I was happy to see Christian Seeley, Managing Director of Quinta do Noval, at the 2011 Vintage Port tasting last month in San Francisco. He looked awfully fit and was fresh from running the hills of the San Francisco that morning. Most people, even locals, would faint at at the idea of running our steep city streets but I wasn’t surprised. I still remember the time Christian took a couple of my colleagues on an early morning run up the much steeper slopes of the Douro vineyards, and left them in the dust.
I loved the Quinta do Noval Vintage Ports at the tasting, not only for their purity of fruit, but because the wines transport me to a very special place and time.
Purity of Fruit
The purity of fruit begins in the vineyards’ ideal location in the heart of the Pinhao Valley, which is at the heart of the Douro Valley. It comes from estate fruit, a majority of which are precision-farmed by single varietal (vs. the more common mixed plantings), then blended. Their most distinctive vineyard is the Nacional Vineyard, about 5 acres of old, ungrafted vines of mixed indigenous grape varietals, planted on schisty terraces right beneath the Quinta. It is the source of their Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port.
Quinta do Noval was one of the first to build modern temperature-controlled winemaking and storage facilities right at the source of the fruit during the 1990’s, after the long-neglected Quinta was acquired by AXA Millesimes. Prior to 1986, when laws requiring Port wines to be aged downriver in coastal Vila Nova de Gaia were relaxed, most wines were, and still are, cellared far away from the Quintas.
Simply put, the quality of the wines come from a long-term commitment to quality. All great wines, whether they’re Grands Crus Classes or Napa Valley cult, require substantial, patient investment, and no one lives this ethos better than Christian, who is also Managing Director of AXA Millesimes’ global wine portfolio. The first time I met him in 2008 at Chateau Pichon Baron in Pauillac, he recommended to our trade group as it relates to running a business, “invest as if you are the owner, and invest as if you are immortal.”
Seely’s commitment to, and love for, the Douro is also evidenced in his personal investment in Quinta da Romaneira nearby which also includes a gorgeous hotel property. He recently increased his personal control in the properties, which he is very happy about. One of the big changes I’m looking forward to is that the hotel, formerly marketed as an ultra-luxury resort, will become more of a wine-focused getaway which is more in the spirit of the place. It’s currently under renovation and is planned to re-open in spring 2014.
Purity of Place
There is a tree, a very old tree in the front of Quinta do Noval, that serves as a beacon to all those who arrive. Its massive arms appear to protect the Quinta against any adversity yet it gently gathers all who huddle beneath its wide shade during the Douro’s hot summers.
It’s such a romantic place. In my notes I wrote “we awoke to see whiffs of fog moving throughout the valley floor below us…the Douro Valley is a truly spectacular place, distinct from other beautiful wine regions in the world for its unspoilt beauty and the deafening silence of its remote location.”
Purity of Hospitality
We loved the local meals prepared by the hard-working and honest people in this beautiful valley, and of the intimate hospitality. I wrote of our departure for a group report, about the send-off we received by Christian’s then young son. “As we drove slowly down the long driveway, [Theodore] ran full speed on the upper terrace alongside us until he could run no more, at which point in the crisp autumn air and brilliant sunshine, he smiled and waved shouting, “Goodbye! Goodbye!” until we were gone from view. Such was the purity of hospitality at Quinta do Noval.”
When I think of that moment, I think of a young Christian. I realized that I’ve never seen Christian more relaxed and happy than when he’s at the Quinta or at a tasting talking about the Quinta. I guess the last part of the equation of making great wines is that you have to love a place – really love a place – and that passion comes through in the wine.
Quinta do Noval and Quinta da Romaneira wines are imported by Vintus.