2009 Vintage Declaration: Two Sides of the Coin


Welcome to the first blog dedicated to a Port Vintage!
Posted on April 23, 2011 by 2009VintagePort

Today is St George’s Day, the date on which the historic Port houses of Taylor, Fonseca and Croft traditionally announce whether they will release a new classic vintage port. In other words, whether they have decided to ‘declare’.

The exciting news is that 2009 has been declared by all three houses. Taylor, Fonseca and Croft 2009 Vintage Ports will be bottled in a few weeks time and will be available in the market later in the year. Port enthusiasts and fine wine collectors will be pleased to hear that Taylor’s will also release a small quantity of Vargellas Vinha Velha 2009, the very rare vintage port made from a selection of grapes from the oldest vines at Quinta de Vargellas.

2009 has produced stunning vintage ports. It will be remembered as a year of low yields, resulting from the very dry summer, and this has produced wines of massive scale, with deep inky colour, impressive tannin ‘grip’ and wonderful fruit quality. These are wines built for the long term, like the great iconic vintages of the early 20th century.

Historically vintage declarations have occurred about three times a decade. However nature has been benevolent and given us a succession of four outstanding vintages, 2000, 2003, 2007 and now the exceptional 2009. In over three centuries of making great ports, we have seldom experienced such a sequence of outstanding vintages.

In the weeks to come, our blog will keep you updated with news of the release, provide details of tastings and events featuring the ‘09s, answer your questions and provide advice.

In the meantime you will be able to find plenty of information in our dedicated website, www.2009vintageport.com, such as tasting notes, background on the harvest and details of the historic vineyards which produced these fabulous wines.

I hope that you will find this blog a useful source of information and look forward to your feedback.

Adrian Bridge
CEO, The Fladgate Partnership


NOTE: In an exchange of emails with Paul Symington on the 25th of April, he sent me the following messages and gave me permission to publish his comments …

To answer your question about the 2009’s, we are not declaring a Graham’s, Dow’s or Cockburn’s 2009 Vintage Port.

The harvest report that I wrote at the time is attached, and gives you the full background to this year. My family, with more than 5 generations here in the Douro (13 if you count my great-grandmother), declare a Vintage when we have a truly outstanding wine that will earn the respect of the wine trade and consumers around the world. We will not declare for any other reason.

We are bottling a Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, a Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, a Dow’s Senhora de Ribeira and a Quinta do Vesúvio 2009.

But we are declaring 500 cases of Warre’s 2009 Vintage Port as a special bottling to commemorate 200 years since the Anglo-Portuguese Army under the Duke of Wellington liberated our home city of Oporto (each bottle is numbered). This great wine is in very short supply and many of the cases are already spoken for as we have already shown it at a tasting in London.

Quinta da Cavadinha is a higher and cooler vineyard as you know so produced lovely wines in 2009. The Warre’s 2009 Vintage Port is a truly exceptional wine.

William Warre, born in Oporto in 1784, played a key role in this great battle in 1809 as a Major in the Portuguese wing of the army. We thought it fitting to make a Warre’s 2009.

It is important that you should know that we will be donating £48.00 per case (£4.00 per bottle) on every case sold of the Warre’s 2009 to a charity for the wounded soldiers in Afghanistan.

We feel that Major William Warre, Oporto born and aged just 25 in 2009 when the battle took place, would have appreciated the fact that we are giving away all our profit to the wounded soldiers of today on a wine that is dedicated to a battle he fought in.


On the 12th May 1809 one on the major battles of the Peninsular War took place, the liberation of Oporto by the Anglo-Portuguese army led by the Duke of Wellington. A young officer serving in this army was Major William Warre, who had been born in Oporto into the Port family of the same name in 1784. This 25 year old soldier had been sent north of Oporto on his own to try and prevent the escape of the French army under Marshal Soult. At the Salamonde Bridge on the Cavado river, William Warre together with a small band of local Portuguese volunteer soldiers and farmers built and manned a blockade on this bridge to prevent the retreat of the invading army. In the words of the great Peninsular War historian, Sir Charles Oman; ‘This, unhappily, was not enough to hold back 20,000 desperate men who saw their only way of salvation on the opposite bank’.

For his remarkable bravery at this and many other actions, Warre was awarded the Order of São Bento d’Aviz, Portugal’s highest military honour.

In a follow up commentary Paul Symington, Joint Managing Director, Symington Family Estates wrote:

Do share my comments about the 2009’s. We are led by the vineyards and the wines, no other consideration whatsoever.

We make wines from vineyards in the far eastern ends of the valley at Quinta da Telhada near Vale de Meão, and all the way down to the vineyards in the Rio Torto and Pinhão valleys and beyond, and in several different wineries, large and small and with different teams.

The 2009’s have been tasted many times by us over many months.

A Declaration for us is only about the wines, not about joining a rush for the stage or any other consideration. A declaration is our decision, a family one, and done with all the experience and care of quite a few generations.

As I mentioned above, we declare for one reason only; quality.


This has been a challenging year for the people of the Douro and the vines that they cultivate. Three dry years in succession in a region such as ours complicates the already difficult task of farming mountain vineyards. By the end of September only 285 mm of rain had fallen at Quinta do Bomfim, 40% less than normal. Many neighbouring villages have been with little water, sustained only by tanker deliveries from the volunteer fire brigade. Peoples’ wells and springs were giving the merest trickle of water and the Douro dust was thick on all our farm tracks and covered our vehicles. At Vesuvio the young Touriga Franca that was planted in March had to be watered by hand five times. The Douro is not an easy place to farm.

But this was not like 2005, a year when drought and heat combined to assail our vines. June gave 39.6 mm of rain and this was enough humidity for the vines to face the summer and they were in good shape with enough leaf growth for bunch shade. The Douro is perhaps the most diverse wine region on earth. It is nearly 100 km long and an average of 25 kms wide with a very wide range of terroirs. Some vineyards are at the river’s edge at 90 metres and others are high up the valley at 450 metres, temperatures, ripeness, aspect and sun exposure vary widely. It is impossible to give an assessment that will characterise the whole Douro in a year such as this.

The low-lying vineyards that face south in the Douro Superior above the Valeira dam did suffer this year, it could not be any other way. The classic Douro heat came on the 12th August, having been quite cool till then. On the 13th the temperature reached 40° C and it stayed in the high 30’s for several days. On the 9th and 10th September, we again had hot weather with temperatures nearly touching 40°C, after which there was a gradual cooling.

It was quite strange; we had our vintage gear ready for the cool nights and we warned friends due to visit that they might need coats but they needed hats. It became apparent that the thin-skinned Barroca in some low south facing locations had suffered from dehydration. Baumés were high and with the warm weather there was pressure to start picking. Our viticultural team, who take their holidays in July, had been at work for weeks in the vineyards carefully measuring the evolution of the berries while most people were in the Algarve. Our team knew that the phenolic ripeness was not there yet. Green stalks and un-ripe tannins in the pips are not a good recipe for great Ports and wines even if the Baumé’s were high. So despite knowing that we were losing berry weight, we held off while a few hot-heads rushed to pick.

Nevertheless it was an early vintage and we started picking at Quinta do Vesuvio, Telhada, Vale Coelho and Senhora de Ribeira on the 7th September and at Malvedos on the 14th. Bomfim followed on the 17th and Cavadinha on the 20th. This is about a week earlier than the average. There was absolutely no sign of any rot in the berries and unless heat-affected, the bunches were in excellent condition and gave good concentrated colour and aromas. Cooling the musts was required on many days.

Yields were substantially down, by about a third in my family’s vineyards. In the whole region the reduction will not be as large as the Lower Douro (Baixo Corgo) is considerably wetter, with richer soils. The reduction in yields was due to the low rainfall and to rigorous selection on the sorting tables, so good wines will emerge. In some vineyards we had our teams picking into different coloured boxes, one for the first quality fruit and another for the de-hydrated bunches. Each contour on the hillside gave a different quality.

Our challenging geography and our well-adapted grape varieties played decisively in our favour and fine Ports and wines were made from particular vineyards in some areas of the Douro. Barroca at about 450 metres was really excellent and enjoyed the dry weather at this altitude. Touriga Nacional had a great year in most places and showed how incredibly well adapted this vine is to the Douro climate. The late ripening Touriga Franca also performed very well. My oldest son Robert, working at Roriz for his second harvest made a perceptive comment midway through the harvest; ‘The quality band here seems to have moved up the hill-side by some 150 metres’. This is exactly what happened.

This was a year for flexibility. It would have been a mistake to stick to the traditional patterns and my cousin Charles was busy switching the varietal picking order around as the conditions changed. We had the major advantage of farming vineyards from Quinta de Telhada in the far east of the valley just 30 kms from the Spanish frontier as well as vineyards to the west in the Pinhão valley at nearly 500 meters. With 25 Quintas, from the tiny Madalena in the Rio Torto to the imposing Quinta do Vesuvio, this diversity allows us to select some lovely wines in a year such as this. Running several small wineries in widely separate districts (some processing no more than 120,000kg of grapes) costs money but is a decisive quality factor. This is a logistic challenge, but the specialist wineries at Vesuvio, Sra de Ribeira, Tua, Malvedos and Cavadinha again proved their worth, receiving a steady flow of the very best quality fruit that each team handled with the utmost care and attention. Each winemaker likes the idea that they are personally responsible for each ferment.

On the night of the 6th to 7th October, just as the last day’s picking was due to start, nature played a nasty trick and delivered a monumental storm that came powering in from the West over the Serra de Marão. Over 60 mm of rain fell at Cavadinha and caused damage to farm tracks and to some young vineyards. 60 mm was more than the total rainfall for any month since January and it all fell in just a couple of hours. This was nature’s way of telling us who really is in charge. We need rain, but not like that.

Paul Symington Portugal, 25th October 2009

By | 2016-11-18T10:24:04+00:00 May 10th, 2011|Categories: Port, Trade News|0 Comments

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