António Bernardo Ferreira
A man infatuated with the Douro
Historical records refer to the immense diversity Vesúvio as far back as 1565, describing its orange, lemon, almond, olive and fig trees. For many years it remained a wild, untamed landscape, as much of it still is.
In 1830, after a spectacular harvest in the Douro, António Bernardo Ferreira I dreamt up what, according to the Viscount of Vila Maior, was his “fantasy or caprice”. He decided to rename his Quinta das Figueiras, Quinta do Vezúvio, first spelt with a ‘z’ reflectin gold Portuguese spelling.
This baptism was a tribute to his love affair with the Quinta. Over the previous seven years he had invested his life and wealth into the property. And then, during the harvest of 1830 his Quinta bore its first fruit.
The story of Ferreira’s obsession encompasses many of the most famous Quintas in the Douro Superior. Vesúvio, though, was his showpiece and his jewel. In the Allegory marking his death in 1835 it is only Vesúvio, of all his Quintas, that is depicted in the background and engraved on the effigy in the foreground.
Bernardo bought the property in 1823, at that time called Quinta das Figueiras, from the Viscount de Lapa. When he bought it, the property was mostly covered with wild scrub stretching up the mountainside and an abundance of fig trees, which gave it its name. He had a vision for this magnificent slice of the Douro Valley.
He set out to create something magnificent. His transformation of this Quinta was not governed by any short-term objectives: it was a life-long investment. It took his team of five hundred workers thirteen years to carve vineyards out of the steep slopes and plant thousands of vines. But his visionary modernization efforts transformed the Douro and some years later, the wines from Quinta do Vesúvio would command the highest prices of any Portuguese wine in the United Kingdom, which was at that time the most important market for wine.
In 1827, he built the monumental winery, with its eight granite lagares, each holding 24 pipes of wine, its oak beams and huge chestnut vats, each capable of holding the equivalent of one lagar of Port. This original winery is where all of Vesuvio’s Port is still made today. Bernardo reflected after his winery was completed, “All the English have poured praise on my lodge and hold that they cannot find another adega to match mine in the Douro… stating frankly that both in Oporto and the Douro, nobody has better wines.” At that time, Vesúvio and the surrounding Quintas in the Douro Superior were outside the region demarcated by law. So Bernardo made the brave and unprecedented move of exporting his wines directly from his properties to the United Kingdom. His aim was to persuade the authorities of the great quality of wines from the Douro Superior and hence the need to extend the demarcated area. After his death Barão Joseph James Forrester would take up this standard. And it was a battle which, posthumously, they won.