Life on the Douro, Trip no. 5, Day 5 The Noval Connection

I spent all day at the iconic Quinta do Noval on Thursday, July 21. I first heard about its history a year ago when I interviewed Jose Alberto Allen, whose family owned it in the 19th century, and then learned more about its history from Cristiano Van Zeller, whose family bought it from the Allen family in 1894, later producing what is considered to be one of the great wines of the 20th century in 1931, until it was sold  in 1993 to Axa, a multi-national insurance company. Christian Seely, the managing director was away, but their winemaker, Antonio Agrellos, showed me around and talked about Noval’s wine making in the 20th century and innovations over the last two decades.

Visiting Noval was one of the missing pieces that I needed for Life on the Douro, not only to show the estate that Jose Alberto and Cristiano talked about, not only because of its importance as a winery, but because all things in the Douro are interconnected. The Allen’s are related to Francisco Olazabal, ex-president of the Ferreira and direct descendant of Dona Antonia Ferreira, who also talked a bit about the Allen history. The Van Zeller family is related to the Symington’s, as are the Allen’s. I originally interviewed Dominic Symington at their estate Quinta do Vesuvio, which was bought from Ferreira. The Ferreira family asked Cristiano to help set up the Quinta do Vallado after the Ferreira company was sold to Sogrape, and Valllado began to operate under its own name, run by Francisco Olazabel and two cousins, all descendants of Antonia Ferreira. And on and on the story goes.

I have the basic structure of the film set up, and thought fine tuning it would be easier going. But now I’m painfully debating what to include and what to cut out, how long it should be, and a million other decisions as well, trying to balance the sense of history, the complicated issues, the visual richness of the Porto, Gaia and the Douro Valley, and the need for a well-structured, strong narrative. There is no way to include all the facts, better suited for a historical treatise, and I have to constantly remind myself that that is not my task, but rather it is to arrive at its essence. Right now, I’m not sure how I’m going to get there, but I always seem to get there in the end.

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António Agrellos, wine maker at Noval

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A 19th century Noval bottle at Villar d’Allen

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