Port Month Blog and Happenings (February 2012)

We have much going on at the Winery and throughout the County during the month of February to celebrate New-World Port Month! Quick links to these activities include:

Tasting Room Activities – Click Here
Restaurants participating in New-World Port Month – Click Here
Interesting Port Facts –Port Facts #1-16 (This will be updated daily)
Follow us on Facebook – Click Here

Stayed Tuned to this blog for more New-World Port News!

Port 101—How to Make an Estate Grown Port (February 9, 2012)

Our own illustrious history with Port-styled wines is almost as exciting as that of England’s love for the stabile wine, Port. One would hope that we at Madroña started drinking the great Ports of the world, fell in love with the style, sourced the vines, planted and nurtured them, and proceeded to make a wine that we believe is amongst the best in the world. To some degree, that all did happen, just not in that order.

The first Ports* we made at Madroña were produced simply for economic reasons. We had the capacity (with new empty tanks), and another winery had the need. So starting with the 1983 vintage, we began to make Ports under the guidance of Tim Spencer for his winery St. Amant (still, to this day, one of the best Port producers in California). In 1989, we actually bought some of Tim’s wine to make a Madroña brand Port. But it really wasn’t until the year 1996 that we decided that Madroña needed a Port program under the Madroña name.

In 1997, we planted nearly 2.5 acres of Portuguese varieties slated for our new Port program. It was a good decision on many facets. For one thing, my dad, Dick, had a real interest in researching the varieties needed to produce outstanding Port. Secondly, we had recently purchased 240 acres in Pleasant Valley that had on it a 2.5 acre area seemingly perfect for Portuguese varieties (it looks like Portugal with rocky soils and uniquely drier conditions). And lastly, there were very few, if any, wineries consistently making Port in El Dorado county.

Of the countless varieties originating in Portugal, my dad worked closely with Tim in choosing the seven Portuguese varieties to plant. In the end, we planted Souzao, Alveralhao, Tinta Cao, Touriga, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, and Bastardo. Of these, only a small amount of the Touriga was planted as we had wanted to plant true Touriga Nacional, and that was difficult to find. (After being told that we would be put on a four-year waiting list for Touriga Nacional through Plant Material Sciences (at U.C. Davis), we sourced the budwood from another vineyard and planted the remainder of the block the following year.)

We had trialed out the market with our 1997 Cabernet Port and had found a real interest in that style of wine. So in 2000, we had our first Madroña New-World Port, a blend of our fruit and that of Tim Spencer. Starting in 2001, the Madroña Ports were 100% Estate Grown, using only our own fruit, and have been ever since.

On a side note, we’d like to answer the question of the name “New-World Port.” We understand that Ports come from Portugal, and we don’t want to take anything away from that. However, there truly is no better word than “Port” to describe a sweet, fortified, after-dinner wine. We needed to find some middle ground where we could use the commonly recognized name of Port without stealing from Portugal. Our solution was to call our wine “New-World Port,” noting that we are part of the New-World of wine (California, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, etc., as opposed to the old world of Europe), but it is a “Port-styled” wine. It has served us well.

And on a side-side note, our use of the term “Port” is grandfathered in. As of 2006, wineries which are producing new Port-styled wines but do not have existing label approvals from the government are not able to use the term “Port” on their labels. Instead these wineries must use a proprietary (made up) name. Ironically, the term “fortified” is also not allowed on wine labels. This is a long-standing policy set by the Tax and Trade Bureau (the government entity that regulates much of a winery’s life). The regulation seems to be partly steeped in the idea that foods are “fortified” (like corn flakes fortified with vitamins) and they don’t want to have any confusion. But not being able to use the term “Port” or “fortified” makes it difficult for wineries to sell these wines.

And to think we once thought that the hard part would be making the wine! Welcome to the wine business!

*Please note that the term “Port” truly designates a wine made in Portugal. We (and everyone else around the world outside of Portugal) make “Port-styled” wines. But for simplicity sake, I will use the term “Port” instead of “Port-styled wines” in this blog. It just sounds better too!

NEW-WORLD PORT BLOG – Part 1 (February 1, 2012)

Port 101—How to Make an Estate Grown Port

A Simplified History

Having worked in the tasting room for so many years, I must say the most generally misunderstood wine in our portfolio (no pun intended) is our New-World Port. It seems that many people have a deep-rooted dislike for Port-styled wines based entirely on one “Port” that some relative brought to some family holiday decades ago. I internally shed a tear hearing this, thinking of a life without Port and the happiness it could have brought. The fact is, they have based their entire love/hate of a complete wine style based on one “bad” wine back in 1976.


Grape Harvest, Duaro Valley

When they finally are convinced that tasting our New-World Port in the tasting room won’t subject them years of therapy, their comment is, “I like this!”

The ironic thing is that we, as Americans, tend to think of Port as simply a sweet, alcoholic wine. But the fortification with the alcohol in Port was not originally intended to simply make another style of wine. Instead, its addition played a much more basic function. The higher alcohol of Port kept the wine from spoiling during transport.

To be honest, true Port only comes from Duoro River Valley in Portugal. The Duoro River Valley is the oldest, formally recognized appellation in the world dating back to 1756. But the name “Port” comes from the port city (no pun intended) of Oporto where the Duoro River empties into the Atlantic. The wine traditionally traveled from the wineries downriver through the city of Oporto.

The Duoro Valley, Portugal

Although several European countries were drinking wines from Portugal in the 1700’s, it was England’s thirst for Portuguese wines that drove the modern style of Port. England’s relationship with France, due to things like wars, soured their taste for (or at least their ability to get) French wines. Portugal was a good alternative.

The Portuguese source, however, posed a problem in that the wines often went bad during the long voyage from Oporto. The solution—make the wines more stabile by adding alcohol. It was no secret that at higher alcohols, fewer spoilage organisms (like yeast and bacteria) could survive in such an environment. And being pre-filtration, this was paramount.

Thus, Ports were born because they could travel without going bad! It’s kind of lackluster story, but the product is truly one of greatest wines of the world!


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