• 2000 BC
  • 8th C.
  • 15th C.
  • 18th C.
  • 19th C.
  • 1900
  • 1986

History of vine growing

The Tartessos | 2 000 B.C.

It is believed that the Tartessos were the first to grow vines in the Iberian Peninsula. Wine would be used as a transaction currency in the metal trade.

The Phoenicians | 10th Century BC

The Phoenicians were looking for silver and tin in the estuaries of Guadiana, Sado, Tejo and Mondego. In exchange for metals, these people would offer amphoras filled with wine. The Phoenicians are very likely to have brought new grape varieties to Portugal.

The Greeks | 7th Century BC
The Greeks occupied the Iberian Peninsula and developed winemaking techniques. In Alcácer do Sal there are still traces of instruments used by the Greeks.

The Celts and Iberians | 6th Century BC

The Celts settled in the Iberian Peninsula. They had wine knowledge and brought some vines with them. They may also have introduced new cooperage methods. Later, the Celts merged with the Iberians, giving birth to the Celtiberian people.

The Romans and the Barbarians

The Romans | 2nd Century BC

The Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula and were responsible for major developments in wine culture. They introduced new grape varieties and improved vine growing techniques, namely pruning. The wine would be sent to Rome, since this city's production was not enough to satisfy demand.

The Barbarians | 7th Century AC

After numerous battles the Barbarians (namely the Suevi and Visigoths) managed to expel the Romans from the Iberian Peninsula. They adopted Roman religion and customs, among which the wine, but didn't develop the practice of growing vines. Wine was also used in religious ceremonies.

The Arabs

8th - 12th Centuries AC

The Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula changed wine culture. The Muslim religion doesn't allow the ingestion of fermented beverages, including wine, but its production and consumption among Christians were not forbidden.
As agriculture was very important to the Arab economy, the wine culture could not be ignored. Besides, the wines were used as a transaction currency in exports.

The Almoravids and Almohads, who dominated the Iberian Peninsula in the 11th and 12th Centuries, were responsible for a decline in the growing of wine, since they were very strict in terms of religion.

The Christian Reconquest

12th - 14th Centuries

The Christian Reconquest corresponds to the Muslim expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula. The battles took place in the entire territory, destroying many vines.

In 1143, D.Afonso Henriques founded the Condado Portucalense (free translation: County of Portugal) and in 1249 Portuguese territory was free of Muslim occupation. During this time, the royal authorities donated several fields where the growing of vines was compulsory. This way, people would set up house in those fields and vine culture would gain economic relevance.

On top of that, the area for growing vines was widely extended after some religious, military and monastic orders, such as the Cistercian, settled down in Portuguese territory.

At the beginning of the 12th Century it was the clergy who possessed the county's farms, where they grew fruits and vines. The Cistercians monks, for whom the growing of vines was very important, were responsible for improvements in winemaking. Wine would be used in religious ceremonies, sold in markets and exported. Moscatel de Setúbal was much appreciated in northern Europe.

The Discoveries 

15th - 17th Centuries

Until the beginning of maritime expansion, Portuguese economy was based on agriculture. Among many other products, the ships would transport wine, which was used in commercial transactions with the Orient and Brazil. If it was not sold, the wine would be returned to its producers. The wine would be transported in small barrels, subject to the movement of the waves and, sometimes, exposed to high temperatures, which made it age. These wines became known as "Roda" (free translation: turn) or "Torna Viagem" (free translation: return trip) and, once in Portuguese soil, they would be sold at much higher prices.

By the 16th Century, Lisbon was the biggest centre for wine consumption and distribution. 

Marquês de Pombal

18th Century

The 18th Century was marked by Marquês de Pombal, who took a series of measures to encourage the production of wine in the Douro region.

The growth in viticulture marked the century. In 1703 the Methuen Treaty was signed, where England gives preference to Portuguese wines over Spanish and French ones.

Wine commerce was centred in the north of Portugal and was dominated by the English who settled in the city of Porto. As exports increased, producers started worrying more about quantity than quality and ended up ruining the commerce of Portuguese wines.

On September 10th 1756, in an attempt to fight the crisis, Marquês de Pombal obtained a royal licence to found the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro, an organisation that would check the quality of the wines, determine their prices and establish rules for their production and commerce. This ended up making of Douro one of the first demarcated regions in the world. Marquês de Pombal also established that white and red grape varieties should be planted separately.

At the end of the 18th Century most wine exports consisted of fortified and dessert wines, especially Port, Madeira and Moscatel.

In the same century, in 1712, Vicencio Alarte published the first book on Portuguese vine and wine.

Diseases and Research 

19th Century

In the second half of the 19th Century, the vine was attacked by pests and diseases responsible for a reduction in wine production.

By 1851, the vines were attacked by powdery mildew, a disease characterised by a white powder on the berries, which ends up making them fall. This represented significant reductions in production. It was later discovered that this disease could be fought spraying the grapevines with sulphur.
1853 was the year downy mildew attacked the vines. Luckily, the treatment for this disease had already been discovered (to cover the vines with copper sulphate and lime), so consequences in Portugal were not very serious.

Phylloxera entered Portugal through the Douro region, in 1867, and quickly devastated vines all over the country. This insect attacks the grapevine's root to feed from its juice, resulting in the death of the plant. Colares was the only region to escape from this pest, since the phylloxera insect doesn't develop on sandy soils. When it was found that American grapevines were resistant to this disease, European vines started to be grafted with American roots, in order to prevent the pest. This is still done today.

In 1866 a commission was created to evaluate wine regions and their response to diseases. This commission was formed by António Augusto de Aguiar, João Inácio Ferreira Lapa and the Viscount of Vila Maior.

In 1874, António Augusto de Aguiar was nominated Royal Commissioner at the London Wine Exhibition. He then travelled through other European countries where he gained the necessary experience to evaluate the Portuguese wine sector. In 1875, António Augusto de Aguiar was responsible for the Conferências sobre Vinhos (free translation: Conferences on Wine), at the D.Maria and Trindade Theatres.

New regions and Corporatism


In 1900, Cincinnato da Costa published "Le Portugal Vinicole", a work presented at Paris Universal Exhibition. It talked about Portuguese wine culture: types of wines, suggestions for dividing wine regions and the best grape varieties for each region. It also suggested ways of fighting the wine crisis.

It was in 1907, under the dictatorship of João Franco, that the wine sector started being regulated. The boundaries of the demarcated region of Port and Douro wine were redefined and other wine producing regions were demarcated: Madeira, Moscatel de Setúbal, Carcavelos, Dão, Colares and Vinho Verde.


The Estado Novo was a corporative regime that created several organisations to regulate agricultural production. One of them was the Federação dos Vinicultores do Centro e Sul (free translation: Centre and Southern Winemakers Federation), whose main purpose was to regulate the wine production market.

Despite this, the regime launched a campaign to prohibit the growing of vines and encourage the growing of wheat. This campaign lasted from 1929 to 1937, time by which people realised this wasn't a profitable activity. Alentejo was the region that suffered the most from this campaign, since many vines were destroyed. 

The Junta Nacional do Vinho (free translation: National Wine Committee) was created in 1937. This organisation promoted wine consumption in the country, controlled the offer, stabilised prices and stored production surpluses. The 50's and 60's saw the birth of cooperative wineries with modern winemaking facilities. Only cooperative wineries were allowed to buy grapes from producers, so private companies would buy the wine already made, which lead to a decrease in quality.

Accession to the CEE

1986- Present time
At the beginning of 1980 and according to the EEC pre-accession measures, the wine sector underwent major organisational change, with the intention of completely fulfilling the rules of the common agricultural policy.

The accession to the EEC, now European Union, brought many changes to Portuguese wine culture, such as different production methods and concerns about quality. Some community funds were spent in modernising wineries and reorganising vines. 

Community legislation forced the creation of DOC areas (Denominação de Origem Controlada - Denomination of Controlled Origin) and qualitative classification of wines using the following categories: V.Q.P.R.D. (Q.W.P.S.R.), Vinho Regional (Regional Wine) and Vinho de Mesa (Table Wine). There was also the creation of Comissões Vitivinícolas Regionais (free translation: Regional Wine Committees): interprofessional associations based in each DOC region and responsible for applying and regulating the norms applied to the wine sector.

The Junta Nacional do Vinho (free translation: National Wine Committee) was replaced with the Instituto da Vinha e do Vinho (IVV [free translation: Vine and Wine Institute]), an organisation that combines the demands of the European market policy. The IVV has defined the national wine maps. Since 2002, there are 33 Denominations of Controlled Origin.

Although there is a wide range of national grape varieties, some foreign ones have also been introduced in Portuguese plantations. Some of them turned out to be quite successful, as for instance: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.