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Harvest of ‘ups and downs’ in the Douro

This year’s harvest in the Douro has been one of “ups and downs” as the Port industry faces a “perfect storm” going forward, The Fladgate Partnership has said.

View of the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley on either side of the River Douro: Portugal's Douro named European City of Wine 2023

Speaking on a video update of the harvest, CEO Adrian Bridge and winemaker David Guimaraens at The Fladgate Partnership, which owns Taylor’s and Fonseca, were positive about this year’s harvest, although highlighted the various challenges throughout the year.

Bridge said that the harvest had “been challenged by a number of climatic issues” but was also broadly positive about this year.

Guimaraens explained how a wet winter had been “fundamental to replenish the ground” after a very dry 2022 – and how this weather, followed by a warm spring had been “vital” for rejuvenating the vineyards.

He also said the conditions had created “outbreaks of mildew” which had “required the close attention of the viticultural teams” but that didn’t impact negatively on the grapes across their vineyards.

The summer had been “very hot”, especially two days towards the end of August, where temperatures had been well about 40 degrees, and that the heat had been “particularly aggressive” on vineyards below 150 metres.

Although in early September a burst of rain was described as ‘very welcome’, Guimaraens continued, stating it was “the bit of dampness that refines the frames just before picking” – and the beginning of the harvest, which started on 4 September, was undertaken in “excellent conditions”.

But rain in the middle of the month did “turn the tide of the harvest” and impacted some vineyards, although he said it had different effects in different locations.

Ultimately, the harvest was one of “ups and downs” marked by severe weather incidents “but we are pleased with a number of our vineyards, which have behaved well” with a number of exciting, good and subtle Ports likely to be produced, he said.

Perfect storm

Bridge then added context to the harvest, stating there was a “perfect storm” of challenges for Port producers at present, including the supply of labour, the changing climatic conditions, and the issues of vineyard inheritance, which had resulted in many being put up for sale.

He said a number of vineyards needed replanting, and since people were inheriting estates with the requirement to replant – which was around €50-60,000 per ha – they were simply putting the vineyards on the market instead. As a result, rather than seeing vineyards they had worked with for years become unused, Bridge said the Fladgate Partnership was making purchases, and “would continue to respond” as required in the coming years.

He also explained how the growing demand for specialist Ports, like aged Tawny and Vintage, was also a challenge, due to the “finite amount” of available reserves for the bottles.

Additionally, he explained how a new category, the VVOP or Very Very Old Port, which is greater than 50 years, had been successful. He added a joke about how he had supplied some cases to the new King Charles III for his Coronation, and upon meeting him, Charles had quipped that he hoped the “Very Very Old” wasn’t in reference to himself.

On whether this harvest would produce a Vintage, he said “we will await the outcome”.

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