In 1678, two English merchants travelling through Portugal stayed one night at a monastery in Lamego. At dinner they enjoyed a wine they had never tasted before. This may well have been the first taste of port by the English and the two merchants quickly realized the wine's export potential.
There are many other stories about the origins of port wine but this is the one most accepted.
It is interesting to note that in the 17th Century, not even the people in the country's capital Lisbon,
about 300 kilometres away, knew much about the wine produced in the Douro Valley.
By the 18th Century, the English dominated the port trade, and demand for the product
during the Napoleonic Wars was very high because French wine was not available.
The English involvement explains why so many of the terms relating to the wine, its
organizations, labels and producing company names are not Portuguese.
One of the most controversial Englishmen in the history of port was the Baron of Forester.
He had many accomplishments. Baron of Forester was a successful wine merchant who felt the
adding of grape spirits to the wine to stop its fermentation was an adulteration
(In fact unscrupulous producers of the time often added questionable liquids to
increase their profits, including ox blood). In addition to stopping such additions,
the baron wanted Portugal's wines to be fermented completely, as the country’s exceptional
table wines are today.
Baron of Forester spent two years surveying the Douro Valley, drawing extraordinarily detailed
maps of the region. He lived aboard a kind of boat designed specifically for travel on this
fast-moving river called a barco rabelo.
Ironically, Baron de Forester drowned when
his boat overturned in one of the rapids. He was wearing a money belt filled with gold coins to pay his workers, which weighed him down. His body was never recovered.
As the port trade grew and became more lucrative, the King of Portugal took steps to regain control from the
English in the late 18th century. He sent his Minister, the Marquês de Pombal, to lay out the grape
growing area of the Douro. Many original demarcation posts still stand because they were made of the natural
rock of the Douro called schist. This is the very first demarcated wine region in the world.
Portuguese nobility moved into the port trade. One of the most remarkable was Dona Antonia
Adelaide Ferreira who owned many properties in the Douro Valley in the nine
teenth century. Not only was she a "mere" woman in a business dominated by men, she was a widow, with a young daughter.
Despite the challenges she faced, Ferreira worked hard and prospered.
At her request the peasants of the area built roads and buildings, cleared land and planted
vineyards. By the time of her death at age 85 years in 1896, she had created a very large and
significant port company, Ferreira Port, one that is still in business. Such was the r
elationship between Ferreira and her workers that today - almost two centuries after her death -
they refer to her wine by the familiar name Ferreirinha.