I have been giving a series of tastings and events recently to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Quinta do Noval’s existence as a vineyard.
In fact, there has certainly been a vineyard on the site for longer than that, possibly much longer. 1715 is the first record of the existence of the vineyard, as it was part of the inheritance of the young Francisco Álvares Taveira, future abbot of Gouvães, who had to show documentary proof of his wealth before becoming the Abbot, (no nonsense about promotion on pure merit in those days) hence the records. But as it was already a vineyard in 1715, clearly it had been a vineyard for a while before that. So we are celebrating that Quinta do Noval is at least three hundred years old, but it is certainly older.
Going even further back, at the crown of the hill of the Noval estate, there was a Roman settlement, where among the many Roman artefacts discovered during the archeological dig in the early 20th century was an area that looked very much like a wine press. If so, then wine has been made at this site for over 2,000 years, and I like to believe it, though proof positive is lacking.
But it is the relatively recent history that concerns us more, the time during which wines have been made that we can taste today, living memories of the former life of the vineyard at Noval. I personally have an intimate knowledge of the past 23 years at Quinta do Noval, the time that I have been responsible for looking after it having taken over as Managing Director in 1993.
Before that I mainly know the Quinta’s history through its wines. Among my favourites are of course the extraordinary 1931, both Vintage Nacional and Quinta do Noval; the harmonious and elegant 1955 Quinta do Noval, which was one of my primary inspirations; along with the beautiful delicate and fine 1966, when I started working on the vineyard and the wines in the early nineties. From the Sixties also the 1963 Vintage Nacional is and always has been in a category of its own, rated perfect and great by many distinguished tasters from the time of its birth to the present day. The Seventies and Eighties were a difficult time for Port and for Noval, but I have a soft spot for the very delicate finesse of the Vintage Nacional 1975.
And then glorious days returned with the wonderful 1994 Vintage Nacional, my first at the Quinta, and what luck to have arrived just before such a wine. James Suckling’s 100 points for this wine when he was writing for the Wine Spectator were a shot in the arm for Noval, a clear signal to the world that this great vineyard was capable as it always had been of producing greatness. Since then we have had a series of exceptional years: the 1997, an important year for us when Robert Parker awarded 100 points to both the Quinta do Noval and the Vintage Nacional, a right and left, in shooting parlance, that added momentum to the renaissance of Quinta do Noval’s reputation. The generally declared years of 2000, 2003 and 2007 followed. The Vintage Nacional as always followed its own rhythm, not producing wine to its normal level in 2007, so not declared, but making exceptional wines in the lesser known years of 2001 and 2004.
And then 2011. A phenomenon for Port wine in general, certainly one of the great years in history, with beautiful wines from Quinta do Noval and from the Nacional parcel. The 2011 Vintage Nacional has already acquired a justified cult status, garnering 100 points or the equivalent from several different distinguished wine journalists. I believe that this one is a worthy successor to the legendary 1963 and 1931, scion of a noble breed, both genetic inheritor of the greatness of its ancestors, but also with all the strength and vigour of youth, ready to affront the century to come of long life that certainly lies before it.
We declared both 2012 and 2013 Vintage Ports at Quinta do Noval, very small quantities in both cases, but irresistibly delicious wines. Historically Noval has been ready to make an eccentric declaration (the 1931 was one such), and so inspired both by history and the wines themselves we did not hesitate to make these small declarations, both of which are worthy members of any vertical line up of historic Quinta do Noval Vintages.
And during this time of reconnection with the illustrious past through the production of great modern Vintage Ports, this historic vineyard of Noval has been reinventing itself as a producer of great unfortified red wines. We launched our first Quinta do Noval Douro DOC red wine with the 2004 vintage, and our 2012, placed first in a recent extensive tasting of Douro red wines by the Revista de Vinhos, has just sold out, so we move to the delicious 2013, with the 2014 and 2015 vintages, among the best ever, waiting in the wings.
In a way, these new Douro red (and white) wines are also a reconnection with the history of the property and of the Douro. Fortification of Douro wines only became general in the first half of the 19th Century. The celebrated Baron James Forrester, who drowned in the river in 1861, was a strong advocate for the unfortified wines of the Douro, an indication that their production as quality wines was general at the time and persisted at least during his lifetime. There is no question that the development of Port Wine as a fortified wine led to the evolution of one of the great wines of the world, for which the Douro is chiefly known today, and no one could love great Port wines more than I. However, something was surely lost in the gradual eclipse of non fortified wine making during the 19th century. We will never know how those wines might have developed had they been the principal focus of Douro wine production.
What we know now however, as we catch up for lost time, is that the Douro is capable of producing world class unfiltered red – and white – wines. The Valley today has a new dynamic, as dozens of independent producers, some small, some less so, contribute every year to this thrilling development by producing excellent wines from all corners of the demarcated area. I find this development wholly positive for the Douro and its reputation, but also very good news for wine drinkers all over the world, and I am delighted that Quinta do Noval has been able to participate in this movement since 2004.
The history of a great vineyard, like that of a great region, is the product of the labours of generations of people who went before us and devoted themselves to their land and their wines. The further back the history, the greater the accumulation of inherited knowledge and tradition, and this is what we build upon. But at the same time we are constructing the future for those who will follow us in these vineyards. So while I wish Quinta do Noval a very Happy Birthday on the occasion of its proven 300 years, I also wish very many Happy Returns to this magical vineyard and to the region of which it is at the heart. Great things have happened here in the past, great things are happening now, and I am confident that even greater are to come in the future.