Portugal Vintage Report 2015: the Douro
The second of my Portugal 2015 Vintage Reports focuses on the Douro, home of Port, fortified Moscatel do Douro and the full gamut of wines. After a couple of frustrating vintages where rain stopped (Vintage Port) play, Port producers could not contain their glee in 2015 – expect a general Vintage Port declaration and impressive Douro wines – “[We] may have our best reds ever,” says Rita Marques (Conceito) who, in common with other winemakers, remarked on their super-svelte tannins. Here’s the word straight from the horses’ mouths.
Follow this link for my guide to the Douro/Duriense.
Joâo Portugal Ramos, Duorum (Douro Superior)
The 2014/2015 was an atypical year in terms of climate, with a cold and dry winter and a spring and summer which was abnormally hot and dry. What stands out in particular is the reduced rainfall throughout most of the growing season and high temperatures recorded between June and July. This impacted the vine and grape maturation.
These conditions resulted in an advance of the vegetative cycle of about 1 to 2 weeks, relative to the average. As to the water status of the vine between July until the harvest, plants were grown in conditions of intense water deficit, however, the occurrence of precipitation between 15 and 16 September, accompanied by lower temperatures, had a very positive impact both in production and quality, enabling gradual maturation until late September / early October.
The grapes were in an optimal state of health and maturity and there weren’t any signs of dehydration of the grapes. We believe that the precipitation occurred in mid-September contributed towards this. The harvest took place between the first week of September and the second in October, with grapes showing good levels of sugar, acidity and content of phenolic compounds. The musts and wines are showing a very high quality overall. The production from the 110 HA of both Quinta de Castelo Melhor and Quinta do Custodio, was slightly lower than expected.
The wines on the whole, are of high quality. The color intensity (CI) and polyphenols (IPT) were above average and wines are aromatically intense and powerful in the mouth. We think 2015 may turn out to be one of the best vintages since we started in 2007.
Conceito (Douro Superior)
2015 is going to be a stunning year. The weather was close to perfect. Very hot and dry Spring, followed by a Summer that was hot but not too hot, with long strikes of days with a maximum just above 30ºC, and cools nights. This allowed grapes to ripen slowly but steadily, and the harvest started soon, the earliest anyone can remember.
We started to pick red and white grapes on August 19. The grapes were perfectly healthy and ripe. There was some worrying about acidity, with unusually high pHs coming in, but in Conceito we benefited from either early picking, high altitude vineyards, or both. The white wines are probably our best ever, with great minerality,depth, broadness and yet keeping their usual precision.
Reds are structured and at the same time flamboyant. Perhaps less structured and tannic than 2011s, which is good, and less exuberant and fruity than 2012, which is also good. We may have our best reds ever, it’s too soon to say, but at this point we are really happy with our wines.
We have made some white and red Port. It’s too soon to say if we will make a Vintage Port. There was just one day of rain during harvest, 36mm in September 15 to 16. By that time all our best vineyards had already been cropped. The remaining grapes were healthy and we allowed them to properly dry and recover from that rain spell, so we continued til the end of harvest (October, 3) with great grapes coming in for our Contraste line. Winemaker Rita Marques
Quevedo (Douro Superior)
If you think rain during the harvest can only bring harm, change your mind. In 2015, contrarily to the previous two years, the best wines were produced few days after 30mm of rainfall over Quinta Vale d’Agodinho.
This time we start the vintage report by the end of the season: a generous amount of a steady rain during the harvest brought perfect ripeness to the vines and the best wines to the winery. Before that, well, lets go back to the beginning.
The Winter was cold and dry, and although Spring brought warmer temperatures well above the long-term averages, rain was still too low. The vine cycle started about a week earlier than normal. In terms of quantity it was a regular year, with about 2,5 tons per hectare. Summer arrived and stayed slightly cooler than it normally does, which was a great sign. The vines didn’t have plenty of water reserves but at least Summer was not being too severe, and even more important, overnight temperature in August was as low as 12ºC.
In September the grapes were looking great, no diseases, no dehydration or raisins. All was in line for a good harvest, but far from fantastic. And when the rain arrived on Tuesday September15th and Wednesday September 16th we immediately got very concerned. The two previous years were severely damaged by rain during the harvest. But surprisingly 2015 was different. The steady rain came in two days and was followed by strong winds that quickly helped to dry the grapes and leaves.
Pickers were sent home for a few days as we wanted to see how grapes would react to the rain. And what happened was that the quality of the grapes improved tremendously day after day. We were very happy on Monday September 21st when we resumed harvest and started crushing grapes again. It was amazing to see that this generous amount of rain in the middle of the harvest was changing the quality of the wines so much. (Oscar Quevedo)
Sogrape Quinta do Seixo (Cima Corgo), Quinta da Leda (Douro Superior)
The 2014-2015 growth cycle in the Douro region was characterised by a dry year, in contrast to previous years. After a cold winter and an exceptionally warm spring, summer did not deliver excessive heat, despite some peaks in recorded temperatures.
Luís Sottomayor, winemaker responsible for Sogrape’s Douro and Port wines team, highlights the quality and great balance which mark this harvest. Openly admitting that he was initially apprehensive about the lack of water in the soil as a result of the low rainfall throughout the vegetative cycle, Luís comments that the 2015 harvest went very well and is very optimistic about the development this vintage. He recalls that the relatively mild temperatures and consistent cold nights allowed grape ripening to take place smoothly and progressively until the end of September, beginning of October, with a little help from the rain that fell on the 15th and 16th September. The dry year prevented vineyard diseases and so the grapes arrived at the wineries in excellent health, giving rise to wines with a great wealth of colour, good tannins, good acidity and very balanced alcohol levels, more or less everywhere in the region.
The harvest took place at the normal time, starting in mid-August with the white grapes from the lower areas and ending with the last red grapes which arrived at the various wineries in the second week of October.
With a large, rich and varied vineyard area, estates and wineries in the Douro, Sogrape’s main focus for Douro DOC wines is primarily in the Upper Douro, the sub-region to the east, where Quinta da Leda is located and where Casa Ferreirinha’s top of the range wines are born.
The Cima Corgo sub-region, in the centre, which also produces excellent Douro wines, is the prime area for Porto Ferreira, Sandeman and Offley wines and where the Seixo, Porto Caêdo, Vau and Sairrão estates are located. Interestingly, and despite the wide diversity of origins, Luís Sottomayor underlines the uniformity and balance of the 2015 harvest, with wines of very similar quality throughout the region, both in the Douro and Port wines. He is very optimistic about both and defines them as very healthy, balanced, with good structure and good volume in the mouth. He hopes for and anticipates a positive evolution for all these wines.
The Fladgate Partnership (Cima Corgo, Douro Superior)
“Picking started at Quinta de Vargellas [Douro Superior] and Quinta da Roêda [Cima Corgo] on 7 September and finished in warm dry conditions on 3 October,” reported David Guimaraens, Head Winemaker at The Fladgate Partnership. “Despite a break in the harvest on 15 and 16 September, which delayed the start of the harvest at our quintas in the Pinhão Valley, the weather remained warm and dry, providing ideal picking conditions.”
The winter period was extremely dry. Rainfall at Quinta da Roêda represented 66% of the average recorded over the last decade. However, without the wet months of October and November, there might have been more serious consequences for the vines. Rainfall was also well below average, bringing little relief from dry conditions. Temperatures between April and June were higher than normal with average temperatures +1.6C above a ten year average. Temperatures over 40C were recorded on several days during the last week of June and early July. Véraison arrived particularly early across all The Fladgate Partnership vineyards during the week beginning 29 June, setting the scene for an early harvest. Dry, hot conditions resulted in low vigour and, apart from a small risk of downy mildew following rain during the last week of April and the first week of May, Guimaraens reported that the rest of the season had a relatively low threat of disease. “These favourable conditions ensured the grapes were extremely healthy right up to the end of the harvest,” he said.
August continued to be dry, without heatwaves and was much milder. As a result, the berries were very well preserved with no sign of shrivel or sunburn except for Tinta Barroca, the first variety to ripen, which displayed some characteristic wrinkling. Picking began at Vargellas and Roêda on 7 September followed by Retiro Novo [Cima Corgo] on 10th and Panascal [Cima Corgo] on 12th with warm days and cool nights allowing for long fermentations. The lagares recorded between 14 and 14.5 Baume, but with fairly low acidity levels due to the dry season. The tail end of Cyclone Henry interrupted the harvest on 15 and 16 September bringing 58mm of rain at Roêda and 71mm in Vale de Mendiz, in the Pinhão Valley. The start of the harvest for The Fladgate Partnership quintas in the Pinhão Valley was delayed but warm, dry weather returned providing ideal harvesting conditions until the end.
“We continued to make very fine Ports right up to the end of the harvest on 3 October,” concluded Guimaraens.
Symington Family Estates (Cima Corgo, Douro Superior)
An exceptional viticultural year is coming to a close in the Douro with farmers and winemakers pleased that a year’s work has resulted in some very good Ports and Douro wines.
The rainfall figures for the viticultural year show a reduction of 44% on the 21 year average with just 359 mm registered at Quinta do Bomfim, in the heart of the Alto Douro, for the 11 months to the end September 2015. This level of rainfall would cause serious concern in many wine areas, but does not in the Douro where the indigenous vines are superbly adapted to be able to mature fruit in dry conditions, albeit resulting in the very low yields which are so characteristic of the region.
The geography of the Douro and its schistous soils has an amazing ability to retain the winter rain and this is evidenced by the springs that continue to supply the Quintas and the villages scattered across the hillsides even after 8 or 10 weeks without any meaningful rainfall. Dry farming has recently become a fashionable topic in the world of wine but this subject causes wry amusement in the Douro where farmers have been ‘dry farming’ for centuries and irrigation only covers a tiny percentage of the vineyards.
The little rain that did fall this year in the Douro was nicely timed in May and June and was of ‘the right sort’, being steady and prolonged. This is important as short spells of very heavy rain will simply run off the Douro’s terraces, bringing little benefit and can cause serious erosion. Hence the fact that Douro wine makers never give full credence to the published rainfall figures, knowing that very heavy rain does not always reach the vines and often just ends up in the river.
The period between March and June this year was simultaneously the hottest and driest period for 36 years and flowering and veraison took place between 8 and 10 days earlier than normal, as expected given these conditions. However, July and August were cooler than average and this was of extraordinary benefit to the vines. If the normal heat of August had occurred, dehydration and raisining would certainly have followed, given the dry conditions, and the vines would have been forced to shed their lower leaves, reducing vital shade cover. The grape bunches were in really excellent condition by early September and have seldom looked so fantastic. The cool night-time temperatures had done wonders for the natural acidity in the berries.
The harvest started earlier than normal and the quality of the grapes was immediately apparent. Our sorting tables were seeing hugely reduced rejection levels to the delight of our farm managers and our winery teams. Heavy rain fell on Tuesday 15th September and on the morning of the 16th, but this was followed by a strong wind that very satisfactorily dried the grapes. After 10 weeks with no meaningful rain, the vines greedily absorbed the water and dilution in the berries inevitably followed. This was the critical moment of this year’s harvest and Charles immediately called a halt to picking in our best vineyards. This is never an easy decision given the unsettled weather that often comes towards the end of this month.
Picking in our vineyards only resumed on 21st September and Charles said a few days later: ‘It is amazing how much difference 4 or 5 days can make’. Without this rain the final phase of maturation of the Touriga Nacional and especially the Touriga Franca would not have been ideal, as dehydration would certainly have occurred after such a prolonged period with no rain. In the circumstances the steady rain of 15th and morning of 16th September (77mm at Quinta da Cavadinha, 52mm at Quinta do Bomfim, 63mm at Quinta dos Malvedos and 27mm at Quinta do Vesuvio) was absolutely perfect, provided picking was suspended for a few days.
The Nacional and Franca picked during the week of the 21st and that of 28th September were of simply extraordinary quality, as were some of the old mixed plantings picked during this period. The rain softened the skins, allowing the colour and flavours to merge superbly into the wine. Yields were somewhat below the already small average in the Douro, and Charles recorded 25% less Franca at Quinta do Bomfim this year with just 1.05Kg per vine, but with a perfect level of ripeness.
Only on Sunday 4th October (General Election day in Portugal) did the weather break and by then our very best grapes were safely in our wineries. Courage was needed to suspend picking in mid-September, but the days that followed the resumption of the vintage were beautifully sunny and calm: the risk was well worth taking and paid off handsomely. These 13 days, from 21st September to 4th October will come to be seen as the key to the great Ports and Douro wines made this year, we have no doubt. MD, Paul Symington, 7th October 2015.
‘The Franca lagares have been spectacular’ Charles Symington, 5th October 2015
Ramos Pinto (Cima Corgo, Douro Superior)
A very, very nice year. It will be a vintage Port year. The grapes were healthy, none were raisined, they have acidity, maturity of tannins and good sugar. Though the fruit took a little time to arrive the tannins were soft and mature…as winemakers we try to put some effort into polishing the wines/the tannins to obtain elegance and, in 2015, the elegance was in the year. (Chief Winemaker João Nicolau de Almeida)
Quinta do Noval (Cima Corgo)
The winter was cold and dry. Spring (March to June) very hot, with five heat waves and heavy rainfall that somehow compensate for the lack of water in the soil, allowing a good development of the vines and grapes. The summer was very hot and dry. However, vines resisted well to the climate and at the end of August the harvest presented itself beautifully.
White grapes were picked from the 27 of September. We continued harvesting the Syrah and the ripest red plots. We were having a glorious hot weather and maturation was accomplishing well… But, as in 2014 from the 13th to the 16th, the gods sent us 60 mm of rainfall. 30% of the harvest was already done. Based on favourable weather forecast, and after a week of suspension, we restart the harvest on 24th September to end on the October 14th, with grapes in very healthy conditions and excellent weather till October 4th, period in which some exceptional ports were made.
The white wines show themselves with pretty typical aromas, elegance and full of freshness. The Reds, have great aromatic intensity and elegance, lovely colour, and well structured with good natural acidity that supports and enhances the purity of the fruit.
The Ports are very promising, with deep colour, well structured and a great wild and pure aromatic intensity. (Chief Winemaker António Agrellos)
Sogevinus (Cima Corgo)
Sogevinus owns the Kopke, Calem, Burmester and Barros brands; it also makes Douro DOC wines.
At the end of April, Márcio, Sogevinus’ head of viticulture revealed his observing character by pointing out the amount of blossoming on the vines. He shared a photograph in which one could see a blackbird’s nest with the following caption: “Mother Nature is telling us that this will be a relatively dry spring: the blackbird has nested on the ground, in a soil that usually is flooded at this time of the year, instead of on the tree, as usual.”
In May, after the grapes started growing, Márcio gave us his production forecasts. This year’s weather conditions during the blossoming were indeed very favourable. It is worth noting that in our Quinta de S. Luiz the accumulated precipitation at that time was 63% lower than the average of the last 30 years. We also experienced the effects of El Niño, which is a sign of exceptionally warm summers in Europe.
By mid August, during the first inspections of the grapevines (both on our own Quintas and our viticulturers’) to control their ripening stage, we discovered good development of the grapes, and some precociousness compared to 2014. The vine-growing year was excellent in terms of the grape’s health. However, due to the dry weather, the vines suffered from water recess very prematurely, which prompted the production of small clusters. In spite of this, it is expected to be an excellent year, as the grapes are healthy. August’s cool nights have helped the vines to retain some water.
Sogevinus’ Port wine oenologist, Carlos, and our DOC Douro table wine oenologist, Ricardo, had predicted a difficult year because of the drought, which can cause irregular ripening. That didn’t happen this time. In fact, the production was higher than 2014. Our goals were to reach 7 million litres of Port wine and 1.3 million litres of DOC Douro table wine.
The harvest began in Quinta de S. Luiz on 26 August at 7 in the morning – one week earlier than last year. We started with the grape variety Viosinho, used for DOC Douro wines. In the first week of September, we began harvesting our white Port wines and some super premium plots with specific red grapes varieties, used for both Port and DOC Douro wines. The first day is always quite hectic! Despite the fact that all equipment is tested before the harvesting, there are always things to be tuned so that everything runs smoothly.
The first grapes received in the Winery of S. Martinho (our Winemaking Centre for Port wine) were of the variety Touriga Nacional, arriving from Quinta do Arnozelo in the Upper Douro subregion. The grapes were considered to be excellent quality. The winemaking team was looking forward to tasting the first musts, and Carlos and Ricardo were overheard whispering that this will be an excellent year! Yet the good years are not necessarily easy years. By the third day of the harvesting of the Port wine red grapes, the first musts were not fermenting due to the decrease of the room temperature, and a worried Carlos even pondered whether to heat up the “lagares” so that the natural yeasts would initiate the fermentation.
Tradition says that during the harvesting there is always rain, and this year was no exception. In the middle of September we had to halt the grape cutting for three days at Quintas de S. Luiz e Arnozelo. 19th September was a record day in terms of receiving grapes in our winery: 127,000 kilos! We often find grapes are unevenly ripened, even from the same vineyard. Our work in the winery is vital in solving this problem – by deciding which grape varieties to blend and what is the ideal moment to extract the best of each one.
The Port wines that have been made this year are superb. The white Ports are rather aromatic and full-bodied, and the red are deep in colour, with smooth tannins and a rather extraordinarily complex nose. However, when talking about Port Wines, we know that they need time to reveal all their qualities. And so, to be able to confirm our opinions about the 2015 wines, we need to be patient. We shall wait for winter to arrive in the Douro region and only afterwards will these precious liquids show us all their exuberance.
The winter was cold and dry. Spring (March to June) was very hot, with five heat waves and heavy rainfall that somehow compensated for the lack of water in the soil, allowing a good development of the vines and grapes. The summer was very hot and dry. However, the vines resisted well to the climate and by the end of August the harvest presented itself beautifully.
We started the harvest on the 21st of August with the Rosé and the Syrah. White grapes were picked from the 2nd of September. We continued harvesting the ripest red plots. We were having a glorious hot weather and maturation was accomplishing well… But, like in 2014, from the 13th to the 16th, the Gods sent us 50 mm of rainfall. 60% of the harvest was already done. Based on favourable weather forecast, and after a few days of suspension, we restarted the harvest on the 28th of September and ended on the 4th of October, with an excellent weather and grapes in very healthy conditions.
The white wines show themselves with pretty typical aromas, elegance and full of freshness. The Reds have great aromatic intensity and elegance, lovely colour, well-structured with good natural acidity that supports and enhances the purity of the fruit.
The Ports are very promising, with deep colour, well structured and a great wild and pure aromatic intensity.
The best wines were made after the rain. Some of them are of exceptional quality. (Chief Winemaker António Agrellos)
Niepoort (Cima Corgo)
AMAZING, really very good. Fantastic for white and red and stunning for port. We picked everything before the rain (Douro and Bairrada) and made very sexy fresh vibrant wines (Dão also very good and the rain didn’t affect the quality.
Port we picked mostly before the rain but kept quite a bit of exceptional vineyards to be picked after the rain. We will see what will really go into the vintage. (Chief Winemaker Dirk Niepoort)
Adega Co-operativa de Favaios (Cima Corgo)
For leading Moscatel do Douro producer Adega Co-operativa de Favaios 2015 was an excellent vintage for Favaios region. The summer was very dry but in relatively high altitude areas as Favaios, some water was available in the soils, allowing balanced maturation. The alcohol content is higher than usual, but the acidity is also high, allowing to make well-balanced wines and aromatic. Certainly in the top 3 of the last 10 years. It was an average year in terms of quantity.
Other 2015 vintage reports