Our first encounter took place somewhere in 1991 – the year Portugal hosted the Europalia activities - or was it 1992 ?
My very good friend Yves – you’ve met him in these lines – was accompanying me as we rang at the old door – without a sign – of Nr 598, the armazém aka “old lodge” in September, having left Espinho where we were accommodated. This short-haired fellow very patiently explained the general philosophy of his family company and we had a memorable tasting, from the word go. I was impressed by his “garrafas”, demi-johns of a kind in pale turquoise glass which contained patiently aged tawnies and also by the series of LBV’s we were shown. Normally, PR people throw pyrotechnics at you: over-40-y tawny, vintages, century-old colheita’s ... Nothing of the kind with this Dirk. And when we left, we had become good friends.
I will tell you the truth: all I know about Port wine – and I consider myself knowledgeable – has been largely influenced by his views. Still, I must pay tribute to a handful of other great characters: María Assunção Calém (and her sister Luísa who so generously introduced me to Portugal from her official position in Brussels), João Nicolau de Almeida, Arnold Gilbert who also showed me some hidden aspects of the region. But it is Dirk who revealed the more intimate “insider’s” point of view. In a way, through tastings, but also through days spent on the road visiting farmers, looking at very old lagares, calling at other wineries – I cannot name them all but I am still very grateful – exploring the banks of the Rio Tedo or the remote hills of Cima Corgo, viewing the slopes of Sabrosa, the hamlets around Vale de Mendiz, climbing to the top of Quinta do Carril and ... generally eating his food (without garlick) and drinking his booze, I developed a sense of what a decent fortified wine should look like. And I have kept it !
Another very vivid memory dates back to his 30th birthday. I had been invited, one amongst not many “strangers to the circle”, to attend the party held in the old lodge as well. The Belgian importer, the late Mr De Zwart, unwillingly kicked one out of 2 existing bottles of 1927 Vintage that had been selected for the guests. It collapsed onto the ground and exploded. Dirk kept his nerves, just !
I also remember a splendid very late September noon, when extremely ripe (and some botrytized) white grapes were transformed into a mash by several pairs of feet, including mine, in a bucket outside the old Napoles building: we were making “Trockenbeerenauslese” !
I also remember his Austrian wedding, at a time when the Vienna vineyards had been so badly flooded and the area was a real mess. Yet, the pair of newlywed organizers managed to keep everything going ... Even the “presunto de porco preto” was top class !
Finally, I remember a swimming party at his old Porto home address, the tiles of the pool slowly decaying at that time, and no-one else than “generously-bellied” Herwig Van Hove borrowing swim-trunks from me !
So, I could call our relationship a long-standing friendship. Why am I telling this?
No, he’s not dead, Gott sei dank !
No, he’s not taking over Coume Majou.
No, he doesn’t hire me as his adjunct.
No, he has not become my new lover ... Christine would not accept that !
Wait a little while and ... I’ll tell you!