Study forum VIPs Jeremy Eubanks and inderpal singh gave us a history lesson on South African wine law last week which also explores the challenges with cultural divides, global economics and evolution of the wine industry there. Complicated stuff!
This week: The benificio system of Port
What are the requirements and purpose of this system?
It is a methodology to classify all the parcels, based in 3 main criteria: soil, climate and cultural conditions.
Each vineyard gets then a punctuation for each of the parameters and the sum of the total points achieved for all criteria determines the rating of the vineyard. The total annual quantity of Port Wine produced is determined by the IVDP and is highly related to sales of Port Wine and stocks changing.
The remaining grapes that are not used for Port Wine, after achieving the beneficio quota, are used for Douro wine. In the past, the best grapes of the vineyard were used for Port production. Nowadays, we find a balance using the best grapes for limited quantities of Port and Douro wines.
It is the maximum amount of wine that may be fortified in a given year by grower. A total of 12 categories are scored and each is awarded points. Of the categories, seven are based on Soil and Climate (slope, rough matter, exposure, shelter, altitude, location, and bedrock). The other five factors relate to the vines. The purpose of the system was to ensure quality port wine was produced and exported as well as to ensure there was not a flooded market of low quality Port. The system ensures Ports image and integrity. This system is in place for growers and producers alike.
I'm sure Vine Age can be lumped into one of those categories, but it's worth mentioning. A Vine can't even be harvested for port until the 5th year, but realistically is much older.
The Beneficio is an annual production quota system administered and issued by the IVDP. The quota determines the amount of port that can be produced from grape must (total Douro crush) in any given vintage. Determining factors are market conditions and overall quality of the particular year. The actual quota per quinta is supposed to be related to the quality of the vineyards based on the grading system (mentioned here in previous posts). The reality is often that actual quotas are distributed somewhat evenly over not only the A & B graded ones but also the C, D & E sites in any given year thus not necessarily favouring the better vineyards. In this way the Beneficio has acted a little like an unofficial 'employment benefit' for all growers in the Duoro Valley. A loophole is that owners of say A & B quintas may puchase the must quotas and transfer them from other lower grade vineyards to add to their own, meaning they can produce more port if desired. (source: Richard Mayson).
Pretty interesting about the secondary market for the quotas. With yeilds for Port getting down in the 25 hl/ha range, it's easy to see why folks would be looking for a way to produce more. Reminds me a bit of the way Champagne houses skirt max yields by trading portions of grapes destined as reserve wines.