We went to Bomfim after lunch with Dirk Niepoort. The road runs along the Douro back to Pinhao. You cross the river and turn right just after Vintage House Hotel and the entrance to Bomfim is right in front of you. It is only 200 yards from the railway station.
One of the Douro Valley’s finest vineyards, Bomfim has provided the main structure for Dow’s Vintages since 1896. With ‘A-rated’ vineyards, now almost entirely planted in varietal batches, is a classic ‘River Quinta’ with many natural advantages: it is south-facing, has stony schist soil and a near perfect annual rainfall. The altitude ranges from 120 to 340 metres above sea level and the climate is consistent.
The Bomfim Visitor Centre was opened in May this year offering guided tours in many languages. We started our tour in the small museum which originally was a winery and now displays images and artefacts from the story of the property, the Symington family and wine. We skipped the vineyard walks but visited the magnificent old lodge, dating back to 1896 and still used to age the young wines in century old wooden vats, before they are transferred down river to the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia. We also had a view of the new lagar winery where, during the harvest, one could see Port being made. We saw a short film of the winery in operation, as well as traditional treading at Quinta do Vesúvio which we visited the day before.
The visit culminates in a spacious tasting room where we sampled three Ports. From the adjoining terrace, the view of the Douro and the terraced vineyards was magnificent. A small shop next door stocked the Symington family’s range of Ports and Douro DOC wines.
“Gaia gets around 800,000 tourists each year: tourism in Porto is booming, the city is becoming a mini Barcelona… but the challenge is to get people to come to the Douro,” Paul Symington told the drinks business magazine recently.
May be the tourist will like the visitor centre and the Douro tour boats will bring in their thousands. But I felt let down. I remember Bomfim of the old days. In fact, it is the very first Douro Quinta I was blessed to visit, way back in 1993. I sat in the old house which actually is a replica of a tea planter’s bungalow in Sri Lanka and sipped white port, gazing at the terraces across the river. I could close my eyes and imagine I was in the hilly tea-country of Sri Lanka, and the terraces were covered in fragrant tea instead of vine. Later I had lunch at Bomfim – old women serving roast kid and rice, lovingly.
Things have moved on!
Bomfim Visitor Centre, Pinhao
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