Porto student trip
Each year, three major Port houses – The Fladgate Partnership, Symington Family Estates and Quinta do Noval – host a very lucky group of MW students for three memorable days of vineyard visits, winery and lodge tours, tutored tastings, delicious meals, great wines and atmospheric overnight stays in one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world.
I was delighted to be given the opportunity to accompany the group as ‘minder’, or ‘responsible adult’ as someone may have put it, but it was immediately clear that this group was in no way irresponsible. On the contrary, the level of commitment, professionalism, and enthusiasm of all 16 students was a credit to the MW study programme, as was the global reach, with participants from Edmonton to Krakow to Beirut to Hong Kong. The future of the Institute is certainly in good hands !
The weather was wet and unseasonably cold, but the outstanding warmth of the welcome wherever we went more than made up for this. The tone was set with 5 star luxury rooms for our first night at the opulent Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia, courtesy of Taylor Fladgate. But any thoughts of staying in and abusing room service were quickly forgotten as a short bus ride brought us to the excellent Vinum Restaurant, where Paul Symington welcomed us with white port and tonic, a refreshing aperitif which became an ongoing and much-liked feature of the trip (although some preferred the pink version served by Adrian Bridge).
The next day went from highlight to highlight, as we discovered the timeless Factory House, last outpost of the British mercantile empire in Portugal, and compared the house styles of Taylor’s, Graham’s and Quinta do Noval through an extensive tasting ranging from ruby to aged tawnys to classic 2007 and 2011 Vintages. The secrets of ageing were revealed at both the Taylor’s and Graham’s lodges, before another in-depth tutored tasting led by Dominic Symington. A longer bus ride took us into the wilds of the Douro – which never looked wilder than in this weather – before a relaxing evening at Quinta dos Malvedos in the charming company of winemaker Henry Shotton.
Friday was a monster day, with in-depth winemaking discussions first at Malvedos and later at Fladgate’s new Quinta da Nogueira, viticulture in the vineyards of Quinta da Roeda, plus almost a full day in the middle at the magical Quinta do Noval, where we discovered not just their legendary Ports but also some potentially world-beating red Douro wines. Our timekeeping was a disaster thereafter, but instead of treating us with the disrespect we deserved, Adrian Bridge calmly took control of the group and shared his wisdom and wit until the early hours of the next morning. The storm raged outside at Quinta de Vargellas, but inside the mood was festive as we played with port tongs heated in the crackling fire, and listened in rapture as Adrian answered all questions with incisive analysis and expertise, a masterclass for all aspiring Masters of Wine.
When we heard that our bus was stuck in the mud halfway up a steep off-road dirt track, many of us went to bed hoping we would never have to leave Vargellas. Fortunately, the sun came out the next morning and a 6am rescue team somehow got our transportation moving, so we could complete the programme with another detailed viticulture session at Quinta do Bomfim, followed by a delightful weekend lunch party with Paul Symington, his wife, children and grandchildren.
This leisurely finale was typical of the generosity of everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to share their passion with us. CEO’s, technical directors, vineyard managers and winemakers…to have such valuable face-to-face quality time with so many top people is a rare privilege, and it is difficult to find adequate words to thank them all.