Alentejo History, Wines and Civilizations

Alentejo history of the wine and vines requires a long story, where descriptions and time are important. Thousands of years of mixed feelings. Periods of calm and prosperity, however algo some cycles of vanguardism and enlightenment. You will find artefacts spreaded in the Alentejo region that are a proof of wine and vines culture during centuries.

Romans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Muslim impact

We can say that Romans, when they arrived in the South of Portugal, worked into vines browning and wine making, since it was already a tradition for the local population . The rumors go into Tartessians, an ancient civilization based in the south of Iberian Peninsula. On the region, you will find also Megalithic culture, perhaps the first to domesticate the vine and after the introduction of wine in Alentejo region.

Alentejo History, Roman Ruins
Roman Ruins

Phoenicians were maritime traders. Appeared later searching for new minerals to supply other markets, such as Eastern Medeterranean. Their navigation at Guadiana, Sado and Tagus Rivers broke the dominance on trade of Tartessians. It was a period of Phoenicians rise.

Greeks were also present, due to hundreds of amphorae in archaeological sites in the Southern of Portugal. They broke the Phoenicians dominance and established trades in Alentejo. Achieving to this era, locals had already two hundred years of vine growing and expertise on the farming process and wine production. Another interesting conclusion is that the first vine varieties in Portugal were of Mediterranean origin.

However, it’s a fact that it was with Romans farming expertise, that the cultivation of the vines and the process of making wine remains and growth on what now days known as Alentejo Wine Region. Historical records suggest that the first Portuguese wines exported to Rome and more than 2000 years later, there are signs of their civilization and how they still have impact on day-to-day tasks. How? Through tools still used till some years ago to work on viticulture, such as Podão.

Roman Ruins, Alentejo History

Religious Wine Importance

Christianity was spreading across the Roman Empire, the mandatory use of wine during the celebrations of the Eucharist brought new markets and appetites. The Catholic faith was a key factor and encouraged farmers to establish and develop the vineyards and methods of wine making .

Later, with Muslim invasion of Iberia Peninsula, during these period vines and wines were allowed, however heavy taxes were levied. Locals abandoned the vineyards and it was the first serious decrease of wine production and culture of the vine and wines.  It last till the end of 12th century, after Lusitanian Kingdom establish. Through the blessing of royal family and the new religious orders, vines and vineyards had their process till 16th century. The rise of the vines gave excellent wines in Évora region, whites in Beja and even palhetes from Alvito / Viana and Vila dos Frades.

Back to 17th century, Alentejo was famous and one of the top wine producers regions , aside with Beira and Estremadura. Later, with the Real Companhia Geral de Agricultura dos Vinhos do Douro, an organisation established by the Marquis of Pombal, for protection of Douro Wines, comes the 2nd crisis for Alentejo Wines. This period ends in the mid-nineteenth century with motivation to cultivate heathland and reinstate the agriculture in the region. New farms settled and it was possible to see the renaissance of the vineyards. During years emerged in terms of area, quality, methodology and so much commitment to the wine and vines. The result? Quinta das Relíquias ( Vidigueira area ) was awarded winning the Grand Medal of Honour at Berlin Exhibition in 1888. I those days, the most important award at the event. However , wines produced in Borba, Évora, Reguengos and Redondo also received honours.

Monocasta, Alentejo Food & Wine Tour, Oaks

Third crisis on Alentejo History of Wine Region

Alentejo suffered a third crisis on wine and vines. The phylloxera epidemic, followed by two World Wars and successive economic crisis, took farmers to replace vineyards with other grain fields and wheat. The reduction of vineyards to small areas.

In 1977 and 1983 were important years. First because launch and establish PROVA, a technical program of requirements with the goal of implementing quality control. Second, ATEVA ( Technical Association ) had the goal to promote vines growing in different terroirs of Alentejo . Later in 1988 was established the DOC´s designation ( Protected Designation of Origin).

Portugal went in EU in 1986 and benefits of financing and other entrepreneurial spirit for local wine producers. They made investments on stainless steel vats and temperature control enable. The results were modern production and attractive wines for the international markets, which means exports.

Alentejo history as wine region crosses centuries, civilizations, mind thinking of locals and a vast investment in continuous process. The result is very unique wines, famous today Worldwide.