20 years at Quinta do Noval

Bookmark and Share

I arrived at Quinta do Noval as managing director on the 13th October 1993. For the past twenty years I have had the pleasure and privilege of looking after this wonderful place. So we decided to host a 20th anniversary party recently at Quinta do Noval on the weekend of 13th October.

The main feature was an extensive vertical tasting of Quinta do Noval Vintage and Vintage Nacional Ports, from 1955 through to the recently declared 2011s. It was the first time we have done such a tasting and as well as being a rather emotional experience for me, gave I thought a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable vision of the life of this great property over the past fifty years or so, as expressed in the wines that were produced during the different phases of Quinta do Noval’s history throughout this period.

A great range of decanters. Thanks to Andre Ribeirinho for this photo.
A great range of decanters. Picture credit: A.Ribeirinho.

We opened two bottles of each wine, and I felt that it was the least I could do to taste all of them before the tasting began.

Tasting wines before the tasting
Tasting wines before the tasting

I was thrilled by the number of distinguished journalists and sommeliers who turned up for this event. Tim Atkin was on line almost immediately with a great piece that writes more eloquently than I could about the wines:

What it takes to make great wine by Tim Atkin

Also Andre Ribeirinho via Instagram:

–          Quinta do Noval

–          Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 1994

–          Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971

–          Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 1963

–          Quinta do Noval Vintage 1955

The occasion of the event was the 20th anniversary of my arrival, but as I made clear in the rather rambling speech I gave at lunch, just slightly influenced by the fact that I had tasted all of the wines at least three times that morning, it is also the 20th anniversary of my collaboration with António Agrellos, Quinta do Noval’s brilliant technical director and blender, who is of course the person principally responsible for the quality of the wines we have made together since 1994.

António Agrellos
António Agrellos

It also goes without saying that neither he nor I did it on our own: Quinta do Noval has a great team of dedicated people, many of whom have been with us right from the beginning, and some who have joined us since then.

It was a wonderful weekend, very relaxed and happy. Among the highlights for me were :

- Finding Jancis Robinson up and dressed and writing an article at 5 am as I came out of the kitchen with my morning pot of Assam and then drinking a cup of tea with her by the fire in Quinta do Noval’s drawing room before the rest of the world woke up;

- Running in the Douro a bit later that morning with Victoria Moore who wrote up an entirely fallacious account of the run in her blog which made me out to be some kind of heartless fitness freak;

- Caroline Furstoss decorating a director’s chair for me with a 20 years message;

The director’s chair decorated by Caroline Furstoss
The director’s chair decorated by Caroline Furstoss

Sitting on the chair. Picture Credits: Andre Ribeirinho
Sitting on the chair. Thanks to A. Ribeirinho for this photo.

- A kiss and some nice words from Ausenda, Quinta do Noval’s talented oenologist, who has been with us from the beginning, and with whom it is a daily pleasure to work;

- Maria Joao the cook at Quinta do Noval presenting me with a surprise 20th birthday cake;

- And finally a speech from António Agrellos at dinner on the final evening, in English, certainly the first time he has ever done such a thing and I guess I will have to wait for the thirtieth anniversary party before he does it again.

First impressions of the 2013 harvest at Domaine de L’Arlot

Bookmark and Share

The team of Domaine de l'Arlot
The team of Domaine de l'Arlot

A few weeks ago I reported from Domaine de l’Arlot where I tasted the wonderful 11s and 12s with Jacques Devauges, and shared a vineyard breakfast with the Arlot team on the first day of the harvest.

Here is a short film of Jacques giving us his very first impressions of the 2013 harvest, while they were still ongoing.

If you have trouble watching this video, view the web version here

Beginning of the harvest at Domaine de l’Arlot

Bookmark and Share

I was at Domaine de l’Arlot last week for the first day of the harvest. The day before I spent the morning with Jacques Devauges tasting both the 2011 and 2012 vintages, his first two at the property. Both showing very well indeed. I was particularly struck with how good the 2012s are.

It was a strange year, with many problems, particularly at the beginning, when rain during flowering led to serious coulure problems, and as a result tiny yields in general. There was also serious mildew and oidium pressure during the spring and summer, so it was a constant struggle to save the grapes and keep them healthy. But the resulting wines are outstanding. Jacques’ theory is that vines had to work so hard to resist the various pressures of the year, that the result was a concentration of energy in the grapes which is observable in the final wines.

The Arlot 2012s certainly have a lively and energetic character, and remarkable density and purity. There is quite a lot of tannin in this millesime, but perfectly enveloped in some wonderful many layered fresh and vibrant fruit. I liked the wines a lot. Alas there was not very much, but I think that what there was will come to be considered as a great vintage, however unlikely that outcome might have seemed while we were battling with the elements during the year.

Jacques Devauges taking wine from barrel
Jacques Devauges taking wine from barrel

In the afternoon a pre harvest visit of the vines revealed an exciting quality potential in 2013 as well, with very healthy ripe grapes, practically no botrytis so far, and only a few days to full maturity. These are moments when one realises the extent to which we are in the hands of nature: just a few more days of wonderful weather of the sort we had for my visit, and we should have something great in the cellar.

The harvest began on Thursday morning, in the small parcel planted with white vines that is known as Montre Cul, for the simple reason that when you are working there you are giving passers by a good view of your posterior. Here is a picture of Jacques (on the right) giving a demonstration of this, and also one of the team, happy to be beginning such a promising harvest in such beautiful conditions.

Jacques Devauges harvesting in Montre Cul
Jacques Devauges harvesting in Montre Cul

Grape pickers in Montre Cul
Grape pickers in Montre Cul

Marathon du Médoc – 29th edition

Bookmark and Share

This was the 29th Marathon du Medoc, and we had a great Château Pichon-Longueville team this year.

Château Pichon-Longueville team
Château Pichon-Longueville team

This annual event is one of my favourite moments of the year, a chance to celebrate the idea that an enthusiasm for wine is not only compatible with, but part of a healthy and balanced life. The thousands of fit and happy runners who participate every year, enjoying judicious sips of wine at regular stops at the chateaux along the route are joyous proof that the puritans have got it all wrong.

Château Pichon-Longueville was at Kilometre 18 this year and we were besieged by enthusiastic wine tasters. As usual we offered the 9,000 runners a taste of wine (Les Tourelles de Longueville 2011) in proper wine glasses.

Jean-René Matignon, Directeur Technique du Château Pichon-Longueville, dans le rôle du serveur volant !
Jean-René Matignon, Technical Director of Château Pichon-Longueville, in the role of flying butler !

This operation is quite a logistical challenge and fortunately we have an enthusiastic group of benevolent volunteers who man the tables each year, happy to participate in the generally euphoric and celebratory atmosphere of the day.

La joyeuse équipe de bénévoles
The enthusiastic team of benevolent volunteers

We had some distinguished runners this year in the Château Pichon-Longueville team, notably Victoria Moore and Jamie Goode, who was running his first marathon, and whose coverage of the event can be seen on this link: video Jamie Goode.

avec Jamie Goode
with Jamie Goode

I ran with Jamie and with Port lover and expert Axel Probst, who is an ex Luftwaffe pilot and living proof that regular consumption of Vintage Port is perfectly compatible with being terrifyingly fit.

avec Axel Probst
with Axel Probst

We stopped at most of the chateaux to verify the quality of their offerings, purely for professional reasons, and had a great morning. It should be admitted here that I only ran the half marathon, having decided a few years ago that the first half was rather more fun than the second. Of course I have my duties as host at Château Pichon-Longueville to attend to also, so it would be quite irresponsible to run the whole way. But I am full of admiration for all the runners who finished and who proved by their presence and by their performance that an enthusiastic enjoyment of great wine is perfectly compatible with a condition of perfect physical fitness.

Quinta do Noval is now in China

Bookmark and Share

I was in China earlier this month for the launch of Quinta do Noval there with our new importer Kerry Wines. This is an exciting development. Of course it is very early days, and Port consumption in China is still extremely low. But the recent history of Bordeaux’s development there shows that there is enormous potential, and our experience with other markets has often been that an initial discovery of red wine is followed by a development of interest in other great wines of the world, of which Port is incontestably one.

It was a fascinating experience to host the various tastings we organized and to receive the impressions of the people who had come to try our wines. Naturally for some the experience was extremely novel, and some of them may need a little time to understand and appreciate Port better. But a sizeable number really enjoyed the wines, and of course there are many sophisticated collectors in China who knew about Quinta do Noval already. To mark the occasion of Quinta do Noval’s launch into this exciting market, we opened a few rare bottles of Vintage Nacional. It was highly enjoyable to share these great wines with wine drinkers for whom in some cases the experience was entirely new, and with others who had already come across Quinta do Noval elsewhere in the world.

A glass of chilled Noval Black to start things off – Photo Credit: James Jiang
A glass of chilled Noval Black to start things off – Photo Credit: James Jiang

Shanghai – Transmitting the message - Photo Credit:  James Jiang
Shanghai – Transmitting the message - Photo Credit: James Jiang
Shanghai – The Tasting- Photo Credit: James Jiang
Shanghai – The Tasting- Photo Credit: James Jiang
The moment recorded - Photo Credit: James Jiang
The moment recorded - Photo Credit: James Jiang
With Kerry Wines CEO Simon Wang (Right) and Brand Manager Crystal Edgar (Left) - Photo Credit: James Jiang
With Kerry Wines CEO Simon Wang (Right) and Brand Manager Crystal Edgar (Left) - Photo Credit: James Jiang
Beijing – Still Preaching
Beijing – Still Preaching
Beijing - The Tasting
Beijing - The Tasting
Great Wine – A universal language
Great Wine – A universal language