Those of you who follow us on Facebook may recall our announcement last December about the release of Graham’s 1961 Single Harvest Tawny Port. During his routine tasting of all the wines ageing in our Lodge, our head winemaker, Charles Symington, was so impressed with the 1961s he decided to take the tasting equivalent of a closer look at these wines. Out of 14 casks Charles picked three that were especially fine and deserving of presentation as a single harvest tawny (also known as a colheita), something Graham’s had never before released.
Each cask contained wine for 712 bottles, and the first cask was bottled and released for sale in late 2010. The second cask was bottled last Thursday, 9th March, and the packaging was completed on Friday 10th March. The wine has been so popular and demand so great that nearly all of Cask 2 is already committed for sale and the sales team is negotiating with the production department to schedule the bottling of Cask 3 soon.
Such an extraordinary wine merits very special packaging, and the press has commented favourably on the very handsome presentation as well as the superb wine. How is it done? Almost entirely by hand.
For such a small bottling run in the special “Oslo” style bottle, we used a very compact bottling station – no long conveyor lines or automated processes for this product. Bottles are washed, then placed into and removed from the filling machine by hand, no more than four at a time. The T-shaped cork stoppers are then gently tapped into place with a mallet, and the bottles are labelled, again placed by hand into the machine, two at a time. After labelling, the bottles are then passed to a colleague who double checks that the labels are perfectly aligned and smooth, polishes the bottle and then places it back into a sectioned carton very carefully, to ensure the labels are not scratched or rumpled by the carton dividers. It took approximately four hours for a team of four people to fill, cork and label 712 bottles.
On Friday, there were two operations to complete: first, the numbered IVDP labels are carefully applied to every bottle by hand, and then a clear plastic capsule is placed over the stopper and neck by hand, and passed to a colleague who uses a machine to heat-seal the capsules in place. The attention to detail is extraordinary: the stoppers are twisted, if necessary, to ensure the Graham’s name on top faces the front of the bottle, the IVDP labels are placed in the same place on each bottle, crossing the word Graham’s on the stopper, and aligning the IVDP numbered seal with the centre front label. Again at the conclusion of the process the bottles are meticulously inspected to ensure labels and seal are perfect and the bottles clean before they are replaced into the cartons. Three people worked for about 3 hours to complete this part of the process.
The third and final procedure is the numbering and packaging. Every bottle is numbered by hand on the back label and accompanied by an identically numbered certificate of authenticity which is included in every presentation tube. Last summer we actually asked our employees to submit handwriting samples, to see who had the nicest writing for this purpose. In the end, it was João Magalhães of Quality Control who was asked to be responsible for the hand-written labels and certificates. We made a special cradle of styrofoam so the bottle would be held horizontal and level to make his job easier.
Each bottle is numbered, wrapped in tissue, set into the presentation tube with its certificate, and then four tubes are packed into each wooden case which is then sealed. Both seals and wooden cases indicate the cask number from which the wine was bottled. The cases are meticulously lined up on a pallet, and will be wrapped carefully for shipping around the world. Five people worked together, every task by hand, for five hours to number and package the wine and prepare it for shipping.
Have you bought a bottle of Graham’s 1961? Leave us a message and tell us the cask and bottle number you have purchased, and where in the world you will be enjoying it.