The Douro region in Portugal is a historical register of iconic names defying any idea of precedence: Taylor’s, Symington, Sandeman, Croft, Fonseca et al. It’s a long list. If you stand on Gustav Eiffel’s bridge that crosses the Douro River from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia you will see these names all displayed above the red roofed lodges that cascade down the slopes of the south bank towards the river. It’s many years since I had last visited the region and in those days I almost immediately caught the train from Porto station upriver to Pinhao to the terraced vineyards and white painted wineries and the wonderful hospitality that awaited.
This time I wanted to cover new ground and was continuing from Pinhao, south to Dao and returning via Barraida. But first a client needed me to call on Dirk Niepoort, another celebrated name in Port at his lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. It looked an easy journey from the airport but when you leave the motorway and encounter the warren of narrow, sloping, one-way cobbled streets the GPS ceases to be your friend. Suffice it to say the second time around I decided a pedestrian approach would be better. Street numbers are small and intermittent, the famous names invisible at street level. Niepoort’s lodge is behind an old iron gate that looked unopened in living memory. I had met Dirk Niepoort only once previously. I remembered him as a larger than life figure topped with chaotic curly hair, dispensing high energy. How in all my years had I never photographed this man? I was excited that the hour was at hand. It was Dirk who came to unlock that gate.
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