Port Demand Evolves as Symington Sees Growth at Top End

Growth among traditional vintage ports as well as tawnies aged 10 or 20 years is compensating for reduced demand at the volume end of the market, according to Paul Symington, chief executive officer of Symington Family Estates.

Symington owns port brands Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s and traces its roots back to Andrew Symington, who arrived in Portugal from Scotland in 1882. Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port is priced at $275 a bottle at Sherry-Lehmann in New York, while Berry Bros. & Rudd in London lists the Warre 1997 Port at 400 pounds ($627) for a 12-bottle case.

“We see a strong future at the top end of the market but probably lower volumes overall,” Symington said.

While the market for vintage port remains buoyant, as is evident in New York and London auction rooms, traditional demand for more basic brands has come under pressure as a result of changing tastes, a trend in favor of lighter wines and tighter drink-driving laws.

Markets such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the U.K., which traditionally bought large volumes of standard-quality wines, are switching to red wine or simply drinking less, he said.

“Demand is changing, there’s no doubt, and we’re having to adapt to the reality,” Symington said in an interview at the London Wine Fair on Tuesday. “The volume end of the market has been declining softly for about 10 years now and the cheaper standard ports will continue to decline, sadly.”

Douro Valley

The company, which is attempting to build on its wine tourism business and attract a younger clientele, is opening a winery visitor center in the Douro Valley this month. The center will complement its warehouse in Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Oporto, which gets 80,000 visitors a year.

“Younger people are drinking port providing we can offer things which make sense to them,” Symington said. “We have to adapt port.”

“The growth area that we’ve seen is not only in the vintage port but in the 10-year and 20-year-old tawnies,” which don’t need decanting and can be served lightly chilled, he said.