From Shipbuilders to Port Producers

From Shipbuilders to Port Producers
Contributed by Simon Werner
The Symington family wasn't always involved in winemaking. In recent history, they transitioned from shipping to acquiring Grahams and other producers, positioning themselves as a leading family in the wine industry.
The iconic Graham's bottle

Pounding hammers, grinding saws, and roaring shouts cut through the dusty air. Such scenes come to mind when thinking of shipbuilding at the beginning of the Industrial Age. During the 18th and 19th centuries, when British maritime trade reached its zenith, the Scottish city of Glasgow, strategically situated at the mouth of the River Clyde, emerged as a hub for ports and shipbuilding, securing its position as one of the Empire's leading cities in this industry. On the one hand, industrialization spread earlier there than elsewhere, and on the other hand, there were many enterprising merchants. Among them were the brothers William and John Graham.

Important role in British maritime trade

Throughout history, the fortified wine specialties of Southern Europe also played an important role in British maritime trade. That's why many port wine houses have non-Portuguese names. One of them is Graham's, founded by the Graham brothers in 1820. Located at the mouth of the Douro River, they shipped their ports from Porto, strictly speaking, from the opposite Vila Nova de Gaia.

In 1882, a member of the Symington family entered the scene for the first time. Andrew James Symington came from Clyde to the Douro to work for the Graham family. Later he founded his own shipping company.
Charles Symington is Master Blender at Graham’s. He has the final say in the Port wine cellar.

Fresh challenge: Port

However, it wasn't until 1970 that Graham's came under the ownership of the Symington family. Until then, the house belonged to the Grahams themselves. In the meantime, thanks to long-standing relationships, the port producers Dow's and Warre's also came into the possession of the Symingtons.

Today, it is an enterprise group that has 26 estates ("Quintas") along the Douro with a vineyard area of over 1,000 hectares at its disposal. This also means that the grapes for the port wines, including those at Graham's, come from their own vineyard holdings and are not purchased.

Now, the fourth and fifth generations are in charge at Symington. Charles Symington from the fourth generation is actively involved in production as a Master Blender at Graham's.

With Quinta dos Malvedos, which has been part of Graham's ownership since 1890, the house has a winery that perfectly represents the prototype of Douro winemaking with its dramatically terraced slopes, barren soils, and scorching summer heat. From there also comes a vintage line, which is usually the flagship of any port producer. The bestseller is, however, the white "Blend No. 5."
Like any Graham's port, the initials of the founders, “W” for William and “J” for John, can be found on the labels. 

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