A Brief History of Douro Wines & Port
Prepping for our Douro River Cruise through wine, cuisine, culture & history with Peter & Betsy Spann
August 20-27, 2022
RIGHT: The colorful city of Porto & Eiffel design bridge
When we taste a wine. . .
we get an expression of the grape variety, the soil and the wine-making style of the region. Look a little deeper and you’ll also get a taste of the regions' history, economics and politics.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, England was the most powerful country in the world, followed by France and Spain, which naturally led to rivalry and frequent conflicts. The English had a thirst for good wine, so the government needed to suppress the demand for French and Spanish wines while still quenching the thirst of their constituents. A trade treaty with Portugal (no threat to England), beneficial to both sides, was the obvious answer. 
The Methuen Treaty between the two was signed in 1703, granting Portugal the right to export wines to England tariff-free in exchange for English woolens and lucrative fishing rights off the coast of Portugal for the English.
The Portuguese wines with the highest reputation were from the Douro Valley and were called Port after the major city Porto, situated near the Atlantic coast. These were typical table wines with moderate alcohol and no residual sugar. British merchants knew that wine shipped in barrels had less chance of spoilage if the alcohol level was higher so they asked producers to fortify their wines with brandy. 

In a rush to supply the thirsty Brits, producers often added brandy before fermentation was complete, inadvertently killing the yeast and halting fermentation while the wine still had residual grape sugar.  Word came back from England that this was much preferred over previous non-sweet shipments, so the combination of politics and economics created Port as we know it.
When wine producers from outside of the Douro Valley started mimicking this style with their own wines and under-pricing the Douro originals, Port producers cried foul and asked the government to intercede on their behalf.  The Marquis de Pombal, Secretary of State of Internal Affairs answered their call by mapping the region and placing granite markers along it’s outskirts, thereby creating the first demarcated wine region in the world in 1756. MAP ABOVE: Douro Demarcated Wine Region

This excluded wines made from grapes grown outside the valley and also established quality regulations. One stated that all wines sold as Port had to be aged in Vila Nova da Gaia, a city near Porto, where the cooler coastal temperatures were deemed a safer place for wine storage than in the hotter interior where the vineyards were. 

Coincidentally, the Marquis happened to control the leases on many of the warehouses in Vila Nova da Gaia. PHOTO BELOW: Vila Nova da Gaia Port Lodges with Port barrel-laden boats from upriver ready to unload
The British merchants, not simply content with importing the barrels into England, started vertically integrating by buying or leasing warehouses (referred to as Port Lodges) in Vila Nova da Gaia. The Portuguese growers were forced to sell their grapes or wine to these shippers, which is why most Ports have English rather than Portuguese names. This persisted even after air conditioning was widely available to control the temperatures at inland wineries.
When Portugal joined the E.U. in 1986, winegrowers saw this as an opportunity to emerge from under the yoke of the large Port shippers by producing and bottling their own non-fortified table wines, which didn’t fall under the laws dictating Port. E.U. regulators also overturned the Vila Nova da Gaia restriction, thereby allowing winegrowers to produce and bottle Port at their vineyards under their own names.
The open European market and the world-wide surge of interest in dry table wines helped return the Douro Valley to its’ reputation for the finest Portuguese table wines, and some of the finest wines in Europe. Dry table wines now account for almost half of all wine made in the Douro - an easy transition since table wines and Port are both made from the same grape varieties and from the same vineyards.
FUTURE EMAIL: I'll describe the MINHO D.O., where Vinho Verde wines are grown and made. This is the first region we'll sail through as we embark from Porto.
FUTURE EMAIL: There are myriad STYLES OF PORT. I'll describe the differences as well as how and why each are made.
This series of emails is designed to enhance your cruise experience. Betsy and I have been wine educators for several decades and want to pass our knowledge on to you. The more you know about this region before you arrive, the more you'll enjoy it when you're there. Cheers! -Peter Spann
During all on-board meals on our cruise, wines from Vinho Verde and the Douro and beers of Portugal will be served with meals at no extra charge. Daily land excursions and nightly entertainment are also included in the cruise price. Our cruise provider, Amawaterways, prides itself in having the finest cuisine and service on the water.

Special wine tastings and wine dinners comparing Douro and Sonoma County wines, exclusive to our group, are included. You must book through our tour operator Expanding Horizons of Tustin, CA to be part of the Spann Douro Group. Full information, pricing and registration is at: Toursandwine.com For full itinerary click here
Questions? email Ruth Jelsma at Expanding-Horizons or call her at (714) 975-9946‬.
Know anyone else who might be interested? Please forward this to them.
Betsy became interested in wine when her family moved to Bordeaux during her last year in high school. Since then she's owned two retail wine stores, worked for wine and beer importers, been a wine educator for almost 40 years, started one of the first chapters of Women On Wine, made wine at two Sonoma County wineries and one in South Africa.

Peter started recommending wines in French restaurants when he was 19 and now has 51 years of experience in all phases of the business; wine retail, wholesale, importing, production and marketing and has taught wine appreciation at colleges and universities. He first became involved with wines from Portugal in 1975 and spent 7 years as C.O.O. of a U.S. importing company specializing in Portuguese wines.

Together we've made wine at Spann Vineyards for the past 20 years.
QUESTIONS for Peter Spann? call 415-215-9540 or click to email.
SPANN VINEYARDS, 8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452 707-282-9143 www.spannvineyards.com