2015-05-14 Quinta do Vesuvio and Senhora da Ribeira 2013

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Alex Bridgeman
Constantino 1927
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2015-05-14 Quinta do Vesuvio and Senhora da Ribeira 2013

Post by Alex Bridgeman » 15:20 Fri 22 May 2015

In an email dated 14th May 2015, Symington Family Estates wrote:The Symington Family are pleased to announce the 2013 release from two of their most prestigious Quintas in the Douro Superior.
The 2013 Harvest was a tense one for both the picking and winemaking teams. Just as the harvest began on 17th September the long range weather forecast predicted the arrival of an Atlanic storm. But the combined efforts of both teams ensured that the harvest was completed within just 10 days, leaving only a small quantity of later-ripening grapes at the higher altitudes to be picked after the rains. As a result the grapes were picked in perfect condition, producing an outstanding vintage – possibly the best one that Dow’s Senhora da Ribeira has ever produced.

Only very small quantities were bottled from these two iconic estates - 1,500 cs (6x75) from Quinta do Vesuvio and 900 cs (6x75) from Senhora da Ribeira.

Douro Harvest 2013
The value of a long-range weather forecast
This year we had a real Douro winter. Good levels of rain fell throughout the last quarter of 2012 and both January and February 2013 were very wet. March had the heaviest rainfall for 12 years with 176 mm, more than three times the average, and serious damage was caused not only to the roads but also to the stone and earth terraces on which our vineyards are planted. In fact dangerous rock avalanches occurred, including one between Sabrosa and Pinhão that blocked the road for several hours, thankfully occurring when no vehicle was passing. Some of the Douro’s vineyards planted over the last twenty years have been set out without care for the natural slope of the hills and with more regard to the power of a bulldozer, so when heavy rains come these errors are fully exposed.

After two drought years with 40% less rainfall than average, this year’s winter rain was of the utmost importance, giving our vineyards an abundant supply of water. Many Douro vines are not irrigated and rely on the water retained in the schistous rock and soil. April at Bomfim was cool with an average 13.8°C compared to a mean of 15.0°C. May continued much cooler than average (16°C vs. 18.4°C), so the vine’s development was at least 10 days late by early June. A delayed cycle is not a serious problem in the Douro and we and our neighbours were very optimistic at this stage. Seldom have the vines looked so healthy, especially after two drought years.

The next three months showed us that no year in the Douro is ever quite like a previous one and that no judgement should be made until the grapes are under cover and in the wineries. In June, July and August just 4.6mm of rain fell at Pinhão. This is effectively no rain for 12 solid weeks. Although these three months were only marginally warmer than average, the lack of rain was extraordinary. One tragic result of this period was that forest fires became a daily feature on every horizon as the parched woodlands were tinder dry right across Portugal.

The ability of the Douro grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca to cope with such prolonged periods of drought and still nurture fine bunches of ripe berries is extraordinary. Their well-established root systems draw in the necessary water and nutrients from deep in the soil, unlike most other Vitis vinifera which would look very sorry in these conditions. Our vines had lovely dark green leaves and fine looking bunches in late August. The young vines had a tough summer and had to be watered, many by hand.

The crucial month of September started with the maturation still some 10 days behind recent years, measured both by the technical analysis as well as by the traditional tasting of berries in the vineyards and the feel and look of the skins between fingers. Some important rain fell on the 5th September (14mm at Malvedos and 13 mm at Bomfim) which was most welcome. This was more rain in one day than had fallen in the previous three months.
Charles Symington and our viticulture team fixed the picking for Port at Vesuvio and at Senhora da Ribeira in the Douro Superior for the 19th September and for the 23rd at our other vineyards in the Alto Douro. These dates were based on several preceding weeks of careful assessment of grape maturity and the scene was set for an exceptional year. The picking for our Douro DOC wines had started several days earlier.

By the afternoon of Monday 23rd September, with the pickers already in the vineyards picking the Barroca and some other varieties, the long-rang forecast began to show Atlantic rainstorms coming into the Douro on the afternoon of Friday 27th, with wet weather predicted to persist for 6 days. By sunrise on Tuesday morning, Charles had changed the entire picking order that had been so carefully decided just a few days previously. All the pickers were asked to go immediately into the Touriga Nacional, Souzão and Vinha Velha vineyards. During the next 5 days, and in perfect sunny weather, some of the best grapes were picked and brought into the wineries. The lagares fermented during this period are really exceptional, with wonderful colour and aromas. Amongst several great looking wines, two lagares at Senhora da Ribeira made with a blend of Souzão and Touriga Nacional, have really delighted us.

Sure enough rain came in late on Friday, although sparingly in the eastern part of the valley. The unsettled weather persisted until Thursday 3rd, although on the Sunday and Monday there was no rain to speak of. We picked much of our Barroca and Roriz during these unsettled days and their tougher skins and higher Baumés did not suffer much. Some grape varieties did naturally register a drop in sugar readings at this stage, and in the lower-lying and more enclosed vineyards, careful work was needed by the pickers and on the sorting tables.

As from the 4th October, the fine dry weather returned, accompanied by a healthy wind that dried the vines and the top soil. In this phase our pickers started harvesting the Touriga Franca which gave excellent colour, with berries in very good condition. This was good news as Franca with its fragile skins, can be susceptible to excess moisture.

An advantage of our steep Douro vineyards is that the land drains very well after rain, which prevents the damp earth from creating problems in the very ripe berries. Towards the end of the harvest, we returned to our higher vineyards of Touriga Nacional (300 to 450 meters up the valley sides). These grapes came into the wineries with very healthy 13° and 14° Baumés and the fine weather continued until the 13th October by which time all our best vineyards had been picked.

Thus by the judicious use of the long-range weather forecast, quick decision making and a willingness to change the picking order, some very fine looking Ports and Douro DOC wines have been made this year.

This report is being concluded on Saturday 19th October at Provesende in the Pinhão valley under grey skies and after a night of heavy rain. The valley is quiet as all the grapes are in and peace has returned here as the countless visitors and the many pickers have all returned home. Although we still have some fermentations under way at some wineries, we and our farmers are feeling satisfied that despite 6 days of unsettled weather in the middle of the harvest, the year’s work in the vineyard has ended very well and we look forward to tasting our wines in the coming weeks and months.
Paul Symington.
Provesende, Douro.
19th October 2013.

Quinta do Vesuvio 2013 Vintage Port 2013 Vintage Port
The Ten Days that made the Vintage
The 2013 harvest was tense for winemakers and pickers alike at Quinta do Vesuvio. In just ten days much of the estate’s 133 hectares of vineyards were picked and the grapes were carried into the traditional stone lagares in the winery. This had seemed like a near impossible task on the 17th of September when, just as the vintage was beginning, the long-range weather forecast predicted the arrival of an Atlantic storm system that would cross the Marão Mountains and reach the
Upper Douro. It became essential to get the best grapes into the winery before the rains arrived, as it would not have been the first time that the quality of a Douro harvest has been significantly reduced due to bad weather.

There is a 350 meter difference in altitude between the lowest and the highest of Vesuvio’s vineyards and this results in a large variation in the maturation levels of the grapes. For this reason the pickers concentrated on the earlier ripening, lower altitude parcels bordering the river, before steadily moving up the hills that surround the quinta. The importance of picking as fast as possible was also felt in other vineyards in the region, and by the second day of the harvest, pickers were being ferried to and fro across the Douro from the neighbouring Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira in order to bolster the team at Vesuvio whenever necessary. Due to the hard work of the property’s team all the vines below 300 meters were harvested within ten days, leaving only a small amount of later ripening grapes at the higher altitudes to be picked after the rains.

Ultimately the bad weather did not affect the vineyards of Quinta do Vesuvio as severely as was expected and less than half the rain that fell at Pinhão was recorded at the quinta during September. The earlier ripening varieties of Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet and Tinta Barroca which were picked before the rain produced exceptional wines, and combined with some of the later picked, smaller parcels of Touriga Franca and Sousão, they make up the Quinta do Vesuvio 2013 Vintage Port.

The Year
After two very dry years, the winter of 2012/2013 saw a welcome return to the wet winters typical of the region. March was one of the wettest on record, with over 176mm of rain falling during the course of the month, damaging terraces and farm
roads throughout the Douro. Apart from these erosion problems, the heavy rain was welcome as it created large water reserves in the subsoil that would be necessary in the long, dry months to come.

Spring was cool, and by the beginning of June it was clear that although the vines were in excellent conditions at Vesuvio, their development was at least ten days behind normal. This fact was compounded by an extremely dry June, July and August in which an insignificant 10mm of rainfall was registered in the entire 12 week period. After a long wait, 12mm of rain fell on the 5th of September, arriving just as signs of hydric stress were becoming apparent in the vineyards. This well-timed rainfall ensured that when the vintage began 12 days later, the grapes were in beautiful condition.

The Wine
Due to the weather conditions during the 2013 vintage, selection was absolutely rigorous and only thirteen pipes of the very finest lagar fermented Port were bottled in the following quantities:
1,500 Cases (6 x 75cl)
120 Magnums (1.5 litre)
42 Double Magnums (3 litre)
18 Imperials (6 litre)

The Quinta do Vesuvio 2013 Single Quinta Vintage is an intense wine with floral, blackcurrant, and cassis notes and a powerful and attractive aroma arising from the predominance of Touriga Nacional combined with Alicante Bouschet. The presence of Touriga Franca and Sousão also adds complexity and spice. This Vesuvio is full-bodied, with long firm tannins and a powerful palate; it will age superbly for decades.

Quinta do Vesuvio
First mentioned in historical documents in 1565, Quinta do Vesuvio is inseparable from the history of wine production in the Douro Valley. One of the most famous quintas in the region, it possesses an incredible terroir that brings together the ideal conditions for the production of consistently superb wines and all its Ports are made in the traditional way by foot-treading in the granite lagares.

2013 Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port
The Ten Day Vintage
On the 17th of September, after weeks of carefully assessing the maturity of the grapes at Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, Charles Symington decided to begin harvesting. However, only hours later his carefully designed picking schedule had to be changed due to the long-range weather forecast suddenly predicting the arrival of a storm front in ten days time. The vineyard workers were asked to stop picking the plots containing Alicante Bouschet and Tinta Barroca and to refocus their efforts on the larger Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and Vinha Velha (old vine) vineyards.

For the next ten days everyone at the quinta worked against the clock. When possible pickers from the family owned Quinta do Vesuvio, located on the opposing bank of the Douro River, were ferried across to help, and as the pickers toiled steadily under the warm autumn sun, those in the winery worked hard to make sure that the lagares could accommodate all the grapes coming in from the vineyard. By the end of the tenth day it became apparent that the vintage had been completed just in time, and as if to reward the efforts of everyone involved, the resulting wine is one of the best that Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira has ever produced.

On the 27th of September the dark clouds of the predicted Atlantic rainstorm rumbled overhead as the pickers brought the last of the grapes from the quinta’s 18 hectares of vineyard into the winery. More rain fell that night and in the following day than in the previous three months (18.5mm), and had picking been delayed by even a day, a significant portion of these grapes would have lost precious quality.

The Year
After two years of drought, 2012/2013 saw the return of a typical wet Douro winter. March then had the heaviest rainfall for 12 years (176mm), experiencing more than three times the median rainfall over the course of the month. This however had no adverse effect on the vines and only served to prepare the vineyards for the hot summer to come. Usually, the south-facing orientation of this quinta privileges its vineyards with early maturing grapes, however, this year the spring was cool (almost 2°C less than average), and meant that the vines development fell somewhat behind. However, in the vineyards of the Douro Valley this is not a problem, and all things considered, the vines looked extremely healthy going into
the summer.

After such a wet winter and cold spring, June, July and August saw little rainfall, testing the resilience of the Douro Valley’s well-adapted grape varieties. Although they struggled, by the end of August the vines exhibited dark green foliage and fine looking bunches. Well-timed rain on the 5th of September brought welcome relief to the vines, and to take advantage of this late rainfall, and because of the vines slow development during the year, the vintage took place a little later than usual.

The Wine
Due to the weather conditions during the 2013 vintage, selection was absolutely rigorous and only eight pipes of the very finest lagar fermented Port were bottled in the following quantities:
900 Cases (6 x 75cl)
180 Magnums (1.5 litre)
36 Double Magnums (3 litre)
6 Imperials (6 litre)
Made from handpicked grapes that went from vine to lagar in less than 40 minutes throughout the harvest, this wine is made up of the finest 5% of Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira’s total production. Resulting from a jointly fermented lagar of Sousão, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, this wine is extraordinary and stands out from previous Vintage Ports from this quinta, while still giving the fresh floral violet notes that so perfectly express the essence of this vineyard’s terroir. In the opinion of Manuel Rocha, a 4th generation wine taster in the tasting rooms of Vila Nova de Gaia, this is the best Single Quinta Vintage ever made at the estate, rivalling even the inaugural 1998 Vintage, the first made after the Symington
family’s reacquisition of this quinta in the same year.

With an opaque purple colour, the 2013 Senhora Ribeira Vintage reveals lifted floral aromas of esteva (rock-rose) and violet thanks to the traditional Douro grape varieties Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, with Sousão adding spice and fine acidity. This is a full-bodied wine, with excellent dark fruit flavours and a firm tannic backbone that on the palate clearly demonstrates Dow’s signature drier style.

Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira
One of the most beautiful quintas of the Douro Superior, Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira was acquired by Dow’s in 1890 but sadly had to be sold in 1953. However, since the 4th generation of the Symington family bought back this unique vineyard in 1998 it has been an essential part of the great Dow’s Vintage Ports. Situated on the north bank of the Douro, it marks the location of an ancient river crossing point and is named after the small chapel of Our Lady of the River, where in the past travellers would stop to pray before continuing their journeys.
Top Ports in 2019: Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
Top Ports in 2020 (so far): Croft 1945 and Niepoort VV (1960s bottling)

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