This is my 37th Douro vintage and I don't remember seeing sugar readings quite so high ever before! We buy grapes from a small traditional vineyard in the Caedo valley and the lagar this year registered 19.25º beaumé or 20.8% of potential natural alchohol! No wonder our ancestors struggled with the problems of residual sugar!
We have had hot, dry weather since the beginning of the second week of August and now at the end of September the heat continues! Apart from one late afternoon thunderstorm when the heavens opened for an hour we have had not a drop of rain throughout the vintage.
With the lack of moisture, most grapes have shrivelled-up turning to raisins but the pips and stems have remained surprisingly green indicating that the phenolic maturation has been incomplete. Consequently although sugar readings have soared, there remains an immaturity of green tanins.
It has been a year favouring the cooler, higher altitude vineyards and the deep-rooted old vines whose tap roots can often go down 20 metres in search of moisture. It has also been a good year for the Touriga Nacional grape variety whose small tough-skinned grapes have withstood the heat better than some of the more delicate varieties.
Here at Churchill's we have concentrated in sourcing our grape purchases on this basis; over and above our own production from Quinta da Gricha and Quinta do Rio we have contracted grapes from either old vineyards or higher altitude Touriga Nacional vineyards.
So far I am pleased with the results. Our Douro wines have wonderful violet hues and a freshness and acidity which is surprising for such a year. Our ports are deep coloured and have excellent tannic qualities on the finish.