Foundation and history of Portugal

Founded in 1143 by D. Afonso Henriques, Portugal definitively consolidated its borders during the following century, thus becoming one of the oldest countries in the world. This situation contributed to the strong cultural identity and internal unity.

Its privileged position in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, along

to the Atlantic Ocean, determined its vocation, and launched itself in the 15th century, in the great epic of the Discoveries.

Portugal was the first country to discover the Atlantic Route to India, Brazil, and China, while at the same time establishing itself on the coasts of West and East Africa, leaving a little everywhere the testimony of its language and culture. It opened itself to new cultures and contributed fundamentally to the emergence of a new Europe.

Names such as Infante D. Henrique, D. João II, or Vasco da Gama mark the nation’s course.

Portugal is a small country, affected by successive political mismanagements. Still, it is rich in the diversity of the landscape, has a valuable historical and cultural heritage, has delicious cuisine, its beaches are recognized worldwide, its mountains are excellent for resting, and it has good infrastructure. Furthermore, its landscape is full of medieval castles, churches, cathedrals, and palaces that tell a long and rich history. Everywhere its hospitable people know how to receive with refinement and tradition.

Portugal also seduces with its climate. On the continent, the weather will change from region to region, influenced by the relief and proximity to the sea. Still, in general, it is mild, and the presence of the sun is a constant.

Portugal wine history

Terraces view

The History of Wine in Portugal

According to historians, the evidence is that the Tartessians cultivated the first vines in southern Portugal, in the Tejo valley and the Sado, around 2,000 years B.C.

The Tartessians are considered the oldest people in the Iberian Peninsula. The evidence is that they used wine as a bargaining chip with other populations and people.

Around the 10th century B.C., the Phoenicians took over the Tartessian trade, including wine. They introduced some vine varieties and expanded the culture of viticulture in the Iberian Peninsula.

In the 7th century B.C., the Greeks settled in the Iberian Peninsula. They developed viticulture, giving particular attention to the art of winemaking.

In an archaeological site in the Portuguese city of Alcácer do Sal, located in the Alentejo, they found a carving used by the Greeks to dilute wines, as was the custom at the time.

In the 6th century B.C., the Celts, who were already familiar with the cultivation of vines, would have brought the Peninsula the varieties of vines they cultivated. It is also likely that they got cooperation techniques.

The Celts and Iberians merged into a single people – the Celtiberians -ascendants of the Lusitanians, who became established in the 4th century B.C.

The aggressive expansion of Rome in the Iberian Peninsula led to the first contact with the Lusitanians around 194 B.C. Long years of warfare followed, only won by the Romans two centuries later, with the conquest of the entire Peninsula in 15 B.C., succeeding in defeating the Lusitanians.

The Romanization of the Peninsula contributed to the modernization of vine culture by introducing new varieties and improving specific cultivation techniques, such as pruning.

At this time, the culture of the vine had a considerable development, given the need to frequently send wine to Rome, where consumption was increasing, and own production did not meet the demand.

With the Barbarian invasions came the decadence of the Roman Empire. Suevi and Visigoths fought over Lusitania and defeated the Romans in 585 A.D., Causing a fusion of races and cultures, leading to the adoption of Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula. At that time, the people of that region practiced pagan religions.

It was during this time that Christianity expanded greatly. The wine then became indispensable for the sacred act of communion. Christianity included wine in the canonical documents of the time, which made it obligatory to use pure wine in the celebration of mass.

At the beginning of the 8th century, other waves of invaders followed, coming from the South. With the Arab influence, a new period for Iberian viticulture began. The Qur’an forbids the consumption of fermented beverages, and among these beverages is wine. However, they were tolerant towards Christians, applying to farmers a policy based on benevolence and protection as long as they gave themselves to rural work to get the best out of it.

Between the XII and XIII centuries, wine was the main exported product. Existing documents confirm the importance of vines and wine in the Portuguese territory, even before the birth of the nationality.

Meanwhile, the Christian Reconquista had already begun. Fighting took place all over the territory, and the constant war actions destroyed crops, including vines.

King Afonso Henriques founded Portugal after conquering the entire territory against the Moors in 1249. He created the religious, military, and monastic orders, especially the Templars, the Hospitallers, Santiago da Espada, and the Cistercians, which populated extensive regions, becoming centers of agricultural colonization, especially the areas where they practiced vine cultivation. Wine became part of the medieval man’s diet and started to have some significance in the feudal lords’ income. However, its importance also came from its role in religious ceremonies.

The wines of Portugal began to be known even in northern Europe.

In the half of the 14th century, that wine production started to develop significantly, renewing itself and increasing its exportation.

In the XV and XVI centuries, during the Portuguese expansion period, the ships and galleons that set sail to India, one of the products, carried wine.

Portugal wine history

Boat at sunset

The wines spent a long time in barrels during the voyage. It was about six long months or more that the wines were kept in the barrels exposed to the sun, spread out in the holds of the caravels, shaken by the waves, or sometimes even submerged in water from the bottom of the caravels, and the wine got better!

This gentle aging was provided by the heat of the holds and the wine remaining in the barrels, making its flavor precious. The “road” or “Torna Viagem” wine brought experimental knowledge of a specific type of aging, whose scientific techniques would develop over the years.

In the middle of the 16th century, Lisbon was the most important center for the consumption and distribution of wine in Portugal. The Portuguese maritime expansion took the wine to all corners of the world.

In the 17th century, the publication of various geographical works and travel reports by Portuguese and foreign authors allowed us to understand the history of the Portuguese wine-growing areas and the prestige of its wines.

In 1703, Portugal and England signed the Methuen Treaty, where the wine and textile regulated trade between the two countries. It established a special regime for the entry of Portuguese wines into England. The export of wine then experienced a further increase.

In the 18th century, viticulture, like other aspects of national life, suffered the influence of the strong personality of the Marquis of Pombal. Thus, a significant region benefited from a series of protectionist measures, the famous Port Wine and the Alto Douro region. With the fame that this wine had acquired, there was an increase in its demand from other European countries besides England, the traditional importer.

The high prices that Port Wine reached caused producers to worry more about the quantity than the quality of the wines exported, which led to a severe crisis. To end this crisis, on September 10, 1756, the Marquis of Pombal created the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro to discipline the production and trade of the region’s wines. Thus, according to some researchers, this was the first officially demarcated region in the winemaking world.

The 19th century was a difficult period for viticulture. The phylloxera plague, which appeared in the Douro region in 1865, quickly spread throughout the country, devastating most wine regions.

In 1907/1908, the process of officially regulating several other Portuguese appellations of origin began. Besides the Port wine-producing region and the table wines of the Douro, the producing areas of some already famous wines already had restrictions, such as the regions of Madeira, Moscatel de Setúbal, Carcavelos, Dão, Vinho Verde, and Colares.

Created in 1933, the Federação dos Vinicultores do Centro e Sul de Portugal. A business association designed to regulate the wine market. The Junta Nacional followed the Federação do Vinho (JNV) in 1937, followed by the Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (IVV) in 1986.

Portugal’s entry into the European Union in 1986 was the start of a new era of wine growing in Portugal. It put an end to production and trade restrictions, it was possible to take out low-interest loans, and producers would get subsidies to produce quality wines in Portugal.

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A new perspective appeared in the Portuguese economy and, consequently, in viticulture. The concept of Denomination of Origin with communitarian legislation and the “Regional Wine” classification was created for table wines with geographical indication, reinforcing the quality policy of the Portuguese wines.

To manage the Denomination of Origin and the Regional Wines, to apply, monitor, and comply with the respective regulations, Regional Winegrowing Commissions were created, which play a fundamental role in preserving the quality and prestige of Portuguese wines.

Currently, 14 wine regions, 31 Denominations of Origin, and 14 Geographical Indications are recognized and protected. In addition, there are more than 250 native Portuguese grape varieties and 192,743 hectares of vineyards.

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: May 15, 2023

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