Bomfim opens centre to entice Porto tourists

Symington Family Estates has opened a new visitor centre in the Douro to capitalise on the “booming” tourist industry in Porto.

Quinta do Bomfim Visitors Centre - Terrace

The terrace at the new Quinta do Bomfim visitor centre

The new facility is housed in the Quinta do Bomfim winery in Pinhão, and follows a complete overhaul of the site, which is used to process grapes from the surrounding grade A vineyards that provide the “structure” for Dow’s vintage Ports.

Although Pinhão is only around 100km from Porto, or a little over two hours by train, most visitors to northern Portugal tend to stay in the historic city of Porto, learning about Port from visitor centres within the lodges that line the riverside in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is on the opposite bank to the city.

bomfim visitor centre inside

Visitors will start their tour in a historic schist warehouse

“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 last week during a visit to the wine region.

Bomfim’s new visitor centre should provide a further reason for tourists to leave Porto and explore the beauty of the Douro’s terraced vineyards, which achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2001, and represent the largest area of mountain vineyard in the world.

But a further fillip to visitor numbers to the Douro should come when a 7km road tunnel is completed within the next two years. This will take cars leaving Porto beneath, rather than over, the Serra do Marão mountains – which separate the Douro wine region from the city – reducing the travel time to Pinhão by at least 30 minutes to around 1 hour from Porto.

“When the tunnel is complete, you will be able to visit the Douro within a day,” stressed Symington.

Visitors to the new Bomfim visitor centre, which will be officially opened by the president of Portugal, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, on Saturday, will be received in a historic schist-built warehouse that contains a rare collection of 19th and early 20th century photographs of the Douro, as well as historic documents that record centuries of farming in these mountain vineyards.

Also on show is a replica Barco Rabelo built by craftsmen at the world famous Lisbon Maritime Museum, while an adjoining building contains a private room for special tastings and events.

Tours include a visit to the Bomfim old lodge built by George Warre in 1896, just 16 years before Andrew Symington became a partner of Dow’s in 1912. This warehouse contains 14 seasoned oak vats that have matured every young Dow’s Vintage since the late 19th century.

Tastings are available in a room with 180 ̊ views of the valley, as well as on a shaded terrace overlooking the river. The more active visitors will be able to walk through the Bomfim vineyards, opting for either a short 20 minute tour or two longer walks.

Charlotte Symington

Charlotte Symington outside the new visitor centre

During the harvest visitors will be able to watch how Port is made from a specially built viewing platform. At other times of year a short film will show how the grapes ferment in the lagares.

The Symington family, the largest Port producers in the Douro – and owners of the Dow’s, Graham’s, Cockburn’s and Warre’s brands (among others) – have been embracing tourism as a revenue source and brand-building opportunity in the last few years.

In particular, in March 2013, the company opened its first restaurant at Graham’s newly refurbished Port lodge and visitor centre in Porto.

Called Vinum, the restaurant has views across the Douro river to Porto, and Paul Symington admitted that he has been amazed at its success, recording that the restaurant has turned over €1 million in the past year.

Symington Family Estates has also opened a visitor centre at the Cockburn’s lodge, and currently tourism represents 4% of revenues for the group.

Bomfim finishing touches

Putting the finishing touches to a tasting room high up in the Quinta do Bomfim vineyards

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