1st things 1st: Even if it is said that port wine appeared from rotten brandy shipped between England and Portugal, the production of port (named after the Portuguese city of Porto) is lost in time. It came to History's attention in 1678 when the name appeared in trade registers of that city and then later in 1703 with the Methwen treaty (trade treaty between Portugal and England). But it was a lousily concept and everyone who made sweet liquorish wine in the northern region of Portugal called it port.
Only in the 18th century did the Marquês de Pombal (see previous article on him) started to control it's production and created a “região demarcada” (demarcated region) of the Douro to produce this particular wine in 1756, did the port we know today really existed. It was the Marquês who started in Portugal this concept of protected geographical goods. Even if he hanged everyone, and with this I mean men, women and children, who made or sold port wine that didn't belonged to this new monopoly , it was the initiative of the Marquês de Pombal that rose port to it's international status.
Map of the wine district of the Douro, by Baron Offley Forrester, mid 19th century.
Of course the British interest in this type of wine and the large presence of British families in Portugal at the end of the 18th century (see article on Portuguese economy) made it possible for these last ones to start businesses in that particular area. And there are several English names linked to port wine : Croft and Offley being two of them.
But one of the most known port producing “houses” is one that was always Portuguese and still today is known for its quality: The Ferreirinha.
Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, born in 1811, comes from a wealthy Portuguese port wine and grape producing family and took the family's cultures to start an improved port wine. She cretaceously selected the grapes and how they would be cultivated for the port she was now going to produce. Being a woman, she was one of the most know business people in the country and was called Ferreirinha (little Ferreira).
She introduced several new techniques too improve the production, gave a special attention tho the farmers and their families, which was unheard of, and even traveled to England to find a solution for a grape disease called phylloxera.
Phylloxera cartoon from the magazine Punch, September 6th, 1890.
One of the things the Ferreirinha was known best for, apart from the port wine, was the fact that she came up with a new way to plant the grapes on the slopes of the river Douro. Before, the “terraces” were just made into the the soil and the Lady Antónia Ferreira insisted on using schist to build them and linking them with rock staircases.
She was married to her cousin António Bernardo who took no interest in the family's business and spent all of the money. Other scandals related to politics, kidnapings and family problems brought the business close to end but the strong woman didn't let the name, properties or port production go down the drain.
Even a TV series was made about her life:
And now, as promised, for New Year some port.