Two controversial points in my speech at Vindouro

Vindouro oscar quevedo

There are some amazing traditions that have been created from the beginning of the 21st century that I truly want to keep alive. One of those traditions is Vindouro, a wine, food and culture festival which takes place at the beginning of September in my town, S. João da Pesqueira. Additionally, there was a conference dedicated to Port and Douro wines, where we gave a speech about its current status and its future evolution. The two main points the audience focused upon my presentation were:

  1. the predominant concentration on famous grape varietals, and
  2. the reduction in the number of Douro wine producers

Vindouro Port and Douro Wines conferenceLet me just clarify that I am not an advocate of either one of these points; and consequently, I pitched my argument as to why we need to stop this from happening:

  1. Historically, small viticultures, who are the core grape growers in the Douro, would follow empirical knowledge to choose which varietals should be planted to craft Port wine. Consequently, in 1981, a major study concluded that there were 5 main varietals to craft quality Port Wine; whereby chiseling into stone the destiny of viticulture in the Douro. Soon farmers started to block plant the recommended varietals and limit any “extraneous” vines. And I might have supported such a practice if our ancestor’s vineyards had grown the same recommended 5 varietals, but this was not the case. Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão and Tinta Barroca were one of dozens upon dozens of native vines. Vineyards were jam packed with a plethora of vines that together crafted exquisite port wine, not a chosen few. Are these 5 varietals also good for Douro wines? No, or better stated, it depends on the proportions. We all want to preserve the culture and diversity of the Douro valley; and for that, we need to keep the old vines with lesser known varietals. In short, we need more field blending.
  2. There are around 360 Douro wine producers, all of which lack a market share. In the last few years, with the price of grapes decreasing to under 1 euro per kilogram, in some cases under 50 cents, many grape growers have decided to make Douro wine instead of exclusively selling their grapes. And for a majority of these producers, this is a part-time job, as very few have a marketing background to sell there own wines, nor do they want to spend 1 cent in traveling, tastings or social events. The internet is still an unknown variable. Some of these producers have stocks of older vintages, while new harvests continue to stream in every  September. This is not sustainable, and they will eventually have to stop selling wine in bottle. In my opinion, the Douro wine industry will follow the steps taken by Port Wine industry few years ago, when wineries went under and the market shrunk. There are around 98 Port Wine producers, the top five sell 75% of the total. At the Douro and Port Wine Conference, I was alone defending this argument. While Cristiano van Zeller from Quinta Vale D. Maria was with me in the first point, in this particular point, he thinks the Douro wine industry will never shrink.

Lets continue the online the offline discussion. Share your thoughts and comments. It’s great to have the view of outsiders.


6 Comments Added

Add yours
  1. Tom Archer Wednesday September 15th, 2010 | reply
    Oscar, I tend to agree with you. On the first point, simple logic suggests that varietal blocks make more sense than field mixes; but if that is truly the case, why was it not done generations ago? I feel there must have been a very good reason for the field mix, that may now be forgotton. On the second point, I really don't understand how the table wine market can be profitable, unless it is getting heavy subsidy from the EU. As you know, the Douro is a very labour intensive wine region, that does not have the economies of scale and mechanisation that the Australians enjoy, or the availability of very cheap labour, that can be found in South America. The Douro wine makers believe that their product is very special and very valuable, but the buyers of wine abroad have yet to agree. There is now too much wine production in the world, and the competition is raising the quality of the cheapest wines to a level that we have never seen before. I think it will be very difficult for the new Portuguese producers to make a profit from table wine, without the benefit of subsidy. I am not sure how much help to winemakers now comes from the EU, but as the EU now has many problems, I think it is unwise to assume that any help will continue.
  2. cynthia Friday September 17th, 2010 | reply
    Tom - to your good reason for field mix now forgotten - the answer is, traditional small farmers were hedging their bets. Different varieties thrive / fail in different conditions, so a mixture of vines meant no matter what happened they got SOME harvest and from it hopefully some income. The "danger" of single block plantings is if that varietal can't cope with this year's weather, small scale farmer faces dead loss. For larger producers, the "virtue" of single block plantings means they can vinify varietals separately and then craft a blend of finished component wines to whatever percentages of varietals will give them the style result they wish for ultimate marketed product. Douro winemakers - and many other Portuguese winemakers from several regions, but personally I've heard it expressed most eloquently in the Dão - do believe passionately in the special qualities of their wines, and are waking up to the need for marketing. Some can do it themselves, organisations like ViniPortugal are helping overall. It may at times feel hopeless, but remember Chianti and lots of other regions that were a joke early on have done the trick of changing their worldwide image. If they could, Portugal can too... just you wait! Oscar: fabulous post, thank you.
  3. oscar Saturday September 18th, 2010 | reply
    Great comments Tom! Currently the EU doesn't give us any subsidy, the big help comes from Port Wine. While we keep an administrative monopoly for the production of Port Wine, prices for grapes to be used in still wine will keep low because winemakers make profits from grapes for Port Wine, getting a margin to make cheaper wine. I think liberalizing completely the production of Port Wine would be bad for Port, but the current situation is seems a bit unfair, specially for those who are focused on Port. For the grapes I think we are all on the same boat and Cynthia made it very clear.
  4. Joe Gates Monday September 20th, 2010 | reply
    Oscar, It is my understanding that the EU provided funding for new plantings of "the top five" varietals in the Douro. Is this a big factor in the loss of the other varietals? Here in the US, Douro table wine is promoted as a great buy or great value which it is, maybe it should cost more.
  5. oscar Monday September 20th, 2010 | reply
    Hi Joe, In the 1980s the World Bank funded Douro growers to plant new vineyards with recommended grapes (not only "the top five") at lower interest rates. Nowadays, EU funds any vine grower, from any state, in case he wants to replant his vineyards. There is no special treatment for the Douro valley or for Portugal. We can be more competitive because of cheaper labor but the steepness of hills makes it more difficult and costly to work.
  6. Michael Hann Monday October 11th, 2010 | reply
    Just to list another possibility. Maybe some of the varietal diversity resulted from practical considerations such as replanting only a few dead vines each year with whatever varietal was popular or cheapest at that time? Over an extended period of time, you can imagine how a vineyard would come to have a wide number of intermixed varietal plantings.

Leave a Reply

Reset all fields