Any Port in a storm?
On this day in 1756, the Douro Demarcated Region was created in Portugal by the prime minister Marquis de Pombal, making Douro Europe's third oldest wine appellation. Port wine is named after Portugal's seaport city of Porto in the Douro region. This fortified and sweet wine is not only the face of Douro wine industry, but represents the country's contribution to the world's collective wine heritage. 10 September is designated Port Wine Day.
Port has a very interesting story behind it, one that is borne out of necessity with a heavy British hand in it. In the 17th and 18th century, Britain and France alternated between being prickly neighbours or trading punches. Whether it was boycott or embargo, French wines weren't landing on British shores fast enough. The British had to look elsewhere for their late evening tipple.
Originally, the farmers and landowners in the Douro Valley were Portuguese. British merchants mostly bought the wine from them, aged it in Porto and shipped it back home. Because the distance between Douro vineyards to the port was great, and seafaring was a rough transportation option, a way had to be found to keep the wine from spoiling. Winemakers started to add brandy to the wine to keep it stable, a winemaking process called fortification. The long journey gave the port ample time to pick up flavours from the oak barrels that hold it, which the British consumer grew to appreciate.
Some early movers like Taylor's started buying land in Portugal for wine production. Phylloxera in the 19th century played a huge role in accelerating this ownership change. This pest infestation killed most of the grape vines in Portugal, and many original owners simply gave up and sold their lands to British merchants, who were patient to wait for a solution. Post Phylloxera, when grape growing resumed, many of these lands came under the British. This is why there are today many Port houses bearing British names like Taylor's, Graham's and Dow's.