quinta-feira, 23 de maio de 2019

Churchill's and Quinta da Gricha

the birthplace of Churchill's wines
  • The beggining: 1981, the year Churchill's was founded
  • Churchill's, before Quinta da Gricha
  • Quinta da Gricha, the Churchill's activity center in the Port wine country
  • The quinta and the importance of the location, the knowledge of the place
  • The Vineyards
  • The Vineyard characterization
  • Winemaking and Wines
  • The identity and style of Churchill's wines
  • Port Wines
  • DOC Douro Wines
  • Churchill's Vintage Ports

The beggining: 1981, the year Churchill's was founded
    The history of Churchill's predates the purchase of Quinta da Gricha and began in 1980 when John Graham leaves his position as director that had held in the well-known Cockburn's Port wine house, with the intention of founding an independent Port wine producing company.

    John Graham was born in Porto in 1952, lived in England and returned to Portugal in 1973, to work at Cockburn's from 1973 to 1980 (and also as a consultant at "Taylor's"), where he did all his professional learning and where he was director in 1980.

    Churchill's was founded in 1981 by brothers Anthony, William and John Graham. The firm appears under the designation "Churchill Graham, Lda.". At the time, the first independent british Port wine producing company to be established in 50 years, in the last quarter of the 20th century, fulfilling all the necessary legal requirements at that time, that included a warehouse in Vila Nova de Gaia and a Port wine stock of 150.000 liters (about 270, 550 liter wood casks).

    The "Churchill's" brand itself has its own history as well. The Graham family was once the owner of Quinta dos Malvedos, in the Douro, along with the renowned Port wine company "Graham's". At the beginning of the 1960's, Quinta dos Malvedos was sold to the Syminton family. The old Port wine family business, the "Graham's" brand, the Port wine company under John's family name, were subsequently also sold to the Symington family a few years later, in 1970, and until today integrate this firm's portfolio. At this point it is worth notting that members of the Symington family were involved in the business of producing and marketing Port wine precisely through the Graham's house. Thus we arrive to the current designation "Churchill's", which is actually John's wife family name, Caroline Churchills. Following the impossibility of commercial use of the "Graham's" designation, the company combines the two names "Churchill Graham".

    This familiar past involvement in the Port wine business is not negligible since it ensured credibility in this particular businnes environment, which is not solely guaranteed by the quality of the wines produced. John Graham wanted to maintain the long family tradition and assert himself in the exclusive production of quality Port wines, while creating a product with his own brand, style and image. Then, in a second moment of the company's life, with the acquisition of Quinta da Gricha, conditions were created for the DOC Douro table wines production.

    In just three decades the company has created a reputation for producing consistent and great quality Port wines.

Churchill's before Quinta da Gricha

    Prior to the acquisition of its own vineyards, John Graham had reached an agreement with Jorge Borges de Sousa (the grandfather of Jorge Serôdio Borges, Wine & Soul), who was a long time acquaintance of his and at that time a supplier of the "Cockburn's" house. The Borges de Sousa were a family of long established Douro producers and landowners, with some extraordinary properties in the heart of the Douro region, with great quality vineyards and grapes, such as Quinta da Água Alta (on the north bank of the river Douro, in Covas do Douro, Sabrosa), Quinta do Fojo and Quinta da Manuela (both located in the Pinhão river valley, in Vale de Mendiz, Alijó), as well as having a large quantity of Port wine stored. Through this agreement, in each harvest John Graham had the priority to select the best grapes of Borges de Sousa vineyards.
    And that was the basis of Churchill's wines for 20 years, which helped the company achieve recognition for the quality of the Port wines it produced.

    However, in 1999, the death of Borges de Sousa ended a cycle, since his grandchildren intended to start their own production, a project incompatible with the supply agreement maintained ultil then with Churchill's, which at that time could no longer rely on this important and main source of grapes for its wine production, a reality that eventually imposed the necessity of the difficult task of searching the Douro region for properties with the ideal requirements to acquire its own vineyards.

Quinta da Gricha
The Churchill's activity center in the Port wine country

    [Gricha: slit in the rock or crag, mainly if there comes out water (in Novo Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa, by Cândido de Figueiredo) - "water spring coming out of the rock fissure.", "the cold water from the gricha source..." (in Dicionário de Morais)]

The "gricha"
Some historical notes

    There are few records with historical references to Quinta da Gricha. It is, however, a Douro property dedicated to viticulture that has been producing wine for many years, at least since the second quarter of the 19th century. The dates engraved on the building of the old cardenho(1) (1820) and the construction date of the old granite lagares(2) (1852), so indicate.

    Quinta da Gricha produces Port wine at least since 1840 and with its own brand and label since 1999. It does not have the historiacl thickness of many historical Douro quintas, but it is a 19th century quinta, of an era in the long Port wine history  of a fast expansion of the Douro viticulture, when many quintas in the Douro where created to respond the growing demand for Port wine in export foreign markets, which had begun in the mid 18th century.

Some records with references to "Gricha" and "Quinta da Gricha"

    The demarcation of the Roriz area, carried out in November 10, 1758, states that: "The demarcation for the 15$000 réis wine begins on the Douro river, where the stream that comes from Gricha..." (in "As Demarcações Pombalinas do Douro vinhateiro", by Álvaro Baltazar Moteira da Fonseca).

    Other historical mentions, from the book "Roriz, história de uma Quinta no Coração do Douro" ("Roriz, the history of a Quinta in the heart of the Douro"), by Gaspar Martins Pereira: "In February the wine was cleaned, transferred from the large wood barrels ("tonéis") to the casks where it should be loaded. In 1899, the "caneco" (wine transferred by hand) was no longer used, using that year the wine pump from Quinta da Gricha. Probably to try the new process.".

    In 1907 regarding Quinta de Roriz, the purchase of nearby properties was considered in Roriz: "he recalled the convenience of buying Quinta da Gricha", but the negotiations were not sucessful.

    On April 1st 1909, concerning the registration (in the name of Cristiano Van Zeller) of the discovery rights of two tin mines, "one in Quinta da Gricha, belonging (that year) to José Gomes de Carvalho, and the other on the Roriz crags.".

    In 1978, "the Quinta da Gricha owner, José Pessanha Seixas, wrote to Rolando Van Zeller, to obtain the electricity supply by the transformation station installed in Roriz. Seixas achieved its goal. However, from 1989 it began to have severe finantial difficulties, failing to settle the electricity consumption, having accumulated a high debt to Quinta de Roriz, which, after many warnings was forced to cut the electricity supply to Gricha in 1995.".

    "By the nascent hillside, ... cut by the path that leads to Ervedosa and passes through the Quinta da Gricha leaning on high..." (in "Douro: Principais Quintas, Navegação, Culturas, Paisagens e Costumes", by Manuel Monteiro).

    Still, from the book "Quintas do Douro", by J. Alcino Monteiro (1960), the description:
"Gricha: a Ervedosa do Douro parish, in the municipality of São João da Pesqueira. Owner (in 1960): João Baptista de Morais Frias, residing in Soutelo do Douro. A very important Quinta for its location. It is located on the right bank of the river Torto, at an altitude of 140 / 300m and in gravel terrain. It has a settlement of about 30 thousand vines, many olive and fruit trees, manly orange trees. Its very fine quality wine production, is quite high, also produces olive oil in appreciable quantities."-

    In 1999, Quinta da Gricha was purchased by Churchill's, a property with a total area of 50 hectares.

The Quinta and the importance of the location, the knowledge of the place

    The emblematic Churchill's quinta, which is currently at the origin of its Port and DOC Douro wines, is located in the Cima Corgo Douro sub-region, on the south bank of the river Douro, between Pinhão and São João da Pesqueira, in the parish of Ervedosa do Douro (Ervedosa do Douro is the largest Port wine producing area in the entire Douro region), and in the municipality of São João da Pesqueira. It is very close to the historic Quinta de Roriz, in one of the best Port wine producing areas in the Douro.

    Until 1999, as mentioned above, the grapes for Churchill's Port wines originated from properties and vineyards located on the north bank of the river Douro, with a predominant south exposure, which originated wines with a hot, earthy profile and with a more concentrated style. The vineyards of the Pinhão river valley had similar characteristics.
    John Graham had the opinion that the search should be done to find cooler locations and terrains that could contibute with the components of freshness, natural acidity and fruit purity, essential elements for the wine profile he wanted to produce.

    Neighbour to the famous and historic Quinta de Roriz, Quinta da gricha is a terroir of excellent vineyards of recognized quality and classified as "A"(3) category, which was a decisive factor for its choice. With a mild and predominantly north exposure, the vines benifit from more hours of shade and less hours of direct sunlight, a very important factor especially at the end of the hot summer afternoons, a wind exposure that naturally regulates humidity, and the grapes will inevitably express this greater freshness and higher humidity, getting good, longer and more balanced maturations. Moreover the acquisition of its own vineyards allowed the company to control the entire wine production process, from viticulture, to treading the grapes in the winery and vinification.

    In the Douro, each quinta and each property and vineyard, has its very own specific characteristics, its own conditions and different viticulture and vinification processes. This is also the case at Quinta da Gricha, where Churchill's wines are born, and it was with this property that DOC Douro wine production started.

    At the time of Quinta da Gricha purchase, another smaller property was also acquired, the Quinta do Rio, located in the not too distant river Torto valley, a tributary of the Douro river on its south bank and also in the Cima-Corgo Douro sub-region, an estate with 12 hectares of "A" category classified vineyards, with greater sun exposure and that produced a warm, fruity, floral and concentrated style of Port wine that could be considered the antithesis of the ones produced at Gricha, but the conscious intention was to widen the choice possibilities and to have a guarantee to obtain the best possible results in each harvest. Nevertheless, the successive productions did not demonstrate the consistency of those characteristics required for the Churchill's wine profile and the possibility of acquiring more plots of land contiguous to Quinta da Gricha ended up determining the decision to sell Quinta do Rio.

    Also, for a very short period, from 1999 to 2002, Quinta da Perdiz, also located in the river Torto valley, was leased, and which ended up having a very limited influence on the house wines.

    1999 was the first year that Quinta da Gricha grapes were used to produce vintage Port wine.

    In the path of the Douro quintas historical tradition, as centers or units of integrated wine production, oriented to wine making, it is possible to recognize in the quinta traditional architecture, the buildings and their original functions, and the divisions of the several areas and spaces.

    The largest building, the quinta's old house, the main owner's house and all the structures that support the wine production, the "lagares" house independent building with its old granite "lagares"(2) still in use today with elegant carved granite columns, decorative elements unusual in the Douro quintas, with a capacity of 6000 to 7000kg (there are also smaller "lagares" called "lagaretas", with a capacity of about 2000kg), then the winery, the housekeeper's house, and the "cardenhos"(1). Some of these buildings are currently adapted to new uses as a result of new needs, such as a new tasting room, the laboratory, the office, dormitories, and then the exterior areas that constitute Quinta da Gricha own natural heritage, in addition to its vine gardens, there is a beautiful garden, a vegetable garden, the orchard, the olive grove and the almond trees.

The view from Quinta da Gricha. Quinta de Roriz in the background.
    Very recently, in 2016 the infrastructure rehabilitation was completed, with the construction of a winery, a cellar for wine ageing, a laboratory and a warehouse, as well as the quinta's main house recovery and conservation, preparing it to receive guests, since it was partially in ruins and which is designated today as "Gricha Vineyard Residence". In this conservation and restoration works there was a concern to respect the essence of the traditional and historic architecture elements of the old buildings, the typical traditional traces remained, there was a care to maintain the structure of the house interiors and spaces, whenever possible with the use of similar materials, such as the coffered ceilings and the wooden structures supporting the ceilings.

    The Quinta considered as a set of tourism resources was also valued following the current and growing trend of articulating wine making activities, wine and cultural tourism.

The Vineyards

2 vine row "patamares" terraced vineyards
    The quinta had approximately 20 hectares of a vineyard that already existed when it was acquired in 1999, and about half of the present vineyard area already existed and consisted of a mixture of very old vines and other vineyards of an average age of approximatly of 30 years old. Since then a careful work of replanting and reconversion has begun and the vineyard has been increased to twice the initial total area.

    In 2009, the initial vineyard area had been enlarged and expanded to about 37 hectares. Presently the quinta has a total area of 50 hectares, 40 of which planted with vineyard.

The Vineyard characterization

    Of the present total 40 hectare vineyard area, at an altitude between 150 to 400 meters above sea level, about 20ha are planted with very old vines with approximately 70 years old and 35 year old vines planted under the PDRITM program(4). The remaining 20ha, correspond to the most recent vineyards planted in the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa and Sousão red grape varieties and Rabigato and Viosinho white grape varieties in the highest altitude parcels.

The type of terrain: consisting essentially by schist lands with some granite outcrops. Part of the vineyard is planted in old tin mine terrain and the soil has a very strong mineral component, which is reflected in the wines.

The vineyad layout: there are several types of terraces, the traditional vineyard planted in post phyloxeric traditional Douro terraces called "socalcos" and also the "patamares" terraces (first appeared in the 1960's, consisting of a contour-hugging terraces constructed with a inclined earth ramp known as "talude") of 1 to 2 vine bards. The old vineyard is planted in an amphitheater style.

The grape varieties: there are several grape varieties planted, predominantly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francisca, Tinto Cão and a blend made up of several different mixed grape varieties and which are the origin of the house Port wines.
The PDRITM program vineyards (more than 35 years old), consisting of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Francesa red grape varieties.

What's so special about Quinta da Gricha "Talhão 8" (vineyard parcel)?
"The Talhão 8 is made up of Touriga Nacional and is the origin of a wine produced in very reduced quantities made from a vineyard that I think is special. It is not an old vineyard, we are talking of a vineyard of about 19 years old that year after year produces a Touriga Nacional of remarkable quality and consistency. Without losing its characteristic exuberance it also shows a very well defined elegance and structure. For this reason, we understand that it's a wine that exemplifies the pedigree of a quinta as Gricha.". (Ricardo Pinto Nunes, Churchill's production director and winemaker).

    According to Ricardo Pinto Nunes, this is a Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa terroir par excellence, safeguarding that the essence and the Douro strength is based on the wines produced from very old vines, the so-called field-blends.

    There is an intentional Touriga Nacional predominance, which is a grape variety with an exceptional expression in these terrains, both for Port and table wines, it matures with a low alcohol level, about 12% to 13%, it has a tendency for a low production, with compact grape bunches and small berries, it's very aromatic and has a good tanic structure. It produces wines of high purity and focus and with an excellent natural acidity.

    The future plan is to widen the vineyard area by about more 5 hectares, where 10 to 15 grape varieties will be planted thinking of a future field blend.

    The wines that do not include the name "Quinta da Gricha" on the label are produced from grapes purchased from farmers (which are about 15 in total), with which there is a fairly close relationship that has been maintained for many years, some of them are suppliers since the Quinta da Gricha acquisition in 1999, which allows a very good knowledge of the vineyards and the potential of the grapes produced as a guarantee of consistency for the desired wine profile.

Winemaking and wines

    On the Quinta da Gricha we are in a very special terroir, where wines with specific and recognizable characteristrics are born and which gives wines its identity, freshness and natural acidity that can be maintained even in very hot years, which is decisive for its elegance, balance and for the wine ageing capacity.

    White wines are produced from grapes from the vineyards located on the highest grounds and on more granitic soils. There is a white grape variety vineyard high in the quinta which is used for white table wines, however, grapes form other higher areas in the Douro are also used, such as Murça, for its more granitic soils and because it ensures freshness and a late fruit maturation, which are elements sought by the house. Acidity is a characteristic transversal to all of Churchill's wines with a mineral component always present. In red wines, the black fruit, blueberries and ripe blackberries are distinctive elements.

    In 2007, it was introduced for the first time a wine from the Upper Douro region in the wine blend, with a more rustic and muscular characteristic style without the finesse of the Cima Corgo region. The "Grande Reserva" is a wine that combines 3 to 4 very old vineyards located in Cima Corgo and Upper Douro, according to RPN: "It's a wine with the typical strength of a blend of old vines, with structure and complexity, closed and tense, vinous and with a very good ageing potential.".

    Port wines are still fully produced using the traditional methods, using the old and traditional Quinta da Gricha granite "lagares", more than 150 years old, built 1852, and which are also a part of the house pride.
    Traditionally, Port wines are produced by foot treading the grapes in granit or schist lagares, which require a lot of man power available. Tipically, Port wine companies recruited harvest working teams from the same village, they stayed together in the Douro, harvesting during the day and working in the lagares at night, which is an old social practice.

    The company makes a point of maintaining the ancestral tradition of foot treading the grapes for all its Port wines, as long as it is possible, because it is believed that despite being a costly method, it is still the efficient process and the one that produces the best results and that gives Port wine the colour and soft tannins they need. There is an importance given to detail, an attention and care for small things, which is also what the most informed and specialized consumer is looking for.
    Another distinguishing factor is that Churchill's Port wines ferment naturally without yeasts addition, "this factor coupled with the fact that we purposely leave the must to ferment a little further, gives rise to drier, structured wines and without the need to add as much wine brandy, that is, with more "natural" alcohol, alcohol from  the fermentation process.".

    In the process of Port wine production that Churchill's considers to be the most suitable for vintage Port, a very careful blind wine tasting and selection of the several wines available from each vintage is carried out, which will allow a 3 category division, Vintage, LBV and Reserve.  The "Vintage" category wines are intended for Churchill's Vintage Ports, Single Quinta Vintage Ports, Crusted Ports and a wine reserve for the future 20 and 30 year old Tawny Ports. The wines with potential to age in bottle like a vintage are the same wines needed to age properly in wood casks, as well as its ability to retain fruit, colour and freshness. Then the "LBV" category, intended for LBV Ports and a wine reserve for the 10 year old tawnies. Finally, since Churchill's only produces Port wine special categories, the "Reserve" category, the wines that ensure the reserve Port blends.

The identity and style of Churchill's wines

    This is a niche company which is now a reference, with a specialized vocation for high quality Port and DOC Douro wine production. These are wines made by people which are actually artisans and who are really interested in the wines they produce. "Churchill's small scale allows the production of hand-crafted wines using traditional mehods that many houses are unable to apply due to their time comsuming nature.".
    The commitment to Port wine special categories, makes even its ruby ports top of the range. The grape selection and the whole vinification process is the same, regardless the wine style, whether it is a Reserve, LBV, Crusted or Vintage Port.

    The wines have a fresher and drier style, even the 10 and 20 year old Tawny Ports go through an initial ageing period in large wood vats and only in a second phase they age in 600 to 650 liter wood casks, which helps to maintain the fruit freshness, which is precisely the main feature of Churchill's Tawny Ports. In these wines the expression conferred by the wood ageing is not as pronouced as is the case with most tawnies from other houses.
    The character of Churchill's wines: a characteristic style, structured wines, rich, complex, with soft tannins and a good balance between freshness, minerality and acidity. 

"My Ports are made with as much natural fermentation, and with as little fortification brandy as possible. I like to make wines in the most natural way. Above all I look for balance. I believe I brought this balance to Churchill's Ports. There is a consensus about the characteristics that define our house style which are easily identified." John Graham

    Churchill's continues to be essentially a Port wine company, however, currently the production is divided into approximately 50% Port wine and 50% DOC Douro wine.
    Chruchill's exports approximately 80% of its Port and DOC Douro wine production. The U.K., the U.S., Sweden, Brazil, are the main markets among many others. The national portuguese market represents about 20% of all the sales.

The Churchill's portfolio, fortified and non fortified wines

Port wine

Churchill's dry white Port
Churchill's 10, 20, 30 and 40 years old Tawny Port
Churchill´s Reserve Port
Churchill's LBV Port
Churchill's Crusted Port
Churchill's Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port (Single Quinta Vintage Port)
Churchill's Vintage Port

DOC Douro wine

Meio Queijo, white and red
Churchill's Estates Douro rosé, white and red
Churchill's Estates Touriga Nacional
Churchill's Estates Grande Reserva red
Quinta da Gricha red
and the most recent:
Gricha red (a new wine made from the same Quinta old vineyard but in a more "burgundy" style, in a lighter style, less extracted, but without loosing the finesse, quality and struture of the wines made from the old Gricha vineyard).

Quinta da Gricha Talhão 8 (vinified and fermented in robotic lagares, in the table wines winery, the malolactic fermentation and ageing is made in 500 liter wood casks).

Churchill's Vintage Ports
The list of the vintage Port wines produced by Churchill's from 1982 to 2016. 1999 was the year when a vintage Port made with grapes from Quinta da Gricha was produced for the first time.

Quinta da Gricha, Ervedosa do Douro, 5130-108 S. João da Pesqueira
Geographical coordinates latitude N: 41.18980º and longitude E: -7.47119º
T.: +351 254 422 136   email: enoturismo@churchills.pt

Churchill's (headquarters and visitors centre in Vila Nova de Gaia)
Rua da Fonte Nova, n.º 5, 4400-156 Vila Nova de Gaia
T.: +351 22 370 36 41   email: office@churchills.pt

Visitors centre T.: +351 22 371 41 93, T.: +351 22 370 36 41, m.: +351 91 310 60 66   email: lodge@churchills.pt

The notes:

(1) Cardenho: the house or dormitory building destined to the quinta workers and the rogas (the grape harvest teams) during the harvest season.
(2) Lagares: the traditional stone (granite or schist) treading tanks.
(3) Class "A" vineyards: a system of qualitative vineyard classification used in the Douro region, by which the vineyards are selected according to a scale from the letter "A" to the letter "F", applying a scoring method that evaluates certain parameters with a determining importance to the vineyard qualitative potential - the elements considered are: location - altitude - productivity - soil type - vineyard management system - the grape varieties - the land slope - exposure - soil texture - the vine age - shelter - the plantation density.
The application of a scoring system to each of these parameters results a classification that corresponds to a class, being "A" the highest. (source: IVDP, the Douro and Port Wine Institute).
(4) PDRITM program: the integrated rural development of "Trás-os-Montes" region was a financing program, applicable to the planting of new vineyards and the convertion and renewal of existing vineyards.

Our thanks to Ricardo Pinto Nunes for all the useful informations and clarifications.

Text and photos
©Hugo Sousa Machado

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