Quinta do Noval Harvest: Day 7
26th September 2006
Bright sunshine with scattered cumulus, temperatures rising to 26 degrees
Canadas, Quinta da Foz, Quinta da Passegueiro
Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca
This is my last full day at Quinta do Noval: the past nine have offered a truly profound wine experience. For my final entry in the Harvest Diary of 2006 I would like to share some personal observations of just what sets Noval apart and why the Douro valley is a place like no other. There are unique places in the vinous world where great wines are born: for my own part, Bordeaux and Burgundy maintain a special place in my heart. Most legendary wine estates have a family or group of people devoted to a singular aim; to make the greatest wines possible from a specific piece of earth or terroir and in so doing, carry forward long held traditions. Writers and learned commentators speak knowledgeably of typicity and the integrity of a wine's characteristics within a given appellation. This authenticity is vital if we are to maintain the many differing styles of winemaking throughout the world.
The Douro valley is a place like no otherAt Quinta do Noval the noble ambition of creating a fluid expression of earth and elements was achieved long ago. For almost 300 years the dark brooding style of adolescent Noval Port has captured and retained the true essence of a harsh, sun-baked landscape. Noval is the liquid embodiment of a particular place: when drinking Port wine you taste the DNA of the Douro and through Nacional's dark impenetrable youth gain a sense of the vine's torturous journey through metres of dark stone schist. There is something extraordinary about a wine whose slatey subterranean origins contrast sharply with the toasted, heart-warming flavours of evolved maturity. This is a wine whose evolution predates much of modern winemaking and the gradual transition from somewhat bitter inaccessibility to glowing warmth, seems to echo the very climate of the Douro Valley.
Parallels with other great wines are not easy to draw: longevity can be hard to predict and known vintages continue to confound and surprise. Old tasting notes commanding ‘drink up', ten years on, might venture "a splendid life ahead". Though after a shared decanter of the legendary 63' Nacional, one's personal immortality seems assured.
The People of Noval
Port wine is an important part of what makes Noval great: the people who work here are equally vital, without their massive contribution the soul of Quinta do Noval would evaporate. The warm heart of Noval beats because of them, every day their dedication helps express why this Port wine is so highly regarded. Adoration is not always easily garnered, but Port lovers from around the world worship Noval's Nacional. It is an icon of the wine world, but only because of the effort invested by those who work hard on the terraced vines and in the chais.
Sunlight illuminates the Nacional vinesChristian Seely arrived at Noval in 1993, his first declared vintage - the 94', was a massive success. Since that time the wines have gone from strength to strength, gathering Parker points by the hundred and transforming its once tired reputation into songs of praise amid a stream of accolades and awards. He and winemaker Antonio Agrellos have made Noval what it is today - but more than this, the atmosphere at the Quinta is unusual. This place radiates enthusiasm and a sense of studied connoisseurship; when arriving at Noval the ambience is all consuming and makes one an instant convert to the Port wine cause. In large part this is due to Christian Seely's personal devotion to handmade wines, combined with a passion that is completely infectious. He loves Port wine and the Douro and inevitably, you end up loving it too...
Being in the Douro during vindima is magical, a feeling hard to convey in words. Time spent walking around the magnificent Noval estate, in the company of people so enthused about their working lives, makes an indelible impression. Great Port wine 24 hours a day helps one comprehend a world entirely dedicated to the vine. This peerless kingdom encompasses all that makes fine wine matter, a wild untamed landscape, cajoled and persuaded by vignerons through the ages. Its ever changing elements shaping the gnarled vines and suffusing the inky-black contents of each bottle, while helping to etch the Douro's identity on every vintage Port. There is no vagueness or irregularity of style in these wines, they are bottled truth, offering a vinous snapshot of a moment in time and perfectly describing the windswept undulating landscape. This is a terrain whose expression is found in two forms: one physical and the other by way of a tangible liquid metaphor.
Shade among the Nacional vines
A cool spot behind the Olive trees
UNESCO designated the Douro Valley a ‘World Heritage Site' because it has a rare and precious environment in need of protection. Should the same criteria ever be applied to a vineyard, Quinta do Noval would be an automatic choice, it is a Portuguese national treasure.
The majestic Douro river
Traditonal boats are moored along the riverbankThe majestic Douro River winds its way through rolling hectares of terraced vineyards, some vertiginously steep. A breathtaking scenery encompasses every shade of umber and green, the endless verdant caterpillar vines trace the form of each hillside, like contour lines on a topographical map. Earthly geological shapes are accurately described by these man-made vineyards and stone terraces: by following the curvature of the vines, when light and shade fall flat, the forms of these mound-like hills might still be discerned. The river is large and deep, according to the seasons or time of day, its colour ranges from deep Indigo to a pale pea-green. The effects of reflected light upon the water's surface are infinite and as assorted river-craft wend their way along the smooth surface, their bow-waves break against the shore, anointing the waterside toes of olive trees. The riverbank is occasionally punctuated by small rustic houses and Quintas, with wooden vessels moored alongside. This valley is very beautiful and provides a real focus for all who visit the region. The Douro river has been somewhat tamed by assorted dams and hydro-electric schemes, once upon a time these seemingly limpid waters raged and challenged those who navigated its massive watercourse.
Vindimadores in the Roncao valleyThe warm memories I take away are many: smiling weather beaten faces of the vindimadores hard at work; songs echoing across schist strewn terraces and brightly coloured flowers in young girl's hair. Happy Noval cooks Barbara and Maria-Joao preparing the most wonderful breakfasts, luncheons and dinners, are simply amazing and never seem downcast. Rute Monteiro who manages public relations at Quinta do Noval has made my stay at Noval a joy. Her fantastic sense of humour, warmth of personality and total professionalism are a credit to the estate. Antonio Agrellos is the winemaker's winemaker: his ability is recognized throughout the vinous world, though his great kindness and
The grapes are in perfect conditionsense of fun should be praised in equal measure.
As I write this final entry, the Noval vineyards are full of activity with 26,000 kilos of grapes pouring into the Lagares and winery. The 2006 vintage is off to a fine start, though picking will continue until the second weekend in October. The grapes are in excellent condition and results so far are reassuringly good. The day is winding down and Christian Seely is spending the late afternoon with Aymeric de Gironde, perhaps they are discussing the future of this mighty estate and the prospects for ever more great Noval vintages in the decades ahead.
With Christian Seely at the helm, Quinta do Noval is in very safe hands: this quintessential connoisseur of Port has the Douro valley in his blood and is never afraid to proclaim the many virtues of an estate that changed his professional life. The two are mutually indebted and like any passionate affair is likely to run and run. Being here has been a privilege and once home in France I know I will long to return.
The sun is low in the sky and as I walk down the cobbled drive to the Quinta, long mauve shadows reach eastwards. This really is the best part of the day: with light so true that every leaf and stone is clearly delineated. Christian and Aymeric are walking ahead, drinks on the terrace beckon and I would not wish to miss my very last Extra Dry White Port and tonic, as the sun surely slips behind the distant hills of the Pinhao valley.
What a splendid place Noval is and how well it has lived up to Christian's promise.
Walking back for drinks on the Noval terrace