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Fladgate Partnership heralds return to “normal”, though warm winters and hail persist

Published:  21 September, 2021

The Fladgate Partnership has welcomed the return of normal weather conditions in the Douro, with a mild summer in 2021 allowing for differentiated ripening across vineyards and lending “flavour, elegance and natural acidity to the grapes”.

These were the conclusions of the Partnership’s Adrian Bridge, CEO, and David Guimaraens, technical director and head winemaker, at a virtual vineyard tour this morning which walked participants through this year’s harvest (picking for whites began on August 23).

The pair noted that 2021 is the first cool year in four years in the Douro Valley, with a mildew-free early summer helping to buck the trend of previous years. The Douro also managed to side-step the frost which heavily affected parts of France such as Champagne.

The year’s favourable conditions weren’t without their struggles, however. To balance out a dry start to the season, “serious hailstorms” in June damaged approximately 10% of the Douro’s 44,000 ha.

“Climate change is continuing to create difficulties in the valley,” said Bridge. “Obviously, without the extreme heat this year, that has been positive for us, but we have no idea what’s going to happen next year. It’s undoubtedly clear that from the rainstorms last week where we had 30 millimetres falling in a very short period of time that these extreme weather events will continue to influence us in the Douro.”

“The warm winter is a serious concern,” added Guimaraens. “The hailstorms are a serious concern too, and the thunderstorms we had during harvest are also not good, though that has happened before. The rest has actually been quite a normal year and, and in fact, having a wetter September is actually going to help the vines recover some of the vigour they’ve lost in the last five years. With climate change, the difficulty is it’s more unpredictable.”

“Living under the threat of hail is nerve wracking, and if it affects you, it’s devasting,” he added.

The pair also noted how this year’s mild summer allowed for a return to difference of ripening. This has been a challenge of the past six years, they said, as vineyards were increasingly forced to pick at the same time.

The conditions have also provided a marked differentiation to the 2020 vintage.

“The 2021 Ports are probably the biggest opposite to the 2020, when we had Ports which were so dense and concentrated, and in some situations, actually quite jammy,” Guimaraens said.

“This year’s Ports stand out for their freshness and elegance. They’ve got volume of fruit, so it’s not a year of structure from concentration. It’s a year of volume from the ripening and the richness of the fruit, and this is extremely welcome following 2020. It’s a very good contrast.”