What is Port Wine?

Port, like all great wines, begins in the vineyard, specifically – and exclusively – in the vineyards of the Douro Valley in northeastern Portugal. The many small steep hills and valleys clustered around the Douro River and its tributaries within the demarcated region are set within an area of often intense high heat and low rainfall – up to 40ºC (105ºF) or more in the summer and in the easternmost districts less than 400mm rainfall in many years. Because of the steep hillsides, most vineyards are laid out on terraces following the contours of the hills. The soil is incredibly stony and many of the best grape varieties are low yielding.

Quinta da Valeira Port Wine Grapes

All these conditions together mean Port is a largely hand-made wine: very little machinery is used in the vineyards, with planting, pruning and harvesting generally done exclusively by hand. Yields can be small, precious and hard-won.

But those same torturous hillsides and valleys create a landscape of innumerable micro-climates, which results in an incredibly rich diversity of wine styles. The same variety of grape planted in a warm south-facing valley at low altitude will taste very different when planted on higher altitude slopes facing east – the first will develop a very rich and concentrated character while the other will produce a very elegant and fresh wine.

The Douro is home to an amazing array of grape varieties. While a half dozen or so are well known and relied upon for the backbone of Port wines, many less well known varieties add depth of character and nuance. Port is unique in the world of wine in that it must be a blend, and single varietal wines are prohibited.

Quinta da Valeira Douro Vines

When harvest begins, the hand-picked grapes arrive at the winery and are sorted, crushed and allowed to ferment. To produce Port, we tread the grapes to extract the maximum colour and flavour compounds from the skins. Then, we choose our moment to arrest the fermentation and leave our desired level of natural sugars in the wine. We do this by adding a 77% alcohol pure grape spirit which kills the yeasts and stops the fermentation process. The finished wine is run off, but here too, Port wine demands a unique process. The winemaker must decide, for each lot of wine, how it should be stored and aged to best bring out its qualities – in stainless steel, large wooden casks, or small wooden casks. But Port wines are not really made during harvest, they are made over the years afterwards.

During the following months and years, the winemaker will monitor the development of the newly made wines together with all the other wines from prior vintages, and decide which lots to blend together and ultimately release as one of our range of Rosé, Ruby, Tawny or White Ports. There are no fixed recipes, the winemaker is guided by experience and instinct to use the potentially hundreds of wines currently available, which may span decades of harvests, to blend the Port wines you will enjoy this year and into the future.