Friday, October 14, 2016

Portugal 2016 - Old Vineyards of Portugal

ISSUE DATE: 22 July 2016
STAMP THEME: Old Vineyards of Portugal
STAMP SIZE:40 x 30.6 mm

Although they receive prominent mentions in the labels on the back and front of the wine bottles that appear on our tables over the years, the “oldness” of these vines is not simply a matter of syntax or semantics. Old Vineyards are a whole way of life. It might well be impossible to pin down an overarching definition for them that would cover the whole world of wine, even if we were to confine it just to Portugal. 

An old vineyard might be over a hundred years old in the Douro or Dão regions, while it might be only fifty or sixty years old in the Alentejo. Often there is a specific cut-off point in time, namely the phylloxera pest, which reached Portugal at the end of the 19th century, and decimating vineyards all over Europe. There may be vineyards that are older than this here or there, but they are very rare indeed.

When we talk about old vines, however, we are talking about more than just their age. Old vineyards have their very own philosophy and often harbour a mixture of varieties that are individually cultivated and highly adapted to the land, the local traditions and the place itself. The roots of the vines go deep in their search for nutrients, meaning that these vineyards are able to resist variable climate conditions better from one year to the next. The owner of an old vineyard considers himself to be a curator of the vines, rather than simply the heir to them; he has received this legacy, and now he has the task of passing it on. In this relationship there is a certain symbiosis and a mutual respect that defy description and shrug off the passage of time altogether. The result is a small harvest of grapes with a concentrated taste, depth and balance. With responsible winemaking, the resultant glass of wine might even be said to be soulful. Wines from old vineyards are impressive for their texture, restraint, complexity and stateliness.

If considered in a short-sighted way, with a view to short-term gains or the scope for ambitious new developments, old vineyards may be seen as offering low returns. As such, they are, in a sense, endangered. If an old vine withers away, it is essentially impossible to replace. To do so would require various different factors to come together in a frankly miraculous way, and even then it would be many years before it could be fully restored. No one would be able to see this through and also live long enough to savour the fruits of his toil. Instead, it is vital that old vines be preserved, and there are several ways of ensuring that this happens, among them maintenance, care, study, replication, duplication, the creation of reserves, funding and other forms of support.

Fortunately, the value of the old vines is not in any jeopardy, and they have an increasing number of patrons. As word spreads about the fantastic wines that they produce, the appreciation for them is growing. For wine-lovers, taking the trouble to visit an old vineyard and really immersing oneself in the atmosphere of the area is a great pleasure, a journey of discovery and a pure thrill. Old vines invariably attract people who are passionate about wine, and the vineyards are surrounded by historical sites, trees, breathtaking landscapes, clouds scudding across vast skies, old buildings, stone walls, stories, legends and tables laden with plates, glasses, roasting dishes and platters. This is a way of life that revolves around celebrating the land, the dinner table, and a sense of fellowship and shared experience. The allure of old vineyards also comes from discovering a land that, however ancient, is looking into the future with hope.

Author: Luis Antunes - Wine writer 

Stamp images thanks to CTT Correios de Portugal

La Poste