Ferreirinha: the story of the woman who changed the Douro forever

    In a business dominated by men, there is a portrait of an extraordinary woman from the Douro. They called her Ferreirinha and it changed the business forever.

    If for a long time the wine business was home to men with thick beards, this is the time to remember the life, work and legacy of one of the most extraordinary women that the Douro Wine Region has ever known. Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, the popular Ferreirinha, fought a pandemic in the vineyard, created an empire and got her name associated, to this day, with one of the most famous brands of Port Wine.

    At a time, the 19th century, where the role of women in society was secondary, Antónia Adelaide Ferreira will mark a generation and change, once and for all, a business until then exclusive to men and, in large part, in the hands of the English . It was her determination and resilience that enabled her to overcome an unprecedented crisis on the Douro terraces. A woman ahead of her time and still spoken of with some reverence.

    Vineyards from Ferreirinha in the Douro
    First came powdery mildew, around 1870, which destroyed a large part of the Douro vineyards. Ferreirinha, which in previous years had stored huge quantities of wine (the result of surplus production), sees prices skyrocket, places its product on the market and multiplies its already considerable fortune.

    Then came phylloxera, another disease affecting the vines and this time with an unstoppable progression. The plague quickly spreads through the Douro, many producers disappear, the wine becomes scarce and, of course, prices increase. Ferreirinha’s domains are also hit hard, but he decides to fight back.

    Fed up with the indifference of national governments, she goes to England to try to understand what can be done to overcome the plague. The solution ended up being found in the use of American vines, immune to phylloxera, and Ferreirinha then embarked on a complete revolution in the way Douro wine was produced.

    Antónia Adelaide Ferreira became, from the outset, a symbol of the Douro, buying numerous farms (preventing them from falling into the hands of the English) and developing important social work in the region, with improvement works such as the hospitals in Régua and Lamego, for example.

    Expand the fortune
    But who was this Ferreirinha, a woman who had such a clear revenge in a world hitherto exclusive to men? Antónia Adelaide Ferreira was born in Peso da Régua, in 1811, into a wealthy Douro family, owner of many vineyards in the region. By determination of her father, José Bernardo Ferreira, she would end up marrying a cousin, a character with little interest in the family business and who entertained himself by wasting a substantial part of his fortune.

    Two children were born from this marriage, Maria de Assunção and António Bernardo Ferreira, ending up widowed at 33 years of age. It was here that her great entrepreneurial vocation awoke. She took the reins of the business, defied governments, spoke as an equal with dignitaries, and became ever richer and more powerful. She married a second time, to José da Silva Torres and expanded her business interests beyond wine.

    The Douro, her great passion, the land she came from and where she would return, was also the stage for investments in almond, olive and cereal plantations. The jewel in the crown was its Quinta do Vesúvio (still today a reference in the production of Port Wine), an estate to which Ferreirinha had a very special look, closely following the entire production process.


    She died at the age of 84, in 1896, in the same city where she was born, Peso da Régua, after having escaped death in 1861 in the fatal shipwreck of the Cachão da Valeira, which would cost the Baron of Forrester his life.

    The history of the Douro cannot be written without the name, life and action of Ferreirinha. The oldest demarcation region in the world owes to this woman the drive and entrepreneurship that would take the Douro wines, especially Port wine, to hitherto unknown levels.

    Antónia Adelaide Ferreira left a legacy that is difficult to match, but perennial. Casa Ferreirinha currently manages many of the farms that Ferreirinha has built up for over 100 years. So, if one day you open and drink a bottle of the exclusive Barca Velha wine, remember that it all started because a woman imposed herself in a world that everyone said was not hers.

    In fact, the Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira Prize is still awarded today, a distinction for Portuguese female figures who have somehow replicated Ferreirinha’s extraordinary example, whether in terms of social intervention or entrepreneurship in business.

    @ Ekonomista

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