The Inter-professional Council of the Port Institute has approved a 3.6% production increase for the 2013 harvest, although the level still falls well short of the category’s annual global sales.
Even with this year’s beneficio increase, total Port production will reach 70.3 million litres, a figure that remains well below the category’s estimated global sales figure of 81m litres.
The permitted yield for the Douro’s best quality, A grade vineyards has been set at 1,829 litres per hectare. This falls to 1,800 litres for B grade sites, 1,655 litres for C grade and 1,610 litres for D grade vineyards.
Introduced in 1935, the beneficio restriction was originally designed to tackle oversupply issues in the Port industry but is a source of controversy today, with many producers arguing that it hampers the sector’s ability to compete effectively.
Although Port supply continues to be kept significantly below demand, the category is experiencing a slight dip in sales this year compared to 2012.
Despite the success of the recently declared 2011 vintage, this represents a tiny proportion of the volume sales. By contrast, standard category Port has seen sales slide after producers were forced to impose price hikes as a result of major cost increases in the wine brandy used for fortification.
Illustrating the scale of the problem, Paul Symington, joint managing director of Symington Family Estates, reported: “the Port companies have had to collectively pay some €35 million more for an identical quantity of wine brandy for the 2013 harvest compared to the average cost of brandy at the 2010 harvest.”
Although noting that most Port companies expect their 2013 sales to be “only 1% down on the 2012 level,” Symington highlighted the “severe pressure” on recession-hit Portugal’s banking system as he warned: “this additional cash requirement has been a major challenge for the Port trade.”
Turning to the outlook for the 2013 harvest, which is expected to begin in just under a month’s time, Symington said: “Prospects are good after a very wet winter replenished the water reserves following two very dry years.”
In spite of this winter water top-up, he noted the dry conditions which have persisted in the region since early May, with the result that younger vines are “showing signs of heat stress”.
However, Symington assured that the deep root systems of the older vines mean they are “looking superb, with a good crop of fine looking grapes.”