Vintage Crisis in the Douro

It is proving to be a challenging year in the Douro. The weather is fine but politics are once more clouding the horizon. Faced with widespread protests following the sudden and unexpected reduction of the benefício by nearly 23%, the President of the region’s controlling body the Insitituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP) has just been ‘dispensed with’ by the Government. Admittedly his appointment was political in the first place and with the change of government this year there has been a change of party political complexion. But the new minister in charge comes from the Minho and hasn’t yet shown an understanding the complicated politics of the Douro region. The cut in benefício is causing real hardship this year, especially among the thousands of small growers with a hectare or less of vines. It is estimated that due to the new planting over the past decade or so there will be an excess of production of at least 100,000 pipes this year. This is all outside the Port benefcio and therefore potentially qualifies as Douro wine but there simply isn’t a market out there for this quantity. Talking to a friend of mine who is making wine in the Douro, he tells me that he is inundated with requests from growers to by their grapes, much of it Touriga Nacional from ten year old vines. But unless it is genuine old vine fruit, he turns them away. Growing grapes in somewhere as challenging as the Douro is never going to be low cost and with the price of grapes falling there seems to be now way out for many thousands of growers, small and large. Long term there is more need than ever for fundamental reform in the Douro, not just confined to the institutions that govern the region (the Casa do Douro saga has been running without resolution for 21 years now) but also the way the vineyards are structured. The Government has enough on its plate right now with swinging cuts in public expenditure and tax rises and a thorough going reform will undoubtedly win few friends from the thirty thousand grower and their dependents. The problem is that reform is more urgent then ever.