“ Home of the famous W & J Graham's Port / Address: Rua Rei Ramiro / 514 4400 / Vila Nova de Gaia / Portugal „
A trip to Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia just wouldn't be the same without a visit to one of the many wine lodges. I have been to a few in my time and no, it's not all about tasting samples of port and wine these visits are very educational and interesting. She says with a glint in her eye and a wry smile.
Seriously, some of the lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia are in beautiful locations as is the Graham's Visitor Centre. You can find the centre at the top of a very steep road, Rua Rei Ramiro, which rises away from the river front in Vila Nova de Gaia. You can take the steep incline if you wish on foot but you don't have to as a shuttle has been organised by Graham's to transport visitors quickly and safely to the top and transport them back down when they have had one to many. Thousands of visitors come to Vila Nova de Gaia every year to visit this very large and pretty lodge that holds 3,500 pipes and many large vats of maturing port.
W & J Graham (named after the Scottish brothers William and John Graham) was founded in 1820. In 1890 the family built the grand Gaia lodge, on the site where it is now, overlooking the town of Gaia and the city of Porto opposite. They also invested, in the same year, in Quinta dos Malvedos, a stylish estate on the north bank of the Douro just west of Tua. Although the quality of Graham's ports never wavered, after the successes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the company was badly hit by the generally hard times for the port trade in the fifties. In 1970 the Symingtons (another port family originating from Scotland) bought Graham's out and the first villa I lived in, in the Algarve before my family bought our land was once owned by a member of the Symington family. In the 70s besides owning large wineries they were also into real estate and in Algarvian towns like Prai da Luz they transformed the small fishing villages into commercial sea side towns by investing in property.
At the moment the visit to the lodge is free but there are plans to make a small charge in the near future. First visitors are shown a short film in a choice of seven languages including English, French and German. The film introduces visitors to the estates belonging to Graham's throughout the Douro Valley and how port is made and blended. Interesting to see throughout the tour of the lodge the old cellars, casks and photo exposition held in the Baptism Room. The point of the tour is so that visitors can not only learn about the fascinating history of port but also the politics and different marketing trends.
Remember, that port wine isn't actually made at the lodge but in the beautiful Douro Valley which is about 2 hours away. The grapes are harvested, vinified and fortified in the Quintas and then sent down to the lodges at Vila Nova de Gaia by boats on the river or by road. At the lodge the port is stored before being transported to world markets.
After the tour ends visitors are taken to a large reception/tasting room which has magnificent views of the river and quays. You are allowed three tastings of port, the white, LBV, and the 10 year old Tawny. If you have an appetite for more port then pop along to the Graham's wine bar where you can taste other varieties. The Graham's Vintage is one to try - sweet, ripe and dense or a glass of Malvedos with its lovely blackcurrant fruit and soft, smooth tannins. There is no food to accompany the wine tasting - unless you turn up in a party and have pre-booked one of the private rooms and ordered a menu.
As at most wine lodges there is a shop selling wine, books and other wine related items but you will find the staff quite pushy and they will try their best to make sure you go home with as many bottles of port as you can possibly fit in your suitcase or in my case, rucksack. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of their best customers as I didn't buy any - I know it's cheaper to buy from certain supermarkets or even on-line so that particular day I came home empty-handed.