Port is one of the great classic European wines and its history is a long and fascinating one, Taylor’s is one of oldest and most famous producer.
Since its foundation in 1692 by Job Bearsley, the company has remained independent. Now well into its fourth century, it has thrived and prospered, establishing itself as one of the world’s most respected historic wine houses. This has been achieved through the perseverance, pioneering spirit and continuity of purpose of successive generations of family involvement.
According to some sources, Peter Bearsley was the first member of the English wine trade to make the journey himself, other merchants being content to buy the wines of the Douro through intermediaries.
Bartholomew Bearsley became the first British wine shipper to buy a property in the Douro. It was a bold move and gave him great advantage, allowing him to build relationships with the farmers and secure the first pick of their wines. The property, at Lugar das Lages near the old town of Régua, is still owned by the company and its purchase is commemorated in Taylor’s First Estate Reserve Port.
On 17th March Camo finally succeeded in loading the vessels but they remained unable to reach open sea. On 29th March the French army reached Oporto. The French troops did their best to loot the three vessels, which remained at anchor in the river, but were defeated by the size of the barrels. Eight pipes belonging to Offley were taken and one and a half pipes belonging to Webb, Campbell, Gray & Camo, the name under which the company was then known. In June British forces commanded by Lord Arthur Wellesley took Oporto in a swift and dramatic victory and in July the three ships finally docked safely at Portsmouth.
The enterprising Mr Camo continued to buy wine up until six days before the French entered Oporto and resumed business 21 days after Wellesley’s troops retook the city. None of the partners in other British houses would return for one or two years so he had a clear field. The year of 1809, which could have proved disastrous for the company, was instead one of great success.
In 1884 the railway was extended eastwards along the bank of the Douro, leading to the expropriation of part of the Vargellas vineyard and in 1886 to the construction of the Vargellas railway station. In the same year, Lower and Middle Vargellas were purchased by the general contractor of the railway, Domingos Burguets, who went on to sell both properties to Taylor’s in 1893. In 1896 the firm purchased the third vineyard, Upper Vargellas, from the Countess of Azambuja, daughter of Dona Antónia Ferreira, founder of the Ferreira Port house, and the three properties were finally merged into one.
Taylor’s introduced Chip Dry, a new style of white aperitif Port, in 1934. Made from traditional white grape varieties, it is fermented for longer than usual to give it an appetisingly crisp dry finish. Several years of ageing in oak vat and careful blending complete the fresh fruit flavours with an elegant, complex nuttiness.
Alistair Robertson’s most significant and far-reaching innovation was LBV. Alistair’s idea was to produce a Port wine of a single year that had been fined and filtered so it could be drunk by the glass, without decanting, as soon as it was bottled. This was achieved by allowing the wine to remain longer in the wood than a Vintage Port, in other words by ‘late bottling’. Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage was launched in 1970 with the 1965 vintage. Although initially met with a measure of scepticism by some members of the Port wine trade, LBV was a resounding success and gradually other Port houses launched their own versions.
The eventful year of 1974 saw the purchase of the fine old estate of Quinta de Terra Feita. The acquisition of Terra Feita, from which Taylor’s had been buying wine since the previous century, was part of the firm’s strategy of securing and controlling its sources of very high quality grapes for its Vintage Ports.
Taylor’s First Estate Port is a classic reserve blend produced to commemorate the firm’s acquisition in 1744 of its first property in the upper Douro Valley, the Casa dos Alambiques at Lugar das Lages
Located in the remote eastern reaches of the Douro Valley, Vargellas is known for its elegant, scented wines, with their fine focused fruit and well integrated sinewy tannins. It is also known as a Vargellas Vinha Velha Vintage Portource of one of the rarest and most collectible vintage ports of all, Vargellas Vinha Velha, made in very small quantities from the produce of the oldest vines on the estate.
The terraced plots containing the oldest vines on the property account for over 15% of the estate’s total production. The Vargellas Vinha Velha vintage port represents a very limited selection of the production of these old vines and seldom accounts for more than about 2% of the total production of the property.
The year of 1994 saw the continuity of family management assured for a further generation with the arrival in Portugal of Adrian Bridge and his wife Natasha, Alistair and Gillyane Robertson’s eldest daughter. Adrian brought with him extensive international business experience as well as leadership skills which would be vital in preparing the firm for the challenges of the 21st century. After winning the Sword of Honour at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he had spent six years as an officer in the Queen’s Dragoon Guards followed by a further six in London running the US equity sales team for NatWest Investment Bank. On his arrival in Portugal he assumed responsibility for Port sales in Britain and the USA, overseeing strong growth in both of these key markets.
In 2000 Adrian was formally appointed Managing Director and set about ensuring that the company was able to adapt successfully to the accelerating pace of change both in the Port trade and the wider global wine market. It was vital to ensure that the business achieved the right balance between specialisation in the finest quality Port wine and a scale which would allow it to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment, where rapid consolidation was occurring in both production and the trade.
Several plots both at Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta de Terra Feita have been converted to a new environmentally sustainable planting system developed by the firm’s respected head of viticulture António Magalhães and technical director David Guimaraens. At Vargellas, methods have been developed for the more efficient management of the old historic walled terraces allowing them to be preserved for the future.
Thanks to these efforts, The Fladgate Partnership was awarded the BES Biodiversity Award in 2009.
In the autumn of 2010, the wine was launched as a very limited edition, under the name of Scion. Scion is one of the oldest and rarest aged tawny ports ever sold and one of very few pre-Phylloxera wines from any vineyard region to reach us in perfect condition.
Taylor’s has undergone a major refurbishment of its cellars and visitor centre. The new tourism facilities offer a complete insight into the world of Port and a chance to taste its famous wines.
To celebrate its 325th anniversary, Taylor’s created a limited edition of a commemorative Port.
A unique bottle has been specially produced based on a bottle made at around the time of Taylor’s foundation. It is the earliest example of an intact dated bottle bearing the merchant’s mark, in this case the ‘4” and "XX’ symbol still used as Taylor’s trademark to this day.