Until the mid-19th century, the treacherous journey to Quinta de Vargellas in the wild, mountainous eastern reaches of the Douro Valley was made by only a brave few. And not all of them lived to tell the tale. It is the pioneering spirit of those that did, that has made Vargellas – and Taylor’s – what it is today.
Quinta de Vargellas is the most famous of Taylor’s vineyards – a vast, awe-inspiring amphitheatre of terraces carved out of the mountainside, towering above the river below. Its finest grapes have formed the backbone of Taylor’s classic vintage Ports wines for over a century.
Vargellas is the very essence of the company. It represents Taylor’s values, its commitment to authenticity and quality, its desire to combine innovation with tradition and the family’s determination to succeed in the face of adversity.
A Tiny Aphid, A Very Big Problem
When Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman bought Vargellas in 1893, the once-celebrated vineyard was in serious decline. The vines had been devastated by phylloxera – a tiny, but lethal aphid from North America – and production was virtually at a halt.
It is no mean feat that only eighteen years later, in 1911, the distinguished historian of the Port wine trade, Manuel Monteiro, wrote the following description of the dramatic reconstruction of Vargellas overseen by Frank ‘Smiler’ Yeatman.
"The unyielding efforts of Messrs. Taylor & Co, soundly and practically directed, in tilling the soil and breaking up the rock, soon caused the fruitfulness of former times to spring anew from the barren ground, and with singular boldness and success have caused it to increase. Sixty thousand American vines, on which have been grafted the most noble Douro varieties, sprout luxuriantly from the soil and every year bountifully yield seventy to eighty pipes of that wine prized among all others.” Frank ‘Smiler’ Yeatman
A Judicious Blend of Tradition and Innovation
Successive generations of the family displayed that same pioneering spirit, fiercely preserving tradition, whilst using the best innovations and technology to refine and improve judiciously.
In the 1920s, Dick Yeatman took the revolutionary step of planting two plots of vineyard with a single traditional wine variety. Proving himself to be a man well ahead of his time, he enabled the family to build a unique library of single varietal samples.
It was Alistair Robertson, now the Chairman of the company, who put this library to very good use in the 1970s. Under his direction, parts of the vineyard were extensively re-landscaped and higher parts of the estate were developed for the first time. Using newly developed computer models and the information in the library, the family was able to match appropriate viticultural techniques and grape varieties to each area of the vineyard with impressive results.
Today, Alistair’s daughter, Natasha, is the Head Blender and son-in-law, Adrian, is the Managing Director. Together they continue the family business of preserving the quintessential character of the Vargellas Port wines, only making changes and refinements when the benefits are proven.
"Any great wine is anchored in the vineyard. It is Vargellas that gives a sense of place to Taylor’s port and brings the concentration, layers of flavour and structure to make something truly different and exceptional." Adrian Bridge.
As Taylor’s centre for research and development, new Port wine making techniques are constantly developed and reviewed at Vargellas. But for the grapes grown at the vineyard, tradition still wins the day. As long as treading produces the very best Port wine, then, however costly and time-consuming, it will continue.
Vargellas in a Bottle
Today, Quinta de Vargellas is firmly re-established as one of the world’s great classic vineyards. Its wines are the mainstay of Taylor’s range of Ports, from LBV to classic Taylor’s declared vintages and the highly-prized Single Quinta Vintage Port.
As for tomorrow, the spirit of tradition and innovation will ensure that the wines of Vargellas remain the benchmark for vintage Port.
Raise a Toast to Vargellas
On a warm summer’s day, why not raise a toast to Vargellas and remember those pioneering souls who have made it what it is today? May we suggest a lightly chilled Tawny with dessert or nuts, or perhaps a luscious LBV or rich, velvety Vargellas 1998 to enjoy at the end of a meal?
Taylor’s 10 Year Old tawny
TASTING: A lovely balance of mellow fruit and nut flavours with a light sweetness and a delightfully smooth finish.
SERVING: Bottled ready to drink, it is an excellent accompaniment to creamy puddings and nutty desserts. In the summer, drink lightly chilled.
TASTING: A complex, fruity, aromatic nose with a slight scent of violets. Delicious spicy flavours of fresh berries and a touch of liquorice. The elegant Vargellas 1998 demonstrates silky fruit and tannins in perfect balance with a rich, velvety, lingering finish.
SERVING: For port lovers who appreciate younger vintages, the 1998 is perfect for drinking now. Alternatively, it is robust enough to withstand further ageing in bottle. Decant prior to serving. Superb with blue cheeses, dry fruit or walnuts.