Flying back home after a week and a half in Northern Portugal and having traveled with a diverse group of Port enthusiasts, I'd like to share some memories from our recent trip while they are still fresh. For many reasons this was one of our best trips ever. Our group bonded very early on and although we had guests from Norway, Canada, Australia and the USA -- the "group dynamic" was quite strong and everyone got along really well. Additionally, we designed more down time into the schedule and also planned later start times for most visits, (allowing for more sleep) with one fewer appointment during the week and a slight reduction of wines overall. The less frenetic pace really seemed to resonate well with our guests.
The 2011 Port Harvest Tour seemed far more relaxed than usual and the six people who re-joined us this year, pointed this out a couple of times, while our new guests seemed to adapt to the schedule quite quickly. My observation was that the inclusion of touring four new properties, staying at a new hotel in the Douro and dining at several new restaurant venues also helped to refresh the nature of the tour. In fact, I dare say we ate better on this trip than any previous tour, with a solid mix of new eateries in addition to meals enjoyed at some quintas and producers' homes and an excellent wine dinner held in a private banquet area within The Yeatman Hotel, overlooking the pool, the Douro and a full panorama of Porto's skyline at night.
Another facet of this year's tour that made it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guests, was the sheer quantity of ancient Ports we were able to drink. We were blessed by an embarrassment of riches: from historic Colheitas dating from 1857 and 1882, plus a pair from 1900 on back-to-back evenings, replete with a 90 year old White Port, in addition to 1909 and 1924 Colheitas, an ultra-rare 1931 Garrafeira followed by another from 1940. We also enjoyed some ridiculously old Vintage Ports from 1812 and 1827, interesting barrel tastings and just-bottled cask samples, not to mention several impressive verticals of Port and the finest lineup of Douro wines I've ever tasted. I'm truly humbled when looking back at this crazy list and I realize this was over-the-top even for one of our tours.
This year we chose to include a unique visit to a top Vinho Verde producer (Quinta de Gomariz) for a break in the action, one hot afternoon. It was nice to see the Minho again and show a completely different wine region to our guests. Last but not least we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to tread grapes in a lagar at Quinta do Crasto just when we thought the harvest was all over and we'd miss the chance to do so. It was a ton of fun and capped off a great day into night spent with the brothers Roquette. I'll admit that this was the very first time I've ever swam in their infinity pool and as it was nearly 35 degrees C. that afternoon, it was a most welcome dip!
In reality, there were so many highlights on this trip that I can't wait to look through photos and savor our good fortune and have it sink in. Mario and I will be planning three tours for 2012 and one of them is already overbooked even prior to the actual dates being announced. We will likely move the Port Explorer's Tour back from February to April so that we can hopefully provide better weather for our clients (although in 2010, we were surprised in the Douro by 70+ degrees F. in Feb.). The upcoming Fortification Tour in May promises to rival the best we've ever achieved with some unique "first time" visits to producers and some special tastings to be included in Madeira and since the 2012 Port Harvest Tour already has a waiting list, we may have to add a second week.
Due to the candid and helpful feedback of our guests, we're able to remain flexible and continue to create unique itineraries and innovative experiences for our guests. We look forward to meeting many new Port, Madeira and Douro wine friends in 2012, along with some return clients for what promises to be three fantastic tours to explore Portugal's fortified wine regions.