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Symington Family Estates unveils €12m Douro winery design

Portugal’s Symington Family Estates has said its new ‘low impact’ winery is under construction in the upper, eastern reaches of the Douro Valley and is part of the group's plan to increase production of premium, unfortified wine.

With a production capacity of 691,000 litres, the Quinta do Ataíde winery in the Vilariça Valley will be exclusively used for unfortified wine production.

The investment sum is triple the amount initially estimated back in 2018, and the winery is a key part of the company’s strategy to double premium unfortified wine sales by 2030.

‘Since the original plans were announced, we have decided to significantly increase the size of the facility as a result of our confidence in the growing demand for premium wines from the Douro,’ said Rob Symington, a director at Symington Family Estates.

He added that supply chain challenges brought about by Covid, and more recently by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, had led to an increase in the costs of building materials.

News of Symington Family Estates’ increased investment in unfortified wine production comes as the company, which also owns Port houses Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s among others, said it grappled with ‘unprecedented’ climatic conditions in the Douro this year, especially drought and heatwaves.

In its 2022 harvest report, the company said Portugal had been in severe drought since the winter, citing the country’s Met Office. Rainfall at Quinta do Bomfim in the heart of the Douro was 70% below the 30-year average, the group said.

After beginning to pick in the Douro Superior on 22 August, the group’s earliest start to harvest on record, temperatures fell back in early September. This allowed grapes to mature more gradually, and some rain followed – before the company decided to pause picking for 10 days.

‘Our viticulture and winery teams worked flat out through one of the most challenging Douro harvests and we have made some very promising wines, despite the astonishing conditions,’ said head winemaker Charles Symington in the harvest report. ‘Overall, our yields per vine were 20% below average, much better than we had anticipated in August.’

The group said that unfortified wine prospects had been buoyed by the resilience of native grape varieties grown at high altitude to severe conditions.

Ahead of anticipated results of a multi-year variety study, the company revealed that Donzelinho Tinto was one of its best-performing native red grape varieties in the Douro for climate adaptability and quality unfortified wine production.

Symington has started planting the grape variety at its Quinta do Ataíde estate, where in 2014 it created an experimental Variety Library comprised of 53 grape varieties.

The group said the year had shown the team how its native, low-yielding vines could still perform well with much less water and higher temperatures.

Rob Symington added, ‘I do not want to downplay the severity of these [climatic] challenges, but for the foreseeable future we expect we will be able to produce enough wine and of very good quality to meet our needs.’

Construction of the Quinta do Ataíde winery started in 2021, having been delayed due to Covid complications and is expected to be completed in time for the 2023 vintage. Symington said the winery’s capacity could increase, if required, to about 750,000 litres within five years.

Symington Family Estates reported an 11% and 7% increase in sales of Douro wines by value and volume respectively year-to-date, versus last year. Total unfortified wines sales reached approximately 250,000 nine-litre cases in 2021.

‘We aim to double our wine sales before the end of this decade, based on growing demand and excitement for Portuguese wines around the world and sales increases in Portugal,’ Symington said.

The company owns more than 1,000 hectares (ha) of Douro vineyards, but it is increasing its vineyard area to produce more unfortified wines.

Earlier this month, the group revealed it had acquired the Quinta Nova do Carrascal vineyard in the Vilariça Valley, which has 11.5ha under vine.

The new vineyard will be integrated into the Quinta do Ataíde estate, bringing the company’s total area in the Douro Superior to more than 330ha of organically-farmed vineyards.

‘With its unique flat landscape created by the divide between two geological plates, plentiful in local water supplies, we believe that this part of the Douro Superior, near Spain, has a fantastic potential for the production of high-quality unfortified wines,’ Symington said.

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