Welcome to our inaugural Q&A session! With nearly 100 emails sent out to the Port trade, this is our first response to our Question for the Port Trade and we learn more about the 1975 Vintage declaration from a pair of industry leaders. In addition, the new question for March is posted for the trade to respond to.
I felt it would provide a unique opportunity for the Port loving community to come a little bit closer to the members of the Port trade, which has been reluctant to interact directly on the FTLOP Forum. It is my hope that in the coming months, the gatekeepers of the Port industry, which we support, will step up and lend a hand here. But enough of my editorializing at this point. Here is the original question:
Why did the 1975 Vintage Port get declared?
The majority of Port collectors have read stories in books and articles about the 1975 vintage. The prevailing theory about why that vintage was declared, revolves around the Revolution of 1974 and the fear in the trade that the vineyards (if not their companies) would be nationalized. There are those that think otherwise and it would be great for the members of the trade to provide us with their knowledge of why that specific harvest’s grapes became Vintage Port. I look forward to your emails and hope you will take a few minutes to respond.
With only two submissions this month, I am going to include the emails directly, instead of creating an entire article incorporating many different views as I had planned. I hope this will be the only time you’ll see verbatim, what was sent to me.
Adrian Bridge, Managing Director of The Fladgate Partnership, responded to the question above. He also consulted with company directors Huyshe Bower and Nick Heath to provide a broader perspective. Mr. Bower has been in the trade for many decades as has Mr. Heath who worked for Sandeman during the period of the Portuguese Revolution and the 1975 harvest. here's his reply:
You are asking an interesting and complicated question with this first one to the trade. The 1975’s were good wines and some are still drinking well (Taylor, Graham ...). They have mostly lost colour but no more so than the 1980’s.
The background of the declaration is complicated and is often simplified to the Revolution. However, you must remember that the revolution had been concluded by the time of the 1975 harvest and certainly was becoming a memory by the time that the 1975’s were declared in 1977. That said the context of the Revolution is important because there had been a proposal to nationalise the industry which was defeated – what better way to make a statement that you are still in business than to declare a vintage.
The 1973 and 1974 harvests had been tainted by the C14 scandal where the spirit supplied by the Portuguese Government had been distilled from coal and the ports of that year were withdrawn from a number of markets. However, neither the 1973 nor 1974 were great years and certainly the 1975 was considered by the trade to be a much better wine. The 1976 was made by many as a single quinta although the Guimaraens 1976 does suggest what great quality could be made in that year. The 1977 came along after the 1975’s had been declared but some of the 1977’s have now also proved themselves as light.
In my mind the 1975 is the sort of year when the trade is sorted out. The great houses produced vintage Ports of a quality that are still able to be enjoyed – the same happened in 1976 and 1977 (and in subsequent years). Perhaps we can describe the 1975 vintage as one of the first years who produced was more important than the year. There has always been a tendency to talk about the year rather than the producer when it comes to Port yet this is not the approach taken in Bordeaux for example - the lesser years of first growths have always demanded more than the lesser chateaux in the best years.
As you will be putting together an article from the responses that you get I am happy to answer any questions you might have on the above.
Rupert Symington, Joint Managing Director of the Symington Family Estates also generously took the time to respond to this month’s question, with the insights that other members of his family provided.
While at the age of 13 I wasn’t party to the declaration decision, I confirm from Peter and my father that the ’75 wines were absolutely excellent and certainly Vintage-worthy when bottled in ’77, and much superior to the 74’s and 76’s against which they were judged in turn. (’74 was a massive year for yields by all accounts and ’76 a wet vintage – see The Vintage Port Site for notes from the Bomfim visitor’s book)
It should be noted that after the great ’70, ‘71 was rather poor, ’72 was upset by the brandy scandal, and ’73 and ’74 were not considered great years in the Douro. Whereas ’75 was perfect.
One important point - our declaration of the ’75 had nothing whatsoever to do with the Revolution. I don’t understand where this prevailing theory comes from! Presumably it would have been much more logical, if we feared being taken over, not to have declared. Unless the wine was top notch, why on earth would we want to be stockpiling wines in bottle and tying up money, when Portuguese companies were being nationalized left, right and centre and our own future in Portugal as ‘foreign nationals’ was becoming extremely uncertain ?
Much better I think to look back to when the wines were actually made to assess how the Douro was affected by ‘post-Revolutionary’ activity…and how the Symington family dealt with the problem responsibly.
'The weeks leading up to the 1975 Vintage were dominated by the continuous political crisis in Lisbon, the recession in Port exports and farmers' fears that they would be unable to find production facilities or storage space for their wines, for most of their 1974 "consumo" was still lying in the Douro unsold ... these last 10 years or 15 ... farmers have run down their own production facilities and sold off their vats, so that in the general uncertain atmosphere, near-panic swept the Douro as many found they would be left with nobody to make their wines.'
'In the event ... here at Bomfim we announced we would make "for their own account" the wines of all farmers who found themselves in difficulties, with priority to those from whom we had bought in 1974 ... This offer of ours was very well received locally and many hundreds of pipes of grapes were handed in.'
'Musts everywhere showed excellent colour, body and flavour...fermentations were at an excellent 23-26 degrees. The quality of the grapes coming in was uniformly high and the continuous hot weather increased the graduations...some outstanding and maybe even "Vintage-worthy" red ports have been produced.'
Comments by Michael D Symington, 28 October 1975
One of the joys of our business is that the decision to bottle Vintage Port is always based on the wine and not the economic circumstances, otherwise we would not be enjoying great wines from the 50’s and 60’s today. What we cannot predict accurately is how wines will evolve once bottled, this again is part of the fun! Personally I feel that, while the ‘75s have not turned out to be as big and powerful as some declared years, the best wines (which include Dow, Graham and Warre) are very attractive, well balanced and elegant wines. And still quite inexpensive!
We must all remember that these wines are now over 30 years old, yet they are still extremely enjoyable to drink despite perhaps having a lighter colour than the ‘70’s or ‘77’s.
I hope this helps,
My sincere thanks to Adrian Bridge and Rupert Symington, two of the true leaders of the Port trade and family members of two of the most respected names in all of Portuguese commerce!Without their response, my first Questions for the Port Trade would have been a dismal failure, so please know that the thousands of readers of this newsletter also thank you both for taking the time. I will say that it will now be my mission to keep more of an open mind and revisit some of the 1975 Vintage Ports and look at them more for their elegant styles, given the conditions of the vintage itself. We don’t see much of this vintage in the USA, so maybe next time I am in Portugal, I’ll be able to find a few bottles there to review for FTLOP.
NEXT MONTH’S QUESTION FOR THE TRADE (for March 2007):
Each month one question is selected either from an email or the FTLOP Forum.
From: Axel Probst of Cologne, Germany:
Is it better to buy LBVs from declared or non-declared years?
Background: In declared years, especially in fully declared years all "the good stuff" turns to be Vintage Port. The harvest might have been better, but the good grapes won’t make it to the LBV. In non-declared years, the harvest and the quality of grapes might be not as good, but the best grapes are then becoming LBVs (and Tawnies). What do you think about it?
The response from the Port industry will appear here in the next issue of FTLOP