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QUINTA DO NOVAL NACIONAL
No other vintage port attracts more attention than Quinta do Noval’s Nacional and its collectability can be partly attributed to its tiny production. Only 200 - 300 cases are produced in a declared year. This represents a tiny percentage of Quinta do Noval’s production of vintage port (between 1,200 and 5,000 cases in each declared year). Nacional’s two and a half hectares of ungrafted vines are almost indistinguishable amongst the estate’s spectacular amphitheatre of immaculate, terraced vineyards, set high above the Pinhão Valley in the Cima Corgo region of the Douro.
“This wine is a mysterious phenomenon, a magical wine produced in extremely limited quantities and only in a few years each decade. It is the expression of a terroir and confirms something that is for me a deeply held belief. The Nacional is great because of the grapes and where they come from, not because of anything particular that we do. It has a unique personality, an extraordinary intensity and, even after many years of ageing, retains an astonishing youthfulness.” Christian Seely
The precise origin of Nacional remains unknown as most of the quinta’s records were destroyed in 1981 when a catastrophic fire swept through Noval’s headquarters in Vila Nova de Gaia. Most of Noval’s vineyards were severely damaged by phylloxera when it ravaged
the Douro region during the 1880’s and 1890’s.
Along with every other grower, António José da Silva (who bought the estate in 1894) began to replant his vineyards with American vines, grafting on vinifera types. It seems that da Silva selected a tiny parcel of the quinta’s vineyards and began extensive fumigation of the soil with a sulphur solution. The first Nacional vines were planted in 1925. The legendary quality of 1931 Nacional is even more
remarkable if one takes into account that many of the vines were between four and seven years old.
The estate of Quinta do Noval includes about 6,000 Nacional vines, with an average age of 30 years. Rows of Nacional alternate with rows of grafted vines in a section of the estatejust below the house, with an exceptional south west exposure. The vines are planted at a density of c. 2,000 vines per acre in traditional terraces with each vine having a space of approximately 3 x 4.5 feet. Like the rest of the estate, the soil of the Nacional plot is essentially infertile schist. It is high in potash with tiny amounts of nitrates, phosphates and organic matter. Although phylloxera is endemic, Nacional vines live just as long as grafted ones: 50 years or more. Their very existence remains a viticultural mystery and triumph. Most Nacional vines are widely acknowledged as some of the best grape varieties for Port:
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa and Tinto Cão, as well as Sousão.
What are the declared vintage years for Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional ?
2011, 2003, 2000, 1997, 1996, 1994, 1991, 1987, 1985, 1984, 1983, 1982, 1980, 1978, 1975, 1970,
1967, 1966, 1964, 1963, 1962, 1960, 1958, 1955, 1950, 1945, 1934, 1931
The name of Quinta do Noval first appeared in land registries in 1715. The property was owned for more than a century by the Rebello Valente family, who were given it by the Marquês do Pombal, Portugal’s all-powerful prime minister. In the early 19th Century,the
estate passed by marriage to the Viscount Vilar D’Allen, who was renowned for hosting wild parties at Noval, transporting dancing girls from the Folies Bergères.
By the 1880s the Douro had been ravaged by phylloxera and, like many estates, Quinta do Noval was put on the market.In 1894 it was bought by the distinguished port shipper António José da Silva.
Da Silva breathed new life into Quinta do Noval, replanting the vineyards and renovating buildings on the estate. His work was continued by his son-in-law, Luiz Vasconcelos Porto, who ran the company for nearly three decades. He was responsible for an extensive programme of innovation, transforming the old narrow terraces into the wide white-washed ones seen today, which allowed for better use of space and more exposure to the sun. At the
time, this was considered revolutionary thinking. He also built Noval’s image in the UK, focusing his attention on Oxford,Cambridge and private clubs.
Noval made its reputation with the declaration of 1931 - arguably the most sensational port of
the 20th Century (and certainly the most expensive).Due to world recession and vast shipments of 27’s, only three shippers
declared 1931. To this day, Quinta do Noval remains the only Portuguese house to have made its name to any great extent in the British
and US vintage port market.
Throughout the century, other port shippers have followed where Noval has led. For example, the first stencilled bottles were introduced by Noval in the 1920s; Noval pioneered the concept of Old Tawnies with an indication of age (10, 20 and over 40 years) and in 1958 was the first house to introduce a late-bottled vintage: 1954 Quinta do Noval LBV.
Vasconcelos Porto retired in 1963 and his grandsons, Fernando and Luiz Van Zeller,took
over the company. Another extensive programme of modernisation was embarked upon, including new vinification equipment, new vine plantations and bottling the vast majority of
wines in Vila Nova de Gaia (in 1963 only some 15% of Noval ports were bottled there; fifteen years later the figure was 85%).
In the autumn of 1981 a catastrophic fire swept through Noval’s lodge, bottling plant and
offices in Vila Nova de Gaia, destroying 350,000 litres of stock, 20,000 bottles of the 1978 vintage and more than two centuries worth of records. The following year a new generation of the family entered the company: Cristiano and Teresa Van Zeller, great grandchildren of Luiz Vasconcelos Porto, then aged 23 and 22 respectively.
In 1982 building began of a vast lodge at Quinta do Noval. In 1986 the Portuguese
government changed the shipping laws, allowing port houses to export directly from the Douro. Noval was the first major house to be able to take advantage of the new legislation and announced in 1989 that it would be moving most of its stock to the Douro.
In May 1993 the Van Zeller family sold the company to AXA, one of the world’s largest insurance groups. The deal included the 145 hectare estate, together with stocks and production facilities.
In October 1993 Englishman Christian Seely was appointed Managing Director of Quinta do Noval. In 1994 Noval began a major programme of technical improvements, including replanting and renovation of the vineyards, a new vinification centre, improvements to the Douro Lodge and the construction of a new warehouse and bottling plant in the Douro.
Thisprogramme completes Noval’s move to the Douro, making it the first traditional shipping
company to move its stocks and operations from Vila Nova de Gaia to the Douro Valley.In January 2001 Christian Seely was appointed Managing Director of AXA Millésimes with over all responsibility of all the AXA properties replacing the recently retired Jean Michel Cazes.
Remaining Managing Director of Quinta do Noval, Seely has strengthened the management team: António Agrellos as Technical Director, with overall responsibility for production, winemaking and blending, Filipe Salgado as Finance and Administration Director, Aymeric de Gironde as Sales Director.