by Raymond Reynolds
I have meant to do this for a while but the rapid progress from growers and winemakers in recent years made it pointless to try and pin down.
When I first went to work in the Douro 40 years ago, it was a true revelation, and spoke to me of huge promise. A raw diamond for the cutting.
Aesthetically impressive in its geography and its vineyards a testament to human endeavour.
As renowned author and poet Miguel Torga put it -
“an excess of nature. Terraces that are the steps for titanic people climbing the slopes…. Horizons that expand into the distance… harmony and serenity …. A geological poem.”
I thought now was a good moment to reflect on progress so far and what winemaking verses might be written in the future.
We must remind ourselves that ever since the Douro became a significant vineyard area, Wines have been made there. It all started with Wines. The advent of fortification and its adoption (early 19th Century) gave us Porto the world’s greatest fortified wine as we now know it. With it came access to the worldwide markets that eventually established the region’s reputation.
To witness the proliferation of Wines from the Douro in the last 30 years has been immensely exciting. They bring balance to the viticultural objectives in the region as well as a renewed energy and creativity at a human level. Winemakers and growers are revelling in the buzz which spills back into how Porto is made -no dilution pun intended.
In the wider global market context, Portugal benefits too. The Douro is a working “museum” of indigenous grape varieties so intrinsic to the overall character of the country’s wines.
Most of Portugal’s finest winemakers are either established in the Douro or draw inspiration from the legacy of Barca Velha.
To this Douro winemakers constantly add their own acquired knowledge and approaches, travelling the World’s other great vineyard regions, and now quietly have the mother of ferments going on.
For the Porto category the recent Vintage Porto declarations and the ever improving quality of these, has brought much need acclaim. This is the perfect incentive for producers to invest further in quality and premiumisation across the range of Porto styles.
The Douro is not one region, but the sum of its immense diversity and the detail within.
Sub-regions exist in a broad sense; they are Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. From west to east upriver these correspond to the decreasing amounts of annual rainfall, more extreme climate, and lower yields in the vineyards.
The concept of a regional wine style is not relevant. Terroir, aspect, slope, grapes and winemaking are. Schist is rock zero.
The fringe and highland areas of the region are a reservoir of freshness and more esoteric grapes allow growers and winemakers to explore further diversity for the wines.
Old and ancient vineyards are being cherished yet their dwindling hectarage is a vital nursery for the diversity in new vineyards. Their legacy is being better understood.
Porto and Wines can co-exist happily as symbiotic categories to benefit the region, the growers, the wineries, and of course the consumers.
The Douro needs more people to live and work in it to feed the creative base from which great Wine and Porto is made, and to turn harvests more joyful.
Viticulturally the Douro is possibly the most challenging in the world. With its steep slopes, the ruggedness of the terrain, extreme climate, and low yields it defies normality. Global warming is likely to make the environment for vines and humans alike even more challenging in the future.
This implies there is an ever-rising threshold of sustainability which must be acknowledged and managed. We hope it will continue to drive up the quality baseline of Wines and Portos. Quality creates its own fashion and adds value, so needed here.
The future for the Douro is its people and their commitment to it. It will continue to be the engine of innovation for Portugal’s emerging wine industry.
The horizons of the Douro are where harmony and balance of a wider diversity of agriculture and quality produce is nurtured.
The Douro in our Portfolio consists of a bunch of growers/winemakers that live and breathe this beautiful place, fearless, excitable exponents of the great diversity that surrounds them.
All different, all talented, all quality driven and respectful of the legacy.
We are privileged to have grown up with them!
They are the “titanic people” of the present and future, already reframing, already evolving this breath-taking winescape, articulating the next geological poem for the Douro.