Taylor, Fonseca and Croft
Visiting the one of the leading Port companies in the beautiful Douro region of Portugal, part 1

The company of Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman is one of the most significant of all Port producers. They own a number of Port houses, including Taylorís, Fonseca and Croft. I was thrilled to be visiting during September, as an early harvest was just finishing.

Iíve been to the Douro lots of times, but this was the first visit where Iíd concentrated solely on Port. Indeed, Taylor, Fladgate and Yeatman donít really make table wines (they produce insignificant quantities on a largely experimental basis). Theyíre one of the few of the Port producers left doing solely to what they are good at Ė making great Port.

I was to be based for a pleasant few days at Taylorís Quinta de Vargellas, a spectacularly beautiful estate high in the Douro Superior, but the visit began in Porto, with dinner at the Factory House with Adrian and Natasha Bridge. Adrian is the managing director of the group, and heís a dynamic, energetic, focused guy. Think senior rank in the British army, and youíre getting close.


The Port bins at the Factory House

The Factory House reeks of history. It's a huge building in Porto that used to be the hub of the English Port Trade, liberated from the French in 1811. It is still owned and used by the English Port shippers, but there are now just three of these companies left because of mergers and consolidation: the Symingtons, the Taylor-Fladgate group, and newcomer Churchill.

It is still decorated as it would have been 100 years ago. Every Wednesday the shippers would gather for lunch, drinking Port together, and play guess the vintage. Wednesday was chosen because this was the day when no post arrived, so there wasn't much work to be done. With our dinner, we drank Fonseca 1970 from magnum, which was superb.

The following day our work began in earnest, with a tasting at the Taylor lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia (the town facing Porto over the Douro). Like all the Port houses, the Taylor group split their operations between the Douro (the vineyards) and Vila Nova de Gaia (the warehouses for maturing the Port, and the administrative centre). In the past, most of the attention was focused on Vila Nova, and the senior Port people would rarely take the inconvenient journey to the Douro.

But in recent decades this has been changing. Vila Nova de Gaia has a real sense of history, but the old Port lodges arenít really the ideal place to operate from. Shifting young wines down river to Gaia (originally by boat, but latterly by road) used to be a necessity, because the Douro was a remote place, and far too hot in summer for storing Port. Now in the age of air conditioning, itís feasible to have a winery, storage area and administrative centre near where the vineyards are. Indeed, Adrian Bridge explained that the plan is by 2016 to have moved most of the operations to the Douro.

And Vila Nova de Gaia, smartened up a bit, could have a promising future as a tourist destination. Bridge has recently invested a lot of money in developing a new luxury hotel, the Yeatman, in a prime location in Gaia just above the Taylor lodge, looking across to Porto, and we had a look at progress with the building works (since the visit, the Yeatman has been completed and is open for business).  

Then it was off to the Douro. The journey there was a fun one, by train. Vargellas has its own station (with the variant spelling ĎVargelasí), and the ride from Pinh„o to Vargelas is highly recommended, with some lovely views as the track follows the course of the river, and crosses the Douro just before it reaches its destination over a scenic iron bridge. 

 


Adrian Bridge

Iím writing up this visit in a number of parts, each one focusing on one of the Port houses owned by the group. Thereís also a part dedicated to the main winemaking centre for the group, and also sections devoted to pictures of the Douro and our sneak preview of the Yeatman hotel.

VISITING TAYLOR, CROFT and FONSECA

Introduction: visiting Taylor, Croft and Fonseca in Portugal's Douro
Taylor's Port, and Quinta de Vargellas
Fonseca's Port, and Quinta da Panascal
Croft Port and Quinta da Roeda
The Nogueira Winery: making Port
The Yeatman, a new luxury hotel in Porto
The 2008 single Quinta Ports from Taylor, Fonseca and Croft
Photos from the Douro Valley, Part 5, Taylor's Vargellas and Fonseca's Panascal
Photos from the Douro Valley, part 4
Photos from the Douro Valley, part 3, Croft's Quinta da Roeda, Douro

See also:

Part 2, Photographs from Quinta do Noval
Part 3, Photographs from Quinta do Noval's Nacional Vineyard
Part 4, Tasting Noval Nacional and Vintage Port back to 1962
An older report on Noval's table wines
The new Douro (series)
Vintage Ports from 2007 assessed
Vintage Ports from 2003 assessed

Wines tasted as 09/09  
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