Reis Mourão P. (2007) The Company of the Port Wines in the 18th century

Reis Mourão Paulo (2007) “Uma visao integrada sobre a Companhia das Vinhas do Alto Douro”, Fênix. Revista de História e Estudos Culturais, 4/3, 11p.

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The creation of the Company of the Wines of the High Douro took place at a time when many of these companies were created by the state. By the 1740s when the talks about the creation of the company started, Port wines (or Oporto wines as they were then called) had already a thousands years history and had met international success on the western European markets since the 1600s.

The early 18th century saw the rise of the British merchants as a regional power group. From 1716 to 1749, on average some 20,000 barrels were exported a year, costing 60,000 to 72,000 each. But in the 1740s, the Douro region suffered a productive crisis. Diversification became necessary (new recipes, lesser standard, imported products) and led to overproduction, low quality and loss of prestige in the following decade (3).

As a result, prices fell by over 30%. The population of the region highly dependent upon the wine trade suffered heavily. The foreign merchants end up by asking in 1754 for a return to the traditional production methods and a greater division of labour on the production side to guarantee a competitive environment. Moreover, a specific production zone is set up to produce exclusively fine wines (one of, if not the, first agricultural product of controlled origins).

The Company was created to make sure that the producers would get a decent price for their wine (by limiting the supply if need be) so as to avoid the type of crisis that nearly wrecked the Port wines reputation in the 1740s (5). It started operating with a capital of 40,000 reis (half in wine, half in bullion). A particularly lenient fiscal regime showed the government’s support to the enterprise and proved attractive for shareholders from Portugal and England alike (6).

Export increased by over 50% from 1750-7 to 1774-6 (8). This success of the enlightened centralism of the marquis de Pombal – despite a few critics – led to the creation of other companies such as the Real Companhia da Agricultura e Comércio das Províncias do Minho e de Tràs-os-Montes.
At the regional level, the Company proved game-changing. It organised vertically, concentrated and subordinated to the often violent state authority the winemaking process. It turned an informal industry into a highly organised one (9).

The rise of the company decreased the might of the regional establishment such as the British merchants and the major landowners (latifundiários) by unifying the producers into one body enjoying a monopoly. By maintaining the quality as constant and predictable as possible it reinforced the reputation of the product and improved the well being of the population(10). Over all, it reinforced the Douro’s position as one of the most productive agricultural regions in Europe (11).

References

  • Pereira Gaspar Martins (1989) “O Vinho do Porto, o Alto Douro e a Companhiana Época Pombalina (1756/1777)”, in Bernardo José de Sousa Guerra, Separata de Estudos Transmontanos,Vila Real, 2.
  • Tengarrinha Jorge (2000) “Contestação rural e Revolução Liberal em Portugal”, in Tengarrinha Jorge História de Portugal, São Paulo: UNESP/EDUSC.
  • Fisher Hes (2006) The Portugal Trade: A Study of Anglo-Portuguese Commerce 1700-1770, London: Routledge.
  • Oliveira Amélia (1999) Real Companhia da Agricultura e Comércio das Províncias do Minho e de Trásos- Montes, Douro: Estudos & Documentos, 8, 144-153.

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