Douro overcomes weather to produce “first rate” crop

Heat waves, drought and hail storms have failed to dampen the Douro winemakers’ spirits as Symington Family Estates declared the initial musts “first rate”.

Paul Symington, co-chairman of the company, said in his harvest report: “The accountants will not be happy with 2012, but the winemakers and tasters certainly will be.”

He wrote: “The Douro grapes this year were in lovely condition, with small berries giving excellent colour and flavours and the musts looked really first-rate. Early tastings confirm considerable acidity and freshness in the samples.”

The adverse weather naturally led to a reduced yield, down 40% in places apparently and Symington admitted that, “not all vineyards produced great wines as the drought caused some stress to the more exposed vines and to the drier parcels.”

Nonetheless, he added that overall the year showed how durable the vines could be in the face of drought.

The year has been exceptionally dry for the region with only 16.4mm of rain falling in the first three months rather than the usual 200mm.

As flowering took place in April and May, the valley was deluged with 128mm and while this contributed to lower volumes, it also meant that the vines had less fruit to ripen.

A mini heat wave over the São João weekend of 23 to 24 June caused some sunburn.

This event happened last year as well leading Symington to ask if, “the Port producers and farmers have to stop going to the traditional all-night festa on the 23rd June, with consequential hangovers, and stay in their vineyards during São João and shade their vines.”

The rest of the summer recorded average temperatures but there was a severe hailstorm on 25 July which completely destroyed some vineyards.

Ripening and weather were erratic throughout August and September, picking started on 10 September in some places but rain made Charles Symington suspend picking for a time to allow the top plots to “recover their equilibrium”.

Picking began again in early October and into last week, “in perfect condition under clear skies and moderate temperatures.”

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