Portugal has been producing wine for hundreds of years, however the development of Port wines is mainly due to its unique connection with Britain.
In 1386, a first treaty is signed between Portugal and Britain, instituting a preferential trade agreement between the two countries. Wine is mainly exchanged for cod fish, staple food for the Portuguese people and essential ingredient of the famous Bacalhau dishes.
In the 18th Century the relationship between Britain and Portugal deepens as a wave of conflicts appears with Britain’s main wine trading partner, France. At the end of the 17th Century, Colbert, first minister of the King of France Louis XIV, implements a series of protectionist laws restricting the import of foreign good. The dispute escalates quickly and the British Royal Navy ends up blocking the French ports and stopping all the exportations.
The Brits, however, are not ready to give up wine. Since they can’t import French wine anymore, they turn to another of their good trading partner, Portugal.
Peter Bearsley, the son of the founder of Taylor’s, is said to be the first British wine merchant to explore the upper Douro. He is also the first to settle there and even buys a vineyard in the Douro Valley. The area being too warm to store wine, the production is carried down the River Douro on boats and is stored in Oporto. This is how the wine became known as Port. Simultaneously brandy is added to the wine to protect it before its long journey to Britain.
Many British families settled in the area and took advantage of this fruitful trade. Today their names remain, they are Sanderman, Dows, Cockburn, Taylors and Croft amongst others.
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