Churchill’s Port was founded by Johnny Graham, scion of the famed Graham family, in 1981. His family’s own company had been acquired in 1970 by Symington Family Estates (Graham’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Smith Woodhouse, and others), and at the time he struck out on his own he was establishing the first new Port house in half a century. To this day, Churchill’s remains one of the most significant boutique houses outside the umbrella of Symington Family Estates and Taylor Fladgate (Taylor’s, Fonseca, Croft, and others.) All Churchill’s grapes are sourced from Grade-A (the highest in the Douro’s rating scheme) vineyards, and all grapes receive ‘vintage’ treatment at the outset: crushed and vinified in granite lagares, where they undergo the time-honored and costly process of human foot-treading for extraction. A key factor in Churchill’s relatively dry style is a longer-than-normal fermentation time, which also means that the proportion of alcohol from added brandy is lower than normal in these wines.
While ‘regular’ vintage port, the pinnacle of any house’s production, is typically bottled after a maximum of 30 months in wood or steel (thus retaining a fresher, less oxidative fruit character, but often requiring decades of bottle age to tame the wine’s fierce structure), a parallel style of Late-Bottled Vintage developed. Hailing from vintage-quality grapes, these wines spend 4+ years in wood, retaining a good deal of vintage port’s character while being effectively ready to drink on release.
The 2017 vintage in the Douro has already proven historic on multiple fronts. Climactically, the phrase ‘freak vintage’ has been bandied around: an early budbreak and hot, dry summer led to an early harvest of a small crop of highly concentrated fruit. Commercially, 2017 followed hot on 2016’s heels as the first universally-declared back-to-vintage in well over a hundred years. It’s clear that the Port houses, traditionally hesitant to declare too many vintages, felt obligated by the special conditions.
Ripe, juicy and focused, Churchill’s Vintage 2017 Port features a core of steeped fig, boysenberry and blueberry fruit, well-harnessed by a sleek, graphite-edged structure and infused liberally with anise, fruitcake and Christmas pudding notes. Vivid and racy in feel through the finish.