This month’s Question For The Port Trade came from Montreal, Canada where serious Port enthusiast Frederick Blais has come up with this question. He will be joining us on this year's Port Harvest Tour too. As it seems there is no IVDP regulation as to what constitutes a general declaration, it seems like a very fair question to ask:
Q: Does either the Fladgate Partnership and/or the Symington Family Estates need to "declare" in order for a specific Port vintage to be considered a general declaration?
From Adrian Bridge, CEO, The Fladgate Partnership:
The process of declaring a vintage is an individual decision of each company. The weather conditions that lead to a declaration tend to be common to all growers in one area rather than specific to a single property. As we have a significant ownership of vineyards in several of the best parts of the Douro valley, as do the Symington family, the performance of our vineyards are a good barometer of the overall quality of the harvest.
However, I believe that the question is more focused on the marketability of a new Vintage Port rather than whether a declaration should be made. The reason that brands like Taylor and Fonseca have achieved a level of recognition as the 1st growths of the Port industry is because of the consistent quality that they produce. Croft has also returned to this level in recent years. The Symington family also focuses on producing top quality vintage port.
Based on these two points, if neither our group nor the Symington's were to make a Vintage Port in a year when other newer producers had made one, the market would raise questions as to the overall quality of the Vintage Ports. Under these circumstances it would be hard to see how a year could be described as a 'General Declaration'.
It is worth remembering that when we submit a new Vintage Port to the IVDP they are being asked to approve if it is in the style of a vintage rather than any specific comment on its quality. As such a 'General Declaration' is an abstract concept rather than a regulator making a quality statement.
From Dirk Niepoort, Proprietor, Niepoort Vinhos:
Basically it has nothing to do with either Taylor’s or the Symington’s declaring. A general declaration is when “almost” all houses declare.
There is no IVDP regulation about this subject.
From Pedro Branco, Proprietor, Quinta do Portal:
It’s the Confraria do Vinho do Porto and not the IVDP that is entitled to declare a Vintage Port year. A general declaration takes place when most of the producers declare their Vintage Port. There is no rule saying that The Fladgate Partnership and/or Symington Family Estates need to declare for the vintage to be considered a general declaration.
Each winery is free to declare or not their Vintage Port.
From Miguel (Export Sales/Mktg. Dir.) & Tomas Roquette (Port winemaker), Quinta do Crasto:
There is indeed no regulation from the IVDP on what constitutes a general declaration (classic) but the decision of Fladgate Partnership and the Symington family to declare a specific vintage is always very important in this matter. Nevertheless when they decide to declare a classic vintage this decision is always respected once the quality is at the very highest level. So I would say yes, they need to declare for a specific vintage to be considered a general declaration.
For us, as a Single Quinta, we don’t necessarily follow this rule. We simply declare Vintage Port when we believe that the quality is there. It is also important to notice that as a Single Quinta our declarations are always in much smaller quantities compared to the big Port shippers.
From Manuel Ângelo Barros, Proprietor, Quinta Dona Matilde:
Regarding your question about Vintage declaration, there is no need to have either Taylor Fladgate Partnership or the Symington family in the group in order to have a “general declaration.” For instance, 1982 was considered a “general declaration” and none of the referred groups did declare. They declared 1983 instead, which is also on the “general declaration” list from the IVDP.
From Sandra Marques, North America Export Manager, Sogevinus Fine Wines SA:
As far I know, Frederick is correct as to the inexistence of a specific regulation by the IVDP. “General declaration” or “Declared Vintage Year” is just a common expression meaning that overall most houses have decided to declare their Vintage. Although I would like to highlight that for every rule there is an exception and this also applies to Vintage Port.
Due to the Douro Valley’s complex micro-climate, even in years where most Port houses do not declare Vintage Port, one can still find some unique revelations. Either from single Quintas or specific sub-regions blessed by nature, these Vintages present the same quality as the ones released in the so called “Declared Vintage Year.”
From Cristiano van Zeller, Proprietors, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria:
In reality, what happens is that the Wine Trade, being so traditional and focused on the top brands, does not consider a proper fully declared year, or a Declared Year, if the top brands, i.e. the Symingtons and Taylors, who control 6 of the 8/9 top brands (the others being Noval, Niepoort and, if so, Sandeman), do not declare a full house Vintage Port.
Basically we (the market) talk about a Generally Declared Year or Declared Year when this happens and a Non Declared Year when those brands, altogether, do not make a Vintage Port. If these two main houses declare a full house Vintage Port in two different consecutive years (one house one year, the other the other year), we (the market) normally talk about a Split Vintage Port Year (i.e the Vintages of 82/83 and 91/92, for instance).
All in all there is no such thing as any official designation of a Declared Year nor of any of the others. In real terms, there are only Declared Years for each individual house and nothing else. For the top brands these Declared Years coincide with the Generally (“Officially”) Declared Years. It does not work the same way for the smaller or less known brands for the reasons mentioned above.
Confusing? Obviously. It still is confusing for us too.
From Nick Delaforce, Portmaker, Niepoort Vinhos, S.A.:
What Fladgate Partnership and Symington Family Estates do,is difficult to comment on, its really up to them. I would just say that historically the term “general declaration” has been used by the trade and press as an overall indicator of a Vintage Year and happens in a year when nearly all houses declare a Vintage. The IVDP carry out a very important role in quality control of Vintage Port, just as they do for standard Tawny port, but I think it is out of their jurisdiction to to regulate on what constitutes a general declaration and on the subject of declarations, it is worth remembering that it is the independent decision of each House to declare a Vintage Port and never the decision of a Trade Body or the IVDP etc to decide.
From Christian Seely, Managing Director, AXA’s wine properties and Quinta do Noval:
I am not aware of any particular rule about the definition of a general declaration, but my own view is that it is exactly what it says, a Vintage that is generally declared by everyone. Or at least nearly everyone: sometimes there will be one or two producers who don't but this would not be enough to stop it being considered a general declaration. Broadly speaking it is to do with the weather. As we know from the Bible it rains on the just and the unjust, and the same is usually true for Douro Vineyards.
Quinta do Noval has always had a slightly eccentric approach to Vintage Declarations, and indeed the house to a great extent made its name with its declaration of the great 31 Vintage, at a time when most other houses did not declare. We have also not hesitated to declare two years in a row when we have felt the wine merited a declaration as Quinta do Noval: in 1966 and 1967; in 2003 and 2004; and just recently in 2007 and 2008. A Vintage declaration is something which I, like any Port producer, take extremely seriously, and I would only declare a wine as Quinta do Noval if I were certain that it is a great wine worthy of the Quinta do Noval label. In the case of 04 and of 08, neither of them generally declared years, there were just a few lots that were so lovely that I could not resist making a small amount of Quinta do Noval Vintage, though in both cases, the quantities were much smaller than we made in the preceding generally declared Vintages.
From Dominic M. Symington, Director, Symington Family Estates:
Thank you for this question. The simple answer is no, this description has no specified or official definition. In fact the IVDP would almost certainly be more than slightly puzzled by such a question.
The term ‘General Declaration’ is one that has historically and traditionally been used by the Port Producers to describe a year in which the majority of the great Vintage Port houses ‘declare’ a Vintage. It is therefore not an official term but is more an informal description used by the producers themselves when most if not all the major Vintage Port houses declared.
In the past if the historic Port houses such as Graham, Dow, Warre, Taylor, Fonseca, Croft, Cockburn, Noval, Sandeman, Ferreira, Offley etc, all declared, we would refer to the year as a ‘General Declaration’. If one or more of the major Vintage Port houses opted not to declare or to declare the following year, then we would refer to a ‘split vintage’.
This is all part of the history, tradition, interest and fun of the Port Trade and should not need to be classified in some legal document in our view.
A Question for the Port Trade appears in every other FTLOP newsletter, sharing this space with Port Personalities: In Focus. I hope you will email me with pertinent questions that you would like to have answered by the Port Trade, as I prefer interactivity and would like to include YOUR questions too. You can also suggest topics in the FTLOP Forum.