It had been on my list of wine regions to visit for decades, but I finally made it to the Douro Valley just this past summer, on a trip with my family. What had kept me from going before? It must have been the feeling that the destination, home to the legendary port houses, was remote and difficult to navigate. What I found, however, was that I had been holding on to an outdated image of the Douro and that this incredibly beautiful valley is now a growing centre for wine tourism.
From Lisbon, we drove three hours north and checked in at The Yeatman, the luxury hotel owned by the Fladgate Partnership, which also owns Taylor’s, Fonseca and Croft, three of the great port houses. Fladgate Partnership CEO Adrian Bridge has been a leader in making the Douro a friendly place to visit.
POST SCRIPTUM 2012 AND TAYLOR’S 1994 PORT, TWO NOTABLE VINTAGES FROM THE DOURO VALLEY.
First, The Yeatman: Located in Vila Nova de Gaia and right next to Taylor’s, the hotel overlooks the famous port lodges (where the wines are matured) and Oporto – so the view from each room is spectacular. As befits a hotel of its calibre, while you’re swimming or enjoying a massage, the staff can set up visits to the port houses in town and up the Douro, plus book restaurants for you.
With Taylor’s so close, Adrian Bridge naturally gave us a wonderful tour and tasting, which was followed by dinner at the on-site restaurant. The next day, before leaving for the Douro, he talked about his company’s plan to build a visitor centre and museum, with several restaurants just below The Yeatman. With a capacity for one million visitors per year, the proposed development not only reflects Fladgate’s ambition, but also serves as confirmation that wine tourism is about to become serious business in the Douro Valley.
Some major roadwork should make it easier still. Years back, it took four hours to drive from Oporto to Pinhão, in the middle of the Douro Valley. This summer, it took us two and half hours, and the road currently being built will reduce that time further. Once this is completed, the number of visitors to the Douro wineries is expected to explode. Ahead of this potential influx, Fladgate has wisely acquired Pinhão’s Vintage House Hotel, which was converted from an old port warehouse.
A VIEW OF THE QUINTA DO CRASTO WINERY. PHOTOGRAPH BY MANUEL LUÍS GOMES © QUINTA DO CRASTO.
From Pinhão, we first visited Fonseca’s very scenic Quinta do Panascal property, from whose grapes both a Single Quinta port and some of the main Fonseca blend are made. Then, after a stroll along the river, we had dinner at the cosy Restaurante Bar Veladouro, which offers an extensive list of ports as well as dry wines from the area. And indeed, while the Douro is still best known for its ports, there has been a move toward making dry red and white wines in the valley. As a result, our next stop was at the Quinta do Crasto, one of the region’s most forward-thinking wineries, owned by Jorge and Leonor Roquette. Again, the location was stunning, and the winemaking proved equally impressive. At a separate location, the couple also runs a joint winemaking venture with the Cazes family from Château Lynch-Bages. Try their wines – they are well worth discovering. Most important, get to the Douro soon, before the rest of the world finds out.
Jamie Ritchie is CEO and President of Sotheby’s Wine for the Americas and Asia. Enquiries +1 212 606 7050 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Available at Sotheby’s Wine Retail New York: Ports: A six-bottle mixed case of the 2011 vintage: $549; Taylor’s 1994: $1,994; Graham 1985: $109.95. Dry Red Wines: Quinta do Crasto 2013: $13.95, Post Scriptum 2012: $26.95.