In 1926 the Portuguese Government announced that all Port Wine had to be stored within a small area of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is located exactly opposite of the busy and beautiful streets of Ribeira. However, by then most companies had already stored their wines in Gaia for decades and some even for centuries. It was just the natural choice to build a storage place on that side of the river, as Porto was already very crowded, free lots for massive storage places were rare and expensive. Gaia was also tax-friendlier – and it wasn’t very steep. In a time when each barrel had to be transported by ox-cart from the boats to the lodges a relatively flat place like Gaia was a good choice for the growing Port Wine businesses.
Back then, the wine would spend the winter after the harvest in the Douro-Valley and then during the spring and summer the iconic Barcos Rebelos would take the barrels to Porto – each trip was a dangerous, tedious adventure. There were many reasons to store the wine in Porto rather than so far inland. On the one side, the Douro-Valley can be very hot in the summer – the wines would get “backed”. Unpleasant aromas could creep into the wine. Furthermore was travelling to the Quintas not very easy. Since the railroads were built in 1870 the Douro-Valley was much easier accesible from Porto – however, it was still difficult to reach the Quintas. There was no electricity, there were very few cars – much of the traveling still happened on horses and mules. As nearly all decision makers of the wine trade would be based in Porto, it was very convenient to have the wines delivered to Porto. The government liked it of course as it was much easier to make sure that all taxes would be collected.
A beautiful old bridge connects Porto with Gaia. While on the top floor trains and pedestrians cross, cars and more pedestrians cross it on the bottom floor. It takes some courage to walk over this bridge. First of old, it’s old. very old. You can sometimes see small holes between the metal pieces and you realize that you are still pretty high above the water level – even if you walk on the lower level of this bridge. However, to visit the lodges in Gaia a walk over this bridge is the best choice. There are a few parking houses located in Gaia, very close to the lodges – but I like more to reach this part by foot. First of all, the traffic can often be brutal. Walking is often the fastest solution. Second, if you visit the lodges, ypou will most likely have a few wine tastings. The parking houses have really tight corners – even sober it can be an adventure to drive in them. To give me peace of mind, I prefer not to drive after a visit to the lodges of Gaia.
I will take you by the hand and walk with you through the beautiful, narrow streets of Gaia and give you some details about the lodges – and then you can go and explore them by yourself.
The moment we have crossed the bridge, we are standing already in front of the first lodge: BURMESTER is only a few yards away from the bridge. While the company is quite old (founded in 1750) this lodge was opened only in 2012 to the public – it’s one of the newer lodges, located in old buildings. A visit is a great opportunity to take a few photos of the east-side of the bridge Dom Luis as this is the only lodge that is located east of the bridge. All other lodges are west of the bridge. The entrance of this lodge is not very large – it’s easy to miss it. However, when we walk a few yards further, we reach the lodge of CALEM – and this you cant miss. It dominates the whole street and is very visible even from the other side of the river. If it would be the end of the afternoon, then we could now hear some Fado – the popular Portuguese music, very melancholic and beautiful. Every day, except Mondays, the last tour through the Lodge ends with a short Fado show.
Directly next to this lodge is “The Oldest Port Wine House” – from KOPKE. The company was founded supposedly founded in 1638 – which makes it the oldest Port Wine company and the second oldest company in Portugal (the oldest company is “Casa Batalha”, a jewellery company in Lisbon, founded three years earlier in 1635). This place is not a lodge in the classic sense – there is no tour, there are no big wine barrels, no movie or museum. But it’s great place to sample outstanding wines in a quiet environment. So if you have taken the tour at CALEM – then it might be a nice place to focus here now on a few glasses of good Port.
Following the street we are for sure side-tracked by the amazing panorama of Porto – the houses of Ribeira look so friendly, with so many colors, shapes, sizes and windows – we might want to sit down and look over to the other side of the river and soak all this beauty in. And so we can – because now we are standing in front of the QUINTA DO NOVAL shop. Again, no lodge but a sales shop. A few tables outside on the pavement are the perfect place to enjoy a few of their samples and to take photo after photo of the beautiful Porto-skyline.
When we get up, we just need to walk for a few meters and we are in front of the impressive SANDEMAN lodge. A large area in front of the lodge invites us to have another drink – but then we might miss the next tour. The company is very proud of the well-known “Don” – the man with the black cape. It has become one of the most famous icons of the Port trade. No wonder that Sandeman dresses it’s tour-guides in a Don-outfit. It’s a beautiful lodge and for sure worth our visit.
Directly next to the Sandeman Lodge with all this history (there is even a 1790 room – which shows us how old the property is) we can stop by the new, modern “Espaço Porto Cruz”, which tries to bring us in an innovative, new way closer to the Port Wine. There is a very nice restaurant on the 3rd floor – but the really cool feature is the roof-top-terrace – no better place than this to watch the sunset. But as it is not yet so late, we continue and now we have to walk quite some distance to the next interesting place, at least 80 yards… But, if the 80 yards are too long, then we should walk quickly to the left into the Rua França – here we can find AUGUSTO’s. Few of even the nerdiest Port-Nerds have ever heard about this company – but they have some absolutely exceptional old Tawnies. The place looks like a lodge – but it really is more a wine shop, as no wine is aged here (as far as I know). A very nice opportunity to drink some unknown yet well-made Ports. We continue and finally we are standing in front of one of the most beautiful buildings of Gaia: The lodge of RAMOS PINTO. What a nice place we think, while we walk through this lodge – or is it a museum? Well, we don’t care – it’s beautiful and informative.
After feeling like visiting the 19th century at Ramos Pinto it’s time to get back into the 21st century – and what better place than the lodge of QUEVEDO. While many lodges are so quiet that you can hear the echo of every step, QUEVEDO goes the opposite way: Here is the party central. Very talented ladies singing typical Portuguese songs, the people are clapping, it’s loud and everybody is happy… – good vibes. And of course good ports…!
When we leave the amazing lodge of QUEVEDO, we realize that there is a very colorful building right next to it: the lodge of Quinta dos Corvos. We have to stop by here and check out their 30 year old Tawny.
After this we could dive back in into the history of Port and learn more about one of the most important men in this Port history: Baron Joseph James Forrester. A fascinating person, whose life and death and closely tied to the Port and the Douro Valley. The lodge of his former company, OFFLEY, provides a lot of information about his life.
Now I need to warn you – the next steps will be difficult – because it goes up the hill. It’s not a long way, a few hundred yards – but Portugal can be quite hot in the summer and this makes these few meters very exhausting – but it’s worth it: A visit to the lodge of one of the biggest names in Port: TAYLOR’s. Completely remodeled, the lodge offers now audio tours that make this maybe the most interesting lodge of them all. Very informative, great view from there towards Porto – good photo-opportunities. A restaurant with one of the most beautiful views in Portugal. After resting here a little bit, we hear some good news: The way to the next lodge is back down the hill – and then to the left. CROFT – a brand that also belongs to TAYLOR FLADGATE PARTNERSHIP empire – waits for us, another beautiful, traditional lodge. Stone and wood; Port and information.
We continue our way, along a small path through the heart of Gaia’s Port Wine district and reach finally the first lodge of the Symington-Family: COCKBURN. What a nice place! The lodge was completely remodeled after having been bought a few years ago, a fantastic mix of old and new, traditional and modern has been created. A place to feel good – and of course to drink well, too. If we want, we can even take a pick-nick in the front court – a really special experience.
We continue this day by walking down towards the river and before we know it we are standing in front of the majestic FERREIRA lodge – a must-visit, as this lodge combines everything that we are looking for to learn more about Port. While the OFFLEY-lodge focuses very much on Baron Forrester, this lodge is mostly about his lady-friend Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira – one of the most amazing women in Portugal’s history. Very much worth a visit.
After this visit we should sit down and taste a few more Port Wines. Luckily the SOGEVINUS WINE SHOP is nearby – and so we order a few Ports of their brands Kopke, Burmester, Calem, Barros and Gilberts. Great Colheitas.
Slowly our day comes to an end – but there are still a few things to do… We have to walk up the hill towards the famous and marvelous GRAHAM’s lodge – but it’s not an easy way. 500 meters on a small street with no pavement and quite some traffic – good that we find another lodge at the half-way mark: CHURCHILL’s. This relatively young producer has some really nice Ports in their offering – and a visit is very interesting and as the lodge isn’t very large, also very intimate. A great opportunity to ask question that you didn’t dare to ask the tour-guides at the other places…
Finally we are standing in front of GRAHAM – as we have learned by now a lot about Port, we should join this tour, too – as it’s very informative and takes us through this beautiful place, half museum, half lodge. Great tasting opportunities. Great restaurant. Great views over the river towards the bridge Dom Luis. Short: great lodge to visit.
Now this would be a nice end to this day – but we are not done yet. There are still a few places to see. But now we need a taxi to drive us to another part of Gaia, where we can see the lodge of REAL COMPANHIA VELHA. It’s a massive property, outside of the “typical” Port Wine lodge area – and to enable visitors to reach it, you can see their little tourist-bus-train-thingy driving through Gaia. This visit takes us back into the history of the company that was part of establishing the Port trade, starting 1756. Nice photo opportunities, nice bottle museum.
That concludes our day in Gaia. If we are lucky, then there are still a few more places to visit – like NIEPOORT and ANDRESEN. Fantastic wine makers, great people. But the lodges are not open to the general public as the other mentioned places. Visits are very worthwhile and interesting; however, if you are not involved in the wine trade, then your chances might be slim to get the invitation to visit them. These small family-run companies are just not able to cope with a never-ending stream of visitors.
So, now we have visited 18 different shops and lodges – I hope you haven’t had too much Port today (if there is such a thing). I’m happy to receive feedback from you, in case you do visit any of the lodges… Please let me know what you liked and what you didn’t like.
Here is the list of the mentioned places: