The city of Porto, (Oporto in English) gave its name to the country Portucale, as well as the wine known as Port or Porto, as most call it in the US. The Port wine industry originated there in the early part of the 17th century, circa 1638 when the earliest Shipper (Kopke) settled in Oporto. Although wines had been produced in Portugal for many centuries, Port wine as we know it today was first produced circa 1820. Up until that time, various production methods and “additives” were incorporated in wines that lacked consistency or definition and had little similarity to the wines we now consume as Port.
Port is only produced in Portugal, whereas “port-style” wines are vinified in America, Australia, France, South Africa and a few other venues around the world. In some cases these port-style wines may be very good, but they’re not authentic Ports for the same reason that California’s sparkling wine is not Champagne. Port wine is all about place, and that place is Portugal’s Upper Douro Valley region. It was one of the very first "demarcated" (a specifically designated geographic area) wine producing regions in the world ... almost 100 years prior to Bordeaux’s AOC Classification of 1855. In 1756, by decree of the Marques de Pombal, the Portuguese Prime Minister, nearly 340 large stone markers were set around the newly demarcated Douro wine region. To learn more about Pombal and the demarcation of the Douro, you might be interested in Roy's The Methuen-Pombal Link & The Demarcation of the Douro.
Wine was made in the Douro region ever since the days of the Roman Empire ca. 220 BC, but Portugal did not gain its independence until 1143. Nearly five centuries later in 1638, Christiano Kopke a German ambassador founded the first Port shipping company in Oporto, which is still in existence today. In the second half of the 17th century, something happened that would forever change the popularity of Port wines and make them amongst the most respected and highly sought after in the entire world.
The British, which throughout history always held a very favorable relationship with Portugal, had set up a colony of merchants not far from Oporto. During skirmishes with France at that time, the British and Dutch levied heavy tariffs against the prized wines produced in France (especially Claret), which was highly sought after in England. In 1703, a treaty was passed (Treaty of Methuen) which effectively gave Portugal special trade agreements with reduced tariffs on their wine in exchange for Britain’s textiles, which were widely sold in Portuguese markets. Wine production in the Douro, which made richer and more flavorful wines than anywhere else in Portugal, was dramatically increased.
Warre established the first of the British Port Shippers, which began their trading business in 1670. They have been owned by family members ever since and they’re the only British Port firm from that far back in history that can make that claim. Over the next few decades many companies were to follow, such as: Taylor, Fladgate & Yeatman, Sandeman, Croft, Quarles Harris, and Silva & Cosens (now known as Dow) all of which are still in the Port trade. Throughout history the Port wine business has remained an integral part of everyday life in Portugal and one of its most prolific industries and employers. To put this into perspective, approximately 1/5 of Portugal’s export revenues are directly derived from the shipping of Port wine.