We assumed that we would revert to a normal year after the driest ever growing-season in 2017, but we were wrong, and the long drought continued through to March 2018. The Douro had endured 20 consecutive months with well below average rainfall.
Our pleading to the weather gods was clearly overdone as the nearly two-year ‘seca’ ended abruptly with heavy rains in March, April and May. These fantastically wet months delivered more than double the normal rainfall and culminated in a major storm on the evening of Monday 28th May. In the Pinhão area, 90mm of rain fell in less than 2 hours, with some localised but devastating hail. No soil can absorb this quantity of water, especially our steep hillside vineyards, and erosion caused severe damage. Incredibly, olive trees were scarred by the stones hurled against them by the gushing water as it headed downhill to the river. This major gale was heart-breaking, and the wise old Douro caseiros (vineyard foremen) shook their heads in despair.
Heavy spring rain is always a challenge as we go through the delicate bud break and later flowering, and inevitably this watery spring resulted in substantial losses. Vineyard work was intense and costly this year and farmers who were a few hours late in their treatments lost their entire crop. It is impossible to ignore the fact that 16,890 farmers in the Douro have less than 2 hectares of vines each and yet they represent 23% of the region’s vineyards. Most of these small holdings are notoriously underequipped and their future is increasingly doubtful as their children flock to the cities to find easier work.
Bud break was three weeks behind normal because of the wet and cool spring and the pintor (the painter) arrived two weeks later than average. Finally, a more normal weather pattern emerged in July with average temperatures and no relevant rainfall. The vineyards that survived the strange and challenging lead-in to the final furlong were looking magnificent through a hot August, clearly benefiting from good moisture in the soil.
The indispensable long-term weather forecast (unavailable to our ancestors) predicted fine weather through to October, and this proved entirely accurate, giving adequate time to allow the grapes to reach full maturity. We felt by now that we had truly earned a calm and pleasant harvest; September was rather hotter than we would have liked, with the monthly average 3.4˚C higher than normal, but lovely blue skies persisted throughout. The warm days advanced grape maturation faster than expected and cooling the musts in the lagares was almost always necessary for each ferment.
Yields were absurdly low in 2018, with many of our vineyards producing 40% less than average. There are few that are less than 25% down on the norm. This was the second year in a row with dramatically low production and there was a desperate scramble for grapes, particularly from those with few vineyards. Prices for Douro wine grapes rocketed upwards, which is probably a very good thing, certainly for the farmers who have had a torrid few years. Hopefully the higher cost of grapes will correct the ridiculously cheap retail prices of some Douro wines that are seriously damaging the future of our region, putting us on a par with the world’s low-cost and high-yielding flat vineyards.
Despite (and in part because of) the incredibly low yields we have made some excellent Ports and Douro wines in 2018. The Touriga Franca has been particularly good, having clearly enjoyed the hot final ripening period, and has delivered wonderful colour and particularly lifted aromas. The latter is not a normal characteristic of Franca but it will be very noticeable in our wines this year.
It is somewhat ironic that the many tens of thousands of tourists who have now discovered the unique charm of Porto as well as the extraordinary beauty of the Douro, are fast drawing people into the hospitality industry, thereby creating a severe labour shortage in the very same vineyards that they so admire. The Douro, the world’s most challenging mountain vineyard, is the last major wine region that is entirely picked by hand due to the incredibly steep vineyards. This is clearly not sustainable, and grapes will remain on the vines unless an alternative is found.
For too long, too many people have viewed the Douro as a mysterious, remote but beautiful time warp where Port and Douro wines can be made cheaply, dependent on a distorted regulatory system, low-wages and plentiful labour. The last two harvests have shown that change is imperative if the unique Port and Douro wines from our low-yielding indigenous vines and our extraordinary schist soils, can continue to be made.
Remembering Maurice Symington, who fought alongside the Portuguese Expeditionary Force on April 9th, 1918.
Earlier this week, the President and the Prime Minister of Portugal joined the French President in Paris and then in Richebourg, in French Flanders, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Lys where the Portuguese Expeditionary Force was attacked by German forces — five times their number. The presidents of both nations laid wreaths during a ceremony at the Portuguese National Cemetery, Richebourg, in memory of the thousands of Portuguese soldiers who lost their lives.
In 1918, Maurice Symington was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, British Army, which he had joined on leaving school in August 1914. Being fluent in Portuguese, he was part of the British Mission to the 55,000 strong ‘Corpo Expedicionário Português’, the Portuguese Expeditionary Force that had joined the Allies in France in 1917.
On 9th of April 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Symington was with the Portuguese Artillery in France just behind the trenches between Armentieres and Festubert when the German Army launched one of the most powerful attacks of the war. Eight German Divisions amounting to some 100,000 men attacked 20,000 Portuguese. After heroic resistance, the Portuguese were overrun and the neighbouring 119th Brigade of the British 40th Division was also forced back. Total casualties on the Allied side during the battle of La Lys (7th-29th April 2018) were truly horrendous at circa 120,000 men.
This is an extract from the diary of 23-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Maurice Symington for Tuesday 9th April 1918, while fighting with the Corpo Expedicionário Português in France:
‘Woke at 4 am by salvo round house. Tremendous bombardment everywhere. SOS from everywhere. All lines cut. Shells falling about 10 a minute. This continued till 9, when the Boche attacked and after that till 2.15pm when the barrage finally lifted. Machine guns active all around us and behind in two points. Decided to retire at 2.45pm. Only just escaped in time. Went to Lestrem, but found nobody there. Finally got to Calonne sur-la-Lys. My clothes consisted of pyjamas, gum boots, breeches and my British Warm [Greatcoat warn by British Army Officers]. Also pistol & box of cigarettes. ‘If’, my dog, stuck to me and got through. Don’t know how we weren’t all killed. Worst thing I have ever been through in my life.’
Maurice Symington was lucky to be one of the survivors, and eventually returned to Portugal after the war ended in November 1918, together with his faithful dog ‘If’. He was subsequently awarded the Portuguese Ordem Militar de Avis and was Mentioned in Despatches by the British Army for ‘Gallant and distinguished service in the field’ in a certificate signed by Winston Churchill, then Secretary of War in the British Government.
Maurice joined his father as a Port producer in Portugal in late 1918, where his descendants today continue the long family tradition. He eventually died in April 1974, in the same room that he had been born in at N˚1283 Avenida de Boavista, Porto, Portugal. His father, Andrew James Symington, was a Port producer who had come to Portugal from Scotland aged 18 in 1882. His mother was Beatriz Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson from an Anglo-Portuguese family who had been Port producers since the 17th century.
The Symington family is pleased to announce our decision to declare 2016 as a Vintage Port year. This is only the fourth Vintage declaration for all our Port companies since 2000 and the first since the magnificent 2011’s. Few wine regions anywhere restrict Vintage Years with such meticulous care and only truly exceptional Ports are declared in this way.
The 2015/16 winter was wetter than average, which provided a vital counterbalance to the hot Douro summer. Damp weather continued into May, which caused considerable fruit loss to the unwary. From June, normal service was resumed, and August was very warm although some welcome rain fell on the 24th and 26th. More heat ushered in September, and some started picking although it was clear to those who were properly monitoring their vines that the grapes were not ready. Furthermore, the long-range forecast predicted showers and sure enough invaluable rain fell on the 12th and 13th September.
This was the year to read the signs and to take risks; Charles Symington, head winemaker, delayed harvesting until the 19th September and the best Touriga Nacional was not harvested until the 26th, and the late-ripening Touriga Franca only during the first ten days of October. The greatest 2016 Symington Ports were made during this later period under lovely blue skies. It is not easy in our incredibly diverse region to pick grapes at exactly the right time, especially when yields are amongst the lowest in the world at 26 hectolitres/ha, with high risk of dehydration and when many producers rely on bought grapes and are therefore dependent on farmers for picking. All the 2016 Symington Vintage Ports are made from our own Quinta vineyards where Charles and his viticulture team can be seen every day tasting and analysing grapes throughout August and September. All our Vintage Ports were made in our five small lagar wineries, using the classic treading method for great Port.
The 2016 Vintage Ports are exceptional with tannins that are amongst the most refined ever, supporting beautiful red-fruit flavours with extraordinary intense, purple colour. They have impressive structure and balance, with Baumés, acidity, tannins and colour in rare and perfect alignment. This is no doubt a result of the later ripening cycle which allowed our grapes to mature evenly and completely. Production of each of our 2016 Vintage Ports is approximately 1/5th below our previous declared Vintage following rigorous selection in the tasting room.
Vila Nova de Gaia, 9th April 2018
Bill Warre, Master of Wine, passed away recently after a lifetime working with the Symington family. Here the tribute given at his Memorial Service by Paul Symington.
Thursday 25th January 2018 - St. Mary's Church, Wimbledon
Bill was my father’s age, so to speak of him is a great honour, and I was deeply touched when Mary and Philippa asked me to do so. But although of a different generation, he was really part of my family, even though we are not related in any way. Bill’s father was close to my grandfather, and in turn, Bill was one of my father’s closest friends. To give you some idea of the relationship, my grandfather, aged 20, wrote on the 9th May 1915 from the trenches near Béthune in France: ‘‘I got a letter from Mrs Warre yesterday offering to put me up at any time when I come on leave’ and again in August 1917: ‘Mrs Warre has been awfully kind about writing; she scarcely ever misses a day, and has sent lots of papers and magazines.’ This was Violet Warre, sister of Bill’s father. Maurice Symington always stayed at Violet and Amyas’s house in Evelyn Gardens when on leave from the front, as it was almost impossible to get back to Portugal.
Bill served in the 12th Royal Lancers after leaving Eton and was posted to Palestine from 1945 to 1947. This was a most difficult time in that region, with vicious fighting going on between various groups. But there was some time for humour, and Philippa told me a story about Bill’s early training-time in the army. We all know that he had very poor sight in one eye, so this presented him with quite a challenge for active service. One day he was being tested by a senior officer who pointed at an army tank 500 yards away:
“Can you see that tank?”
And that was it, he was a cavalry officer!
The old friendship between our two families was such that it was only natural that when Bill finished serving in Palestine and went to Portugal in 1948, that he should stay for several months with my grandparents at their house in the Avenida de Boavista. It was during this period that Bill built the foundation of his profound knowledge of Port, and continued his family’s historic connection with the Douro.
There have been virtually no British Port families with such an extraordinarily long association with the Douro: The first William Warre came to Portugal in 1729 from Madras in India and joined a Port company founded in 1670, just 59 years previously. This William married the sister of the British Consul in Oporto, and architect of the Factory House. Their son, another William, also became His Majesty’s Consul, as well as being a Port Shipper. In turn, his nephew, yet another William and Oporto-born, was to have a highly distinguished career in the Peninsular War, and was the subject of Bill’s important book and is perhaps the most famous member of this great clan.
Bill in 1948 was following in the footsteps of a family that has been closely tied to the Douro for three centuries, it is an extraordinary story. Bill told Richard Mayson that he found Oporto in 1948: ‘a world of semi-luxury accompanied by Victorian service,’ having arrived from England by steamer which crossed the bar of the Douro and moored right alongside the lodges, on the waterfront at Vila Nova de Gaia. Life in Portugal, he said, was a pleasant contrast to the rationing and austerity of post-war Britain. He was apprenticed to Ron Symington for six months in the Dow’s tasting room, and got to know the vineyards very well.
But the Port trade was not doing well and exports were virtually stopped, as the traditional markets were effectively bankrupt. Bill, together with my father and his cousins Ian and James, fought to keep Port alive. Once Bill returned to the UK he carried the flag for Port and later helped to launch the magnificent 1963 Vintage. This great wine was notable not only for its outstanding quality, but also for being the first Vintage Port to sell successfully since before the Great Depression of the 1930’s, over a quarter of a century earlier.
Bill became one of the first Masters of Wine in 1960 just 5 years after the Institute was founded. This is arguably the world’s most prestigious and difficult wine qualification. It was a notable achievement. But Bill carried his knowledge lightly and without pretension. My brother Dominic remembers a dinner in the 1980’s with Robert Rolls. When the Port appeared, Robert asked Bill and Dom to tell him what it was, saying ‘you will never guess’ (because it was a rare vintage) – Bill picked up the glass, gave it one sniff, turned to Dom and said; ‘this is what your grandfather served me at Boavista one night in 1955….it’s Warre 1922’. Dom said: ‘both Rob Rolls and I were totally dumbstruck, he hadn’t even tasted it!’
Shortly after our family acquired Fells in 1976, Bill joined the company and continued his illustrious wine trade career. During all this time he would frequently bring customers to Quinta do Bomfim, staying in the house that his grandfather George Warre had built in 1896. Bomfim is designed along the lines of a tea planters house, India having been where the Warre family had extensive investments in the 18th century.
But it was not only Port and wine that fascinated Bill; he was also a scholar of the Peninsular War, and he had strong family reasons for this: his great-grandfather’s brother of the same name, had been born in Oporto in 1784. This William Warre had been thrown out of the family Port business for gluing the Portuguese partner’s pig-tail to his desk while he slept off a satisfying lunch. Young Warre had little choice but to join the army, which in any case he had always wanted to do.
Warre served with General Ferguson as an ADC and went to Portugal with him in 1808, fighting at two of the early battles, Roliça and Vimeiro. He was also on the infamous retreat to Corunna with Sir John Moore, of which more later. After Corunna, Warre joined Marshal Beresford’s staff as ADC and was a key figure in the training of the new Portuguese army, being fluent in the language, and he was present at several other major battles including Oporto in 1809 and at the terrible sieges of Badajoz and Ciudad de Rodrigo. His last major battle in the Peninsular War was Salamanca in 1812, which many historians consider to be where Wellington’s showed his greatest ever strategic skill. At this action, Warre escorted the badly wounded Marshal Beresford off the field of battle and by boat down the Douro River to Oporto.
In 1999 Bill published the diaries of Lt General Sir William Warre, originally printed in 1909 by his great Uncle Edmond Warre, Provost of Eton. Bill’s version has extensive additional notes that were unavailable in the previous edition and, perhaps even more valuable; Bill knew intimately every one of the battlefields and locations mentioned in the diaries. Bill’s book is now used as a source by historians, and I have seen the diaries quoted in several recent publications. This is a direct result of Bill’s excellent work in which I know Mary played a brilliant role, researching and typing up much of the copy.
After Bill’s retirement from Fells in 1991 he and Mary, together with my parents, would make frequent pilgrimages to the Peninsular War battlefields. These trips were organised as for campaigning in the old days: research and maps, routes of march, victuals and of course wine and Port, were all part of the preparations. They would spend weeks up in the remoter areas on the Coa, near the Spanish frontier visiting the places mentioned in the diaries and other contempory sources. Several sites in particular fascinated Bill and my father, mostly the less well-known skirmishes: one in particular was General Crauford’s nearly disastrous mistake in July 1810, when he irresponsibly risked the crack Light Division, by lingering too long on the wrong side of the Coa. As Marshal Ney’s vastly bigger army approached, Crauford had to fight his way back across the tiny stone bridge over the Coa near Almeida, suffering some considerable loss. Bill and my father took me along the still existing old country lanes from Almeida to this bridge, pointing out exactly where every small skirmish had been fought, and who had done what.
All of this was thirsty work and when I was not with them, as I had to be working either in the Douro or Gaia, I would get messages saying that inexplicably, the rations had run out, the troops were restless and thirsty, and could I have more Port sent up?
Apart from being my father’s best friend, Bill was like an uncle to me, and to my siblings, and was godfather to my brother William. Both Mary and Bill were always incredibly kind to us all, and in a repetition of what Violet and Amyas Warre had done for my grandfather in 1915, they had me to stay at their lovely flat in Westbourne Terrace, when I first went to London aged 19.
In the years after Bill was retired, he and Mary shared countless holidays with my parents, always accompanied by suitcases clinking embarrassingly with numerous bottles. And at every single harvest, Bill and Mary would come and stay with my parents at their small Quinta in the Douro. They would have dinner on the open terrace at Andorinhas, over-looking the Pinhão valley vineyard and discuss the many vintages that they had seen over the years, always with more than a few bottles on the table. It was a well-earned retirement for all of them.
Bill’s sense of humour, his love of Port and of Portugal, his profound knowledge and his kindness, set him apart as a true gentleman. He continued an extraordinary and unique wine tradition that dates back over three centuries. It was a privilege to have known him.
I would like to end by reading a few lines from ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna’ by Charles Woolfe. Bill’s ancestor, Lt General Sir William Warre, was standing on the windswept headland at Corruna, in the far north-western corner of Spain on the night of 16th January 1809, when they buried their General, Sir John Moore, who had been killed in that day’s desperate battle.
Very early the next day, William Warre was the last officer from an army of some 16,000 British soldiers to embark on the Royal Navy ships that were there to rescue them. He had the French literally on his heels. I think Bill would have appreciated this poem being read on this occasion:
Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O’er the grave where our hero we buried.
We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light
And the lantern, dimly burning.
No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him,
But he lay, like a warrior, taking his rest
With his martial cloak around him.
Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
But left him alone with his glory.
Farewell Bill, we will miss you.
On Saturday, November 25th Symington Family Estates presented, in the name of all its employees, a new ambulance to the Sabrosa Volunteer Fire Brigade in recognition of the vital services they offer to the local community in this rural area of the Upper Douro Valley. Since 2007, this is the 10th ambulance donated by the Symington family to fire services in the Douro region.
Symington Family Estates own 1,024 hectares of vineyards in the Douro and of its near 500 employees, 40% live and work in the region. Besides providing a livelihood for many families, Symington is a major contributor to the local economy, annually purchasing grapes from several thousand growers, as well as other goods and services essential to the smooth running of its operations in the Douro.
Present at the handover ceremony in representation of the company were Paul Symington, several other company directors as well as the head of Symington Viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa and Sr. Américo, the farm manager of Quinta da Cavadinha, which is just a few kilometres from Sabrosa.
This year’s terrible wildfires throughout Portugal, which tragically claimed over 100 lives have again demonstrated the selfless dedication and courage of the nation’s firefighters who besides combatting forest fires, provide local communities with vital emergency medical coverage.
The Earliest Vintage
This has been a very dry and warm year in the Douro. From December 2016 onwards, every month had substantially below average rainfall apart from a 30-mm downpour and some localised hail on the afternoon of 6th July. This rain increased the year’s figures, but was of minimal benefit as most simply ran off the vineyards in torrents, causing some damage to terraces. Lots of our valuable soil ended up in the Douro river, which flowed golden-brown for a few days.
Quinta do Bomfim at Pinhão recorded just 302 mm of rain in the 11 months from 1st November 2016. This is exactly 50% below average. Considering that grape yields in the Douro’s mountain vineyards are 4,300 kg/hectare (compared to 10,200 kg/ha in Italy and 13,300 kg/ha in Chile) the drought conditions we experienced this year were always going to be challenging. It is difficult to farm these steep hillsides. Even in years with good weather conditions, production in the Douro is low. A year of drought and heat like 2017 really reinforces quite how challenging our growing conditions are.
A dry and relatively warm winter was followed by the three crucial spring months – March, April and May – that were cumulatively 2.6˚C warmer than average and equally dry. The only surprising interlude was a cold spell during the last 10 days of March that on the 23rd brought a rare snowfall and localised frost. April was the driest since records began in 1931 and delivered an absurdly low 2.6mm of rain.
Bud-break began between 8th and 10th March, a week earlier than average and the vine development advanced at an even faster pace, with flowering taking place between 4th and 5th May, two weeks earlier than normal. It was apparent from June that our vines were adapting to the dry conditions, with limited shoot and leaf growth. They seem to have an extraordinary ability to know when it is better not to be exuberant.
June was the hottest since 1980, with a heatwave between the 7th and 24th and temperatures reaching 43˚C in the Douro Superior. Pintor (veraison) occurred at Bomfim on June 22nd, two weeks ahead of average. July was equally hot and dry, but thankfully August was more moderate with relatively cool nights, bringing a welcome respite in the final phase of ripening.
By early August it was clear that this was going to be an early vintage and that the prolonged drought would not be relieved by any late summer rain. The forecast for the weekend of the 26th & 27th did predict rain, but only a modest 4mm fell at Quinta do Vesúvio and an even more modest 2 mm at Bomfim. Maturation was so advanced in most vineyards by this stage that the rain was of little benefit.
In order to prepare for the harvest, Charles Symington had to call his winemaking team back from their summer holidays – a measure of how advanced this year’s cycle has been. Picking for our white wines started on 23rd August and for our reds on the 28th, 10 days earlier than any previous date recorded. The vines were showing signs of stress from dehydration and graduations inevitably were high.
A year like this brings the diversity of the Douro into sharp focus; the south and westerly facing vineyards suffered from the long hours of afternoon sun, whilst those above 300 metres had an altitude advantage with cooler temperatures. There was a contrast between the younger vines that struggled with less-developed root systems and the older vines that hardly seemed to notice the drought. The former were shedding their lower leaves by mid-August, a sign of vines going into survival mode. Their older cousins soldiered on with fine dark green leaves but few berries on each vine. Barroca is a variety that does not like drought and yields were very low at under 500 grams per vine on some plots, but Roriz performed remarkably well, as did the Douro’s great classic; Touriga Nacional. Touriga Franca, always a late-ripener, was exceptionally good and thrived this year.
Expectations were not high, but confidence grew by the day as the Douro wines and Ports showed surprisingly good colour and aromas. The weather stayed perfectly serene throughout with clear skies and crucially, with cool nights during the last three weeks of September. Such harvesting weather is of huge value to the ripe and fragile fruit.
The Douro is one of the world’s lowest yielding wine regions, and this year’s drought reduced production even further. Some of our vineyards produced 35% less than normal and the average is likely to be less than 940 grams per vine.
While visitors enjoy the traditional aspects of the Douro, in reality this was a year for using the best of modern technology in some areas. With raisining being the inevitable consequence of such a year, our Bucher Vaslin Oscillys de-stemmer machines, installed at five of our estate wineries, performed superbly. These de-stemmers operate without beater shafts or centrifugal force and use a swinging motion to separate grapes from the stems and gently reject damaged berries without damaging the grapes that pass through for fermentation.
There was a serious labour shortage in the Douro this year. This was partly due to the very early harvest but also because of the tourism boom in Portugal that has drawn people away from agricultural work. It is proving to be increasingly difficult to find pickers and this has become a serious problem as the grapes need to be harvested when they are ready. The Douro is waking up to reality; no other major European wine region is entirely picked by hand.
We finished harvesting our vineyards on 26th September, often the starting date of previous vintages. This has been a remarkable year but it is unlikely to be a one-off; there are clear indications that our future will increasingly be defined by climate change with higher temperatures and less rain. The Douro will need to adapt if it is to continue to make great wines and Ports from this, the largest area of mountain vineyards on earth.
Now that the dust has literally settled (the first rain for many months has just fallen) on our earliest ever harvest, we are pleased to see that some very good Douro wines have been made, particularly the red wines with gorgeous colour and concentration, and the Ports are also promising with purple-black colours and intense flavours.
Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, 18-10-17
Cockburn's are pleased to announce the reopening of their 19th century Port cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia following a major refurbishment.
The Cockburn’s cellars are the largest in the old quarter of the city, holding 6,518 seasoned oak barrels of maturing Port, plus the equivalent of a further 10,056 barrels in oak vats. This priceless stock is essential for the creation of great wines, especially the company's famous Special Reserve.
A new museum holds a collection of 19th century watercolours by Baron Forrester, along with extracts from the unpublished 1930s diaries of another of Port's legendary figures, John Smithes. As well as being a brilliant taster, Smithes was an early pioneer in the research of Douro grape varieties.
Visitors will see the company's coopers at work repairing barrels, using the same tools and crafts that their ancestors have used for centuries. The Symington family, owners of Cockburn's, have the only fully equipped cooperage in operation in Vila Nova de Gaia. At the entrance to the cooperage is a magnificent Robey steam engine, original manufactured in Lincoln, England in 1921 and used for the making of barrels until 1996.
The increasing pressure from major tourist projects in Vila Nova de Gaia is resulting in fewer cellars continuing the traditional ageing of Port in the historic quarter of the city. The newly renovated Cockburn's cellars with its large and valuable stocks, maintains the time-honoured and irreplaceable art of slowly maturing Port in seasoned oak.
Paul Symington said ‘The opening of these cellars is an important step in the revival of this great Port house after decades of multi-national ownership. My family continues to invest in Cockburn’s and now visitors can come and see our work at first hand.’
Pre-reservation is required as all visits are guided and can be made online, here: www.cockburns.com/visit-us
Prices start at €12.00 per person.
Symington Family Estates’ wines are once again placed highly in three of the worlds’ most prestigious wine competitions, the International Wine Challenge, the International Wine and Spirits Competition, and the Decanter World Wine Awards.
For the third consecutive year, Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2004 Vintage Port won a gold medal in the International Wine Challenge, and was this year accompanied by Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 2004 Vintage Port, which also received gold.
In the International Wine and Spirits Competition, Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha 2004 Vintage Port and Warre’s 2004 Bottled Matured LBV were also awarded with
a gold medals.
Very positive results also came from the Decanter World Wine Awards in which Warre’s 2004 Bottled Matured LBV also achieved gold medal status alongside that gained at the IWSC, Graham’s Six Grapes, and Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny was also awarded gold medals.
A special mention must also go to Cockburn’ Special Reserve, which won its fourteenth silver medal in these 3 competitions since 2010.
Quinta do Vesuvio & Dow\'s Senhora da Ribeira 2015 Vintage Ports declared
Produced at two of the Douro Superior's most remote vineyards, the Symington family is pleased to announce the release of the Quinta do Vesuvio 2015 and of the Dow's Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2015 Vintage Ports.
The cycle of the vine in the Douro Valley in 2015, between bud-break and veraison, was the hottest and driest of the last three decades, but abundant late autumn rain in 2014, and crucial spring rain, which was unusually more abundant in the Douro Superior than elsewhere in the Douro Valley, sustained the vines during this hot and dry period.
At Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, the vintage began on the 8th of September, although the finest varieties, namely the Touriga Nacional from the east-facing Vinha Grande and the Touriga Franca from the south-facing Vinha da Pedreira, were only picked towards the end of the month in order to reap the benefit from the heaven-sent rain which fell on September 15th.
At Quinta do Vesuvio, Touriga Nacional from the Vinha Nova and Raposa vineyards began to be picked from the 21st of September, followed by Touriga Franca from the Vale da Teja vineyards, a week later.
Graham’s Declare Stone Terraces 2015 Vintage Port
The small 2.9-hectare Stone Terrace vineyard at Quinta dos Malvedos produced an extraordinary wine in 2015. The grapes were picked by hand on the 12th and 13th of September, a couple of days before substantial rain fell across the Douro Valley, and were then fermented in lagares in the estate’s own winery. Yields were incredibly low at just 0.82 kg per vine but several hours of treading over the following days delivered a magnificent wine with sublime floral aromas of violets.
The Stone Terrace vineyard at Malvedos is composed of three parcels in a narrow curving valley and all are immediately adjacent, one facing north, another due east and one due west. None faces south. In most of this vineyard there is just one row of vines on each terrace, and walls are between 1.6 and 3 meters high. The warm surface stones in the soil and the walls themselves play an important role in sustaining maturation through the night, while the balance achieved by the varying aspects is key to this rare wine.
Graham’s Stone Terraces Vintage Port is only bottled when this vineyard produces an incomparable wine deriving from its unique location and layout; predominantly a single row of vines on each traditional dry stone-walled terrace, and the quality does not necessarily follow the pattern of general Vintage Port declarations. The Symington family, owners of Graham’s, believe that the 2015 Stone Terraces will age superbly as a remarkable Vintage Port of extraordinary elegance and complexity.
The first ever Stone Terraces was the 2011 Vintage Port which received exceptional reviews from the international press; 97 points Wine Spectator, 18.5/20 Jancis Robinson and was called ‘a masterpiece’ by leading Portuguese commentator, Manuel Carvalho.
Symington Family Estates has been granted a Royal Warrant of Appointment from Her Majesty The Queen as Suppliers of Graham’s Port. The Symington family and all who work with them in the Douro vineyards and Gaia Lodges are pleased and proud that this honour has been given.
Johnny Symington said; “Our great grandfather Andrew James had the Royal Warrant from King George V for Dow’s Port, so it is with great pride that we now receive the Royal Warrant for our Graham’s Port. We feel that our ancestors would have been as pleased as we are with this historic honour, as with the fact that my generation has kept the family Port company united and successful well into the 21st century”.
Cockburn’s are pleased to announce the declaration of a 2015 Vintage Port. This is the second Cockburn’s Vintage Port made by the Symington family since they acquired the historic name in 2010, having bought the vineyards and cellars in 2006. In the 19th century and up until the 1950s Cockburn’s was the leading Vintage Port, fetching the highest prices at international wine auctions and on the lists of the leading wine merchants.
Since 2010, the Symingtons have striven to recover the Cockburn’s reputation. The family conducted two research tastings with international experts, one in Porto in September 2012 that tasted back to Cockburn’s 1896, and another in London in 2015 that reviewed most Vintages back to 1863. These extraordinary tastings were fundamental to discovering the style that had made Cockburn’s so valued and admired. Both events identified the Cockburn’s 1908 as one of the greatest Ports ever made, and the Douro Superior as the birthplace of its finest Ports.
Coupled with these tastings, the Symington family have made significant improvements to the Cockburn’s vineyards at Quinta dos Canais and Quinta do Vale Coelho, both located in the Douro Superior. The results were apparent in the Cockburn’s 2011 Vintage Port that achieved outstanding reviews; 97 points Wine Spectator, 18.5/20 Jancis Robinson, 97 points Wine Enthusiast, 98 points (the 2nd highest rated 2011) James Suckling, and the following comment by Neil Martin on eRobertParker; ‘Wonderful focus… harks back to those classics of yesteryear. Cockburn’s is back’.
GRAHAM’S QUINTA DOS MALVEDOS 2004 VINTAGE PORT
DECANTER’S MOST EXCITING WINES OF 2016
A Decanter Magazine panel of judges tasted blind 195 wines, nominated from a selection of wines from around the world assessed over the last 12 months, and compiled a list of the 75 best wines tasted in 2016. This year, Decanter paid “particular attention to wines with ‘wow factor’”. Sarah Jane Evans MW stated: ‘we were looking for the most complete wines, the most individual, fascinating and the most genuinely enjoyable. They did not have to be classically perfect wines, just memorable.’
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2004 Vintage Port was one of those memorable wines; one of just two Ports included in the ranking of the most exciting wines of 2016. This Malvedos 2004 Vintage Port had previously been awarded a Gold Medal and the REGIONAL TROPHY at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards. More recently, in May 2016, the International Wine Challenge also recognized the exceptional qualities of the Quinta dos Malvedos 2004 Vintage Port awarding it a Gold Medal and VINTAGE PORT TROPHY for the second year running — a remarkable achievement.
Over the last two decades Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports have garnered an impressive tally of ratings and awards. In the three leading UK Wine Competitions: International Wine Challenge; International Wine & Spirit Competition; Decanter World Wine Awards, Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports have been awarded no less than 19 Gold Medals and 3 Trophies. 25 years ago the Quinta dos Malvedos 1988 Vintage Port became the first ever wine from Portugal ranked in Wine Spectator magazine’s annual TOP 100 ranking. No other Quinta Vintage Port comes close to this record. The world’s leading wine critics and wine competitions are in no doubt as to which is the finest Quinta Vintage Port.
This was the year to really know your vineyard in the Douro; each location and each variety developed at its own individual rhythm and winemakers had to be constantly in the vineyards. Deciding to harvest on a hunch or following fashion was definitely not a good idea in this special year. Intimate knowledge of the vineyards combined with patience has delivered the just reward of some beautiful Ports and Douro wines.
“The weather throughout the vintage has been exceptionally good and this has allowed for maturations to develop perfectly. We have been able to decide when to pick without the concern of the weather changing, having stopped the vintage at different properties to allow for ideal ripening to be achieved when necessary. The lagares have been giving balanced Baumés and exceptional colour and the Touriga Franca may well be the best wine of the vintage. The wines have wonderful freshness and elegance as well as structure.”
Leading wine journalist Jancis Robinson wrote about the recent upturn in tourism in both Porto and the Douro region last week in the Financial Times.
You can read a version of the article (free to access) on her blog, jancisrobinson.com.
On a sunny morning this week a young peregrine falcon, nursed back to health by the Wildlife Rescue Centre of the University at Vila Real, was returned to the wild at Quinta dos Canais in the Douro. Canais is one of the Symington family’s remotest vineyards and is home to a rich variety of wildlife and was therefore a natural choice for the falcon’s release.
Injured during its first migratory flight from the British Isles to southern Europe in December 2015, the young falcon was treated at the University’s Veterinary Hospital, and over the last 7 months it has made a full recovery. Originally marked by the West Cornwall Ringing Group in the UK in November 2015, the bird’s provenance was clear.
The Symington family have supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Conditions for the release at Quinta dos Canais were perfect, the high temperatures (30ºC) generating the thermals that help birds gain altitude rapidly. Just before it took to the freedom of the skies the falcon was aptly named ‘Canais’.
Quinta dos Canais, June 22nd 2016
In its 33rd year, the International Wine Challenge, widely recognised as one of the world's finest and most meticulously judged wine competitions, has awarded the Graham’s 2004 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port a TROPHY for the second year running.
The international expert panel of judges assesses every wine blind and judges each “for its faithfulness to style, region and vintage.” Throughout the rigorous judging processes, each medal-winning wine is tasted on three separate occasions by at least 10 different judges. To win one of the coveted TROPHIES, gold medal winning wines from each category progress to a second round where the judges will select just one wine, which is then emerges as the holder of the TROPHY.
This was yet another very successful year for Graham’s, clinching a total of four gold medals; besides the 2004 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port, the Graham’s 1983 Vintage Port, the 40 Year Old Tawny and the 1972 Single Harvest Tawny also won gold.
On Wednesday, March 30th 2016, four members of the Symington family, together with their friends at Berrys, launched Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port, a limited edition of 500 bottles to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s forthcoming 90th birthday. Paul, Johnny, Rupert and Charlotte Symington presented the special commemorative Port to a group of leading UK wine writers and journalists, as well as two of Portugal’s key wine writers. The Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, João de Vallera, was also invited. The unveiling was hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd at their historic St. James’s Street premises in London.
Paul guided the guests through a fascinating journey back in time, tasting the venerable old cask-matured wines which make up the Graham’s 90. He took with him from Portugal the original vintage records for those years, written in the hand of his great grandfather Andrew James Symington. Paul read the entry for the 1935 harvest, in which one of the component wines for the Graham’s 90 was made. ‘AJS’ describes the quality of the year and alludes to the reigning monarch of the day, King George V (the Queen’s grandfather): “I am inclined to think that the quality and good colour inspires hope that the 1935 may prove good enough to make a Jubilee Vintage – quantity is less than last year - but quality appears to be better.”
Johnny went on to explain that Port has long been used to toast royal and historic occasions by every conceivable British institution for centuries and this seemed an entirely appropriate association. The challenge was to create something very special to pay a fitting tribute to the Queen’s dedicated lifetime of service to the nation. Perhaps nobody more than the Queen has been of such importance for Port’s standing worldwide; the fact that Port has been served at every state occasion at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle during her long reign has helped to project Port as one the world’s premier classic wines.
This rare Port became available in the UK exclusively through Berry Bros. & Rudd as of March 30th 2016 and is priced at £700 per bottle. For each bottle sold, a Graham’s will make a contribution to the Patron’s Fund, which supports a collection of UK and Commonwealth charities of which Her Majesty is the patron. Within the first 24 hours of the presentation, 108 bottles had already been sold. A very restricted number of bottles will be available for sale in Portugal, some of which at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge.
Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann At Quinta do Bomfim
German carmaker, Opel, chose Quinta do Bomfim as the venue for the international presentation of its new Astra Sports Tourer model, Car of The Year 2016. From March 10th to March 24th over 700 journalists from all over the world will be at Quinta do Bomfim from where they will drive Opel’s new model along the Douro’s beautiful mountain roads.
The Drinks International magazine has conducted its 6th annual survey of the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands. The jury consists of over 200 leading figures in the wine sector, masters of wine, sommeliers and journalists.
The 2016 survey has nominated Graham’s as the World’s Most Admired Port Brand and the 14th Most Admired Wine Brand in the world.
Dow’s Port, also owned and managed by the Symington family, was placed 31 in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands.
Other wines in the World’s 50 Most Admired Port Brand include Vega Sicilia, Penfolds, Château d’Yquem, Château Margaux, Guigal, Château Latour, Cloudy Bay, Mateus and Cheval Blanc.
The Symington family said; ‘We are very proud to have earned this prominent position amongst the best wines in the world. This wonderful endorsement is the result of generations of work in our Douro vineyards and in our caves in Vila Nova de Gaia, as well as to the loyalty and the great skill of the people who work with us in our project of excellence.’
On Saturday, February 13th, Symington Family Estates presented a new ambulance to the Vila Flor Volunteer Fire Brigade in recognition of the vital services they offer to the local community in this rural area of the Upper Douro Valley. Since 2007 this is the ninth ambulance donated by the Symington family to fire services in the Douro region.
The family employ close to 500 people, 40% of whom live and work in the Douro. In the vicinity of Vila Flor, the family owns Quinta do Ataide, which has the largest area of vineyard under organic viticulture in Portugal (80 hectares) and, besides wine, also produces organic olive oil.
With this donation, the Symington family have presented a total of nine ambulances to as many fire brigades in the region over the last decade: Pinhão (2007), São João da Pesqueira (2009), Provesende (2010), Carrazeda de Ansiães (2011), Lamego (2012), Régua (2013), Vila Nova de Foz-Côa (2014), Tabuaço (2015) and now, Vila Flor.
Photo credits: Jornal de Notícias
On Friday February 12th, in the annual ‘Revista de Vinhos’ (Portugal’s leading wine publication) gala ceremony, ‘The Best of The Year 2015’, Symington Family Estates received the following awards:
Excellence Awards: 2 (from a total of just 30 awarded to all Portuguese wines)
The Finest of The Year: 4 (192 awarded)
Good buys – excelent value
It is very rewarding to have, once again side by side, a Port and a Douro wine produced by the company recognised with awards of this calibre. Each year, just 30 ‘Excellence Awards’ are presented to the whole Portuguese wine trade. Also worthy of note is the fact that the entire Altano DOC Douro range obtained ‘Good buy’ seals.
Symington Family Estates is proud to announce that Charles Symington was made ‘Winemaker of The Year’ by the highly respected Portuguese wine magazine, Wine - Essencia do Vinho on Friday 29th January 2016.
Charles was chosen amongst nominees from several Portuguese wine regions and when announcing the winner, Wine referred to him as “One of the most brilliant winemakers of this generation.”
This accolade is testament to Charles’s work over two decades, which have seen the family build on the strong legacy bequeathed by its ancestors. Charles joined the company in 1995 and went on to succeed his father, Peter, as taster and winemaker for the family’s Port Houses, as well as being the head winemaker for the family’s Douro DOC wines which are increasingly earning recognition around the world.
This is a landmark achievement for the Symington family, for the Douro and for Portugal. Particularly remarkable is the fact that two wines made by the same family in the same region (one fortified, one still) were ranked in the first three places.
On announcing this coveted accolade, Revista de Vinhos, Portugal’s leading wine publication, highlighted the company’s premium Ports, which “ shone brilliantly and intensely throughout 2014.”
They gave as examples the Graham’s Ne Oublie (a Symington family heirloom), and the Quinta do Vesuvio and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira 2012 Vintage Ports. Revista de Vinhos stated though that the icing on the cake was the announcement in November by the influential US Wine Spectator that Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port was its Wine of The Year, ranked Nº1 in its annual TOP 100 listing which has global resonance. Chryseia, the Douro DOC red made by the Symingtons with the Prats family was ranked 3 rd.