Roy’s note: This month’s Guest Corner contribution was penned by Josh Large who discovered FTLOP and emailed me to join his friends and family for a fun-filled fortified Portuguese wine tasting back in 2008. As his family lives about twenty minutes away from me, it was my pleasure to take part in the festivities with a group of serious wine enthusiasts. Shortly thereafter, Josh told me he was heading to Portugal to expand his studies on Portuguese fortified wines and the article below is a brief, which Josh prepared exclusively for FTLOP. I hope you will enjoy the read and his enthusiasm.
As a graduate student in history immersed in dissertation research on the British community in Oporto and the trade in wine and salt cod, I have seen my share of archives—state and municipal archives as well as those of private libraries and foundations—but without question the most pleasant setting in which I have ever been privileged to do research is the Arquivo Histórico Casa Ferreirinha at the Ferreira wine lodge in Villa Nova de Gaia.
The archive has been in existence since 1981, when Maria Luisa Rosas Nicolau de Almeida de Olazabal, daughter of Ferreira’s long-time enologist Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, began the process of cataloguing and shelving an immense collection of company papers not only of Ferreira itself, but of the forty other firms the company had purchased over the years. The work is ongoing, for although the well over two thousand linear meters of books dating back to 1716 are now shelved and accessible, the archive also houses a huge collection of letters, photographs, books and magazines, advertisements and other promotional materials, some of which have yet to be catalogued.
This job remains in the capable and gracious hands of the firm’s archivist for the last eight years, Jorge Barreira, to whom I am personally grateful for guiding my own research.
A typical day of my own work at the archive begins with a walk from my apartment near the Bolhão market in central Porto down to the riverfront, across the Dom Luis bridge and along the cais de Gaia to the Ferreira lodge (which now also incidentally houses the executive offices of Sogrape SA, Ferreira’s parent company, which also operates Offley and Sandeman Ports). There, after making my way through a metal gate at the far end of the lodge’s main lobby and up two flights of creaky, tile lined wooden stairs to the archive’s reading room, I generally find Jorge patiently awaiting my arrival and our morning coffee.
Once properly caffeinated, we return to the reading room where I begin consulting the books of two important British firms housed in the archives: Hunt Newman & Roope, and Offley Forrester. Some of this work is admittedly tedious — tabulating, say, figures of wine or salt cod sales to an assortment of customers in various locales gleaned from ledger books, cash books and journals — and yet there is always an aesthetic pleasure to be had in working with these massive leather-bound volumes, hand-written so long ago in almost invariably beautiful script.
Moreover, many of the books of letters also in the collection contain fascinating accounts of shipwrecks and privateering, of sieges, wars, and revolutions. Such tales, combined with more quotidian descriptions of buying and transporting wine from the annual fair in the Douro valley, of soliciting orders and supplies, of attempting to receive payment for goods in foreign countries by means of an elaborate system of credit, or of simply trying to track the whereabouts of merchant ships deployed across the globe, has provided me with an appreciation of the immense difficulties of running an international business in the days before instant communication and rapid transport.
What’s more, although the consumption of food and beverages in the archive itself is sensibly forbidden, the wonderful smell of wine and oak from the adjacent vaults occasionally drifts into the reading room, reminding me that another storehouse of wisdom and pleasure resides but a few steps away. More than once I have celebrated the conclusion of a fruitful day’s research by raising a glass in the firm’s tasting room, where those centuries of toil I have been researching — the countless ships docked and departed from the nearby wharf, all those lives built and sustained by this trade — all this, or so I allow myself a moment’s fancy, I can taste.