2016 is the perfect time to take a Douro River cruise as Portugal celebrates a milestone birthday of its most iconic export. Port wine, usually referred to as simply Port, has been grown in the Douro valley for hundreds of years, but this year marks the 260th anniversary of the company that cemented the rules and regulations surrounding its production and helped share it with the masses.
In 1756, following a devastating earthquake in Lisbon the year before, the Douro Wine Company was first established by the Marquis of Pombal and Portuguese Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo. He needed to wrestle the winemaking industry from the fraudulent British merchants and back into the hands of the Portuguese so that the decimated city could be restored. He immediately set about precisely detailing the boundaries of the Douro growing region and, in doing so, created the world’s first wine appellation.
He knew that in order for the production of Port wine to be successful there had to be binding regulations put in place. He therefore formulated a range of controls which included a minimum and maximum price of grapes, as well as a limit to how much was allowed to be produced. The marquis of Pombal also put himself in charge of resolving any disputes between vineyards and shipping merchants so that everybody got a fair deal.
Before the formation of the Douro Wine Company, the quality and derivation of Port had become questionable. A stipulation of the Methuen Treaty enabled English wool to be imported into Portugal tax-free and this meant that many sheep farmers in the Douro Valley had gone out of business and turned to planting vineyards instead. This obviously led to an influx of wine, something that was compounded by the British merchants putting non-Douro grapes into their blend and adding juices and other non-grape based wine ingredients. All this resulted in a fall in satisfaction and the only people making any money were the dubious British shippers.
Although the governing body for Port is now recognised as the Port and Douro Wines Institute, it is important not to forget the essential work that was done more than two centuries ago. There’s no doubt that the guidelines put in place by Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo played a key role in the success that wine and fortified wine from the Douro Valley receives today.
There are more than a few options when it comes to commemorating this anniversary by quaffing a glass or two of Port yourself. We have Douro River cruises available from a range of different operators, some of which include land stays before or after your trip along the waterway. Along with Uniworld, Noble Caledonia and Riviera Travel AmaWaterways have 2016 sailings along Portugal’s river of gold. Their ‘Port Wine & Flamenco’ itinerary includes three nights in Lisbon before you sail and three in Madrid at the end, providing a relaxing cruise and stay option. Scenic are also launching their brand new ship, Scenic Azure, which is purpose-built for the shallow waters of the Douro.
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