In just over a week, I’ll be going to Porto and then the Douro region for my fifth trip to film material that I need to fill a few gaps in my 3/4 finished Life on the Douro documentary. By the end, I will have spent over 40 days filming in what is truly a wonder of the world. The 60-80 kilometers of steep, man-made terraced vineyards shows so clearly how dependent we are on nature. It makes so clear the vastness of wine, as something that goes beyond a single person, a single vineyard, or single era. It makes so clear that the beverage itself is such a minute part of the story, like a couple of seconds of the high note of a soprano’s aria in a whole opera production.
The story starts with wars between the English and the French, so the English go to Portugal (and Spain) for their wine in the eighteenth century. The wine is fortified to stabilise it on the long ship voyages. The demand for Douro wine rises sharply, followed by a decline in quality. An earthquake destroys Lisbon, money is needed to rebuild it, and they look at the British trading Douro wine in Gaia, across the river from Porto, to provide it. Strict rules governinghe trade and the quality of wine are set up, and the Douro becomes the first regulated wine region in the world. Port wine must henceforth be shipped only from Gaia, but in 1986, Portugal joins the European Union which says that the Port trade is a monopoly, and the rules are changed so that smaller producers in the Douro itself can produce and sell Port wine, creating an exciting, dynamic and on-going renaissance in the region.
Then certain wine writers judge what’s in a given bottle, reduce it to a certain point score, ignoring the rest, and wonder why more people aren’t interested in wine.