What Charles Does in the Off Season

Charles Symington

What does the winemaker’s calendar look like for the other ten or eleven months of the year, when he is not harvesting and making the new port wines?  Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, describes the annual cycle of his “To Do” list.

Tastings are a year round occupation.  After the new harvest wines are made, they remain in the Douro to settle in the cool winter conditions.  There is a major tasting of all new wines in December, on the basis of which Charles can begin to make decisions about blending lotes (batches).  As the wines are brought down from the Douro between approximately December and April the wines can be blended as necessary upon arrival for storage in our Lodge in Gaia.  Typically for Graham’s we will have ended harvest with around 100 lotes, and by this time the following year they will have been consolidated into roughly 65 wines.

Just some of the samples in our Tasting Room

Wines typically close up after harvest for a period of about six months, and often can get much darker, as well as generally developing their character, getting bigger and better (or perhaps not).  For this reason, beginning in April Charles again systematically tastes all the new wines to confirm or amend their quality categorisation and likely use, e.g. wines earmarked for possible use in Vintage ports, LBV, tawnies, and so on.  This is also the time of year when he reviews the wines initially flagged for likely Vintage use, and can begin the triage to move wines from Vintage to Six Grapes designation.

By the second January following harvest, he will have made his decision and if necessary his final blend for a Graham’s Vintage declaration or Quinta dos Malvedos  bottling.

In parallel with the assessment of the prior harvest wines, Charles and Manuel Rocha and Nuno Moreira of the Sala de Provas (Tasting Room) routinely review all our wines, of all appropriate ages, that have been earmarked for use in a particular style of wine.  For example, just recently they reviewed all the possible Reserve and LBV wines (stocks between 4 and 7 years old) and Charles finished blending the Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage 2007.  This new LBV will shortly be registered with the IVDP (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, the Port trade’s regulating body) and will be bottled in January 2012.  Charles is very pleased with the 2007 wine – if any of you are familiar with the Vintage Ports from 2007, you know what a wonderful year it was.

When blending new batches of non-vintage wines, the team compare them with previously bottled wines to ensure consistency.

While ensuring we blend and bottle our ports of a specific harvest in a timely fashion (Vintages for release roughly 18 months after harvest, Crusted 2 to 3 years after harvest, and LBVs 4 to 6 years after harvest), Charles also keeps an eye on stocks of our blended wines, for example all our entry level and Reserve ports, as well as our 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Tawnies, and plans to blend and bottle new supplies of those products as needed.

July is typically the time of year when stocks are lowest, so a full inventory is taken and double checked against our records before pretty nearly the entire firm takes holiday the first two weeks of August, and then begins countdown to the next harvest.

And no, Charles didn’t say a word about plans for 2010 declarations or bottlings.  Even the blogger will have to wait till next spring for that news.