Portugal has a long history of wine production, spanning hundreds of years. Besides supplying quality wines to the local market, Portugal has been a significant wine exporter since the Kingdom of Portugal was founded at the end of the 11th century. The development of sea trade and the country’s favorable location on the Atlantic Ocean drew the interest of merchants across Europe, particularly from England.
To strengthen the connection between the two countries, Portugal and England signed a pact in 1386 to form a political and commercial alliance. As a result, by the second half of the 15th century, a substantial portion of Portuguese wine had been exported to England, frequently in exchange for ‘bacalhau,’ or salt cod. However, it wasn’t until 1678 that Portuguese wine was referred to as ‘Port’ for the first time.
Origin Of The Name ‘Port’
English wine lovers developed a taste for quality Portuguese wines as the English-Portuguese wine trade flourished during the 17th century. The merchants took advantage of this significant opportunity by traveling upstream on the Douro River in quest of higher-quality Portuguese wines. They discovered fuller-bodied, stronger wines in the upper Douro, surrounded by steep hills and a region with a hot climate.
The English merchants were deeply inspired by the wine quality and the potential profit in their market. However, the only problem was that these vineyards were hundreds of kilometers away from Viana do Castello, the English merchants’ business center. They devised an efficient and economical route for transportation, and the wine was transported down the Douro River to Oporto, a city on the Atlantic Ocean, where it was put into ships bound for England. The wine was hence referred to as “Oporto wine” or “Port” as we know it today.
Establishment of The First Port Winery Owned by an Englishman
Peter Bearsley, son of Taylor’s founder, was the first English wine merchant to make the perilous journey up the upper Douro in pursuit of reacher higher quality wines. Bartholomew Bearsley of the Bearsley family was the first in the Douro to own vineyards and produce his wine in 1755, giving him a significant edge over the other competitors. It was a tough choice that paid off handsomely, allowing him to establish ties with the farmers and receive first dibs on their wines. The corporation still owns the property, located near the historic town of Régua and commemorated in Taylor’s First Estate Reserve Port .
Establishment of Fortification Standards
After setting up vineyards in Portugal, the era for establishing fortification standards followed. Most Port wines were fortified with brandy to stop the fermentation process after 1850. Initially, not all English merchants supported this method, but buyers in their market preferred sweeter, more alcoholic wines that aged well.
Did you Know: Brandy is added to only partially fermented Port wine. The brandy stops the fermentation, leaving the wine sweet while at the same time boosting the amount of alcohol present.
Phylloxera’s Impact on Port Wines
Everything was going well for the Port trade; the merchants were making significant profits and wine lovers were enjoying quality wines. This era is regarded as a great period of wine in Europe until Phylloxera struck in 1863, wiping off the majority of the Douro vines by 1872. The cost of wines increased, while the quality decreased. Even though the disease was stopped hundreds of years ago, there are still haunted estates where the vineyards were never replanted .
In 2008, the Taylor family created the world’s first Pink Croft, a rosé-style Port that can be sipped on its own or used as a cocktail mixer. Replanting of lesser known grape varieties in the area is another recent phenomenon. Furthermore, utilizing cutting-edge laser technology, oenologists are now able to evaluate the slope angle and the ideal planting angle for grape vines .
THIS DAY IN WINE HISTORY
1386: Portugal and England signed a pact to form a political and commercial alliance, which strengthened Portugal’s wine industry.
15th Century: By the second half of the 15th century, a substantial volume of Portuguese wine was exported to England, frequently in exchange for ‘bacalhau,’ or salt cod.
1678: Portuguese wines were referred to as ‘Port’ for the first time.
1744: Bartholomew Bearsley became the first British wine merchant to purchase land in the Douro. It was a tough choice that paid off handsomely, allowing him to establish ties with the farmers and receive first dibs on their wines.
1755: The Bearsley family became the first in the Douro to own vineyards and produce their own wine, giving them a significant edge.
1850: By the year 1850, most Port wines were fortified with brandy to stop the fermentation process. Not all merchants supported this method, but buyers preferred the sweeter, more alcoholic wines that aged well.
1863: Phylloxera struck greatly affecting the Portuguese wine industry
1872: Phylloxera has killed a large percentage of vines in the Douro. This caused the cost of wine to increase while the quality decreased.
2008: Taylor’s created the world’s first Pink Croft, a rosé-style Port that can be sipped on its own or as a cocktail mixer.