One very nice perk of being based in the Douro for a few weeks to cover the harvest for the Graham’s blog, is that I have had the opportunity to visit some of the other properties in the Symington portfolio of wine and port brands.
In a wine making region with many outstanding quintas, Vesuvio is exceptional for its history, its location and its wines, and I have been hoping to visit ever since I first came to the Douro a year ago.
My chance came last week – Johnny Symington was hosting a group from Berry Brothers and Rudd for a few days at Malvedos, and I was invited to accompany them on their tour of several Symington properties in the Douro Superior, in order to write about it on the Graham’s blog.
Quinta do Vesuvio produces both ports and table wines of extraordinary quality – and that quality comes in part from the fact that the grapes for all the port wines are still trodden entirely by human foot – the robotic lagares have not been introduced at this property. After a full day of picking, the roga (team or gang) have a few hours rest and dinner, then go to the winery to tread that day’s harvest in one of the immense (24 pipes, over 13,000 litres) stone lagares.
There is a strict protocol for the treading: for the first two hours the capataz (foreman) calls time, steadily pacing the tread of the roga as they march in the lagar. During this corte, or cut, the team forms lines across the lagar, and methodically paces back and forth to ensure a thorough breaking up of the grapes. After a few minutes’ rest, the capataz declares liberdade, freedom, which goes for another two hours. The music strikes up – accordion and drum – and the team dances, forms conga lines, or just sings and chats whilst continuing to tread or dance in place.
When the Symingtons have visitors, the group very often joins the treading during the last few minutes of the corte, and then continue through the liberdade, as all of us did the night Berry Brothers was visiting.
For me the evening was extraordinary: I finally was visiting one of the legendary Douro properties, I was treading grapes for the first time in my life (they don’t do that in Burgundy!), and best of all, I was in the company of the people who taught me about wine, without whom I would never have been there.
From left to right are Rocky, whom I only met during this visit, Alun Griffiths who taught me about Bordeaux and Sherry and with whom I have shared many wonderful dinners at BBR’s London cellars, Johnny Symington, Rebecca Lamont who taught my first wine course at BBR, as well as my Intermediate WSET qualification and many tutored tastings, myself, and Chris Pollington, my personal wine salesman, who has taught me about Italian wines in his one-day Italian wine schools, tastings and tasting dinners, and who has become a dear personal friend (I even trusted him to store my finest wines in his own cellar whilst I was re-locating from England to Portugal).