Dow’s Port, a family-owned business of more than 200 years which was founded in 1798 has launched a range of aged tawny ports in Belgium.
The Symington family have called the Douro their home since 1882 and five generations of the family have owned and managed Dow’s since they became partners in the business in 1912.
Drawing on the knowledge that the Symington family have drawn over many generations, the family legacy is reflected in every bottle of the Dow’s 10, 20, 30 and 40 year old tawny port.
Johnny Symington, said during a presentation at The Cobbler in Gent, a bar that forms part of De Post hotel, that constant attention is needed by the master blender, the cellar master and the coopers who all play a part in nurturing the maturing wines which are essential to have a balanced tawny Port.
The Symington’s like to say that vintage port is made in the vineyard while tawny port is made in the cellar. This statement highlights the painstaking and decades long work that is required to age tawny ports in seasoned oak barrels. Although wines that can age successfully also depend on great skill in the vineyard and the winery, it is in the barrel where the unique character of the fine tawny port takes shape and where it is eventually blended.
In the barrel ageing process, tawny Ports are subjected to a gradual transformation through contact with air and wood. This results in considerable evaporation and concentration with approximately 35 per cent of the original volume of a 20 year old tawny disappearing before it is eventually bottled.
When crafting tawny wines, tradition is essential because the ports embody the continuity of an identity and a style that is anchored in family memory with knowledge that has been handed down through the generations.
The winemaker and master blender must know their vineyards intimately so they can predict how the wines will develop. Through tasting, they will consider the potential combinations to make the wines which are unlimited given the amount of barrels involved. The skills is knowing which wines to combine to have the same style of wine that can be recognised when tasting the wines.
The company was the first to invest in vineyards when in bought 3 properties in the Douro Valley at the end of the 19th century. “Today we have over 1,000 hectares which is three times more than the second biggest port producer.”
Mr Symington spoke how the company has survived challenging times such as phylloxera, the plague, 2 world wars, a revolution and now Brexit.
“Over all these years we have gone through many innovations. We have carried out lots of research and development. For us, sustainability goes beyond just ensuring a sustainable future but it is also centred around the community as well as the social and cultural aspect.”
At first, people thought it was a crazy region to grow anything because of the steep hills and labour costs. The grapes were tiny, not bigger than peas said Mr Symington. “That is exactly what we want. It is how we make rich flavourful wines,” he said.
To make Port, the grapes are fermented for 2 days and then brandy is added to increase alcohol and stop fermentation. Ageing is done is small barrels. The coopers and cellar master have to manage 30,000 barrels. They have to look after them to ensure that there are no leaks or problems. Some of the coopers have been working in the cellars for more than 50 years and consider the barrels like their ‘children’.
Dow’s Aged Tawnies have a singular identity that is different to vintage port. They aim to balance the proportion of wood character with the original fruit flavours. Five generations of Symington winemakers have lived and worked at their vineyards of Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta da Senhora da Ribiera where they have produced many memorable wines including the only vintage port made in the 21st century to get a perfect 100 point score.
The wines are available at Carrefour in Belgium. Price for the 10 year old aged Tawny is EUR 17, for the 20 year old is EUR 33 and for the 30 year old EUR 70. The latter will be available as from December.