Alto Douro Wine Region
Since 2001 • Cultural
Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Alto Douro region for some 2,000 years. Since the 18th century, its main product, port wine, has been world famous for its quality. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution.
The Alto Douro Region has been producing wine for some 2,000 years and its landscape has been moulded by human activities. The components of the landscape are representative of the full range of activities association with winemaking - terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels and roads.
Protected from the harsh Atlantic winds by the Marão and Montemuro mountains, the property is located in the north-east of Portugal, between Barqueiros and Mazouco, on the Spanish border. The terraces, by blending into infinity with the curves of the countryside, endow this property with its unique character. The Douro and its principal tributaries, the Varosa, Corgo, Távora, Torto and Pinhão, form the backbone of the nominated property, itself defined by a succession of watersheds. The boundaries correspond to identifiable natural features of the landscape - watercourses, mountain ridges, roads and paths. The landscape in the Demarcated Region of the Douro is formed by steep hills and boxed-in valleys that flatten out into plateaux above 400 m.
The Douro valley is now water-filled behind dams. Soil is almost non-existent, which is why walls were built to retain the manufactured soil on the steep hillsides. It has been created literally by breaking up rocks and is known as 'anthroposoil'. The most dominant feature of the landscape is the terraced vineyards that blanket the countryside. Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques. The earliest, employed pre-Phylloxera (pre-1860), was that of the socalcos , narrow and irregular terraces buttressed by walls of schistous stone that were regularly taken down and rebuilt, on which only one or two rows of vines could be planted. The long lines of continuous, regularly shaped terraces date mainly from the end of the 19th century when the Douro vineyards were rebuilt, following the Phylloxera attack. The new terraces altered the landscape, not only because of the monumental walls that were built but also owing to the fact that they were wider and slightly sloping to ensure that the vines would be better exposed to the sun. Furthermore, these terraces were planted with a greater number of rows of vines, set more widely apart, in order to favour the use of more technical equipment such as mule-drawn ploughs.
Transforming the natural environment, clearing the land, and restructuring the hillsides required a great of labour that was brought in from outside. The more recent terracing techniques, the patamares , and the vertical planting that began in the 1970s, have greatly altered the appearance of this built landscape. Large plots of slightly sloping earth-banked land, usually planted with two rows of vines, were laid out to facilitate mechanization of the vineyard. Trials of other systems are continuing with a view to finding alternatives to the patamares and to minimize the impact of the new methods on the landscape. Among the expanse of vineyards remain areas, nevertheless, which have survived untouched since the days of Phylloxera, abandoned socalcos known as mortórios . These have become overrun with native scrub or olive trees. More continuous, regular olive groves have been planted on either side of the land under vine. In the Upper Douro, olive and almond trees represent the dominant crops, although these are slowly being replaced by vines. Along the lower banks of the Douro or on the edges of watercourses on the hillsides are groves of orange trees, sometimes walled. On the heights, above the altitude at which vines can grow, the land is covered with brushwood and scrub and rare coppices. During the long, hot, dry summers of the region, water used to be collected in underground catchments located on the hills or even within a vineyard.
Above, characteristically white-walled villages, medieval in origin, and casais are usually located midway up the valley sides. Around an 18th-century parish church, rows of houses open directly on to the street to form a web of narrow winding roads with notable examples of vernacular architecture. The Douro quintas are major landmarks, easily identified by the groups of farm buildings around the main house. No churches or shrines of any significant value lie in the World Heritage site, although the landscape is dotted with small chapels located high on the hills or next to manor houses.
Recent archaeological discoveries have revealed the presence of very ancient human settlements in the more sheltered valleys of the Douro and its tributaries and in neighbouring mountains. The great many Palaeolithic rock carvings found in the extreme eastern area of the Demarcated Douro Region between the valleys of the rivers Côa and Águeda and Douro represent a cultural aggregate that itself is of outstanding universal value.
Seeds of Vitis vinifera have recently been found at the 3-4 thousand year old Buraco da Pala Chalcolithic archaeological site near Mirandela. However, the more significant relics of viticulture and winemaking that have been uncovered date to the Roman occupation and particularly to the end of the Western Empire (3rd and 4th centuries AD). At the beginning of the Christian era, the Romans redefined all the land-use and restructured the economic activities in the entire valley of the Douro. From the 1st century onwards, they either introduced or promoted cultivation of vines, olive trees and cereals (the 'cultural trilogy of Mediterranean agriculture'), exploited the numerous sources of mineral water, mined minerals and ore, and built roads and bridges. One of the most important rural sanctuaries in Europe (Panóias, near Vila Real) shows traces of native, Roman, and oriental religious cults.
From the beginning of the Middle Ages, until just before the birth of Portugal as a nation in the 12th century, the valley of the Douro was ruled in turn by the Suevi (5th century), the Visigoths (6th century), and the Moors (8th- 11th centuries). This opening of the region to a communion of assorted, continuously overlapping, cultures is reflected in the traditional collective imagination. The victory of the Christians over the Moors in Iberia does not appear to have interrupted the Douro valley's longstanding tradition of interracial cross-breeding and cultural acceptance.
The valley continued to be occupied. Viticulture increased during a period of the establishment and growth of several religious communities whose importance to the economy was especially noteworthy from the mid-12th century onwards, namely the Cistercian monasteries of Salzedas, São João de Tarouca, and São Pedro das Águias. They invested in extensive vineyards in the best areas and created many notable quintas. The end of the Middle Ages saw an increase in population, agriculture, and commercial exchange as towns and cities grew, particularly walled towns such as Miranda and Porto. Long-distance trade flourished, namely the shipping of products from the region down river to the city of Porto, linked with the major European trading routes. The rising demand for strong wine to supply the armadas led to a new expansion of the regional vineyards, particularly in those areas that were rapidly becoming famous for the quality of their wine.
From the 16th century onwards, the making of quality wines for commercial purposes assumed an increasing importance. Viticulture continued to expand throughout the 17th century, accompanied by advances in the techniques for producing wines and increased involvement in European markets for wine. The first reference to 'Port Wine,' in a shipping document of wine for Holland, dates to 1675. This period marked the onset of a great volume of trade with England that benefited greatly from the wars between Britain and France. Port rapidly dominated the British market for wine, overtaking those from France, Spain, and Italy. The 1703 Treaty of Methuen between Portugal and England set the diplomatic seal of approval on this trade and granted preferential rights to Portuguese wines. Throughout the 18th century, the fact that the sale of fortified wines from the Douro depended on the British market was reflected by adapting the product to the taste of this market and, at the same time, by a rapid increase in the number of British wine merchants. The British Factory House was founded in Porto in 1727.
Conflicts arose between these commercial interests and the Douro farmers. The latter were forced to accept continuously lower prices, together with the demand for darker, stronger, sweeter wines with a higher alcohol content. The State therefore regulated the production and trade of this vital economic product, initially with the creation, by Royal Charter on 10 September 1756, of the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro. The productive region was formally marked out. Its entire perimeter around the vineyards was carefully demarcated by 335 large rectangular, flat, or semi-circular granite markers. The word FEITORIA and the date on which each was placed in situ (usually 1758, occasionally 1761), was carved on the side facing the road.
This first demarcation represents an early manifestation of unmistakably contemporary practices. It included making an inventory and classifying the vineyards and their respective wines according to the complexity of the region. It created institutional mechanisms for controlling and certifying the product, supported by a vast legislative framework.
The first demarcation enveloped the traditional winegrowing area, mainly in the Lower Corgo. Not until 1788- 92 did the vineyards expand to the Upper Douro. The surge of commercial vineyards eastwards of the gorge, however, only occurred following epidemics of diseases of the vines (especially oidium in 1852 and phylloxera in 1863) that devastated the vines in the traditional wine-growing areas. The regime that relaxed control over production and trade (1865-1907) and the construction of the Douro railway line (1873-87) encouraged this expansion. When in 1907 the State undertook a profound revision of the legislation regulating the winemaking sector, the new demarcation covered the entire area under vines, including the Upper Douro, as far as the Spanish border.
Concurrently, in 1876, Douro farmers began to recover the vineyards that had been damaged by phylloxera. As throughout Europe, the definitive solution only appeared with the introduction of American rootstock on which domestic varieties of vines were grafted. Recovery of Douro viticulture and the introduction of new techniques for planting and training the vines has had a significant impact on the landscape due to the construction of wider socalcos with taller and more geometric walls that are distinctly different from the narrow pre-phylloxera terraces and their lower, tortuous walls.
Throughout the 20th century the Demarcated Douro Region has been subject to several regulatory models. The Interprofessional Committee for the Demarcated Douro Region (CIRDD) was instituted in 1995. The principal regulatory mechanism for production continues to be the system for distributing the benefício, according to which the amount of must that is authorized for making port wine is allocated according to the characteristics and quality of the respective vines. Mechanization was introduced, somewhat hesitantly, in the 1970s to help with some of the more arduous tasks in the vineyard such as the scarifying of the land and bringing with it new wide, earth-banked vineyards and 'vertical planting' along steeper hillsides that no longer require building walls to shore up the terraces. The aesthetic impact of these new vineyards on the landscape varies, yet the mountain viticulture of the Douro continues to be carried out almost totally by hand. The rocky nature of the soil, the steep hillsides, and the existing terraces themselves are extremely difficult to adapt to the use of machines, though the product, port wine, is today mostly made in modern, totally mechanized wineries.
Justification for being a World Heritage Site
Criterion (iii): The Alto Douro Region has been producing wine for nearly two thousand years and its landscape has been moulded by human activities.
Criterion (iv): The components of the Alto Douro landscape are representative of the full range of activities association with winemaking – terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels, and roads.
Criterion (v): The cultural landscape of the Alto Douro is an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region, reflecting the evolution of this human activity over time.