Symington Family Declares the 2017 Vintage Port

SFE - 2019-04-09

We are pleased to announce 2017 as a classic Vintage Port year, making this our first ever 'back-to-back' general declaration since Andrew James Symington arrived in Porto in 1882.

The announcement - only the sixth declaration of the 21st century - concludes a period of intense discussion within the wine trade as to whether 2017 would warrant a full declaration, given the quality of the critically acclaimed 2016 Vintage Ports and the rarity of declarations. The first consecutive declaration by our family is a milestone moment in our long history and is the result of two very different but extremely high-quality years for port in the Douro.

The 2017 wines were the result of an advanced growing cycle which led to the earliest harvest ever recorded in our family’s 137-year history as winemakers and port producers. Warmer, drier conditions than usual resulted in small, compact bunches of grapes in excellent condition, with yields amongst the lowest of the century so far, 20% below the 10-year average.

Despite the harvest beginning in August, the maturations were perfectly balanced, resulting in wines characterised by extraordinary intensity, concentration and structure, combined with stunning aromas and freshness.

We have produced 2017 Vintage Ports from across our flagship Douro Quintas, and will shortly be offering limited quantities (by allocation en primeur) of Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s as well as Quinta do Vesuvio, Graham’s The Stone Terraces and Capela da Quinta do Vesuvio. The 2017 is just the fourth release of the latter two, which are only produced in truly exceptional years. Given the very low-yielding year, the 2017 Vintage Port is the smallest Symington declaration of the 21st century.

For detailed information on each wine, see The Vintage Port Site.

“In my 25 years as a winemaker in our family vineyards, I have never seen a year like 2017. The yields were extremely low, but the concentration and structure took my breath away. We have made some really remarkable wines." 

Charles Symington, Head Winemaker

Growing cycle and harvest conditions

We are accustomed to challenging conditions in the Douro with low rainfall and high summer temperatures but 2017 was drier and hotter than usual with just half the rainfall that we would expect in a normal year. It is a testament to our well-adapted indigenous grape varieties that such exceptional wines were produced in this year.

Reasonable winter rainfall from October 2016 through to February 2017 created water reserves in the soil that were just sufficient to sustain the vines through a long and dry summer. Despite the very warm conditions throughout the growing season, August temperatures were closer to the average than the very hot 2016, which hugely benefited the vines after a spring and summer with practically no rainfall at all.

The Douro grape varieties are incredibly adaptable and proved this once again in 2017. The start of the growing season in March saw a pronounced upswing in temperatures and a decline in rainfall. The vines, as though second-guessing the dry conditions ahead, reacted from this early stage by reducing their water consumption. This resulted in less vigour and the development of smaller canopies, as well as smaller berries, which further lessened the demands on the limited soil water reserves. The warm and dry conditions had the further advantage of eliminating any threat of vine disease, resulting in a remarkably healthy crop with perfectly formed berries.

Inevitably, yields were substantially reduced with an average production across our vineyards of just 860g per vine, or 2,815 kg/ha. The Touriga Franca, one of the star performers of the vintage and the principal component of several of our finest 2017 Vintage Ports, recorded yields as low as 600 g/vine in some of our Quintas.

The Douro has had the rare good fortune to experience two excellent years with 2016 and 2017, both with highly distinctive weather conditions producing two very different Vintage Ports of exceptional quality.

It is interesting to look back at notable precedents in the Douro of hot and dry years producing wines that have become classics. The famous 1945, considered one of the greatest Vintage Ports, was produced following a dry growing cycle that bears striking resemblance to 2017 in terms of average temperatures, rainfall, yields and timing. Both years had precocious growing patterns with fully balanced maturations that culminated in early harvests. In the case of 2017, Charles Symington asked his viticulture and winemaking teams to return early from their summer breaks to begin the harvest in late August. It was the first time we as a family ever picked red grapes in August. The sacrifice was certainly worth the lost holidays in terms of wine quality.

 “Few wine regions in the world restrict vintage years with such integrity as we do in the Douro. The decision to declare Vintage Ports from two consecutive years was not one taken lightly. However, these two exceptionally strong harvests have produced wines of such immense quality that we felt justified in making this historic decision.”

Johnny Symington, Chairman



Text by SFE · Published 2019-04-09
© Symington Family Estates

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