Zoe Fryday travels to Porto, Portugal with family-run independent port wine brand Churchill’s
Port has a rich, fascinating history and provenance. Produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal, the iconic fortified wine offers exceptional quality and unique terroir. Port’s sweet, warming, indulgent characteristics make it a popular choice for the winter months, however, the drink has fantastic year-round appeal, and the UK on-trade is embracing this, turning to brands like Churchill’s.
Established more than fifty years ago, Churchill’s is thought to be the only boutique independent British player in the category. The company has CEO and founder Johnny Graham at the helm, who represents the fifth generation of his family to make wine in the Douro.
Johnny, along with his two brothers and wife Caroline Churchill, originally set out
to continue the family legacy with a bold, youthful approach, and today, decades later, Churchill’s boasts a reputation for producing some of the highest quality premium ports and Douro table wines in the world. Now headed up by Johnny and his daughter Zoe, who recently moved back to Porto with her husband Ben, the family is on a mission to educate and inspire, bringing port into a new era.
Churchill’s home, Quinta da Gricha, is a picturesque 50 hectare Grade-A vineyard located on the south bank of the river Douro in the Cima Corgo wine region. The magical estate, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary and takes its name from the natural spring (gricha) that feeds the north-facing vineyards, sits in a microclimate at 150 to 400 meters above sea level, with a wind exposure that naturally regulates humidity. The oldest vines are more than 60 years old and yield diverse grape varieties which, in turn, produce wine of great structure and complexity.
From 10 Year Old Tawny and Late Bottled Vintage to Dry White, the ports combine Johnny’s blending art with the special characteristics of the terroir. The grapes are given the “vintage treatment” – foot- treading and vinification in traditional granite lagares, a time-honoured process which achieves maceration without damaging the pips, generating the natural colours, flavours and aromas. A key factor to Churchill’s dry style is the longer fermentation, which means less added brandy, resulting in a more natural wine.
The team is continually working with bars in the UK, helping them explore port and
its accessibility in interesting new ways. Zoe explains that she is beginning to see port showing up more and more on low-alcohol cocktail menus. “Some of the most creative experimentation is happening in London,” she says. “Behind This Wall in Hackney, for instance, did a delicious aperitivo with Churchill’s White Port, vermouth and tonic water in the summer of 2019. We also make a delicious Churchill’s Manhattan with our 10 Year Old Tawny Port. Legend has it that the original Manhattan was invented for Lady Randolph Churchill, so this is our homage.”
The innovation at Churchill’s is sure to continue, and Johnny, Zoe and the team have exciting plans for the year ahead. “We believe port should be fun, port should be enjoyed, and port should be shared,” voices Zoe. “In the future we plan to keep making and spreading the love of port. It’s a great moment for the Douro and for our category!”