Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

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Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Derek T.     » Wed Jun 02, 2010 8:32 am

This thread made me wonder whether or not the concept of a General Declaration is still relevant in a world where we see 70+ vintage ports produced from 2007 and will no doubt see a significant number of 2008s being produced by the smaller producers as well as the big boys single quinta and second-string blends. In the good old days it was fairly straighforward to identify general declarations as there were fewer shippers and in most years "most" would either declare or not. I seem to recall 25 shippers as being used as a benchmark for determining whether or not it was considered a declared vintage.

But what happens if we see 40 VPs from 2008, none of which are the premium blends of the to 10-15 houses?

Who sets the rules on whether or not a vintage is generally declared?
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Glenn E.     » Wed Jun 02, 2010 9:40 am

Derek T. wrote:Who sets the rules on whether or not a vintage is generally declared?

My guess (and it is 100% just a guess) is that no such "rules" exist. I suspect that the concept of a "generally declared" vintage is a rule of thumb, not an actual defined term, so it means whatever the most people think it means.

In order to keep the meaning reasonably stable over time, I'd say that for a vintage to be considered "generally declared" that most of the large and traditional Port producers must declare their primary label(s). If neither TFP nor SFE declares a vintage, for example, it's not generally declared no matter how many small producers make a vintage Port that year. You just can't have a generally declared vintage if none of Croft, Dow, Fonseca, Gould Campbell, Graham, Smith Woodhouse, Taylor, Vesuvio, or Warre are declared. (I'd say that Croft, GC, and SW aren't as important as the others, but they're still relevant to the definition.)
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby oscarquevedo     » Wed Jun 02, 2010 10:21 am

Glenn E. wrote:If neither TFP nor SFE declares a vintage, for example, it's not generally declared no matter how many small producers make a vintage Port that year. You just can't have a generally declared vintage if none of Croft, Dow, Fonseca, Gould Campbell, Graham, Smith Woodhouse, Taylor, Vesuvio, or Warre are declared. (I'd say that Croft, GC, and SW aren't as important as the others, but they're still relevant to the definition.)


This is so true Glenn :lol: I don't know what Generally Declared Vintage is but it most be related to the Confraria and specially SFE and TFP vintage port declarations!
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Tom Archer » Wed Jun 02, 2010 11:03 am

My take is that a Generally Declared Vintage is one where all the members of the Factory House are in agreement that the vintage be declared.

With so many players seeking to produce vintage ports in undeclared years, that tradition is under great strain; and the Factory House membership no longer wields the power it once did.

In particular, the aversion to consecutive declarations, and also to a two year gap following a sound unsplit declaration; leaves the traditional blends at risk of being outflanked.

The shippers have always been rather good at both talking up the years they want to declare, and talking down good years that are inconveniently timed; but the competiton from the independants, aided by the enhanced communication afforded by the internet; means that words alone will no longer convince..

In the last decade we have seen a declarable and possibly very good year passed over in the form of 2005. More recently, 2009 is not a year wanted for declaration, but given the climate that prevailed, it is very hard to believe that some superb wines have not been made.

2010 may serve to either break or preserve the old order. Despite the economic uncertainties, I am in little doubt that it is badly wanted as a year that can be declared. If it delivers, then the strain on the system will be eased, but if the unsettled weather that has plagued Portugal this year continues, and the vintage fails to make the grade, what then?

Do the shippers sit back and hope that 2011 will be better, while the independants launch their 2009's - possibly to public acclaim?

- Or do they tear up the rule book, and allow themselves a fourth declaration of the naughties?

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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Roy Hersh     » Wed Jun 02, 2010 11:38 pm

This is going to be a great thread. Thanks Derek! [cheers.gif]

Glenn wrote:
My guess (and it is 100% just a guess) is that no such "rules" exist. I suspect that the concept of a "generally declared" vintage is a rule of thumb, not an actual defined term, so it means whatever the most people think it means.


Brilliant guesswork, as this is exactly my understanding.



Tom wrote:
My take is that a Generally Declared Vintage is one where all the members of the Factory House are in agreement that the vintage be declared.

With so many players seeking to produce vintage ports in undeclared years, that tradition is under great strain; and the Factory House membership no longer wields the power it once did.



The Factory House has not lost power. Afterall, the members include officers of TFP and SFE (and Johnny Graham of Churchill as well) ... and as was questioned by Frederick ... if they both don't participate, game over. Show me one generally declared vintage where neither of those firms participated.

Q: Do you want to know what The Factory House (TFH) has lost?
A: Members. Between insolvency that lead to sales of companies to other members or from another viewpoint, a "non-member company" and some that went out of business altogether; a once vibrant British Port community is now down to 3 member companies who can participate (along with their guests) at TFH events. When I first was invited to TFH sixteen years ago, there were nearly two dozen members around the table for that Wed. afternoon luncheon.

Now back to generally declared vintages. I will still ask Frederick's question, because I believe it will stimulate a great discussion and I thank Derek, as well as Fred for bringing the point up.

Derek's other point about the relevance of even having a "system" where generally declared vintages matter, is a good one. As I don't believe there is any regulation or official system in place ... whether by agreement or decree ... it is a moot point. Declarations are made on a company by company basis and of course inter-company discussions do take place, but what is perceived as a generally declared vintage is not determined by any discussion within the Port trade, from my understanding of how it takes place, nor decided on by the IVDP.

Ergo, Frederick's question begs an answer. Without both TFP & SFE declaring, we know there are no generally declarations, right? Hmm. What about 1931 ... neither SFE or TFP declared, but isn't 1931 considered a generally declared year? Fun questions to ponder. Afterall, we do know for sure, that if one or the other of those two does declare, it can then be "considered" a general declaration. Both sides of a "split declaration" are also considered generally declared.

More to follow as Tom brings up some excellent points as well.
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Roy Hersh     » Thu Jun 03, 2010 12:39 am

[notworthy.gif] Tom, please know that what follows below is just a mere discussion and neither viewpoint is right or wrong, just our own opinions. It will make for an interesting read (at worst) and a great dialogue (at best) ... [friends.gif] [cheers.gif]


Tom wrote:
In the last decade we have seen a declarable and possibly very good year passed over in the form of 2005. More recently, 2009 is not a year wanted for declaration, but given the climate that prevailed, it is very hard to believe that some superb wines have not been made.


2005 was passed over, but was it any better than a year like 1987?
2000/2003/2007 will remain as the three generally declared vintages of the decade, in my take on things. We know for sure that 2009 won't be declared and after tasting a dozen 2008's so far, I believe the right decision was made with 2007's being declared instead.

That said, there are some pretty terrific 2008's and I've only had a dozen so far, some of which will certainly be met with fanfare by the serious Port consuming geeks like us; while all but ignored by the mainstream Port buyer ("investor/collector"). As for 2009, we'll just have to wait and see after we get a chance to taste them Tom. I too hope they're great. [shrug.gif]

It would be refreshing to see great Ports declared by those companies that feel they have the two requirements for making VP:
a. the quantity of grapes to make enough Port for the marketplace and back up stock
b. the quality within those grapes

Tom wrote:
2010 may serve to either break or preserve the old order. Despite the economic uncertainties, I am in little doubt that it is badly wanted as a year that can be declared. If it delivers, then the strain on the system will be eased, but if the unsettled weather that has plagued Portugal this year continues, and the vintage fails to make the grade, what then?


Then maybe 2011 will be declared; the same way 1991 was :yumyum: -- and 1990 wasn't. :snooty:


Tom wrote:
Do the shippers sit back and hope that 2011 will be better, while the independants launch their 2009's - possibly to public acclaim?


If 2010 winds up not good enough, then the trade will look to the next great year whether that is 2011 or 2012 or 2013. There have been long stretches in rather recent times; for example 1985-1991. Sure many of us know that 1987 was good enough for a full on declaration. But we know the reasons why it wasn't, too. So based on market conditions, sometimes companies wait to declare when times are bad, but grapes are good (2007 declared in 2009 is a simple and pure example of this). I think you are putting too much stock into the theory that 2010 is a make or break year, for the old order. If nothing else, the Port trade has shown its resilience which you are not giving it credit for.

The Port trade has endured over the course of 4+ centuries. :scholar: It has survived through:

a. War(s)
b. Revolution(s)
c. The reign of the Marques de Pombal
d. Several deep financial depressions and many more modest economic downturns too
e. Phylloxera
f. The Casa do Douro
g. Several major and a few minor landscape changing acquisitions throughout history as well as some important ones in more recent times
h. All of the above

If 2009 winds up with
"independents launch their 2009's - possibly to public acclaim"
that is a beautiful thing for the Port trade. They are still going to sell Port. The majors will sell their 2nd labels and/or SQVPs and the independents will sell their VPs as well. Bully for everyone. :clap:

Do you think that the vast majority of Port consumers have .1% of the awareness about Port declarations that you do? They will buy what they can afford and what they either try for themselves and like ... or hear from those they respect, which IS the next great vintage. I am not sure why you have such a pessimistic view in this regard?

To your last point ...

Tom wrote:

- Or do they tear up the rule book, and allow themselves a fourth declaration of the naughties?


That will depend on what is deemed to be the next great vintage. 2009 ... very unlikely. 2010-2013+ ... we can only wait and see how these harvest years turn out. So I don't see the rule book being torn up over 2009s ... and yes, you can say that would be a "market driven" decision ... unless, the quality is undeniable in the grapes. However, that was not the vibe I got whilst there during the harvest last year or even while there last month. I understand that the weather was favorable, but we know that doesn't always make the difference. So look to the future.

The future is an uncertainty for the Port trade, like any business these days. But based on past performance in dealing with crises, those that have regulated and ruled over the trade, plus the events delineated above ... I am willing to gamble, that the Port trade will be here long after you and I are long gone. :wink:



I love when other folks start new threads, especially when they are as original as this one. Thanks again Derek! :thumbsup:
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Derek T.     » Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:43 am

Perhaps I should have titled this thread "Light the blue touch-paper and stand well back!" :lol:

I share the view that the concept of a general declaration relies on one, other or both of the SFE/TFP groups declaring their principle blends, regardless of what the smaller groups and independants do. For me this makes the description "General" dubious and, for the uninitiated, potentially misleading. However, I believe it is the wine press that are the promoters of that term rather than the producers or the IVDP so it will live on as long as people write the words in magazines and on websites.

I think the approach SFE have taken, whether by design or otherwise, in having a mixture of true Single Quintas (such as Vesuvio and Roriz) plus the major brands like Graham, Dow and Warre provides them with the best of both worlds in that they can declare the top wine of some of their brands in almost every year and save the big guns for when truely outstanding quality or other factors demands a full declaration. TFP don't have that mix at the moment, but I wonder how long it will be before we see Quinta de Eira Velha or some other newly acquired property follow the Vesuvio example?
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Derek T.     » Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:47 am

Roy Hersh wrote: The Port trade has endured over the course of 4+ centuries. :scholar: It has survived through:

a. War(s)
b. Revolution(s)
c. The reign of the Marques de Pombal
d. Several deep financial depressions and many more modest economic downturns too
e. Phylloxera
f. The Casa do Douro
g. Several major and a few minor landscape changing acquisitions throughout history as well as some important ones in more recent times
h. All of the above

That's a good list. But will they survive in the hostile environment of internet Port Forums and Wine Blogs? [shok.gif] [bye2.gif] :lol:
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Tom Archer » Fri Jun 04, 2010 3:01 am

That's a good list. But will they survive in the hostile environment of internet Port Forums and Wine Blogs?


Good question.

Survive, yes, but not without change. The port industry has changed a great deal over the years, although most of it has been gradual.

What has to change is the increasingly transparent spectacle of talking up years that are wanted for declaration, while talking down those that are not. You can argue that hardly anyone will notice, but that's akin to saying that no-one will bother to count the lifeboats on the Titanic..

With the growing profile of the independants, and the increasing amount of information in the public domain, this idiosyncrasy of the old school is dangerously anachronistic now.

Even in an industry as staid as the port trade, it does not pay to be behind the curve.

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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Peter W. Meek     » Fri Jun 04, 2010 6:15 am

Great topic!

I'm sure that every upheaval in Roy's list (including repeats) was seen as "the end of the world" for the port trade at the time. I expect that "the hostile environment of internet Port Forums and Wine Blogs" is just as bad today. From today's perspective the changes caused by "the list" may have seemed gradual, but I bet the people of the day didn't think so. Depending on when they realized the changes were going to be a new way of doing business rather than a hiccup, I expect the feeling was more like, "What just happened? It wasn't like this yesterday." The ones who realized early (ahead of the curve) probably had an advantage for a few years or decades, but all survivors eventually got back on track. I expect the slow ones mostly survived - it probably took a late realization combined with OTHER management problems to drive a house under. That will probably continue to be true.
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Roy Hersh     » Fri Jun 04, 2010 8:46 am

Tom, when you mention "independants" are you talking about any Port company that is not TFP or SFE, or do you mean any Port company that is not part of the "Big 5" or what? I just want to make sure we're clear as to your
meaning
for independent companies.
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Tom Archer » Fri Jun 04, 2010 9:50 am

when you mention "independants" are you talking about any Port company that is not TFP or SFE, or do you mean any Port company that is not part of the "Big 5" or what? I just want to make sure we're clear as to your


Essentially, those companies that were liberated by the law of June '86, thereby allowing them to ship directly without the use of the entreposto at Gaia - i.e. Infantado, Crasto, de la Rosa etc..

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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Dorene H.     » Sat Jun 05, 2010 11:53 am

Wow, you guys are serious Port nuts. :mrgreen:
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Peter W. Meek     » Sat Jun 05, 2010 10:32 pm

Dorene H. wrote:Wow, you guys are serious Port nuts. :mrgreen:


Ahem! This had escaped your notice?????
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Roy Hersh     » Sun Jun 06, 2010 10:44 am

Peter,

That was my wife ... being "funny" ... [foilhat.gif]
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Peter W. Meek     » Sun Jun 06, 2010 10:57 am

Peter W. Meek wrote:Ahem! This had escaped your notice?????


That was me being funny.

I sometimes wonder if my humor is a bit dry. I thought the multiple question marks would give it away, but I guess not.

(That was me being funny, again.)

I suppose I could use smileys like everyone else. :lol: :lol: :lol:

And I knew it was Dorene. (She used her real name.) :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Frederick Blais     » Sun Jun 06, 2010 6:14 pm

Jumpig in late.... Recently when IVDP organized a tasting in Montreal, they said to the attendees that a generally declared Vintage would be "one that at least 50%+1 of the houses would declare".

So the question mostly to ask... With what TFP and Symington's are owning, can there be a majority if they don't declare :)

I think 1931 is kept in the vintage chart record mostly for auction purposes and Noval reputation. Richard Mayson report in his book that 1931 "is almost certainly the best year never to have been fully declared"
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Derek T.     » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:56 am

Frederick Blais wrote:Jumpig in late.... Recently when IVDP organized a tasting in Montreal, they said to the attendees that a generally declared Vintage would be "one that at least 50%+1 of the houses would declare".

So the question mostly to ask... With what TFP and Symington's are owning, can there be a majority if they don't declare :)

That is an interesting position for the IVDP to take. As far as I am aware TFP produced 3 VPs in 2007 and SFE produced 9. That is only 12 wines out of a potential 70+ "houses". Does this really mean that if TFP and SFE declared nothing, not even their single quintas, a General Declaration would be recognised by the IVDP if around 36 smaller producers released a VP? [shrug.gif]
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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Derek T.     » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:09 am

Tom Archer wrote:What has to change is the increasingly transparent spectacle of talking up years that are wanted for declaration, while talking down those that are not. You can argue that hardly anyone will notice, but that's akin to saying that no-one will bother to count the lifeboats on the Titanic..

Tom,

Do you really believe that in the times we live in Marketing Executives in any industry will somehow change to a new style of purely factual and objective communication?

In all industries the men and women in the "creative department" will craft words to make us believe what they need us to believe for the good of their product and their balance sheet. It just isn't going to change. 99.9999% of the port buying public do not spend their days and nights wondering what temperature is was or how much rain fell in the last week of September each year or the miriad of other factors that culminate in a good or bad vintage. If the shippers tell the world that a year was good enough to present their single quinta wines and nothing more they will be believed and, in the vast majority of instances I suspect it will be entirely true. Once in a while there will be a year that could have been great but other factors conspire against it so it isn't "declared". I'm not sure what purpose would be served by a shipper announcing that they had decided to producer a lesser wine in a great year because their Finance Director wouldn't let them! Commercial reality is what it is, but not many companies in the world feel the need to expain their boardroom decisions in their marketing material.

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Re: Definition of a "Generally Declared Vintage"

Postby Tom Archer » Tue Jun 08, 2010 6:27 am

Do you really believe that in the times we live in Marketing Executives in any industry will somehow change to a new style of purely factual and objective communication?


Not at all, and in the case of the wine trade, they've been selling mutton as lamb since time began.

My issue is that the port trade is the only wine region that briefs against its own vintages, when the timing is awkward.

Not long ago, the flow of information from the Douro was almost entirely confined to the edicts of the shippers, and not long before that, the growers were legally obliged to sell their wines to the men from Gaia.

Things have moved on since then, and the declaration system, as it has existed since the arrival of Phylloxera; can no longer be protected by the stranglehold that was once exerted by the Factory House.

The change needed is not radical, but it is significant. There is no pressing need for back to back declarations, as the time interval between harvest and declaration means that the best of two years can always be selected. It is the aversion to a two year interval (unless they feel the need to show unity following a split or poor call) that is conspicuous.

A couple of years ago, I analysed all the declarations over the last century to determine the statistical proportion that were declarable under the current regime. My conclusion from that exercise was that while three years in every ten are declared, only three (on average) are too poor to be refused, leaving four declarable years passed over.

If the aversion to a two year intervals were lifted, the benchmark for a declarable year could be raised dramatically, so much so that the proportion of years that needed to be declarable would drop from 70% to near 40%. Yes, this would make the pattern of the declaration cycle a little less smooth, but it would avoid the embarassment of passing fine years that the independants declare, and also raise the quality bar for Vintage Port.

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