How the Port Wine benefício system works

Making Port Wine - fortification the must ofOne of the crucial questions to perfectly understand the Port Wine industry is the benefício system. Due to its huge complexity, the benefício is almost all the time a thorn in the side of those who are not from the Douro but want to know how things are made here. Lets try to put this in words.

In 1756, Marquês de Pombal delimited for the first the Douro wine region, trying to preserve the quality and genuineness of the wine produced. Later, in 1932 Casa do Douro, an association of Douro vine growers, had as mission to register all the parcels of vines in the Douro. Then, emerged the question of how to preserve the quality and control the quantity of Port Wine produced by farmers. Later, in 1948, with data collected in the previous decades and with information about quantity and quality of different zones across the Douro valley, it is instituted a methodology to classify all the parcels, based in 3 main criteria: soil, climate and cultural conditions. Each of these three criteria are then divided in 4 parameters. This methodology is known and Moreira da Fonseca pontuation system.

Soil: type of soil; rockiness; productivity; steepness.
Climate: location; altitude; protection; exposure.
Cultural conditions: varieties; vine training; age of the vineyard; vine density

Each vineyard gets then a punctuation for each of the parameters and the sum of the total points achieved for all criteria determines the rating of the vineyard.

  • A – more than 1200 points
  • B – from 1001 to 1200
  • C – from 801 to 1000
  • D – from 601 to 800
  • E – from 401 to 600
  • F – from 201 to 400
  • G – from 1 to 200
  • H – from -200 to 0
  • I – from -400 to -201

The total annual quantity of Port Wine produced is determined by the IVDP – Port Wine Institute and is highly related to sales of Port Wine and stocks changing. If sales go up, the total quantity will increase and the opposite if sales drop.

Quantity of must to fortify, in liters per hectare, in 2010

  • A – 2.043
  • B – 2.010
  • C – 1.859
  • D – 1.818
  • E – 1.573
  • F – 684
  • G – 0
  • H – 0
  • I – 0

In 2010 the total quantity of Port Wine produced was 60.500.000 liters.

The remaining grapes that are not used for Port Wine, after achieving the benefício quota, are used for Douro wine. In the past, the best grapes of the vineyard were used for Port production. Nowadays, we find a balance using the best grapes for limited quantities of Port and Douro wines.

So making a long story short, the parcels of the Douro demarcated region are all classified with a grade that will determine the quantity of Port Wine that can be made from each parcel, depending on the annual volume allowed by the IVDP, which takes in consideration the sales and remaining stock of previous years.

Due to its complexity, I am sure that this post did not clarify all your questions about the beneficio system. So please feel free to leave your comments and so I can answer your questions and further questions our readers may have.

Oscar

19 Comments Added

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  1. Jamie Goode Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 | reply
    So if you have beneficio, although it is tied to a vineyard, can you sell it as a piece of paper? Can port houses buy the beneficio from a grower and then not use the grower's grapes, but use more of their own grapes for port? And even if legally the beneficio has to be linked to the grapes, does this sort of thing happen?
    • Oscar Quevedo Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 | reply
      Great point Jamie. Legally, the beneficio has to be linked to the grapes of the vineyard the beneficio comes from. But not always this is respected and it is sold as a piece of paper, as you say. Any winery that receives grapes in the Douro has to fill in a daily form and send it out to the IVDP with info about how many tonnes it received, from where in the Douro they are coming from, who is the owner and truck number. But you can still break the law with some imagination.
      • Angeliki Tsioli Friday October 20th, 2017 | reply
        What happens if a grower sells his beneficio rights to another grower or company? He is then not allowed to make port from his own grapes, but he may make still Douro wine, right? Independantly from the grade A to F of course. Then, the grades after F (G, H and I) are actually never or rarely given the chance to make any Port at all, right? Does that mean that the quality of the Douro wine made from these grades is the lowest? Thanks in advance :-)
        • quevedo Friday October 20th, 2017 | reply
          Hi Angeliki, two interesting questions. Yes, if he sells the rights and grapes to another company he won't be allowed to make Port. Regarding the question about the G, H and I letters, not necessary, as the system is based on red grapes grade. The white grapes tend to be better from higher altitude, this means lower grades, so it is possible to make great white wine from lower grades. This is a part of the system that was thought for red only and needs to be fixed.
          • quevedo Monday October 23rd, 2017 |
            Hi Angeliki, the trading of Port production rights without the grapes is not legal. The licence to produce Port has to come with grapes, regardless whether the seller is a Douro wine producer or just a grape grower. Regarding the fact that it sounds unrealistic for the IVDP to do this every year, actually, that only had to do the classification based on the 12 criteria once. And they will need to do it every time someone replants that same plot. But they use the same data every year. In the end, if no new plantation was done, there would be no changes in the classification of the vineyard apart from being one year old (and this can, at some time increase a grade of classification as the older the vineyard the more points it gets). Hope this helped!
  2. Gunnar Ljunglof Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 | reply
    Hi Oscar If the beneficio take cultural aspects, like age of the vines, varieties and vine training, into consideration, does this mean that the classification according to the beneficio will change over time? If you replant with other varieties this would mean another point value for the beneficio, right? How often are the beneficio recalculated? Within a fixed time interval or when deemed necessary?
    • Oscar Quevedo Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 | reply
      Hi Gunnar, Yes, it changes over time and it is constantly updated. Any time there is an alteration in the vineyard like re-grafting, it must be communicated by the grower to the IVDP. Also, when the vineyard is over 25 years old, it automatically gets 30 more points and it may change rating/letter if in fits in a new range.
  3. Oscar Quevedo Tuesday March 22nd, 2011 | reply
    thirstforwine via Twitter A great intro to the complex Port 'beneficio' system http://bit.ly/ejVrLZ < more on how it affects @quevedo wld be great :) Robert, benefício affect us in the sense that my family has been always focused on Port production, and every year we have several extra tonnes of grapes that we can't use for Port because we have reached the legal limit of Port production, and we have to make still wine with those grapes. This is not a bad thing if you create conditions at the winery to make Douro wine as well. But takes time. That's why we decided to launch these two new brands, Oscar's and Claudia's, so we don't have to sell the still wine of good quality at ridiculous low price. Actually, the idea to launch Oscar's wine is turning out to be a good decision, as it is selling well in countries like UK, US, Denmark, Holland, Norway or HK. And in April we are going to launch white and rose Oscar's as well.
  4. Miss Vicky Wine Friday March 25th, 2011 | reply
    Almost simple ;) Cheers Oscar !
  5. Joe Gates Saturday March 26th, 2011 | reply
    hi Oscar, I was wondering if in great vintage Port years you have to make some table wine because of beneficio. Also,if you get more points for the age of the vines,why not points for the age of the vineyard owner,experience should count too!!
    • Oscar Quevedo Sunday March 27th, 2011 | reply
      I'm with you Joe! This would be a great incentive for our grandparents to stay in business!!! Retirement age in the Douro would be only at 99!
  6. Rui Lourenço Pereira Tuesday March 29th, 2011 | reply
    Congratulations Óscar We've here a great explatanation of the "benefício" meaning. If you don't mind I'll use it on my blog with the reference to the source.
  7. Julien Thursday February 16th, 2012 | reply
    Hi. First I have to thank you for this brillant website which is quite understable, even for a french student like me. I have a few questions the beneficio system. In fact, if I have understood, l'IVP controls quantity of wine every parcels can produce. But IVP doesn't decide which price graps can be sold. Am I right? Then, for exemple for a parcel A: a wine grower can produce 2043 L for each parcel A ? And then he can decide to sell it to companies in Gaia or sell it to a cooperative or produce his own Port? Sorry for my poor english. And thank you to make me understand better this beneficio system which is very complicated for strangers!
    • Anonymous Thursday February 16th, 2012 | reply
       Hi Julien, thank you for your nice comments! The IVDP decides every year the quantity of Port Wine that can be produced from A to F grade parcels. So the production per hectare is similar for all A parcels. The grape grower can then decide if wants to make himself Port Wine or if he prefers to sell the grapes to a co-op or other companies, which must be located in the Douro. Let me know if you have any other question.
      • Julien Friday February 17th, 2012 | reply
         Hi. Thanks a lot for your such an quick answer and for proposing your help! I will continue my research and try to make order in the huge number of documents I have in french, english or portuguese... Then I 'll probably ask you a few question at one time in order waste too much of your time! Thank you again.
        • Julien Saturday February 25th, 2012 | reply
           Hi. I worked these days and I found quite a lot of informations. But I have got even more questions than before! In order to not take too much of your time I'll ask only ones which are linked with Beneficio. Moreover, it could be a fine source of informations for others readers. So, A parcel "A" can only produce 2044L/ha. It's really the weakest I saw. Especially because I saw grape grower have really little territory. Is the price of grapes from each parcel category free? can you give me an exemple of how much a liter is selling ?I saw IVDP have parcels too, and that they can sell grapes. Is it their main source of revenu?or does a system of subscription exist? When ICDP makes a decision, that is what is required for the entire sector?Thank you!
          • Oscar Saturday February 25th, 2012 |
            Hi Julien, yes, grapes from different grade parcels trade at different prices. "A" grade is the most expensive, with prices varying from 2 - 2.20 euros. The IVDP has no vineyards, they just control, certify and determine the volume of Port produced every harvest. All decisions taken by the IVDP apply to all producers. I hope I've answered all your questions. Let me know if you have more. Oscar
          • Julien Sunday February 26th, 2012 |
             Hi Oscar Ok, so the sell of grap have a determined price. But I think merchant buy finished wine too. For this wine IVDP doesn't chose a price like for graps. Am I right? Last question, 2-2.20 euros, is it for 1 kg of graps? Thank you again for your help!

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