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.

However, it was not until the second half of the 17th century, as winemaking took off in the Douro and the wine trade quickly developed, that the name ‘port wine’ was first used. In September 1756, the Douro Wine Company was founded, for the purpose of ensuring product quality (preventing fraud, fixing prices) according to the land registry. By the 19th century, port wine was known and recognised internationally. In 1851, port wine was available the world over, thanks to Portuguese diplomatic missions. France is the leading importer of port wine. 

 
 

Geographic location

The Douro region extends west to east, from the Spanish border to the Norte Region of Portugal. It is surrounded by mountains, enjoying a unique microclimate. The vineyards are planted along the Douro, some at up to 600 metres in elevation.
The region is divided into three areas: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Alto Douro (Upper Douro). 
The further north-east 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.

The Quintas’ Strong Points

A vineyard that grows exclusively on hillsides, overlooking the bends in the Douro River, which forms a natural border with Spain. Measuring 120 hectares, it is one of the latest large vineyards created in Europe. Our vineyard is made up exclusively of A-rated vines, and is located in the Upper Douro, around Barca d’Alva in the heart of the International Douro Natural Park. This spectacular region was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. This high standard ensures that the Douro region’s sites will withstand the test of time. The schist soil gives the estate’s wines aromatic richness and minerality.

 
 

Geology and soil

The soils along the Upper Douro and its tributaries are primarily made of schist, meaning that they produce wines of great 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 machinery and even explosives. 

 
 

Climate, temperatures and precipitation

The region enjoys a Mediterranean microclimate with maximum high temperatures of 35°C to 40ºC in July and August, and minimum low temperatures of -1°C to -2ºC 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, there is little variation in temperature throughout the day. This encourages proper grape ripening, with sugar percentages of 12% Vol Alc, the amount required for port wine, with up to 17% Vol Alc. for some years.

 
 

The vine

Before the Phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, vines were planted

  • 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 the equipment can get through. Today, grafts of different varietals are selected according to the required sanitary certifications. 

 
 

Port winemaking

The harvest

The grapes are harvested manually between August and October

  • In smaller quintas, or estates, the grapes are harvested in small rectangular plastic crates that hold around 25 kg. They are taken to the vats using different transport methods.
  • In larger quintas, the grapes are poured into rectangular plastic crates that hold around 120 kg of grapes, and they are trucked in.

Stomping grapes in a lagare

In the past, the grapes were carried in baskets that weighed 60 to 75 kilograms. The grapes were then poured into lagares—which were generally made of granite—where they were stomped and crushed by foot. Larger lagares could fit more men to stomp more wine. The first stomping, called the corta, or cutting, lasted 4 hours. The men rested for the night and then stomped the grapes again the next day (24 to 36 hours total). This crushing method is still used today for Vintage and Prestige Ports.

 

 
   
 

The cellar director’s spirit, Antonio Saraiva

The house’s investments have always been guided by respect for quality. Rozès is continuing to invest in vines and production equipment in the Douro Valley.
In this vineyard, with a contrasting climate, a wonderful wine, known the world over, is born. It flows with the same serenity as the Douro River, where these precious grapes grow, exposed like diamonds to the sunshine.

After nature does its part, man takes over, first picking the grapes. These jewels have to be crushed and fermented, before fermentation is halted by adding wine-based eau de vie. But therein lies the difficulty, knowing just the right moment to stop the fermenting must. That is why human experience and know-how is so crucial in asserting the success of a great port wine. 

 
   

Champagne

Provence

Camargue

Portugal

 

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