Another beautiful day in the Douro river valley. This time we went up stream to the Douro Superior and visited Quinta do Vesuvio. Once a private port producing estate, it is now owned by Symington (Quinta do Bonfim is also one of theirs) and still makes amazing port (we bought a bottle!) and now some pretty impressive table wines. Not only is it a beautiful place, it has a heck of a history. For a more detailed account you can go to their website here, but I’ll give you the highlights with my photos.
Prior to António Bernardo Ferreira buying the property in 1823 it was mostly scrub and fig trees. But when a great port year was had in 1830, Ferreira decided the estate could ascend to higher things. The winery was built in 1827 and you can still see its massive granite lagares where men would (and still do) crush the grapes by foot in a coordinated dance. Of course you need grapes to fill those lagares and it took more than a dozen years and 500 men to build the terraces and plant the vines. A massive undertaking.
Tragically Antonio died in 1835 (or was it 1844? the website is contradictory), but his dream was championed by his wife Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira. By now the estate was its own village with worker housing, transportation and a school. They were exporting wine directly to England and people outside of Portugal were coming to understand how good the port was. According to the website “Antónia was the first to bottle the wines from Vesúvio and sell them under the Quinta’s own name. This was unprecedented in the nineteenth century and began to build the Quinta’s exceptional reputation.”
But there was tragedy, too. She barely escaped drowning in a boating accident that took the life of a great friend. Then the dreaded grape vine disease phylloxera hit the valley. In response Dona Antonia tried new varieties and grafting techniques. Still, the harvests were pitiful and most other producers were laying off workers and downsizing. Not Dona Antonia. She concentrated on cultivating fruit and nut trees, grain crops and raising animals on the estate. She also started building and improvement projects to keep her workers paid.
All of this and more she did to enhance Quinta do Vesuvio’s reputation as well as the Douro Superior as a whole. She died in 1896 having made the estate and the region famous. An incredible woman. There ought to be a book!!
While a few people left early – right after lunch. We stayed to enjoy the scenery, our host and of course a lot of wine. I can’t believe it sits empty almost all the time. The current owners don’t really use it for much. It would make an incredible private hotel. And with it’s own train station wouldn’t be hard to get to.
So that’s it from the Douro Superior. Still more Portugal to come if you can believe it.
Great post 🙂