Asking a winemaker which parcel of the vineyard is his favourite is a bit like asking a parent to name their favourite child – they have to disclaim favouritism, but in their heart of hearts, there usually is an especially dear parcel they can rely on for wines that epitomise the house style.
For us at Graham’s, at Quinta dos Malvedos, we are especially fond of Port Arthur for many reasons. This parcel of Touriga Nacional lies in a narrow gorge; if you look at the banner photo of this blog, reading from right to left, you see the house, a citrus grove on the hill top and down the upper half of the hill face, and below that an area of walled vineyard facing east – the opposite side is in shadow. That walled vineyard and the facing vineyard in the shadow is Port Arthur.
The physical vineyard itself was built by the Graham family shortly after they acquired the Quinta in 1890, and was named for the famous Port Arthur, a heavily fortified Chinese city which was in the headlines in late 1894, during the First Sino-Japanese war. Apparently the sinuous lines of the terraces were similar to those of the walled city, now known as Lushunkou.
The vineyard is spectacular – the walled terraces are particularly fine. On the east facing side the walls are about 1.8 metres (6 foot) high and over a metre wide, and on the opposite side of the gorge they are 10 to 12 feet high and even thicker. All the walls have stairways built in to facilitate rapid access up and down the terraces. They are beautiful examples of the stone mason’s art, completely dry stone walls built out of the schist removed from the soil when the vineyard was created.
The narrow gorge creates an exceptional microclimate – open enough to receive the sun all day on one or both sides, the gorge has shrubbery at the bottom to hold just a bit of humidity, and is narrow and deep enough to protect the vines from the notoriously hot dry winds of the Douro afternoon: perfect conditions to fend off the worst of the Douro heat, dryness and relentless sun in the late summer when the grapes begin their final ripening phase.
The vines today are Touriga Nacional, which provides several key qualities to Graham’s vintage ports: black fruit, firm tannins, natural acidity and an intense inky purple colour. Planted in 2000, we have 1,379 vines on the east face and another 1,237 opposite which gave us just about 2,500 kilos of fruit this year. At ten years old, the vines are mature and producing well-balanced wines.
This year the grapes from Port Arthur were vinified together with grapes from one other select parcel – parcel 37 which is also on the hill face below the house, on the north side (hidden in the banner photo by another hill). All these vines are between approximately 120 and 250 metres of altitude.
Vinified on Tuesday the 28th September, the wine had an initial baume of 13.45, which is good for TN, and was treaded for 4 hours, then left to rest till morning. Touriga Nacional has particularly thick skin, so Henry decided another hour’s treading could only help with the extraction – and the wine is now the deepest purple we’ve seen yet in the winery this year. After the extra treading, we checked the baumé again and found the grapes had generously rendered up a little more sweetness: 13.75.
Leaning over the tank and wafting a bit of air towards yourself, you can smell wonderful clean fresh rich fruit. Henry is extremely pleased with this wine – he speaks of it very modestly, as always, but the smile is much broader than usual.