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The New Normal 2019 Douro Harvest Report

It is easy for visitors to the Douro to assume that ours is a region where change happens slowly, if at all. We produce wines in an area of outstanding beauty, with hillsides sculpted by stone terraces built many generations ago and unforgiving vineyards still mainly harvested by hand. However, a closer look shows a region experiencing accelerating rates of change across all dimensions – social, economic, viticulturaland environmental. The 2019 harvest marks another milestone in our region’s transition into a new era – both challenging and exciting in equal measure.

The Douro has been experiencing a declining population for over 15 years, with young people understandably looking beyond the extremely demanding job of a grape farmer to alternative career paths. As a result of this – and the welcome Portuguese tourism boom that is providing good employment opportunities – it has been increasingly difficult to find seasonal workers at harvest time. Unlike easily mechanizable vineyards in other wine regions, the Douro has over 42,000 hectares (103,785 acres) of mountain vineyard (representing 52% of the global total). We face a considerable challenge if there aren’t enough people to bring the grapes into the winery at harvest time. The two previous vintages saw shortfalls in terms of yields, however 2019 was a bigger year, more in line with the average, and many properties had trouble finding enough people to pick.

At Symington we employ many people during the vintage and will continue to do so. We have over 1,000 hectares (2,472 acres) of prime Douro vineyard, much of it on narrow stone terraces with steep inclines that can only be harvested by hand. Nevertheless, in anticipation of the worker shortfall, for the past 7 years we have been pioneering the development of a mechanical harvester designed for mountain vineyards. The 2019 harvest was the 4th year of trials with the Symington-Hoffmann harvester, which performed well on terraces at several of our Quintas and largely exceeded expectations. There are still challenges to overcome, including adapting some of our vineyards to accommodate the harvester. Nevertheless, I believe we have a viable solution for one of the big issues confronting the future of our region. Clearly the labour challenge needs addressing for all Douro farmers, as such an investment could be prohibitive for many. We will be sharing the results of our trials and supporting the relevant institutions to explore solutions for the region.

Importantly, comparative blind tastings of wines made from hand-picked and harvester-picked grapes continue to show they are of equal quality. I am particularly excited that the harvester gives us an edge in being able to pick at exactly the right moment, rather than being dependent on increasingly complex logistics with dwindling picking teams. The ability to rapidly to conditions in the vineyard allows us to take more risks in the search for even higher quality.

Our company has been clear in calling for reform of the outdated quota system for Port grapes that has been negatively affecting the prices farmers receive for grapes they sell for Douro wines (selling below the cost of production in virtually all cases). We were pleased that the market price for Douro wine grapes increased substantially in 2019, although this is likely due to the previous two low-yielding harvests meaning that demand was higher (with many producers looking to increase their stocks), rather than a permanent shift. Without a new regulatory system that covers Port and Douro DOC, the imbalance will persist – with farmers suffering financially and the exciting Douro wine scene being built on false and dangerously unsustainable cost foundations.

Climate change is now an ever-present threat in the life of a Douro grape farmer. You don’t need to be a UN scientist to see the impacts. It is common to hear local people saying that the weather behaves strangely these days, with more erratic rainfall (less overall) and longer and more intense summer heatwaves. Our own records support this, showing longer periods of drought often compounded by above average temperatures. Studies show a pattern of rising temperatures in the Douro over recent decades, with an increase of 1.7°C (3°F) in the average maximum growing season temperature. Despite these conditions, our remarkably resilient indigenous grape varieties continue to produce wines and Ports of stunning quality even in dry and hot years. Furthermore, there is much we can and are doing in the vineyard to help our vines adapt to the changing climate.

Fortunately, this summer the Douro was spared the extreme heatwaves that blasted much of Europe, causing damage to vines across Spain and France. Nevertheless, the threat of low rainfall means we continue to look to the sparing use of irrigation in some vineyards as a way of adapting to climate change and ensuring the viability of our crop in challenging conditions. Our R&D team have developed a sophisticated approach based on hydric stress studies, deploying ‘deficit irrigation’ to support the vines only in the specific instances and locations where it is required. Compared to other forms of agriculture, the water footprint required to avoid crop loss in a vine is minuscule. Nevertheless, it is clear that the sustainability of winemaking in the Douro must be balanced with the availability of water in the valley, and we will continue to engage with the local authorities to share our research and support the development of viable solutions for the region.

The 2019 Douro vintage was amongst the longest in recent years, lasting six weeks, from the first week of September to mid-October. Yields were closer to average following the exceptionally small years of 2017 and 2018. The vines at our properties delivered an average of 1.27 kg/vine (2.8 lb/vine), or 4,238 kg/hectare (3,783 lb/acre). Although this is good going for us, it is half the average for Portugal and three to four times less than is harvested in many other European wine regions and in the New World. Given our cost of grapes per hectare is between two and eight times higher than other wine regions, you can see why we feel we farm one of the most challenging areas of vineyard in the world!

Before the vintage we experienced fine conditions, including some useful rain in late August. We had a dry winter and spring and by late summer the vines were in need of water to keep maturations on track. Fortunately, the virtual absence of rain from May to late August was balanced by cooler summer conditions (in June - unlike much of Europe – we saw temperatures of 4°C (7.2°F) below average at Quinta dos Canais and Quinta do Vesuvio in the Douro Superior).

We started picking grapes for our red wines at the organically farmed Quinta do Ataíde in the Vilariça Valley on September 4th, followed by Canais, Malvedos, Senhora da Ribeiraand

Vesuvio on the 9th. Another positive aspect of this harvest was the increased quantity and exceptional quality of the whites, both in terms of the healthy fruit and the balanced maturations. This will put us in a good position given the increasing interest in white wines from the Douro.

We had ideal conditions in September with clear days and moderate temperatures contributing to smooth maturations – evident in the excellent balance between acidity and sugar levels. The Touriga Nacional was excellent, delivering very dark and structured wines. We paused picking on the weekend of September 21st/22nd due to rain that fell in just the right amount to rehydrate the later ripening varieties, including the Touriga Franca – another very important variety for our top Ports and wines. Dry weather resumed after the perfectly timed rain, resulting in the very expressive aromas of the Francas. Overall the quality of our wines is pretty impressive and the quantities were decent too – ideal conditions for a happy winemaking team. Freshness and liveliness, in contrast to the concentration of recent years, are the hallmarks of these wines.

Charles Symington

 

WARRE’S WINS 11 MEDALS AT THE MAJOR INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITIONS

Warre’s most iconic Ports (Otima 10, Warrior, Bottle Aged LBV and Vintage) won a Gold medal and 10 Silver medals in the International Wine Challenge, Decanter World Wine Awards and International Wine & Spirit Competition.

The oldest British Port company, founded in 1670, rests its reputation on a pioneering strength and innovations in viticulture and winemaking. Warre’s Ports are wines of great elegance with fresh, fragrant aromas.

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History

The history of the Warre family in Portugal dates back to William Warre, who was born in India in 1706, where his parents and grandparents were long-established members of the East India Company. In 1729, he arrived in Portugal and became a partner in the export company, Messrs. Clark, Thornton & Warre, which exported Portuguese wine among other goods. By the close of the 18th century, Warre’s had become one of the leading companies in the Port wine trade. His grandson, another William Warre, continued and grew the business while also maintaining an outstanding military career, contributing substantially towards the recovery of Portugal’s independence.

 

The Symington family’s ancestry in the Port trade spans a period of over 350 years, through 13 generations. They are descended from Andrew James Symington and Beatrice Atkinson who were married in Oporto in 1891. Andrew James arrived as a young man from Scotland in 1882, was admitted to partnership in the firm of Warre & Co. in 1905, and in 1908 he became the soul owner of Warre & Co. Currently six members of the Symington family (five from the 13th generation in the Port trade) are actively involved in Warre’s day-to-day management, with the dedication and long-term commitment that are unique to a family-run business. From the vineyards through the winemaking, aging, and blending, a member of the family is directly responsible for every bottle of Warre’s Port produced. The family’s commitment to its wines is stronger than ever after 350 years, an unparalleled tradition in the Port trade.

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Vineyards

The structure, style and superb quality of Warre’s Ports are defined by its vineyards. The mainstay of the company’s Vintage and other premium Ports is provided by its three great estates; Quinta da Cavadinha (46 hectares), Quinta do Retiro Antigo (40 ha) and Quinta da Telhada (35 ha). The latter estate was acquired by Warre’s in 2006 and this river-side vineyard now makes a significant contribution to the company’s premium range of wines. Further to these, Warre’s is able to draw on the production of a collection of other vineyards, long associated with Warre’s that are owned privately by members of the Symington family. These are Quinta do Alvito (35 ha) and Quinta das Netas (5 ha).

 

Quinta da Cavadinha’s new state-of-the-art winery was inaugurated for the 2003 harvest. Equipped with six robotic lagares, it is now one of the most advanced, small specialist wineries in the Upper Douro. Cavadinha produces elegant wines with lifted and fresh aromas.

 

Warre’s is a leader in viticultural research and development in the Douro Region - Warre’s experimental vineyard at Cavadinha is dedicated solely to research into clonal selection and allows direct comparison, under identical viticultural conditions, using different grape varieties, rootstocks and the interaction between them.

 

Quinta do Retiro Antigo is one of the finest vineyards in the Rio Torto valley. The old vineyard is a historical landmark with spectacular 18th century stone terraces, most of which have just one row of vines on them. These ancient vines produce superb and concentrated wines that perfectly complement Cavadinha’s Ports.

 

Quinta da Telhada is one of the most remote vineyards in the Douro Valley, situated well east of the famous Quinta do Vesuvio and only 25 kilometers from the Spanish border on an isolated stretch of the Douro River. An important feature of this property is the very large proportion of the low yielding Touriga Nacional vines which account for 47% of the total. The Touriga Nacional is widely regarded as the finest Port grape and thrives in the hot dry conditions of this area. Although very difficult to grow and very low-yielding, the Touriga Nacional is fundamentally important for Warre’s classic Vintage Ports as well as for the Bottle Matured Late Bottled Vintage and the Warrior Reserve.

 

Quinta do Alvito, with a 14.7 hectare vineyard and Quinta das Netas (14.5 hectares of vineyard) form a neighbouring group of privately owned vineyards. These contribute over 170,000 kgs of grapes that make an average of 280 pipes of premium quality wine for Warre’s fine range of Ports.

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Winemaking

Whilst the majority of Port is now made with modern methods using state-of-the-art vinification technology, a small proportion is still produced by the time-honoured method of treading. In either system, fermentations are relatively short (about two days) because Port is a fortified wine. Fortification, which involves the addition of natural grape spirit to the fermenting juice, intentionally interrupts the fermentation process at a point when approximately half of the grapes’ natural sugar has been converted into alcohol. This accounts for Port’s characteristic rich, luscious style and also contributes to the wine’s considerable ageing potential. Given the short fermentation cycle it is crucial to extract as much flavour, colour and tannins as possible from the grape skins.

 

Warre’s continues to make some of its Port by treading in stone ‘lagares’ (shallow treading tanks). The Upper Douro is one of the last places in the world where traditional treading has been maintained. This is not done to entertain visitors but quite simply because it continues to produce some of the best Ports. However, the old lagares require manpower, an increasingly scarce resource in the Upper Douro and temperature control is difficult. In order to address these problems, Warre’s winemaking team developed the world’s first purpose built automated treading machine.

This ‘robotic lagar’ is a low and square stainless steel tank fitted with mechanical treading pistons whose gentle movements replicate the action of the human foot by actually treading the grapes against the floor of the tank, unlike other methods recently introduced to the Douro which simply push the ‘cap’ down into the juice beneath.

 

Trials with the prototype started during the 1998 vintage and were continued with further development during the 1999 vintage. By the 2003 harvest, six robotic lagares had been fitted in the newly refurbished winery at Quinta da Cavadinha and they were to immediately prove their worth, making simply outstanding wines. They have produced Ports that surpass the quality of traditional foot treading lagares, while at the same time eliminating the latter’s shortcomings.

Warre’s continues to make some of its Port by treading in stone lagares (shallow treading tanks). The Upper Douro is one of the last places in the world where traditional treading has been maintained. This is not done to entertain visitors but quite simply because it continues to produce some of the best Ports. However, the old lagares require manpower, an increasingly scarce resource in the Upper Douro and temperature control is difficult. In order to address these problems, Warre’s winemaking team developed the world’s first purpose built automated treading machine. The introduction of Warre’s automatic lagares has proven to be a landmark in winemaking in the Douro Valley.

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Inside information

Commissioned as an officer in the British Army, the young Porto-born Captain Warre played a central and decisive role at virtually all of the key battles throughout the Peninsular War (1808 – 1812), during which joint British and Portuguese forces fought Napoleon Bonaparte’s successive invading armies. Captain Warre’s knowledge of the language and the country, despite the fact that he was aged only 24 at the outbreak of war, made him invaluable to his commanders, Field Marshall Beresford and the Duke of Wellington.

To the latter William recommended and supplied Port from his family’s company. In a letter to his father, dated 15th May, 1810, written from Army Headquarters at Fornos d’Algodres, he wrote:


“My Dear Father,

I have been much flattered lately by Ld. Wellington’s reception of me, and lately remained two days at his Hd. Qrs. At Celorico, 2 leagues from here. He has applied to me to procure him one hogshead of very fine old Port. He does not care about the price, and wishes me to get you to take care of it for him in London. At Oporto it is impossible to get any old wine, and I therefore told him I would write to you, and beg your assistance.”


He would eventually rise to the rank of Lieutenant - General, receiving several awards for gallantry and titles from both Portugal and England in recognition of his substantial contribution towards the recovery of Portugal’s independence.

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Highlights

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Wine Moments

Here you can see wine moments from tastingbook users.    or    to see wine moments from your world.

 Daniele Chelo, Sommelier (United Kingdom)  tasted  2 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  7 wines 

Fonseca Vintage Port 2017 / Deliciously sweet and perfumed, its powerful plum fruit flavors make this wine already accessible. In the background are the tannins—solid and concentrated—and the acidity, creating a nervous tension that confirms the wine’s aging potential.

6d 3h ago

 Warre's  has news

The New Normal 2019 Douro Harvest Report It is easy for visitors to the Douro to assume that  more ...

20d 10h ago

 Linnea Berthelsen/Sommelier, Pro (Netherlands)  tasted  2 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  13 wines 

Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2017/ Displays fabulous concentration and complex character with it's layers of very sweet fruit, chocolate and cherry aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins. Long finish with plenty of grip. Beautiful and impressive wine -100 points

20d 10h ago

 James Molesworth, Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  4 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  22 wines 

Cockburn's Vintage Port 2017 / Packed with creamed blueberry, açaí berry and boysenberry fruit and carried by waves of velvety structure and warm fruitcake notes, this is showy in style, featuring an embedded graphite spine, alluring spice details and a flash of floral nuance through the finish, imparting superior range and length. Best from 2032 through 2050

4m 10d ago

 Clive Coates / MW, Wine Writer (France)  tasted  3 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  14 wines 

Graham's Vintage Port 1970 / 20 points /Fulllish colour, just about mature. Full, firm nose. Still undeveloped. Still a bit closed. The complete wine. Fullish, just about ready. Real depth. Excellent depth. Excellent complex fruit. Delicious.

4m 11d ago

 Juha Lihtonen / The Best Scandinavian Sommelier 2003, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  185 wines 

BWW2021 competition finals were filled with superb lineup of the world's greatest wines and superb finds from various price categories. The finals that were run in various blind tasting sessions, revealed many surprises. Most commonly, the fact that all the wines were so enjoyable already at this young stage, although many of them will deliver so much more after ageing of 10-15 years. Congratulations for all the winners!

6m 11d ago

 Pekka Nuikki / Founder of the Fine Wine Magazines, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  61 wines 

The third long and rewarding BWW2020 -tasting day is now behind. Here is my personal list over 90 points wines! Thank you again for all the other tasters - tasting 146 young fine wines from all over the world is always a hard work day - but because they are "the Best Wines of the World - it makes so much easier and more fun. 

7m 21d ago

 Warre's  has news

The New Normal 2019 Douro Harvest Report It is easy for visitors to the Douro to assume that  more ...

1y 2m ago

 Neal Martin, Wine Writer (United Kingdom)  tasted  1 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  26 wines 

The 2017 Quinta do Noval Nacional, which was trodden under foot in lagares and matured in wood for 18 months, demands considerable aeration in the glass even after extended decanting. Eventually it offers an enthralling kaleidoscope of aromas of blackcurrants, clove, thyme and very subtle truffle aromas (not scents that I often find in young Vintage Port.) It is a mercurial bouquet that constantly shape-shifts in the glass. The palate is full-bodied with perfect balance. This is a faultless Vintage Port whatever way you look at it. From start to finish it conveys a sense of beguiling symmetry, a leitmotif of the 2017s, then astonishing energy and persistence towards the finish with cracked black pepper and clove liberally sprinkled over the vivacious black fruit. Sixty second after the wine has departed you can still feel its presence. This is an astonishing Nacional. Period.

1y 3m ago

 Christer Byklum , Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  30 wines 

2018 Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten «Im Breumel» Riesling GG / Pale lemon yellow. Apples, subdued minerals, some pears, touch of gunpowder, touch floral, ripe lemons, faint, very faint grapefruits, some orange and orange flowers nose. Fresh acidity, smooth texture, apples, lemons, incredible balance of power, concentration and freshness, this is no Mustang. This is that comfortable Jaguar XK8 with just enough V8 power and torque to be incredibly quick yet never dramatic on twisting country roads, yet comfortable enough to swallow all the bumps. It will change the scenery very quickly, and you will be surprised at the speed it can do it. This is that sort of unparalleled effortlessness. So effortless you might very well miss it. You need to pay attention. A stunning GG. Truly long finish. This is all about refinement. If you seek power, go somewhere else. This is sophistication and dry Riesling at its best. So easy to overlook. 97

1y 5m ago

 Ken Gargett, Wine Writer (Australia)  tasted  1 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  21 wines 

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2016 / This has always been one of my favourite Houses. It was the first producer I visited in the Douro, back in the days when the van Zellers still ruled. Older examples of their VPs (though curiously, not always older examples of their Nacional) have always look good to me, and the legendary 1931 more than lived up to its fame, a few years ago, and remains the greatest port I've seen (110/100?). My ‘research’ leading up to tasting all these 16s suggested that I could expect the Noval to sit with the very best. I never doubted it would be anything other. I had seen one review which was positive but hardly a rave, though it was certainly nothing to set off the alarm bells.


That is why this came as a bit of a surprise. My ultimate score was 95, which by any standards is more than decent, but given its reputation and the vintage, I expected better. No question, very good, but it did not have the excitement level that transcends the very best of the vintage. The colour appeared slightly redder than most of the opaque samples I saw. There were lovely fragrances of florals and red fruits, leather and spices. It was certainly more elegant than many, and nothing wrong with that, and it will surely age well for a long time. It just did not flick the switch in the way others did. All that said, it was still a really good young VP. 95.


Sadly, the Noval people chose not to show their Nacional 2016, but when there are a total of just 170 cases for the entire world, that is understandable.

2y 6m ago

 Sebastian Korejeff, Wine Merchant (France)  tasted  2 wines  from  Warre's . In a tasting of  10 wines 

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1955 / 97 points / Deep dark, velvety colour. Very pretty plum and berry aromas, with hints of honey and toffee. Turns to custard. Full-bodied, sweet and fresh. Firm tannins, with elegance and balance. Will age for a long time, but naturally have been ready for decades. Generous and intense!

2y 8m ago

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