A declaration is where the port producer considers that he has an excellent port. Typically this occurs 3 times every 10 years; although this rule of thumb has applied less and less. The decision is a key one, for to get it wrong means that the producer is subjecting the reputation of the port house to negative comment. As for all vine based drinks the decision relies heavily on the weather. To allow the vines to develop well early on in their life, a Winter that is cold and wet is required. The following Spring should be warm and dry, followed by a very hot Summer. The heat of the Summer allows the grapes to sweeten with natural sugars. A little rain in late August or September allows the grapes to swell slightly, and the skins will soften - perfect for the vintage to be considered for declaration.
After the winemaker has done his job, the Port is left to rest in wood casks. Small samples will be taken from the cask regularly to assess quality and, after 1 year and 4 months, if the producer decides to declare a vintage, a sample will be submitted to the IVP for approval as a Vintage Port. Experts will taste the wine and consider approval.
When approval has been given, the producer will declare the vintage by media announcements. Not every producer will declare, but normally the larger producers will declare in harmony. Occasionally only a small number of producers will declare. This adds to the mystique of Vintage Port, and provides much fuel to the discussion of whether a declaration was a good idea or not.
Years other than those in which a declaration is made are still excellent ports. Non declared vintages may not have all the ticks in the boxes to substantiate a declared vintage but are still prized. They may be ready for drinking sooner than the declared vintages, are often less expensive and are typically named after the prime vineyards within the producer's portfolio. See our vintage port chart to find out more.