The actual designation “Port Wine” only appeared in the second half of the 17th century, during a period of expansion in the Douro – the wild inhospitable valley along the banks of the River Duoro up stream from the port city of Porto. In 1678, the sons of a Liverpool wine merchant are credited with the “discovery” of the Port wine making technique - they observed an abbot in the town of Lamego adding brandy to fermenting wine, shipped a few barrels of this fiery sweet wine back home and were greeted with much success.
Due to its immense popularity in the 18th century and rampant wine forgery, the Marquis of Plombal created the Companhia or Companhia Gerald da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro on the 10th September 1756 to protect the producers of the Douro and the shippers in Porto . This Pombaline demarcation introduced the concept of a “controlled denomination of origin”, which not only defined the boundaries of the wine region, but also created a register and classification of vineyards, as well as legislation in controlling and certifying the wines. This demarcation precedes that of the Bordeaux Classification by almost a century.
As for the practice of fortifying wines – the adding brandy or wine spirit to fermenting must – in the Cape to create a “Port”-styled wine, this can be traced back to the beginning of the 19th century, when there was a strong demand for these wines in Europe. At this time the wines of the Cape were well known in Europe, especially those sweet wines of Constantia. A renaissance of sorts started in the late 1960’s with producers in the Cape planting quality Portuguese varietals – especially Tinta Barocca and Touriga Naçional – to improve the quality of the local fortified wines.
By the late-80’s dedicated producers started to align their style of winemaking with that of the top Portuguese producers – i.e. crafting drier, age-worthy fortified wines solely and preferably from Portuguese varietals. These dedicated producers formed SAPPA in 1992 and have continued to promote the crafting of fine Cape fortifieds and table wines from Portuguese varietals. Recently, the focus both in the Douro and locally has shifted to the crafting of exceptional varietal and blended table wines from the traditional “Port” varietals.
The critical elements in the production of “Port” is the meticulous harvesting of ripe grapes – preferably Portuguese varietals - a brief, but intense fermentation followed by fortification. Fortification is the process whereby wine spirits or un-aged brandy spirit is added to the fermenting must, forcefully stopping the fermentation process.
Traditionally, the ripe grapes are harvested and continually foot-trodden in shallow lagars (small open top granite fermenters) to extract maximum colour and flavour over the brief 2 to 3 day ferment, prior to fortification. In South Africa, CAPPA members use either traditional kuipe (open top cement fermenters) with intensive pigeage, temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with extensive pump-overs or a combination of both to obtain the desired colour and flavours. Fortification creates a wine with elevated alcohol and sugar levels, but most importantly far more flavour, tannin and structure. These young “Ports” then undergo a specific period of maturation and blending to create each unique style.
Each Cape “Port” style is defined and the production thereof is regulated in South Africa by the Liquor Products Act 60 of 1989, enforced by SAWIS and its officers. CAPPA and its member played an integral part in compilation of these regulations.
• The wine must be a fortified wine;
• It shall have the character that is distinctive of the South African wine known or previously known as “port”; &
• The wine may only be sold if it has been certified.
…entails the adherence of the wine to all the criteria set out in the Liquor Products Act, as well as the wine passing a sensory and technical assessment. The sensory assessment is conducted as a blind tasting, by a panel of 5 trained tasters in a controlled environment.
…promotes amongst its members, and the South African industry in general, the use of Portuguese varietals and the blending of these varietals in the crafting of Cape “Ports”, due to the improved quality, complexity and longevity achieved by utilizing these traditional varietals.