Port 2017 Vintage – 1945 Reborn?

Our 2017 Vintage Port offer is now live. George Hetherton, from our Private Sales team, gives his overview of the vintage below.

2017 was a rather fantastical wonder of a unique nature. Besides being bombarded with absolutely nothing except scorching heat and drought, the grapes were so far and few between, the yield only just about made it to the table. Yet remarkably the grapes were perfectly healthy, and the juice was of the finest quality. It really makes me wonder how I managed to kill my Bonsai tree only two weeks into buying it. Amidst the vast befuddlement of protective and precautionary, yet certainly necessary measures, concerning the rules and regulations governing the world of Port, it is understood that only three vintages are allowed to be declared a decade. So, for the established shippers to shake hands and agree on the first back to back vintage in 137 years (as 2016 too was declared), it is an indicative and validating statement in itself.

It is said that the 2017 is so grand that it looks to be a revival of the great 1945 vintage, and we know what that tastes like now. The master blenders earn themselves highest respect in this scenario. I can't begin to imagine the immense skill required to project one’s early assessment of something straight from the barrel into the far future, and to know that it will evolve and mature with blossoming prospects, and know what charm and character of a wine will be unveiled in years to come. It truly is a testament to those talented palates of Oporto. They can literally taste the future, standing for days on end, descendants of a bygone era trapped in time, like wrinkly old angels of Bacchus overlooking the town of Oporto. They raise their glasses to the sun and lap up barrel sample after barrel sample. I imagine them to be like clockwork, fine tuning their blends until the most precise and perfect tipple has been produced. It is also a testament to the mightily adapted indigenous varieties of the arid Douro valley that hold their middle finger up to their climatic hardship and produce fruit of true excellence. The great thing about these vines is, the more you make them feel like they are on the brink of death, the better the fruit they may produce. Little do they know, there is an army of chipper Portuguese folk ready to descend from the valley tops, to tread those berries into oblivion to the tune of brass bands and hedonistic festivities, in pursuit of celebration and success.

More on the weather though. 2017 epitomised this climatic functionality and we really saw the limits on ‘teasing’ the vines into an equilibrium, with responsive growth cycles and strong adaptation, leading to healthy and harmonious fruit with tremendous extraction.

To finish, I must say it was an absolute pleasure to taste the 2017 Vintage Ports. And so different in character to the 2016’s. Better in my opinion. When you can sip from a thimble of Port and realise it holds an infinite number of conversations, from the geology of the land to the biology of the grapes, the chemistry of production, the history of the culture, the passion of the people and the political powers that forged it, then you realise its true value and nature. And if you think I’m talking nonsense, then at least it’s delicious and you can have another thimble. At the end of the day it is an honest product with real heritage and backbone. As certain drinks may begin to lose their market share to the confusion of the modern hip consumer trends, with cross-over fads like flavoured Gins distilled through Mexican roast turkeys, or funky craft beers brewed from yeast off the back of a frozen woolly mammoths tusk, Port, its story and its people, have kept their integrity intact. It is a product that won’t be compromised nor go rogue, it will always have a place in our hearts and cellars, a timeless classic that will remain delectable, will continue to inspire stories, and be enjoyed globally. Cheers to that!


The Vintage

2017 is a vintage that is being compared to the legendary 1945. Notably defined by hot weather and drought, but also an advancing growth cycle at each stage. It is very much a testament to the well adapting indigenous varieties. Out of thick-skinned fruit has emerged a Port with a heightened allure of richness and power, a dense fruit core and a lifted elegance. Yields were 20% down this year but with a spectacular vintage like this in low volumes and great cellaring potential, this is one to make room for in your collection.

The Harvest

Succeeding the wetter 2016 vintage, 2017 awoke from a fairly cold and dry winter. The soils had retained just enough water to tease and stress the vines throughout the year ahead. A swift growing season was set in motion after spring broke early and bud break followed on the 10th of March. Rainfall in March was about half that of the usual, and April was considered the driest April since 1931.

Moving into May there was some weather instability, critical in the phase of the vine flowering but for the most part this was not a problem. The summer continued with very dry weather and heatwaves through to June, with temperatures soaring to 43 degrees c in the Douro superior. The formation of the grape bunches was already visible at the end of May and veraison began in mid- June, a month earlier than usual. 

With the exception of some localised hail storms on the 6th of July in the Cima Corgo, the summer was very dry, with no rain falling in August or September. A combination of early doors and an arid climate led to the development of a remarkable physiological and phenolic concentration. This served as a doubled edged sword, as not only were the berries more concentrated, but in the absence of moisture, the prerequisite for any diseases or dilution, the bunches remained perfectly intact, healthy and full of flavour. Harvest began as early as the 23rd August and carried on to the end of September.

The temperatures during harvest were forgiving, with cooler nights playing a key role in ensuring optimum temperatures for the fermentation process, and the grapes kept their balanced ripeness. The concentration of the grapes, together with the high sugar levels, produced Ports with very high colour intensity and dense firm tannins. The ideal temperature conditions during August and the harvest have resulted in very few musts with overly ripe characters, which is satisfying considering how hot the year has been.

“At a time when out of the ordinary years are all put down to climate change, it is comforting to read Dick Yeatman’s 1945 Harvest Report and see an almost identical season to 2017. Let us hope the Ports from the 2017 harvest also follow the quality of those from 1945.” - David Fonseca Guimaraens October 2017

Click here to view our 2017 Port brochure. 

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