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The Douro Valley, with its terraced vineyards accompanying each side of the Douro River, is considered one of the most beautifully scenic and oldest known demarcated regions in wine’s history. The Douro Valley is located in Portugal’s northern region and is known for its contributions to creating Oporto or Port Wine.
Port wine first began in 1139, when Portugal was founded. In 1386 the Treaty of Windsor was signed by Portugal, and trading between Portugal and Europe began. With the opening in trading, more and more goods became available, and people began to move from Europe to Portugal. Englishmen began settling in Portugal, and they founded a riverside town called Viana do Castelo. This town would come to play a valuable role in the story of Port Wine.
In 1667 trouble began to arise when England and France’s disagreements turned into a ban on each country’s wine imports. To help England’s dry spell, Portuguese winemakers started creating a new wine for consuming. Portugal turned to the Douro Valley to start making wines. Due to the distance between the valley and Viana do Castelo, the wine had to be transported through the Douro river. It was then delivered to a town called Oporto to be transported to England. The town of Oporto is where Port Wine gets its name!
To preserve the wine for its long journey to England, winemakers added Brandy as a preservative. The Brandy gave the wine the sweet taste that Port Wine is known for. Producers also found that Brandy helped stop fermentation, leaving behind an almost jam-like tasting and high alcohol content Port.
By 1756, The Douro Valley was demarcated. The vineyards were set apart by their quality into two separate classifications. The first classification was Vinhos de Feitoria wines. These are of the highest quality and higher-priced, whereas wine made from Vinhos de Ramo vineyards is considered a more standard port wine. Although flourishing, Port vineyards were nearly all wiped out 1000 years later due to Phylloxera and American Louse infestations in 1868 and 1872. By 1890, however new practices were available to help prevent further infestations.
Although practices were available, by 1890, nearly all the port producers had shut down their production and left, leaving the Douro valley barren. Thanks to tourism, the Douro Valley has made a comeback. People from all over the world are flocking to the Douro Valley to learn about this region and its role in wines’ history, and the Douro Valley is once again a bustling hub of winemaking.