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The History of Wine in Alentejo Stories from the History of Borba Wine Historical timeline

The History of Wine in Alentejo

Already considered one of the world’s great wine-growing regions, the Alentejo has received many different distinctions that extol its beauty, history, and tradition. The environmental preservation that the region has always managed to maintain is often highlighted.

Made up of several inland municipalities of the districts of Portalegre, Évora, and Beja, the more than 3,000 hours of annual sunshine make it a region specially endowed for the production of excellent wines.

The dynamism of the Cooperative Adegas, based on the experience, wisdom, and knowledge passed from producer to producer, from generation to generation, has contributed greatly to this. Thus, Alentejan winegrowing not only boosted the economy of the entire region but also became a postcard for tourists originating from the four corners of the world.

The extensive undulating plains populated by vast olive groves and vineyards, extensive cork oak and holm oak forests (the Alentejo is the world’s largest producer of cork), natural parks, hunting areas, and reservoirs, have given it a diversity of landscapes that are also characterised by low population density. For this reason, architectural landmarks, such as palaces, churches, castles or manor houses, are currently being combined with new accommodation options aimed at rural tourism. The “Alentejano Monte” is the true brand image of these landscapes.

Wine tourism has in turn given new strength to the region, with a direct impact on revenues, but also acting as an instrument for the global dissemination of wine culture.

24.000

Hectares of Vineyards in the Alentejo

8 subregions

Denominations of Controlled Origin

4 solos

Granitic, calcareous, Mediterranean and schistose

With a vineyard area of around 24,000 hectares (including common vines and new plantations), the Alentejo Wine Region includes 8 areas with a Denomination of Controlled Origin designation: Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos, Vidigueira, Évora, Granja/Amareleja, Moura, and, not least, Borba.

In this large area, the production of a wine certified as GI – Geographic Indication of the Alentejo Region is accepted. Within this vast area, there are 8 small subregions, including Borba, defined by their tradition and distinctive wine production.

In the subregions, where Borba is included, it is possible to produce a wine with the DO Alentejo seal, a symbol of the tradition and distinctiveness that characterize these wines.

The distinctive characteristics of the existing soils, depending on the area (granite, limestone, Mediterranean or schist), the climate, and the winemaking practices have made it possible, from early on, to offer quality wines, combining taste with tradition.

Contribute to the success of this region: live Alentejo!

Stories from the History of Borba Wine

Until the Middle Ages, vine growing complemented the rest of agricultural production in the Alentejo.

From the 17th century onwards, this became an important cultivated product in the region, with a great underlying economic impact. It was also from this period that wine from Borba began to stand out thanks to its differentiated quality. For this reason, the prosperity of the region is directly linked to the development of wine production.

The signing of the Methuen Treaty contributed even more to this development, as it was agreed that Portuguese wines could be exported to England without customs duties, thus emphasising the quality of Portuguese wine compared to French wine.

What is more, and from the 19th century onwards, a great deal of technological innovation in the wine sector took place. If, until then, this activity had been carried out exclusively in clay amphora, the Industrial Revolution led to the appearance of the first wine presses (in Borba: marble wine presses), other types of presses and other winery equipment. It was also during this period that the first families to embrace this cultivation emerged, with a greater scale of production, following the logic of what would become that of the professionalised winegrower.

There are many examples of these families, but here we will only mention two that played an important role in the evolution of Borba wine.

The Mendonça family and the Casa Comercial that they created in Borba around 1893 is a good example of this new generation of wine entrepreneurs. Great wine merchants and also producers in Borba had the vision to introduce new grape varieties, to add value to the region’s wine by creating brands, and so they launched one of the region’s most iconic brands: “Montes Claros”.

José Maria Mendonça
Productive process
Idevor Mendonça
Unloading the grapes
Harvest
Grapes transportation

The Rézio family (Mariano and Esmeralda Rézio, married in 1937) also had a journey worth mentioning. This involved their transition from the primitive technique of winemaking using amphora, with a cellar with 46 clay amphora on the ground floor of their residence, to becoming one of the 12 founders of the Adega Cooperativa de Borba and being a member of the first Board. Their sons and granddaughters in June 2021 inaugurated the “Interactive House/Museum of Borba” in the family house, a tribute to this journey and testimony to a centuries-old production method, and this is now an obligatory stop for anyone visiting Borba (www.emrezio.pt).

Despite this growth, there were some milestones that created changes in vineyard cultivation, such as the worldwide phylloxera crisis, the Napoleonic invasions or the Wheat Campaign, which imposed cereal growing in the Alentejo (the myth of being Portugal’s granary). Even so, from the 1940s onwards, the vineyards were already flourishing again in the region, and the first large producers appeared at that time. It was some of these producers who, driven by dissatisfaction at the unfavourable conditions they experienced in the wine trade and aware of the need to evolve economically and technically, led to the foundation, in 1955, of the Adega de Borba, one of the first to be created in Portugal.

Mariano Rézio
Mariano Rézio
Esmeralda and Mariano Rézio in their house

Learn more about the history of the Mendonça Family

Ler artigo

Learn more about the history of the Rézio Family

ler artigo

Historical timeline

Commitment to Borba and the Environment As a result of the work developed since 2007, we have reduced annual water consumption, increased solar energy production, and included new partners into the Sustainability Programme for Alentejo Wines.
Launching of the PSVA – Sustainability Programme for Alentejo Wines The Sustainability Programme for Alentejo Wines (PSVA) was launched by the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission in partnership with the University of Évora. It is a voluntary programme, the main objective of which is to instill in those enrolled the best practices for increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of Alentejan Wines.
Construction of the “New” Adega With this investment, it was possible to increase the winemaking capacity of premium red wines, the ageing capacity of wines in barrels, and the storage capacity of finished products.
Investment in Wine Tourism This year marked the start of the visits, tastings and seminars at the winery, in order to promote our products.
Adoption of sustainable practices First sustainability practices adopted, regarding the promotion of energy efficiency, efficient water management and waste management.
Start of ISO certification process The Adega de Borba was certified for the winemaking and bottling of white wine, red wine, rosé wine, sparkling wine, liqueur wine, spirits, and by-products of the production process.
Enlargement of the Adega de Borba premises The Adega underwent a profound modernisation process with an investment of 8 million euros, which provided an increase in production and storage capacity.
Creation of the “DOC Alentejo” certification Creation of the collective and certification seal “DOC Alentejo" - Denomination of Controlled Origin - which replaced the VQPRD designation.
Acquisition of the “Montes Claros” brand Several decades after the launch of the Montes Claros brand by the “António Mendonça Herdeiros, Lda” house, the Adega de Borba decided to acquire it.
First wine with VQPRD certification in the Alentejo Launch of the first VQPRD (Vinho de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada - Quality Wine Produced in a denominated region)) wine in the Alentejo, in this case, the “Adega Cooperativa de Borba Branco”.
Establishment of the CVRA The establishment of the CVRA (Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission), which came about mainly to guarantee certification, regulation and control of the production of Alentejo wines. It would also be involved to some extent in their promotion.
Launch of the first Denominations of Controlled Origin Legislation was created in that year to regulate the quality and distinctiveness of the wines in all the subregions of the Alentejo, including Borba.
Start of exports First export of wines from the Adega Cooperativa de Borba to Macau.
Establishment of the ATEVA Establishment of the ATEVA (Technical Association of Winegrowers of the Alentejo), in which the Adega de Borba has actively participated. This association aims to provide technical assistance services to the associated winegrowers.
First Cork Stopper wine harvest Launch of the first Reserve red wine by the Adega de Borba: “Adega Cooperativa de Borba Reserva - Rótulo de Cortiça”. This has become a reference throughout the region, the country and an icon in various parts of the world.
First wine bottling at Adega de Borba The investment in bottles was an innovative act for the time, contributing to the technological revolution in wine production in the Alentejo.
Launch of the “Montes Claros” brand It was in this year that the brand “Montes Claros” was registered by the company “António Mendonça Herdeiros, Lda”.
Establishment of the Adega de Borba The Adega de Borba was one of the first to be established in Portugal. Its establishment represented a milestone in the search for a fairer remuneration for the grapes of its associates, which was essential for the sustainability of the sector.
Slow resurgence of vine cultivation in the region After the end of World War I, Borba’s vineyard cultivation and wine production began to develop once again.
Global wine production crisis The first news of the phylloxera infestation, an insect that devastated wine growing worldwide, appeared that year. This is considered as one of the historical setbacks for wine production in Borba.
Vineyard cultivation flourishes in the Alentejo The second half of the 19th century saw the introduction of mechanical innovations as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which had an impact on economic development in the region.
Napoleonic Invasions of Portugal Between 1807 and 1810 there was a slowdown in vineyard cultivation, largely caused by the wave of destruction and death that lasted until the mid-19th century.
Withdrawal of vines in Portugal Since the Portuguese trade balance was running at a deficit (with large quantities of wheat being imported), the Marquis de Pombal ordered the vineyards to be removed. This measure was strongly contested, particularly by the people of Borba, and was later abolished by Dona Maria I.
Borba's wine valorization Wine in Borba was first considered in the book Santuário Mariano (Agostinho de Santa Maria): "He esta villa abundantíssimade todas as cousas necessárias á vida humana [...] no que hé mais abundante, hé nos vinhos, que os hé excelentes” (“This town is abundant in all the things necessary for human life […] among the most abundant items are its wines, which are excellent.”)
Growth of wine production in Borba From the 18th century onwards, there was an exponential development in wine production in Borba with a resulting and clear economic and social impact. The development of vineyards even led to a local shortage of cereals for food.
Battle of Montes Claros The last and most decisive battle of the War of Restoration took place at Montes Claros, on 17 June 1665. It was a bloody battle with thousands of casualties on both sides – Portuguese and Castilians. Today as then, Montes Claros is vineyard terrain. Historians mention that the vineyards then made it difficult for the cavalry to advance in that battle.
Borba is destroyed In 1662, during one of the incursions of the War of Restoration, the Castilian army surrounded Borba, which would be totally destroyed, and its governor, Rodrigo da Cunha Ferreira, and two of his officers hanged by order of Don Juan of Austria.
Completion of the Convent of the Handmaids of Christ The Convent of the Handmaids of Christ, belonging to the Order of Santa Clara, was built during the 17th century, with the work completed in 1644. It is a monumental building with one of the largest cloisters in the country. Inside, there is an important collection of 17th and 18th century mural painting. The architect responsible for the construction of this monument would have been paid for his work with wine. The wine brand Convento da Vila was created as a tribute to the Convento das Servas.
View line
The first winery in Borba In the Middle Ages there is a reference to the appearance of the first wine cellar in Borba next to a Castle door, based on the clay amphora introduced by the Romans.
Borba is defined as a municipality It was on 15 June 1302 that King Dinis granted the first foral charter, establishing Borba as a municipality.
Início da Construção do Castelo de Borba The construction of Borba Castle, located in an area of great strategic importance for the defence of the national borders throughout the 13th century, began after the Christian conquest of the site during the reign of King Afonso II, in 1217. The Castelo de Borba wine brand was created as a tribute to this important fortification.
First wine setback After the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, there was significant resistance to wine production in the region.
Introduction of the First Clay Amphora The introduction of clay amphora by the Romans for the fermentation and storage of wines.
Introduction of vineyards in the Alentejo It is estimated that vineyard cultivation was introduced in the Alentejo by the “Tartessos”, considered to be the founding people of the first Iberian Peninsula civilisation.
Today Commitment to Borba and the Environment As a result of the work developed since 2007, we have reduced annual water consumption, increased solar energy production, and included new partners into the Sustainability Programme for Alentejo Wines.
2016 Launching of the PSVA – Sustainability Programme for Alentejo Wines The Sustainability Programme for Alentejo Wines (PSVA) was launched by the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission in partnership with the University of Évora. It is a voluntary programme, the main objective of which is to instill in those enrolled the best practices for increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of Alentejan Wines.
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