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2022 Douro harvest: “We faced some of the greatest challenges that our family has seen”

Published:  12 October, 2022

Following the theme in many European wine-growing regions this year, the 2022 Douro harvest has now been confirmed as the earliest ever recorded in the region.

Grapes were first picked in the Douro Superior on August 22, according to the head winemaker of Symington Family Estates, Charles Symington.

However, the dye was cast long before the harvest began. The three months before the vintage were among the hottest and driest ever recorded, and, according to the Portuguese Met Office, the country had been in a severe drought since the winter.

The impact of the climate crisis has left its mark on several recent Douro vintages, from the earliest harvest in 2017 to the wettest spring in 2018 and the lowest yields in 2020.

Head winemaker Charles Symington said: “On the eve of the 2022 harvest, we faced some of the greatest challenges our family has seen. While we have multi-generational knowledge of farming our vineyards, the conditions this year were so extraordinary that nobody knew how the vines would react.”

Between November 2021 and August 2022, Quinta do Bomfim in the heart of the Douro recorded just 170 mm of rain. This was a -70% reduction compared to the 30-year average and is the fourth consecutive year of below-average rainfall in the region: 2021 (-29%), 2020 (-30%), and 2019 (-22%).

According to the report, the dry soils were exacerbated by higher-than-average temperatures. June saw a heatwave lasting seven days in the Cima Corgo and nine days in the Douro Superior. Portugal had the hottest July since 1931. Pinhão recorded the highest-ever temperature in the country at 47°C. The estate had a very prolonged July heatwave lasting 15 days – with nine days above 40°C. It then faced a further two heatwaves in August.

August maturation studies showed low sugar readings and acidity levels due to the drought. However, phenolic ripeness was advanced, and the thin skins of the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca suggested it could produce wines with good structure.

As a result, with the forecasted hot weather, the estate decided to start picking in the Douro Superior on August 22 – the earliest ever, including Graham’s Vale de Malhadas, Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais, and Dow’s Senhora da Ribeira.

Temperatures dropped in the first week of September, which allowed maturations to progress more evenly and gradually. The report also cited a period of rain, and on September 9, harvesting was halted for 10 days – the longest duration the estate has ever paused picking.

Looking ahead, the report concluded, “We expect to see further challenging years in the Douro due to increasing levels of climate change. The trend is increased average temperatures, less rainfall, and more frequent heatwaves”.