Originally a "thread" on the FTLOP Forum, led to this becoming a blog entry.
I was thinking about creating a different kind of FTLOP Forum thread. Not just one to get people to read, but one to get people to think … and then respond. This is the kind that I would hope will unearth a “lurker” or two to participate in, just because they felt they had something really important to add. I don’t care if it is controversial and goes against the tide of our collective Port wisdom.
I am hoping that this is the kind of thread that will have people really measuring their responses before posting them. In doing so, we can keep the discussion going for longer than the typical couple of days; the normal lifespan of a Port thread.
If I had to come up with one word to sum up the past four centuries of history of Port wine, it would be “Tradition.” I am sure there may be better choices out there, but, that is mine. Moreover, in looking at changes in the Port trade, (and this has nothing to do with the “trade” itself, in particular) it is my belief, that there have been more significant improvements in Port wine over the past three to four decades than the combined past three to four centuries!
That notion in itself can certainly be challenged, yet it is just one man’s opinion. Consider viticultural and associated improvements up in the Douro Valley. We’ve seen the use of new planting methods (Patamares and Vinha ao alto), the beginnings of mechanization, the move to lighter weight containers for transferring the grapes from the vineyard to the winery and with greater sanitization, a better understanding of clonal and site selection, bloc plantings by variety, rootstock experimentation, the introduction of the new style of patamares and vinha ao alto versus socalcos of the past and many, many more.
In the winemaking and storage of Port arena, we have also seen some pretty significant changes. From the move away from the use of lagares to autovinification and remontagem, then back to lagares and nowadays the utilization of robotic plunger tanks and mechanized treading machines, to the vastly improved quality of aguardente. Simple things like temperature controlled fermentation is certainly a monumental development, the understanding of wood grains and of course hygienic high speed bottling lines, and better control of corks … I could go on and on.
However we should not overlook the role that government or regulatory groups and associations have played in the big scheme of Port wine. More and or less regulation, changes in the Port categories and a plethora of others that we can delve into, all are important in the grand scheme of things. Now that you have a broader picture of what is to be considered, I will come back full circle to the question that is up for discussion in this thread:
You can only choose one dynamic to focus on. In your opinion, what is the single most important change or improvement in Port wine history?
Please take your time in considering your response. You can look back and choose something significant even from the 17th or 18th centuries, if you would like. Or, it can be a much more current dynamic, if you believe that answers the question. But your post most focus on just one.
There is just one last catch: FORTIFICATION – this is what I like to call “low hanging fruit” and therefore, the topic of adding grape neutral spirit to fermenting grape must, is taken off the table, per se, as this is way too obvious as a history changing moment for Port wine. The good news is that you can choose anything else you can come up with! Come visit the FTLOP Port Forum on this website and please feel free to add your two cents or at least, enjoy the read!