2017 Porto - Wine & Spirits Magazine

2017 Porto



Vintage Port declarations are not an annual occurrence. Historically, the leading houses declare about three Vintages in a decade, bottling the top sliver of their production instead of aging it to Tawny in cask. The great Vintages are among the world’s most long-lived wines.

Loath to saturate the market or erode the prestige of their brands, shippers have held to established traditions in Porto, at least when it comes to declaring a Vintage. Some, like the Fladgate Partnership, which produces Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft, wait to announce their decision until St. George’s Day (April 23rd). However, two significant players—Quinta do Noval and Symington Family Estates—no longer follow that particular tradition and declared the Vintage on April 9, 2019.

By all accounts, 2017 is an unusual year. According to Charles Symington, who directs winemaking for the Symington’s brands, including Graham’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Warre’s, Smith Woodhouse and Quinta do Vesuvio, 2017 is the first time his family has declared back-to-back vintages, and the first time his family has picked Port wine grapes in August. Unlike 2016, which benefited from a rainy winter that built up water reserves in the soil, the winter leading into 2017 was dry, and those drought conditions continued through the entire season. Symington described how the Douro’s dry-farmed vines handled the lack of available water, reporting that “the size of the canopy was small, the bunches small and the berries small. The amount of fruit the vine had to maintain was small, and the overall structure of the vine didn’t require as much water.” While June 2017 was the hottest on record, the temperatures moderated later in the season. “Summer was below average in temperature, and though we had a little more than half the average annual rainfall, the rain that did fall was actually useful—a lighter, constant rain, it didn’t all run into the river.” Symington points out that the entire cycle of the vines shifted, with an early bud break (end of February), early flowering (beginning of May) and early veraison (end of June). “You can often have early budburst, but usually something will slow down the cycle and things will normalize. We ended up starting the vintage on the 28th of August.

“If you think back in the mid-twentieth century, it was normal to start at the beginning of October. In the last 50 years, it’s been mid-September for red grapes. We finished the vintage at Malvedos on the 15th of September, a usual date for starting the vintage. It wasn’t that the cycle was shorter; the cycle was shifted.”

Vintage reports from the leading shippers describe yields down 20 percent from 2016, which was already a small harvest. Old vines with their deep roots, and north-facing sites protected from the full intensity of the sun, may have weathered the vintage best.

Christian Seely, who heads up AXA Millésimes and Quinta do Noval, described the concentration of the 2017 vintage and, like Symington, compared it to 1945, another concentrated year with an early growing cycle. Leaving off the exuberant prose of Noval’s press release, Seely ended an email exchange simply: “It is very good.”

This story was featured in W&S June 2019.

Joshua Greene is the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits magazine.

This story appears in the print issue of June 2019.
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