The Douro Valley extends across northern Portugal and into Spain, a deep cleft along the Douro River that creates precipitous vineyards where terraces have been used for hundreds of years to create level strips of ground where vines can grow. The primarily schist soils are barren and low in nutrients. The climate is hot, but much depends on elevation and aspect in the vineyards—higher elevation fruit ripens later, while lower, south-facing fruit ripens sooner. The Serra do Marão creates a barrier at the Atlantic coast that blocks rains from the ocean, causing progressively drier conditions as the Douro Valley proceeds east toward the Spanish border.
While some Porto producers have begun releasing single-quinta (single-vineyard) Portos from estate vineyards, it is still traditional for fruit to be sourced from selected partners among the thousands of small farmers in the Douro Valley. In declared vintage years, the finest grapes from the three Fonseca quintas, handpicked and trodden by foot in the traditional stone lagares, form the backbone of Fonseca’s vintage Ports. They also significantly contribute to the stocks of Aged Tawny, Late Bottled Vintage and Bin No. 27 Port.
In 1978 Fonseca acquired Quinta do Panascal, whose reputation goes back to the 18th century, when wines from the Tavora Valley in Cima Corgo, where the vineyard is located, were considered among the finest-quality wines of Portugal. The company later expanded the vineyard by acquiring the neighboring Quinta do Val dos Muros. At present, 109 of its 188 acres are planted, principally to Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. In high-quality but non-declared vintages, fruit from Quinta do Panascal is used to produce a single-quinta vintage Porto.
This vineyard, purchased in 1973, has for decades been the heart of Fonseca’s vintage Ports. Located in the panoramic Mendiz Valley in the Cima Corgo area of the Upper Douro, it covers 45 acres of vertiginous hillsides, of which 32.5 are planted in terraces, primarily in older vines.
The third Fonseca property, the Quinta de Santo António, has also long been a traditional source for Fonseca’s vintage Ports. Purchased in 1979, it is located on the opposite side of the Tavora Valley from Quinta do Panascal, and covers 30 acres of sheer hillside terraces.