better.”

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Paul (left) guides the Symington family’s and Berry’s guests through the tasting.

Johnny went on to explain that Port has long been used to toast royal and historic occasions by every conceivable British institution for centuries and this seemed an entirely appropriate association. This isn’t the first time that the Symington family and Berry Brothers have come together to mark a royal occasion. In 2012 they jointly launched the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. Again the challenge was to create an exceptional Port to pay a fitting tribute to the Queen’s dedicated lifetime of service to the nation. Port has always been served at every state occasion at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle during Her Majesty’s long reign and this has helped to project Port as one of the world’s premier wines.

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British and Portuguese wine writers scribble their notes as they put the Graham’s 90 component wines through their paces

Berry Bros. & Rudd, Port Buyer, Simon Field MW commented, “The prospect of working with Charles Symington [Graham’s head winemaker] is always one that we relish and when we approached Charles, Paul and Johnny for ideas for something rather special to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday we were confident that they would unearth something exceptional. They have.” These were Simon’s first impressions when he tasted this remarkable Port: “The fruits of very old casks from three venerable vintages, of which two are significantly over 90 years of age, this outstanding blend impresses immediately with its deep colour and richly generous aromas. The palate is even more intriguing, teasing initially with a beguiling cocktail of high spirits and spritely wisdom. It’s only with a little time in glass that the true greatness becomes evident…patience is rewarded. There is no substitute for experience, and our experience should be accompanied by humility and gratitude.” 

Victoria Moore in the Daily Telegraph (March 30th) also eloquently described the Graham’s 90 (“A very special toast to the Queen”) as follows: “Graham’s 90 blended by Charles Symington, is far more than the sum of its parts: a finessed, complex Port, with fine layer upon fine layer of flavour, like a mille-feuille, opening gradually, a kaleidoscope of roasted nuts, honey, raisins, tobacco and spice.”

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This rare Port will be available in the UK exclusively through Berry Bros. & Rudd as from March 30th 2016 and will be priced at £700 per bottle. From each bottle sold, a contribution will be made by Graham’s to the Patron’s Fund, which supports a collection of UK and Commonwealth charities of which Her Majesty is the patron. The minimum contribution guaranteed by the Symington family is £10,000.00. A very restricted number of bottles will be available for sale in Portugal, some of which at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge.

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Crafting one of life's great traditions

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