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The Wine History in Portugal

The past is known through the collective memory. The very notion of identity is connected with what lingers, distinguishes and is remembered. In this context, we invite you to a small trip through the History of Vineyards and the Wine in Portugal:

Although wrapped in many doubts and myths, it is thought the vineyard was cultivated by the first time in the valleys of Tejo and Sado, around 2000 years BC, by the Tartessian..

The Phoenician, around the 10th century BC seized the trade of the Tartessian, including the wine. It is thought maybe the Phoenician brought some grape varieties, which they introduced in Lusitânia.

In the 7th century BC the Greeks settled in the Iberian Peninsula and developed the viticulture, giving particular attention to the art of making wine.

It is believed that in the 6th century BC the Celts, to whom the vine was already familiar, have brought to the Peninsula the varieties of vineyards they cultivated. It is also probable they brought techniques of cooperage as well.

The Celts and the Iberian merged into one people – the Celtiberian – ancestors of the Lusitanian, who dominated in the IV century BC.

The warrior expansion of Rome by the Iberian Peninsula led to the first contacts with the Lusitanian, around 194 BC. There followed many years of struggle and guerrillas, won by the Romans only two centuries later, with the conquest of all the Peninsula in 15 AD when they succeeded in subduing the Lusitanian.

The Romanization of the Peninsula contributed to the modernization of the vine culture, with the introduction of new varieties and the enhancement of certain cultivation techniques, namely the pruning.

At this time, the vine culture had a considerable development, given the need to frequently send wine to Rome, where the consumption increased and the own production did not meet the demand.

Followed the barbarian invasions and, with them, the decadence of the Roman Empire. The Lusitania was disputed by the Suevi and the Visigoths, who finally conquered it to the Romans in 585 AD, having occurred afterwards the blending of races and cultures, passing from the paganism to the adoption of Christianity.

The great expansion of Christianity takes place at this time (6th and 7th centuries AD), though it was already known in the Iberian Peninsula since the 2nd century. The wine becomes therefore essential the sacred act of communion. The canonical documents from that time show the “mandatory” use of the genuine wine from the vine in the celebration of the mass (product designated as “non corrupted”, to which was only added a small portion of water)

In the beginning of the 8th century other invasions took place, this time coming from the South. With the Arab influence, a new period for the Iberian viticulture began. The Koran forbade the consumption of fermented drinks, in which the wine is included. However, they were tolerant towards the Christians, applying to the farmers a policy based on benevolence and protection, provided that they surrendered to the rural work, to get the best from the same.

Between the 12th and 13th centuries, the wine was the main exported product. Existing documents confirm the importance of the vine and the wine within the Portuguese territory, even before the birth of nationality.

Meanwhile, the Christian Reconquest had already begun. The fights took place throughout the territory and the constant war actions were destroying the crops, including the vine.

The foundation of Portugal in 1143, by D.Afonso Henriques, and the conquest of the entire Portuguese territory to the Moors, in 1249, allowed the Religious, Military and Monastic Orders to settle here, with special highlight to the Templars, the Hospitallers, Sant’Iago da Espada and Cister, who populate and plowed extensive regions, that became active centers of agriculture colonization, widening, this way, the areas of wine cultivation. The wine became, then, part of the diet of the medieval man and began to have some relevance in the income of feudal lords. However, much of its importance came also from its role in religious ceremonies.

The Portuguese wines began to be known even in northern Europe.

It was in the second half of the 14th century, that the wine production began to have a great development, renewing and increasing its export.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, in the period of the Portuguese expansion, the ships and galleon departed to India, among other products transported wine. In the golden period that followed the Discoveries, the Portuguese wines worked as a ballast in ships and caravels that traded the products brought from Brazil and the East.

It is perhaps worth to refer here the wines of “Roda” or “Torna Viagem”. If we think how long the trips lasted…Were, in general, about six long months, in which the wines were remained in the barrels, shaken by the balancing of the waves, or exposed to sun, or sometimes even submerse in the water at the bottom of the ship. And the wine was even better!

Such smooth aging was proportioned by the heat of the bilge, when the ship passed, at least twice, the Ecuador and by the permanence of the wines in the barrels, making them unique, precious and, as such, sold at truly fabulous prices. The wines of “Roda” or “Torna Viagem” came, this way, to provide the empiric knowledge of a certain kind of aging, whose scientific techniques would be developed later.

In the middle of the 16th century, Lisbon was the greatest wine consumption and distribution centre of the empire – the Portuguese maritime expansion brought this product to the four corners of the world.

In the XVII century, the publication of various geographical works and journey reports, whether from Portuguese or foreign authors, allows us to understand the historical route of the Portuguese wine regions, the prestige of its wines and the importance of the consumption and the volume of exports.

In 1703, Portugal and England signed the Methuen Treaty, with which the trade between the two countries was regulated. A special regime for the entrance of the Portuguese wines in England was established. The export of wine knew then a new increase.

In the 18th century the wine culture, as well as other aspects in the national life, suffered a strong influence of the strong personality of Marquês de Pombal. Thus, a great region benefited from a series of protectionist measures – the region of Alto Douro and the famous Port Wine. As a result of the fame this wine had acquired, there was an increase in demand from other countries in Europe, besides England, traditional importer. The high prices that the Port Wine reached led the producers to be more concerned with quantity than with quality of exported wines, what originated a severe crisis. To put an end to this crisis, Marquês de Pombal created on the 10thSeptember 1756, the “Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro”, in order to discipline the production and the trading of the region’s wines, predicting also the need to do, urgently, the demarcation of the region, which came to be accomplished. Thus, according to some investigators, this was the first officially demarcated region in the wine world.

The 19th century was a dark period to the wine culture. The plague of phylloxera,which appeared initially in the Douro region in 1865, rapidly spread throughout the country, devastating most part of the wine regions.

In 1907/1908, began the process to officially regulate several other denominations of Portuguese origin. Apart from the producing region of Port Wine and the Douro table wines, other regions whose wines were by then already famous, began to be demarcated: Madeira, Moscatel of Setúbal, Carcavelos, Dão, Colares and Green Wine (Vinho Verde).

The Federation of the Centre and South Wine Producers (1933), corporative organism equipped with great means and which intervention marked, fundamentally, in the market regulatory area..

To the Federation followed the National Wine Council (JVN) (1937) and to this one the Institute of Vine and Wine (IVV) (1986), adapted to the structures imposed by the new market policy resulting from Portugal’s entry to the European Community.

Arises, then, a new perspective in the Portuguese economy and, consequently, in the vine culture. The concept of Designation of Origin was settled according to the communitarian legislation and was created the classification of “Regional Wine” to table wines with geographical indication, reinforcing the Portuguese wine quality policy.

With the purpose of management, application, vigilance and compliance with the respective regulation of the Designations of Origin and the Regional Wines, Committees of Regional Wines were created, which have a fundamental role in the preservation of the quality and prestige of the Portuguese wines.

Are currently recognized and protected in all the Portuguese territory, 33 Designations of Origin and 8 Geographical Indications.

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