The Symington family farms Quinta do Ataíde and Quinta da Canada organically. With a combined total of 112 hectares, this represents the largest organic vineyard in Portugal. A further four ha at Graham’s Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto and 10 ha at Quinta dos Malvedos are also farmed organically, bringing the family’s total area of organic vineyard to 126 ha.
All other Symington vineyards in the Douro are farmed under a system of minimum intervention called ‘Integrated Production Management’.
For more than two decades, the Symington family’s vineyards have been managed under the principles of Integrated Production Management (sometimes referred to as Integrated Crop Protection), a rigorous regime which strives for minimum intervention in the vineyard. In practice this means restricting as far as possible the type and quantity of treatments applied to the vines for the control of pests and diseases.
Prevention is key and data is gathered from a number of meteorological stations, located at several quintas. The information obtained is used to undertake risk-analysis of potential threats to the vines and in order to avoid the need for aggressive treatments.
Another beneficial aspect of the farming methods introduced by Symington’s viticulture team has been the use of cover crops sown between the rows of vines. These help to conserve moisture and to combat erosion, while also contributing organic matter to the soil. Cover crops are a defence against unwanted weeds and provide an alternative habitat for insects, which are an essential part of the food chain. Thus the vineyards provide a healthy habitat for birds, reptiles and mammals, ensuring good biodiversity and a balanced and sustainable environment.
A beneficial effect of organic farming and Integrated Production Management in the Symington family’s vineyards has been nature conservation. Over recent years the family have witnessed an increase in the numbers of several species of wildlife such as otters, hares, hedgehogs, small reptiles and insects, as well as a rich variety of birdlife such as owls, eagles, hawks and griffon vultures. Moreover, a great diversity of wildflowers abounds in the vineyards. A particularly pleasing example of wildlife conservation in the area has been the repopulation of the scops owl, which is the smallest bird of prey in Portugal. Its natural habitat has been preserved, largely due to the abundant supply of food in the form of large insects, made possible by the non-disruptive farming practices embodied in organic viticulture and Integrated Production Management. The scops owl has been adopted as the motif of the Symington’s Altano Douro DOC range of wines.
Of the Symington family’s total landholding of 2,240 hectares spread over the Douro Valley, approximately half is planted with vineyards, the remainder being made up of natural shrub, forest, olive groves and orchards. These sizeable areas support a great assortment of flora and fauna and provide natural havens for a variety of species.
The Vilariça Valley has several characteristics that provide ideal conditions for organic viticulture:
The first Vilariça Valley vineyard attained organic certification in 2006, allowing Symington Family Estates to release its first organically farmed wine. Following three years of organic farming, in 2010 the Ataíde and Canada vineyards also received certification. Besides contributing to the increased production of Altano organic wine, these vineyards continue to supply very fine quality grapes to the other Symington DOC wines such as Quinta do Ataíde.
As well as promoting sustainability through low intensity viticulture, the Symington family’s winemaking strives to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Their two larger wineries, where the majority of the grapes sourced outside the family’s vineyards are vinified, use autovinication tanks and at Quinta do Sol alone there are 48. These harness the CO2 released during fermentation to pump over the cap, only using external energy sources when and if the temperature control system is used.
Of equal significance is the fact that besides the two larger wineries at Quinta do Sol and Quinta do Bomfim, the family operate seven much smaller wineries, geographically spread out along the Douro Valley and located at some of their finest quintas. These wineries, such as Cavadinha, Malvedos, Senhora da Ribeira, Vesúvio and Roriz, produce wines from grapes picked on their respective estates, which dramatically decreases the time the grapes spend in transit.
Traditional wineries, of which Quinta do Vesúvio is one of the Douro’s finest examples, still make their Ports entirely by foot treading and thus it is human energy rather than electricity that is expended.