To Blend or not to Blend, that is the Question!
As far as we remember, the Douro has always been a land where we were blending grapes. Blending in the vineyards, blending in the stone lagares, blending in the cellar and blending before bottling! Over 200 grape varieties exist in the Douro, the possibilities are endless. The only exception to this rule has been : the Moscatel. This grape, famous since the roman time as one of Alexander the Great’s favorite wines, remained very popular in the Douro as well as a single variety fortified wine.
Douro is a land of extreme climate conditions. No year is the same, even today with climate change, it is not different. Some grapes benefit from some weather patterns and others suffer. The idea with the traditional field blend approach was to always have good grapes every year. Our ancestors also understood the importance of old vines. Vines that had memory of the harsh conditions and could adapt over the years and could then survive the conditions in which they once suffered. This fact is still very important nowadays as you clearly see your old vineyards doing better in intense drought as their root system is strong and resistant.
This was the reality in the Douro until the early 1950’s, when Fernando Nicolau de Almedia decided to travel across Europe and visit other wine regions like Rioja, Bordeaux and Burgundy to see how different they were doing their viticulture and vinification. He came back motivated to make one of the greatest dry wines in Europe, the now famous Barca Velha. It was a revolution for the Douro.
Him and his son, João Nicolau were the first to really start studying and planting single variety vineyards. It was a breakthrough, their focus was to understand the best location and soil to plant single varieties vineyards and be able to get the best expression from that variety. They were followed by many. They were also responsible for identifying the best grape varieties and clones to plant.
Since the 1990’s single variety wines have been increasingly popular. Successful marketing campaign and simplified approach to the customers made it easier for them to understand they would love a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, South Africa or USA instead of decoding the labels and the regions. Portugal did not escape that trend with Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz(Tempranillo) leading the way. Nowadays there is an increase in production of single varieties wine, the market demands it but it is also very interesting to produce. I also think it is primordial for us Douro producers to remain authentic and share with the customers our heritage and difference and not start to plant Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot just to generate sales. Fashion comes and goes, but authenticity remains, this is what we want to offer.
As Port will always remain a blended wine, dry wines production on the other hand has more flexibility with the law. Is there a way better than the other? Not really. The best wine is always the wine you prefer and for us as a producer, our job is to put love and effort in the fields to craft products we enjoy and offer you the diversity to appreciate our region. We could see single variety vs blends wines as team sports vs individual sports, they both have something exciting to offer.
One little experiment we started in 2020 is to plant a small block of Tinta Miuda. The idea is simple, to learn more and see if it will be interesting enough to offer on its own or if it can improve one of our current blends. I do not know any other producer experimenting with this grape. To be followed!
On the photos you can see our old vineyards, looking at the wire’s dried sprouts, they had many harvest. Then next is our new plantation of Tinta Miuda, its first summer and being farmed organically.