Another uncharacteristic year in the Douro, difficult and challenging
2018 was another atypical year in the Douro. We could even define irregular and uncharacteristic as the rule in recent years. 2018 had many difficulties and as main characteristics that define it: frequent and estended rainfall periods, hail storms, the great mildew pressure and the summer heat wave. But it seems that the grape quality was good and even, in some cases, as reported by some Douro producers, extraordinary.
So, let us follow the wine year in the Douro.
After a long cycle of extreme and severe drought, shortly after the 2017 harvest, which was very anticipated, as we have published here in Douro, the 2017 harvest report, the hot and rainless weather continued throughout the month of October. In November, finally, there was some rain that brought some relief to the soil and vineyards lack of water and to other agricultural crops in general. It was, however, in small quantity and insufficient. The average precipitation remained below average for the Douro region ultil March 2018. The specific case of the vines, these are plants with a deep root system and a relatively small size that usually can withstand water stress quite well.
The winter was cold and dry, with little and insufficient precipitation.
With the beginning of spring, there was finally intense and abundant rain that allowed the soil water reserves replenishment and was essential to overcome the previous drought periods. In the months of March, April and May 2018, precipitation levels were approximately twice the average for this time of year in the region.
In addition to being extremely rainy, it was also in spring that the first serious difficulties of the year arose, on 28th May, in a cold period with heavy and intense rain, hail and thunderstorm. The soil was unable to absorb such a large amount of water in such a short period, which caused landslides and slopes to fall (the roads between Alijó, Sabrosa and Pinhão were closed). This storm caused significant damages and losses in some vineyards, especially in the Cima Corgo sub-region, in Alijó and Sabrosa, in Pinhão and surrounding area, Provesende and Vale de Mendiz.
Some producers recorded partial and total crop losses. Among those affected, Quinta do Junco (The Fladgate Partnership), Quinta do Noval (which will have been substantially affected), Quinta do Bonfim (Dow's), Quinta da Cavadinha (Warre's) and Quinta de la Rosa.
It should be noted that these hail storms phenomena have been occurring with increasing frequency.
The unstable weather, the heavy rain at the end of May, and the below-normal temperatures for this season, which coincided with the vine bud break(1) and the late flowering, also had as a consequence some severe crop loses and a 2 to 3 week delay in the vine vegetative cycle.
There was still rain in the first weeks of June, and weather instability, constant and late rainfall and high humidity, provided the ideal conditions for the exceptionally agressive mildew(2) this year, which struck the vineyards and in many cases caused great procuction losses. The mildew also meant an increase in production costs for producers, both in treatments to fight the disease and to heal the hailstorm hit marks in the grapevines.
At Quinta do Passadouro, Vale de Mendiz, Pinhão river valley
The months of June and July were also characterized by some climatic instability and a lot of rain still in June. Summer arrived, initially with mild temperaturres, lower than usual, which kept the grapevine vegetative cycle delay.
But with August arrival the weather changes, with periods of strong heat and temperatures higher than usual. At the beginning of August there were temperatures above 40ºC in Cima Corgo and Douro Superior sub-regions (in some cases above 45ºC), and a heat wave that caused sunburn scald in many vineyards and grapes, the most sensitive and less resistant to intense heat vine varieties were those to suffer the most. The 4th of August was the hottest day of the XXI century in the region and, according to the IPMA(3) data, August was the second hottest month of the last 88 years.
Nevertheless, the July, August and September hot and dry weather allowed the grape maturation to regularize and the hot September month contributed to an acceleration of the grape ripening.
It was a late harvest, still determined by the vineyard vegetative cycle delay, which in turn determine that the harvest would begin later than usual. There was a generalized harvest delay throughout the Douro demarcated region of about 2 weeks in the different stages of the vine and grape development, sprouting, flowering and veraison. As mentioned, the higher temperatures that occurred in the grapes maturation phase allowed some recovery of the phenological cycle.
There was good and quite hot weather throughout the 2018 harvest, with high temperatures above 30ºC (according to the IPMA data, September was the hottest since there are records) with hot days, but cooler nights that also influenced the final quality of grapes and wines.
The harvest ended, in most cases, in the second and third week of October, which coincided with the first autumn rains.
The production facts
All the difficulties of the wine year mentioned above - the unstable climatic conditions, hail storms, mildew pressure and the heat wave - have led to a production drop, generally about 30% less (or between 20% to 50%), however, when considering the grape quality, procucers consider that quality was very good this year.
According to the Quinta do Vallado report, considering Quinta do Vallado as a whole and the Upper Douro vineyards, the production drop reached around 15%, highlighting that there were vineyards that produced well and with optimal quality, along with the sousão grape variety that suffered greatly from the heat, other grape varieties like touriga francesa had an optimal quality. Despite everything expectatios are high, not only for Port wines but also for the house D.O.C. Douro wines.
The Symington Family Estates group (which holds the Port wine brands Cockburn's, Graham's, Dow's, Quinta do Vesúvio and Warre's), reports that the 2018 production was very low, many of the vines producing less 40% than usual average and few vineyards with a yield of minus 25%. In spite of this, but also as a consequence of the low production, some excellent Port wines as well as D.O.C. Douro wines. As in Quinta do Vallado, Symington points out the good performance and good quality of the touriga francesa grapes with good color and good aromas which will be the main characteristics of this grape variety this year.
Alexandre Antas Botelho, responsible for the Nobel & Murat Port wines, states that 2018 "was overall downright good (in quality). In our experience, the grapes arrived in good condition to the winery, we only had to be careful about the fruit temperature and the maturation state, in order to preserve the natural acidity essential for the balance of the wines. In the lagares, the critical issue was keeping temperatures low and under control which moreover has been a trend occuring in the last three years. The musts resulting from the vinifications had good color and body, also preserving very interesting aromas.".
At Quinta de Nápoles, Armamar, river Tedo valley
(1) Bud break: it marks the beginning of the vine vegetative cycle, with the emergence of the shoots.
(2) Mildew: "This scourge first appeared in 1891, after the American rootstocks resistant to the phylloxera hab been introduced. It attacks as much the vines and flowers as the fruits. (...) Humidity and heat are essential conditions for its appearance. In case of a mildew attack, the roses immediatly accuse the event before the vine. This is why roses are planted in the vineyards." in Illustrated Port Wine Dictionary, by Manuel Pintão and Carlos Cabral It is one of the major vine diseases (the most destructive in Europe) and it occurs a bit throughout the country. It is a fungus that attacks the green parts of the plant and the fruits at all stages of its development. It can cause serious damage, which can vary according to the susceptibility of the grape variety and the vine stage development. It usually occurs in rainy springs and with high humidity levels in summer.
(3) IPMA: The Sea and Atmosphere Portuguese Institute.
When the 2019 b.f.t. or big fortified tasting cycle begins, with the booking opening for exhibitors and all those interested in participating in this important exhibition, which is intended only for professional visitors (on trade, off trade and press), in time to organize and plan next year's activities and agenda, let's get to know a little better this event.
with permission the b.f.t.
The b.f.t., what is it all about?
It's an event held annually in the center of London, which began in 2010 and year after year quickly became a huge success. Presently a world reference and the largest show specialized and exclusively dedicated to worldwide fortified wines. A not to be missed exhibition, an excellent opportunity to get to know and learn more about the great diversity and the different fortified wine styles, also to reinforce its notoriety and recognition, positioning and quality, which is always to be valued. This promotion occasion is directed not only to the british market, but also to a much wider scope given the visibility that this show has achieved. It is visited by interested people whose purpose is to taste and know this special wines better, without the dispersion and lack of visibility that always happens in the general wine shows that are extended to all wine types.
This is an event that has as privileged target the professional visitors, connected to areas such hotel and catering, importers, distribution companies, restaurants and sommeliers, wine critics and journalists and general press.
with permission the b.f.t.
The records that define the b.f.t., last edition message: The last b.f.t. was its 8th edition, held last May 2018. In order to better understand the b.f.t. current scope, let us consider the following data:
In the last edition there were a total of 637 registrations, of which more than 400 visited the event;
Approximately the visitors were divided as follows;
45% off-trade, large wine merchants such as Berry, Bros. & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, as well as other smaller wine merchants as Vintage Wine & Port, Oxford Wine company and retailers such as The Wine Society, Waitrose and Fortnum & Mason;
27% on-trade, restaurants such as "The Fat Duck", "Bar Douro", "Petrus" and "Tate", bars such as "Ritz", "Wine Social & Tapas" and "The Port House", London clubs and university colleges;
the remaining 28% was made up of trade and general press (among others, Sunday Times, The Independent, Yorkshire Post, Decanter and Fine Wine Magazine), wine writers and bloggers (including Julia Harding from Jancis Robinson's Purple Pages, Richard Mayson, Alex Liddell and Neal Martin), educators from WSET as well as independent wine educators, restaurant wine list consultants, PR companies and leading London auction houses.
with permission the b.f.t.
The national fortified wine producers in detail
There was a reasonably strong presence of portuguese producers in the last edition as well as a variety of wine styles, with a wide presentation of the various types of fortified wines produced in Portugal, with a special emphasis on the Madeira wines representation, with the participation of 6 producing and exporting houses, with the fundamental support and co-financing of the IVBAM (Institute of Wine, Embroidery and Handicraft of Madeira) which thus intends to reinforce its presence in the british market that in 2017 was the most important in value for Madeira wine.
Some Port wine houses have presented in first hand experience their latest 2016 vintage Ports, the most recent classic vintage Port declaration: Quinta das Lamelas, Sandeman, Offley, Quevedo, Barros, Burmester, Cálem and Kopke.
with permission the b.f.t.
From a total of 290 wines presented at the exhibition (from Portugal, Spain, France and Australia), 206 (about 71%) were wines from portuguese wine producers and were thus distributed:
144 Port wines, 50 Madeira wines, 9 moscatél de Setúbal wines and 3 other fortified wines, which in turn represented a total of 55 wine brands, 24 Port wine brands, 7 Madeira wine brands, 3 moscatél de Setúbal brands and 1 other wine brand, presented by a total of 43 producers, 18 for Port wine, 6 for Madeira wine, 2 for moscatél de Setubal and 1 for other fortified wine style.
Besides the wine presentation and tastings, the programe also includes interesting, informative and enriching special tastings with commented presentations, the Masterclasses, which included among others not less interesting, "Niepoort, Dawn of a new vintage", in which Dirk Nieport explained the art of combining the blend of the different components from the same vintage, to create a vintage Port, and "Barbeito: new challenges and projects, from 1981 to 2017", a trip through the different categories and styles of this producer's Madeira wines.
with permission the b.f.t.
We must also mention that contrary to the commitment of the IVBAM already mentioned, the IVDP (Douro and Port Wine Institute) unfortunately has so far not considered this event as an opportunity to promote Port wine, not so much for the major and renown houses, but above all in supporting the small bottling producers who would have an excellent opportunity here to present themselves and their wines, enriching the Port wine presentation diversity, extending the proposals to other Port wine profiles.
The same is true for the participation of other portuguese fortified wine producers, some unique and original wines, I remember for example the Carcavelos wine and the incentive and support of the Oeiras City Council, which has done so much to ensure that this historic fortified wine does not disappear.
The 2019 b.f.t. edition
In 2019 the main focus of the organization is to increase the number of visitors of the event, which will remain only for professional visitors and not open to the general public and individual consumers, except for the participant's guests. The date scheduled for the 2019 edition is April 16th, earlier than previous editions, but so scheduled to ensure a greater agenda compatibility and so the possibility of more producers being present.
It is also important to mention that the organization takes into account the special cases of the small producers for individualized solutions of space sharing in the show.
with permission the b.f.t.
In the opinion of Óscar Quevedo (Quevedo Port Wine), a participant in the b.f.t. last edition: "participating in the b.f.t. is the best way to get people to taste and display our Port wines to the UK press and buyers. An event immaculately organized and with a huge focus on Port wine. An event for which the IVDP should very seriously consider the organization of a joint participation.".
"I find it exceptionally good.", Dirk Niepoort.
"People are coming here already with the frame of mind that they are going to taste fortified wines and I think this is very good news.", Johnny Graham (Churchill's).
It was was actually a Vintage Port Wine day, with the 2016 Vintage Port presentation. A classic vintage year recently declared, the fifth classic vintage of this century, of a demanding and challenging harvest, in which it was essential all the experience and knowledge and chosing the right moment to start harvesting, with exceptional quality wines, in an extraordinary and memorable tasting event which took place at the Leixões Cruise Terminal, where also took place the 2016 classic Vintage Port formal proclamation ceremony held by the Confraria do Vinho do Porto or Port Wine Brotherhood and the blend making of the "Confraria Vintage", a special Vintage Port blend made of 40 declared different Vintage Port brands.
For Port Wine!
George Sandeman, Confraria do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Brotherhood) 10th Chancellor, on duty on the day of the 2016 Vintage Port proclamation ceremony.
Organized by the IVDP - The Douro and Port Wine Institute - in which approximatly 50 Port wine producers presented their main Vintage Port brands.
To taste young Vintage Ports in its early life stage is always demanding and an experience of resistance and the memory that we will keep corresponds always to an unrepeatable moment in the long evolution capacity of these unique and very special wines.
With the opportunity to get to know and taste some first edition 2016 vintages, like "Quinta da Oliveirinha", produced by Alves de Sousa, a quinta located near Pinhão (Cima Corgo sub region) from a vineyard by the river; "Talentvs", a Vintage Port produced by Seara d'Ordens, to be produced in classic vintage years and only when the quality desired by the producer is achieved; "Água Alta", produced by Vieira de Sousa, the same Quinta da Água Alta which originated the Churchill's single quinta vintage Ports until Quinta da Gricha final acquisition in 1999.
It's worth noting some vintages that remainned in memory by its strong character and identity, aromatic and with a very good structure, freshness and good acidity: Churchill's, Noble & Murat (with a special dry finish) and Quinta do Infantado (characteristically a drier Vintage Port).
A curiosity that resulted of the comparison of the Vintage Ports presented by Alves de Sousa, Quinta da Gaivosa (from the Baixo Corgo sub region) and the recent Quinta da Oliveirinha (from the Cima Corgo sub region), with the clearest freshness of the first one, which would lead us to consider if, with the recent climate change consequences, and the search for acidity and freshness in wines, should not we consider the historic region of the Baixo Corgo (the coolest of the three sub regions of the entire Douro wine producting area), to achieve this characteristics?
We will return to the 2016 Vintage Ports shortly in a future publication, for now some images of the event.
A prova especial Porto Vintage 2016, Port Wine day 2018
Um Vintage Port wine day, com os Porto Vintage 2016, um ano vintage clássico, o quinto deste século, de uma colheita desafiante e muito exigente para os produtores, em que foram determinantes toda a experiência e conhecimento das vinhas no momento da vindima, com vinhos de qualidade excepcional, numa prova extraordinária e memorável que decorreu no Terminal de Cruzeiros de Leixões, onde ocorreu também a cerimónia formal de proclamação do Vintage 2016 pela Confraria do Vinho do Porto, assim como a feitoria do "Vintage Confraria", que junta num lote especial 40 Vintages declarados de diferentes produtores.
Pelo Vinho do Porto!
A prova foi organizada pelo IVDP - Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto - em que aproximadamente 50 produtores apresentaram os vintages das suas principais marcas.
Provar vintages novos em início de vida, é sempre exigente e uma prova de resistência, mas a memória com que ficamos corresponde sempre a um momento irrepetível na longa capacidade de evolução destes vinhos únicos e muito especiais.
Com alguns vintages em primeira edição, o "Quinta da Oliveirinha", produzido por Alves de Sousa, de uma quinta localizada próximo do Pinhão (no Cima Corgo), de uma vinha junto ao rio; o "Talentvs", produzido pela Seara d'Ordens apenas em anos clássicos e quando a qualidade pretendida satisfizer os critérios do produtor; o "Água Alta", produzido por Vieira de Sousa, com uvas da mesma Quinta da Água Alta a partir da qual a Churchill's produzia o seu Vintage de quinta até à aquisição definitiva da Quinta da Gricha em 1999.
Com destaque para alguns Vintages que ficaram na memória, com carácter e identidade, aromáticos, com grande estrutura, frescos e com boa acidez: Churchil's, Noble & Murat (com um final seco) e Quinta do Infantado (talvez o Vintage mais seco em prova).
Também a comparação dos vintages apresentados por Alves de Sousa, Quinta da Gaivosa (do Baixo Corgo) e o mais recente Quinta da Oliveirinha (do Cima Corgo), com a maior frescura evidente do primeiro, que nos levou à consideração se, com a tendência das recentes alterações climáticas com a subida das temperaturas, e a procura de frescura e acidez nos vinhos, não seria de considerar a histórica região do Baixo Corgo (notoriamente a mais fresca das três regiões da região demarcada do Douro) para conseguir estas características?
Voltaremos aos Vintages 2016 em breve, em próxima publicação, por agora deixamos algumas imagens do acontecimento.
In the gardens of Niepoort wine cellars, on rua Cândido dos Reis, no. 598, in Gaia, as usual for the last four years, the beginning of the "slow season", on a pleasant summer afternoon with a wide variety of quality wines of the usual suspects (I would venture to comment that I felt too many visitors this edition).
A glimpse of the event with images from our archive:
"Blackett & Ca., Lda.", was an exporting Port wine company founded in 1912 and whose offices in 1934 were located in rua Nova da Alfândega, n.º 22, in the city of Porto (picture above), and with its Port wine warehouses on the other side of the river, on the left bank of the river Douro, on rua Dr. António Granjo, in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Currently, the Port wines with the "Blackett" label are produced and marketed by "Alchemy Wines, Port Wines & Vineyerds, Lda.", the company that owns the brand today.
Blackett & Ca., Lda
Factos breves sobre a cidade do vinho (1)
A "Blackett & Ca., Lda." foi uma empresa exportadora de vinho do Porto, fundada no ano de 1912, e cujos escritórios, em 1934, estavam localizados na rua Nova da Alfândega, n.º 22 (vêr fotografia) e com os seus armazéns de vinhos, na outra margem do rio Douro, na rua Dr. António Granjo, em Vila Nova de Gaia.