"Long live the King! Long live the people! DEATH TO THE COMPANY!!"
February 23rd, 1757: Leading the crowd that morning were many tavern keepers followed by some coopers, wine merchants but mostly were... tavern regulars! This blog post contains a short overview on one of the most humiliating episodes of the city's History, where 26 of the involved people were hung, beheaded and quartered and their bodies displayed in several locations within the city...! (...)
Though this might have been a rather gloomy introduction, take it as an invitation to learn more about about the oldest Portuguese wine company and its recently opened restaurant, cigar club & wine tasting room and an interactive museum, '1756 - Museu da 1ª Demarcação'. We already visited it. This post includes photos & two short videos!
"Long live the King! Long live the People! Death to the Company!!" : these were the words repeatedly shouted throughout Porto's streets in the morning of February 23rd, 1757. The tone was set for a violent revolt against the managers of a recently born company, the 'Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Douro', which we nowadays know as Real Companhia Velha.
Read on for an overview of this turbulent episode and for a glimpse of the newest interactive museum you can visit during your stay in Porto.
Video of a group tour, with runners from New Zealand enjoying their
'Port wine: uprise of the tavern keepers' signature running tour
What were the tavern keepers so mad with?
In short: a new company, the Real Companhia Velha (RCV) had been established by Royal decree the previous year, 1756, a company that acted almost as a ministry, setting regulations and even taxes on behalf of the King. Its main goal was to ensure the quality of wine produced in the Douro valley but also restrain the all-too-evident English domination over the export business. One of its actions was to demarcate the production region up in the valley, identifying the areas for better quality export wines, the 'vinhos da feitoria'.
After dealing with the production sector, RCV went after the distribution chain agents, including the retail wine business in Porto, setting a new wine tax of 1 'real' per 'quartilho', ca.half liter sold in taverns and even setting a maximum number for those same taverns. From a staggering 700 hundred taverns - there's even documents that mention 1000! - , RCV decided that only 95 taverns should be allowed to operate from then on.
That might have ignited the mutiny, as it must have been considered a quasi-catastrophe, both from the business and the social point of view. Taverns were the go-to-place for men looking for a chat and a few wine glasses and, in some cases, these places were also a front for bit more obscure prostitution-related businesses...!
Other versions, bit more accurate perhaps, claim that the people and the tavern keepers were manipulated by wealthier merchants into pandering to their interests...
"This company is older than my country!!"
This is the quote that opens the exhibition at the brand new museum of Real Companhia Velha, in Gaia. Soon as I read it, I instantly imagined a surprised white-haired American citizen, holding a glass of Port in his hand. These were words of the former US ambassador Robert Sherman and he was correct: in fact Real Companhia Velha was not only was founded 20 years before United Sates of America but also prides itself of being the oldest active company in Portugal!
The '1756 Museu da 1ª Demarcação' is, undoubtedly, a must-visit in the area of Porto (>directions<) for wine enthusiasts who want to have a good grasp of the history of wine making in Portugal, particularly Port wine.
In the next few lines we'll go through other amazing facts concerning this museum and the company
DOURO DOC, 99 years older than Médoc AOC!
The Douro DOC is actually the oldest appellation wine region in the world, hence the Portuguese expression '1ª Demarcação = first appellation'. The Portuguese use DOC (very similar to AOC) and this concept had its first ever implementation by Real Companhia Velha with a clear purpose: to regulate every aspect of the production of wine in the Douro Valley. This way, the Portuguese Royal House would ensure not only its quality and reputation but also that it kept control over the business 'further downstream', which was at risk of falling entirely into English hands.
The year was 1756, almost one hundred years before the first french appellation d'origin côntrolé of Médoc was established, in 1855 in the Bordeaux region.
The Marquis who started the company and ruled the country
Marquis of Pombal, the king's first Secretary (equivalent to prime-minister) was instrumental in rebuilding Lisbon after 1755's earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. That provided him with recognition but also immense power, turning him into the most influential person in Portugal for the next 3 decades. His ideas leaned mostly towards an authoritarian regime, with monopolizing companies that could regulate and decide over important aspects of the Portuguese economy. Some of them didn't survive to the next century but one thrived and reached our times: the Real Companhia Velha. And while wine was a growing business in the Douro valley, the Marquis still needed to provide funds for this newly founded enterprise: hence the new tax on wine!
Nevertheless, this new source of income for the company wasn't solely providing for its operation: it sponsored many important works in Porto and the Douro valley. Most of the rocky piers in Porto's riverside were built with money from this company, enabling the later industrial development of that area. Public buildings like a new hospital, the opening of new streets and squares, even a floating bridge over Douro, were also built with money coming directly from the wine tax. Finally, the strategic widening of the Valeira gorge in the Douro, a narrow passage and step in the river that had to be blasted away to enable the navigation to the presently best area of wine production in the Douro valley, the Upper Douro.
A warehouse in the Miragaia district, owned by Real Companhia Velha, with its previous designation:
Companhia Geral das Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro.
Photo by Henrique A. G. de Oliveira, c.a.1910
1756: Much more than just a museum
Inside the museum's building and one escalator away you'll find a restaurant, a cigar club, a wine shop called Enoteca 1756 and a tasting venue where you can meditate over a glass of red or Port with an amazing view to the city of Porto!
Photo credits: Enoteca1756
The entry fee for the museum is 5.Euros per person or 15.Euros if you wish to combine it with a wine tasting.
One last suggestion: if you want to know a bit more about the deeply rooted connection of Porto with the wine business, see the places for yourself, we recommend taking a couple of hours to run our signature tour named PORT WINE: UPRISE OF THE TAVERN KEEPERS, where we approach some of the topics in this post and speak about many other episodes that determined the course of the city's history!
Things to do in Porto this weekend > our suggestion:
If you're more into tasting and not that much into history
Every year in February, the most popular Portuguese wine magazine hosts a major event in Porto that goes by the name of Essência do Vinho.
This year is no exception (20-23February2020 @Palácio da Bolsa) - the numbers are truly impressive:
Throughout the 4 days you'll have the opportunity to taste many different wines - not only Port - from all of the Portuguese wine regions and sub-regions, with side events like showcooking or pairing wine with food, commented tastings and, of course, the final awards ceremony!
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Sérgio is the founder of Porto Running Tours, a keen runner since 1999 and a friendly running tour guide-storyteller since 2015.
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