Porto and the Douro region


Photos courtesy of SANDEMAN

It’s a beautiful June morning and a private chauffeur comes to pick me up from The House of Sandeman Hostel & Suites in the lovely Portuguese city of Porto to drive me to the region bordering the river Douro where viticulture has flourished for thousands of years. The Douro demarcated region is located in the northeast of the Portuguese territory and springs through the valley of the Douro River, limited to the north, west and south by mountain ranges, and bordered by Spain to the east. Port is a naturally sweet, rich and fortified wine, produced exclusively with grapes from this region’s vines. Wine is known here since prehistoric times, but it was during the Roman and Visigoth periods that it began to develop.

The last part of the trip includes the mythical N222 road, one of the most scenic roads in Portugal which follows the majestic Douro River as it meanders through the beautiful scenery, offering impressive and beautiful vineyard landscapes.  We soon arrive at Quinta do Seixo, one of the largest and most iconic vineyards in the heart of Douro and the true showroom of Sandeman in the region. Benefiting from a prime location on the southern shore of the Douro river, situated between the city of Régua and the village of Pinhão, and referenced since the seventeenth century in the production of Port Wine, the 71 hectares of these vineyards have been marking the landscape of Douro, through the hard work of many generations, and are now the cradle of the best Sandeman wines. In traditional slopes of pre-phylloxera schist, in modern terraces, or in vertical vineyards, this is the birthplace of dozens of traditional grape varieties of the Douro demarcated region, with a special predominance of Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional red grapes, but in a unique and unrepeatable mixture that defines this farm and the quality of its wines. The visit ends with an impeccable wine tasting and a gorgeous gourmet lunch. Quite a marvelous day!

The following morning, I visit the Sandeman’s Cellars, located on the waterfront of Vila Nova de Gaia, just steps from the Douro river and just outside the historic center of Porto, in an iconic granite building purchased by the founder of Sandeman in 1811 where visitors are invited to live an experience full of mystery and sensuality that leads them to the discovery of the secrets and flavors of Port Wine and of a brand that has become a global icon.

Over more than two centuries, Sandeman has based its success on a rare capacity for innovation combined with a deep knowledge transmitted from generation to generation. Its founder was George Sandeman, a young and ambitious Scotsman from Perth who launched in 1790 a wine business in London. In 1795, he opened a branch in Cadiz, Spain, and in 1811 he bought a cellar in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. We can still find in the corridors of this cellar more than 2,000 aging casks. Sandeman was soon known as the first company to brand a barrel, in 1805, using a hot iron to give the wine that it sold a name that guaranteed quality and prestige. The name Sandeman was registered as a trademark in 1877 (First Trademark Registrations Act – First Law on the Registration of Trademarks), making it one of the oldest brands in the world. For more than 225 years has Sandeman been transmitting knowledge from generation to generation to preserve the excellence of its wines. In June 2002, Sandeman joined the corporate holding of Sogrape Vinhos, a leading group in Portugal known for its choice of family businesses with full respect for history and tradition.

Located along the Douro River estuary in northern Portugal, the city of Porto is one of the oldest European centers. It started as a Phoenician trading settlement though the first known inhabitants of the area were the Celtics. Throughout history, it was well-known as a shipbuilding and a trade port. By the 13th century, the wine produced in the Douro valley was already transported to Porto in “barcos rabelos”, the picturesque flat sailing vessels that now line the city along the riverbank. Porto’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the visit. I highly recommend taking the time to meander along its charming streets that climb several hills and offer delightful vistas of the different buildings and bridges crossing the river below.   

Today is my last evening in town. I watch the sunset lights color the buildings on Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite riverbank, while sipping some port wine and tasting some rich local cheeses at one of the bars lining the water with Fado music sounding in the background. A great farewell to a memorable visit to this lovely part of the world.