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1820 - 1970

    BROTHERS WILLIAM AND JOHN GRAHAM ESTABLISH THEIR FIRM, 1820

    William and John Graham founded their firm in Porto in northwest Portugal to trade in textiles. In 1820 they accepted twenty-seven barrels of Port as payment of a debt. The two brothers decided then to devote their energies to making the best Port wines from the Douro Valley: and so the Graham’s Port house was born.

    The Graham family already had extensive business interests overseas, both in their native Scotland and in India. They were considered by one contemporary historian to be, ‘among the merchant princes of Great Britain’.

      ANDREW JAMES SYMINGTON ARRIVES IN PORTUGAL, 1882

      The Symington family has had connections to W & J Graham’s since 1882 when the young Scottish businessman, Andrew James Symington, came to Porto to work for the company. In 1891 he married Beatrice de Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson, whose ancestors has been involved in the Port trade since the 17th century.

      When Andrew James, known to everyone as AJ, first visited the Douro Valley he was spell-bound. This began a dedication to Port and the Douro that has not diminished in over five generations of Symingtons. He passed this passion onto his sons and so did they to theirs; and so the legacy of this family of wine-producers continues.

      Beatricede Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson was descended from Walter Maynard, English Consul in Oporto in the seventeenth century, who, in 1652, had shipped thirty-nine pipes of Port to England. This pre-dates any other British Port company, thus making him one of the very first foreign Port shippers. The Symington family, therefore, has a heritage that spans thirteen generations, with the fourteenth ready and waiting in the wings to take up the mantle.

        ACQUISITION OF QUINTA DOS MALVEDOS, 1890

        Graham’s successes and extensive knowledge of the Douro Valley led to the company becoming one of the first to invest in their own vineyards. In 1890 Graham’s acquired the beautiful Quinta dos Malvedos: this was a pioneering and farsighted move.

        The Malvedos vineyards are perfectly situated, with an ideal south-facing aspect, an exceptional terroir and a ridge on which was built the magnificent estate house. Malvedos is recognized as one of the Douro Valley’s finest ‘River Quintas’, consistently producing grapes of the highest quality which are the keystone in Graham’s greatest wines.

        Today, all of Graham’s Ports are produced exclusively from vineyards owned and tended to by Graham’s team. Making wine requires a fine balance of experience, art and science.

        It was the Grahams brothers’ deep understanding of the Douro region and its wines, and their good relationships with the local farmers that first established Graham’s exceptional reputation. Graham’s had a tradition of purchasing grapes from the best regions of the Douro valley. These were long-standing relationships, built on trust and mutual respect, which underpinned the consistent quality of Graham’s wines since its inception.

        Henry Vizetelly, a nineteenth century historian of the Port industry, records in his Facts about Port and Madeira (1877) that, ‘Eastward … are several Quintas adjoining each other, all of which yield high-class growths, purchased for many years past by Messrs. W. and J. Graham, of Oporto … Many of the best Quintas in the Upper Douro are concentrated hereabouts.’

          CONSTRUCTION OF GRAHAM'S LODGE IN VILA NOVA DE GAIA, 1890

          In the same year, Graham’s built a magnificent new Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia to store and mature their wines in the best possible conditions.

          The Lodge is situated on a hill-top overlooking the historic city of Porto a short distance from the estuary of the Douro River. Vila Nova de Gaia has a temperate maritime climate, ideal for aging Port wine. Today all Graham’s Ports come to the 1890 Lodge where they are aged and cared for by a dedicated team of Coopers, Cellar hands and Tasters.

            TRANSPORTING PIPES OF PORT ALONG THE DOURO IN TRADITIONAL BARCOS RABELOS, 1905

            Until the early years of the twentieth century Port was still transported to the company’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia in the traditional way: in the flat-bottomed boats, known as barcos rabelos. This journey down the River Douro, fully loaded with barrels of young Port wine, could take days and was fraught with danger.

            The name of Graham’s original estate, Quinta dos Malvedos, in fact commemorates the perils of this journey. Its name, ‘Malvedos’ literally translates as ‘the hard ways’, a reference to the rapids that used to exist below the estate and which were a notorious hazard for anyone journeying along the river.

            The Douro was dammed in the 1960s and 70s to provide hydroelectric power. This calmed the river, which is now wide and serene, like a series of wide lakes in some places. It also put an end to the use of the traditional barcos.

              TRANSPORTING PIPES OF PORT BY RAIL, 1912

              The construction of the railway revolutionised life in the Douro. It mitigated the need for the wines to undertake their perilous journey down the river, and it further opened the region to visitors and merchants from Porto.

              Travelling up the river to Pinhão could previously only have been attempted by boat or on horseback, which could take weeks. Suddenly, it was possible to reach the heart of the Douro in just a few hours

              The train from Porto up the Douro Valley, which runs all the way to the Spanish border, is today one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. There is a regular service and offers a visitor a magnificently scenic entrance into the region.

               

                TRANSPORTING PIPES BY BULLOCK CART, 1920

                Traditional methods continued to be used until well into the twentieth century. They still continue to this day in some parts of the Douro, which is so wild and remote that such age-old practices are the most effective. It is often said that there are parts of the Douro, which are so steep that wheels are useless.

                  THE OUTSTANDING 1927 VINTAGE PORT

                  Graham’s substantial investment in their wines at the end of the nineteenth century, through the purchase of property in the Douro and in Vila Nova de Gaia, produced a succession of superb Graham’s Vintages, which have become landmarks in the history of Port. Some of the most famous Vintages from early last century include 1908, 1912, 1924 and 1927.

                    AN ORDER OF GRAHAM’S PORT FOR SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, 1937

                    Graham’s ‘Vintage Character’ Port, today known as ‘Six Grapes’, was the only brand of Port purchased by the former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill throughout his life: it seems he was not satisfied with anything but the best.

                      GRAHAM’S MONUMENTAL 1945 VINTAGE PORT

                      The end of the Second World War saw Graham’s declare the monumental 1945 Vintage followed by the now legendary 1948. Both of these wines are still eulogized by wine critics today as some of the greatest wines in history.

                      Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine & O.B.E., describes her encounter with Graham’s 1948 Vintage Port in the following terms.

                      “I am still mentally wallowing in what was probably the single finest wine I was lucky enough to drink over the holidays – a well-kept bottle of Graham 1948… This was sublime… It was a stomping, attention-grabbing, tub-thumping, speechifying Port full not just of violets and liquorice and prunes, but also of grainy texture and vitality. Everything seemed to be in balance and yet I would not be surprised if it were still going strong in 20 or even 30 years’ time.”

                       

                        CHRISTMAS GREETING CARD, 1950

                        Over the years, Graham’s has built up an archive of heritage advertising materials, each of which captures a snapshot of history. Many of these have been catalogued and displayed in Graham’s museum in the 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto.

                        Printed in www.grahams-port.com

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