"The Douro is the world's first winegrowing region to have a formal demarcation - only true 'port' comes from the Douro."
The Douro winegrowing region is situated in the Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro region of Northern Portugal. The area is one of the world's oldest regulated and demarcated wine regions consisting of approximately 242,700 hectares and stretches 100km inland from Porto, along the river Douro, to the Spanish border. Historically, the Douro has been associated primarily with Port wine production but now it is becoming well known for its excellent red and white table wines.
The Douro regions consists of an intricate system of deep twisting valleys carved out over time by the River Douro and its tributaries, such as the Pinhao, Corgo and the Tavora. It is here on the steep hillsides that most of the vineyards are grown and where one finds the prestigous and famous wine estates called 'quintas'. The Douro valley is considered to be one of the most beautiful vineyard areas in the world having been awarded Unesco World Heritage Status.
The Douro region was demarcated in 1756 by Marques de Pombal, Prime Minister of Portugal, making it the first such designation in Europe. From that point on, only true "port wine" came from this region, following specific regulations of production. No drink is allowed to be called port unless it is made in this region.
The idea of a demarcated region for Port was first raised in 1755 after Port shipments had dramatically declined due to poor quality. The chief winegrowers in the region met to discuss ways of controlling both the quality and quantity of Port. The result of these deliberations was the formation of a demarcated region and the establishment of a controlling company Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro. This company imposed quantity limits on producers and purchased Port at fixed prices depending on the quality. Large fines were imposed on farmers who were caught trying to bring grapes into the region. Over a period of four years solid granite pillars, the Marcos de Feitoria, were erected to define the boundaries of the region.
Since then further changes to the boundaries have been made to included areas such as the Douro Superior.The winegrowing region of the Douro is sub-divided into three subregions along the Douro River, from the west to the east. The soils vary and normally one finds vineyards dedicated to port production are planted on schist soils while granite based soils are used for table wines. Although in recent years many port producing quintas also make table wines.
The area furthest to the west is the Baixo Corgo ("Lower Corgo") which spans from the town of Regua to Corgo, a small tributary of the Douro River. It has approximately 14,000 hectares of vineyards and historically was the first area to be planted. Here the rainfall and the vineyard yields are the highest producing grapes with moderate intensity of flavours. The conditions are ideal for creating the lighter, early maturing styles of port, such as Ruby.
Further upstream to the east, centred around the village of Pinhao, is the Cima Corgo. This is the largest subregion with around 19,000 hectares of land planted to vineyards and is considered to be the centre of port and wine making. The climate is warmer and drier with a predominance of schistous soil - an environment which stresses the vines sufficiently to produce rich, intensely flavoured grapes. The wines created are deep and concentrated, ideal for maturing and developing the rich, velvety and smooth tones characteristic of an aged wine or port. The majority of the finest Quintas are located here, including Quinta de La Rosa which is situated on the banks of the Douro River a few kilometres from Pinhao.
The Douro Superior or "Upper Douro" extends eastwards from the Valeira Gorge nearly to the Spanish border and is the hottest and driest of all the regions. The area was not part of the original 1756 demarcation and only started to be developed when the Valeira Gorge was opened to river traffic in 1789. Being less accessible, only a small portion of this area is used for viticulture, approximately 8,700 hectares, but is the source of some of the very finest Port and table wines.
In 2007 the Bergqvist family decided to purchase Quinta das Bandeiras in the Douro Superior creating a joint venture with their winemaker, Jorge Moreira. The Quinta is a 240 acre property of rolling hills located in Pocinho, just across the river from Vale Meao. The terroir and climate of Quinta das Bandeiras results in bold, aromatic and well structured red and white table wines called Passagem.
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