I grew up in the Alentejo, in an old Anglo-Portuguese family with a long history of grapegrowing and winemaking. After university, I took post-graduate courses in viticulture and oenology in Adelaide. The exams finished in the summer of 2000 (our summer, not theirs!) and that September I contacted Charles Symington to see if there was anything useful I could do during the vintage. He said that they always needed a few extra people and to turn up on Monday. My excitement at being told I was going to one of the smaller, boutique wineries turned to horror when he breezily said something along the lines of:
‘You’re in charge. We start on Thursday. Give me a call if you have any trouble or I’ll see you after the vintage.’
After the harvest I ended up not really being asked to go away again as I had expected, and since then I have been the company’s viticultural researcher, investigating pretty much anything of interest to us in the vineyards. Recently we have been focusing a lot on some of the ecological aspects of grapegrowing. In addition to small experimental plots scattered across the Douro, I am responsible for 120 ha of vineyard, both company- and family-owned. This is just a fraction of the total as I wouldn’t want to leave the rest of the viticultural team with nothing to do. I have spent vintages at just about all of the company wineries but this year I will be running Cavadinha again. Although the adega has changed unrecognisably since then, it was the site of my very first port-making efforts as the work experience kid, back in 1998.