Symington Family Estates is one of the world’s leading producers of premium port, the leading vineyard owner in the Douro Valley and one of the top Portuguese wine producers. Their ports and wines are household names and Symington has a mission to produce exceptional ports and wines that celebrate and preserve the uniqueness of Portugal, contributing to a positive future for the regions where we work.
We caught up with Senior Marketing Manager Charlotte Symington to find out more about Symington Family Estates.
How long have the Symington Family been in the winemaking business?
We are a family of British and Portuguese origin that have lived and worked in Portugal since the 19th century. Our great-great-grandfather, AJ Symington, arrived in Portugal from Scotland in 1882, aged 19 and began working for Graham’s Port. For the last 140 years and through 5 generations, our family have been port producers in the Douro Valley.
What makes the Douro Valley so special?
There are many factors that make the Douro Valley special.
The Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region, established in 1756. It is the largest area of mountain vineyard in the world, ranging from 110m to over 600m altitude, and it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. The region has over 45,000 hectares under vine – much of which is planted on steep, terraced vineyards – which are still predominantly picked by hand.
The Douro is located about 100km inland from the coastal city of Porto, separated by the Serra de Marão, which gives the region its own unique micro-climate, with hot and dry summers as well as cold winters. All these factors combine to make the Douro one of the most unique wine-growing regions in the world, producing wines of stunning quality.
How is the Douro Valley being affected with the climate issues we are facing?
Our region is experiencing erratic rainfall (less overall) and consistent heat spikes through the summer months, which are creating huge challenges for our winemaking teams and resulting in increasingly low yields. Over the last few years, we have seen very low yields in the Douro. In 2021, yields (kg/vine) across our Quintas (vineyards) were 10% below the 10-year average. In 2020, yields were 21% below average. This year, we are on course for one of the lowest yielding harvests ever in the Douro after the region has experienced 70% less rain (between November 2021 and July 2022) against the 30-year average. This is certainly the biggest challenge that our family and our region are facing.
However, the Douro is a large region with over 40,000 hectares of vineyard and is the most mountainous wine-producing area in the world. We have vineyards from 110 metres altitude all the way up to 650 and they face every point of the compass. Our eastern and northern facing vineyards are well positioned to cope with the heat, as are our higher lying vineyards.
Through our multi-generational knowledge of our estates, our hardworking and experienced viticultural teams, and our various initiatives to adapt to climate change, we are well placed to navigate these conditions and continue delivering excellent quality wines – albeit in small volumes.
Do you have any new launches/products coming out that you can tell us about?
In 2020, Graham’s Port celebrated its bicentenary, however, due to covid, many of our celebrations were put on hold. Therefore, we are looking forward to releasing a unique and rare collection of wines towards the end of this year as part of our 200th-anniversary celebrations.
We are also looking forward to releasing some exciting new still wines to showcase the Douro’s potential.
What are your sustainability objectives and what do they mean to you?
As a company and as a family we think long-term. We understand that we are faced by very real, very urgent environmental challenges. It is our responsibility to adapt how our business operates in order to support a healthy, liveable future. We know that our ability to keep producing wine for many years is dependent on a stable climate and a healthy ecosystem. We are therefore committed to pushing the boundaries of sustainable winemaking to actively protect our natural ecosystems. Our approach is to adapt to the challenging conditions that we are already facing, whilst actively protecting our natural ecosystems, limiting carbon emissions, and supporting the local communities in the regions where we work.
We have a cross-company team consisting of four working groups working on sustainability projects in the following key areas: #1 Viticulture & Biodiversity, #2 Energy, Water & Buildings, #3 Packaging & Waste, #4 Team & Local Community.
We have committed to a series of 10 ambitious goals for 2025 which aim to respond to the climate emergency and the environmental crisis as well as strengthen the positive impact we have on the communities where we work. These include reducing our carbon emissions by 35% per litre of wine bottled, 100% electricity from certified renewable energy sources (20% generated in-house), 10% reduction in water used in winery and bottling per litre of wine bottled.
What does it mean to be a B Corp?
As a family business with a long-term mindset and a deep commitment to our region and its people, we have always prioritised social and environmental issues. In 2019, Symington Family Estates became a B Corporation, which validated our existing efforts and provided an ambitious roadmap for continually improving. B Corp is the world’s most comprehensive sustainability certification and is the only standard that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. This year, we are undergoing the first recertification of our B Corp status (it is required every 3 years) and we will aim to improve our score on the first round in 2019. We are assessed across Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers. We are committed to taking responsibility for our activity and working with other like-minded businesses to improving the way we operate.
What are your plans for the Douro over the coming 5-10 years?
The Douro has huge potential when it comes to tourism, and we are working on some exciting projects to allow visitors all over the world to see the best of the region.
We have recently opened a new restaurant in the Douro at our flagship Dow’s Port property – Bomfim 1896 with Michelin star chef, Pedro Lemos – inspired by traditional Douro family kitchens, centred around large chimneys and wood-fired ovens.
We are also working on an incredibly special and personalised day boat trip to Quinta do Vesuvio, where visitors can explore the Douro River and visit Quinta do Vesuvio, one of the most beautiful Douro properties, including lunch, wines from our portfolio as well as winery and vineyard visits.
In terms of products, we will be looking at small releases of interesting wines and ports, special vintages that have been ageing in our cellars both in bottle and barrel as well as special editions of existing wines.
We have begun the construction of a new low-impact winery at our Vilariça Valley property of Quinta do Ataíde. This winery will be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified winery in Portugal. The Quinta do Ataíde Winery will be ready in time for the 2023 vintage.
The design of the new state-of-the-art winery aims to achieve LEED certification, and to that end, it has been assessed against the highest standards of resource efficiency and environmental responsibility. It will become the first LEED-certified winery in Portugal and the first in the world to attain the comprehensive LEED v4 level, which addresses energy efficiency, water conservation, site selection, material selection, daylighting and waste reduction.
The construction of this advanced winery is inspired by (and is part of) our long-term commitment to sustainability and innovation. As Portugal’s first certified B Corporation wine company, we are implementing a far-reaching sustainability strategy across our entire process from vineyard to bottle. The winery will produce the Quinta do Ataíde estate wines and other premium Douro DOC wines in the Symington portfolio.
To discover more, visit: symington.com
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All imagery courtesy of Symington Family Estates.