A good year after a bad start.
The growing season was extraordinary with wet weather at the end of 2003 and an incredibly dry start to 2004. At Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim just 147mm of rain fell during the first four months of the year – less than half the ten-year average. Flowering went well in all three Douro sub-regions but fruit set was slightly less successful due to very rapid shoot growth encouraged by the warm, sunny conditions in May. July was hot with temperatures reaching 40C towards the end of the month. Vineyards remained in excellent condition but as August approached growers became concerned as to how the vines would cope with the low water reserves in the soil. Then rain fell on three consecutive days in early August followed by yet more rainfall in the middle of the month. In total 77mm fell at Quinta do Bomfim making this the wettest August in the north of Portugal for 104 years! The weather remained abnormally cool and overcast into September, slowing down the ripening process. When wet, unsettled weather returned in the first week of September growers faced a major dilemma: start picking under-ripe grapes early before rot sets in or hold on in the hope of better weather.
Most growers held their nerve and, luckily, the sunshine returned. Sugar levels rose suddenly, taking many by surprise, and continued to rise as temperatures exceeded 30C. Picking began around the middle of the month and continued through uninterrupted sunshine. Not a drop of rain fell until 8 October by which time the harvest was all but complete. In 40 harvests, Peter Symington (winemaker for Dow, Graham and Warre) commented that he had never seen a vintage that could have swung so easily between near disaster or success.