Alto Douro Wine Region
Alto Douro Wine Region
Cultural Portugal Europe And North America Douro Region, Trás-os-montes E Alto Douro

The Alto Douro Region has been producing wine for some 2,000 years and its landscape has been moulded by human activities. The components of the landscape are representative of the full range of activities association with winemaking - terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels and roads.

Protected from the harsh Atlantic winds by the Marão and Montemuro mountains, the property is located in the north-east of Portugal, between Barqueiros and Mazouco, on the Spanish border. The terraces, by blending into infinity with the curves of the countryside, endow this property with its unique character. The Douro and its principal tributaries, the Varosa, Corgo, Távora, Torto and Pinhão, form the backbone of the nominated property, itself defined by a succession of watersheds. The boundaries correspond to identifiable natural features of the landscape - watercourses, mountain ridges, roads and paths. The landscape in the Demarcated Region of the Douro is formed by steep hills and boxed-in valleys that flatten out into plateaux above 400 m.

The Douro valley is now water-filled behind dams. Soil is almost non-existent, which is why walls were built to retain the manufactured soil on the steep hillsides. It has been created literally by breaking up rocks and is known as 'anthroposoil'. The most dominant feature of the landscape is the terraced vineyards that blanket the countryside. Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques. The earliest, employed pre-Phylloxera (pre-1860), was that of the socalcos , narrow and irregular terraces buttressed by walls of schistous stone that were regularly taken down and rebuilt, on which only one or two rows of vines could be planted. The long lines of continuous, regularly shaped terraces date mainly from the end of the 19th century when the Douro vineyards were rebuilt, following the Phylloxera attack. The new terraces altered the landscape, not only because of the monumental walls that were built but also owing to the fact that they were wider and slightly sloping to ensure that the vines would be better exposed to the sun. Furthermore, these terraces were planted with a greater number of rows of vines, set more widely apart, in order to favour the use of more technical equipment such as mule-drawn ploughs.

Transforming the natural environment, clearing the land, and restructuring the hillsides required a great of labour that was brought in from outside. The more recent terracing techniques, the patamares , and the vertical planting that began in the 1970s, have greatly altered the appearance of this built landscape. Large plots of slightly sloping earth-banked land, usually planted with two rows of vines, were laid out to facilitate mechanization of the vineyard. Trials of other systems are continuing with a view to finding alternatives to the patamares and to minimize the impact of the new methods on the landscape. Among the expanse of vineyards remain areas, nevertheless, which have survived untouched since the days of Phylloxera, abandoned socalcos known as mortórios . These have become overrun with native scrub or olive trees. More continuous, regular olive groves have been planted on either side of the land under vine. In the Upper Douro, olive and almond trees represent the dominant crops, although these are slowly being replaced by vines. Along the lower banks of the Douro or on the edges of watercourses on the hillsides are groves of orange trees, sometimes walled. On the heights, above the altitude at which vines can grow, the land is covered with brushwood and scrub and rare coppices. During the long, hot, dry summers of the region, water used to be collected in underground catchments located on the hills or even within a vineyard.

Above, characteristically white-walled villages, medieval in origin, and casais are usually located midway up the valley sides. Around an 18th-century parish church, rows of houses open directly on to the street to form a web of narrow winding roads with notable examples of vernacular architecture. The Douro quintas are major landmarks, easily identified by the groups of farm buildings around the main house. No churches or shrines of any significant value lie in the World Heritage site, although the landscape is dotted with small chapels located high on the hills or next to manor houses.