Port, or the story of a great wine

For nearly two millennia, exceptional wines have been made on the schist hillsides of the Douro Valley. Port wine is more than just a gift of nature. In its very essence, in its historic density, it contains an entire cultural heritage, full of experience, knowledge, and skill that have been passed down from generation to generation

Port was once vital to Portugal's economy and still serves as a national symbol throughout the world. Wine vats and amphorae dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD have been found all around the Douro region.

 
   
 

Upper Douro geography

The Douro region is located in northern Portugal, on the Spanish border. It is surrounded by mountains, which explains its special climate. The vines are often planted at elevations of over 100 m and up to 550 m.

The region is divided into three areas: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Alto Douro (Upper Douro).  The further north you go in the Upper Douro, the fewer vineyards there are. In the Baixo Corgo, vines are the dominant crop, while the Cima Corgo is home to more fertile areas. In the Upper Douro region, vines are only grown around small villages or on recently-planted surfaces. 

 
   
 

Geology and soil

The soils along the Upper Douro and its tributaries are primarily granitic, meaning that the wine they produce is lower in quality.
To get the best out of these wines, man has shaped nature through a series of titanic efforts, including ground formation, disintegration of the rock, and the systematic use of terracing. This work is done using powerful machines and even explosives.

The most common textures are loam-sand, loam, and fine loam with a large amount of pebbles. These pebbles play an essential role, helping the roots to penetrate, reducing thermal amplitude, and protecting against erosion. In general, the percentage of organic matter is low (0.5-1.0%). The soil has low phosphorus content and average to high potassium content. It has an average acidity level.

 
 

Climate, temperatures and precipitation

The climate is temperate, with maximum temperatures of 31 to 34 °C in July and August, and minimum temperatures of -1 to 2 °C in January. 
The mountains to the north protect the vines from cold winds, and the Serra do Marão and Serra Montemuro ranges to the west keep moist Atlantic air masses out.

The climate is characterised by low rainfall and higher temperatures closer to Spain. In summer, temperatures vary little throughout the day, which encourages good grape ripening, with sugar levels of 12 to 14%, the percentage required for Port wines.

 

 
 

The vine

Before the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, vines were planted in one of two arrangements:

  • in one or two rows with individual stakes, separated by low stone walls, according to elevation curves to maintain the ground's natural slope,
  • horizontally, structured in low-grade terraces and stone walls.

These planting systems still dominate the region, accounting for 75% of vineyards despite great modernisation efforts. In most areas, the grapes cannot be harvested mechanically because the vines are too narrowly spaced, making it difficult to access the plots.

Some plots have been rearranged to create more space between the rows so that machines can get through. Today, grafts of different varietals are selected according to the required sanitary certifications. 

 
 

Port winemaking

The harvest

The harvest is done by hand in September.

  • In smaller quintas, or estates, the grapes are harvested in small rectangular wicker baskets that are taken to the vats using different transport methods.
  • In larger quintas, the grapes are poured into rectangular metal containers and trucked in.
 
   
 

The must

Before the end of the fermentation process, the must is ‘transformed’ using eau de vie. The right proportion is 155 litres of eau de vie for every 435 litres of must, and the mixture should have an alcohol content of 17 to 18 °C. Once this process is over, the port ‘rests’ so that it can gain in structure and complexity. The following spring, the wine is taken to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro from Porto, a crossing that was once made in the famous barcos rabelos boats. The coast's cool temperatures and humidity play a key role in Port's slow aging.

 
   

Champagne

Provence

Camargue

Portugal

Sparkling Wine

 

The abuse of alcohol is dangerous for your health. Consume with moderation.