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Portugal: A Missed Chance at Greatness
By Julia Mann
Due to prolonged spells of rainfall during the harvest, Port producers narrowly missed their chance to make outstanding wines in 1999.
"The general consensus is that, if the rain hadn't come, it would have been an outstanding year," said Cristiano Van Zeller, who makes wines and Ports at various estates, including Quinta do Vale Dona Maria and Quinta do Crasto.
The weather throughout the growing cycle was very favorable for the vines. A cold and dry winter led to a later-than-usual bud burst in the Douro Valley, and wet weather in the spring delayed the flowering until May. The region then enjoyed almost no rain in June and July. A timely bout of rain in early August was welcomed, as it allowed the grapes to ripen well and reach their full maturity levels. From mid-August until mid-September, sunshine and hot, dry weather returned to the Douro. Then rain hit around September 17 and continued on and off for the following three weeks.
"The big secret for '99 is the upper quintas that ripened earlier and so were picked before the rains -- the grapes are fantastic," said Rupert Symington, whose family owns such well-known Port houses as Dow, Graham and Warre. "Afterward, the grapes were affected by the rain. Any rain during vintage time is bad news, and we had lots of it. We have reasonable to good wines with fantastic maturity before the rain."
Thanks to careful selection in the vineyard, some producers are nevertheless pleased with the results. "It was a difficult harvest because of the rain, but in our case the quality is extremely good in all the categories -- white, red and Port," said Dirk van der Niepoort, who runs his family's Port business. "The wines are not very aromatic, but are very, very tannic and some of the most colorful wines I have seen. The higher vineyards at 980 to 1,300 feet had a lot of rot, but the very good vineyards for Port did not have so much rot."
The rain also meant that yields are higher than last year. "We have average yields, at least on the level of '97 and in some areas a little more," said Van Zeller. Added Symington, "It is a big harvest, which is much needed by the Port trade at present." The producers need to replenish their stocks of rubies and tawnies, as wine volumes were drastically reduced in 1998 and were not that abundant in previous years.
Van Zeller concluded, "It is a mixed year, with some very good wines and some very bad wines. There is a wide spread, which is unusual."
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