For those looking to make port at home, there is one primary hurdle. Is your home in Portugal? No? Well, you can’t make port. In fact, even if your home was in Portugal, there would be a great number of hurdles to conquer first. We’ll talk you through the process of making this fortified wine, starting with picking the grapes.
In Portugal’s Duoro Valley– the home of Port– this is a job done entirely by hand. And it’s not just for the sake of tradition! There is no room for mechanical harvesters in these ancient vineyards. But there is some method behind the madness: it’s a quality control procedure. This way, only the best grape clusters make it onto the next step.
After being picked and de-stemmed, the grapes are transferred to a stone trough called a lagar. This is where the grapes are crushed– sometimes still by foot! Lagares in the Douro Valley are made entirely of granite: a material plentiful in the region. Outside of this region, those troughs might be a bit more pricey….
After crushing, the grapes are transferred to vats, where they undergo partial fermentation. We say partial fermentation, because a spirit called aguardente (often simply referred to as brandy) is added. This halts the fermentation process, which does two notable things. Firstly, it stops the sugar in the wine – usually consumed in fermentation– disappearing from the wine. This gives Port its sweeter tones.
And secondly, it increases the alcohol content, which makes the wine better for long-term ageing. Ports can spend forty or so years in a barrel– a wine would be completely spoiled by this.
And ageing is an inherent part of the port-making process. As a requirement, port must be barrel-aged for 2 years at minimum before being bottled and sent to market. This is enforced by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto – the industry’s regulatory body. By making this decree, it is helping maximise the potential of its wine. Port has extraordinary barrel-ageing potential!
That’s a fact, and one we definitely acknowledge here at St. Anne’s. As we’re an Australian producer who grows outside of Portugal, however, we do not use the “Port” name. And we not make Port exactly as per these regulations. What we make is called Tawny, and we think it’s something pretty special. When you’re not restricted by regulation, you can do a little experimentation….
So, all in all, making Port (or Tawny) is a pretty involved process. We wouldn’t recommend trying it at home. But, there is something you can try if you’re still interested in trying your hand. Read our article on small barrel ageing and blending– because not everyone has room for a vineyard in their backyard…