The wine regions under threat from development

1. The Douro

Extremely sadly, one of world’s most wonderfully rugged and important wine regions, the Douro Valley, is being damaged by a building project that was approved by a Portuguese PM who’s been accused of corruption.

Foz Tua Dam

The Foz Tua dam

Within the steeply-sided Tua Valley, a 100m high concrete dam is currently being finished, which is not only scarring a famous beauty spot within a UNESCO heritage site, but is also flooding a historic railway.

Near the mouth of the Tua river, which the new structure will dam to create a reservoir, is the Linha da Tua – which is considered not only one of Portugal’s most beautiful narrow gauge railway journeys, but one of the most breathtaking in the world (see picture, bottom).

Due to a fatal accident in August 2008 this railway is now closed, but the new project has ensured the line won’t be reopened – the narrow-gauge track will soon be flooded, meaning the world has lost a marvel of engineering from the late nineteenth century.

Although the dam is not far from the famous Quinta do Tua – source of the grapes for Cockburn’s vintage Port – the reservoir does not endanger vineyards, but destroys the unspoilt nature of this spectacular valley.

The dam is being build to generate electricity by EDP at a cost of €162.3m, and as a result, it is having further impact on the beauty of the Douro. Not only does this project require the installation of high-tension wires along the valley floor to transport electricity, (as well as the running of noisy turbines), but it is also providing justification for further visual pollution of the Douro landscape – wind turbines are being erected to generate energy to pump water into the dam.


This computer generated image shows the project from above

In essence, the dam is being built as a giant battery to hold energy generated by wind turbines – which can’t store electricity – meaning that this remarkable landscape, not just the Tua Valley, is being used as a vast and highly inefficient power station.

Indeed, those who have visited the Douro recently will note that once unspoilt views across the mountain peaks of the region are now littered with white windmills, which at night, turn into red flashing beacons, interrupting the darkness.

Wind turbines in the Douro

Wind turbines now line the high points of the Douro

It is also worth noting that Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who approved the scheme, was arrested as part of a corruption investigation in November last year.

Considering the impact of the project on this important landscape, it seems remarkable that UNESCO did not attempt to challenge the construction of the dam. Not only has the Douro been on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites since 2001, but the Douro’s largest landowner, Symington Family Estates, warned the organisation about the project when it was still at the planning stage.

Indeed, the same should be said of the Mosel road bridge, which also brutally carves through a UNESCO landscape.

The Portuguese dam is officially called Foz Tua, and can be found about one kilometre from the mouth of River Tua, near River Douro. It features a concrete double curvature arch of 108 metres at its highest point and a crest length of 275 metres.

Tua railway line

The historic and stunning Tua Valley railway line which is due to be flooded. Picture source:

One Response to “The wine regions under threat from development”

  1. The same threat of industrialization looms over the Finger lakes Wine region in New York. A Texas-based gas company wants to turn the heart of the region into the largest fracked gas storage and transport hub in the North Eastern United States, using abandoned, unlined and unstable salt caverns to store millions of gallons of propane, butane, and methane a few hundred feet away from Seneca lake, a 4.2 Trillion gallon fresh drinking water source for 100,000 people and home to world-class wines. Seneca Lake is the jewel in the crown of the Finger Lakes, drawing international attention from Louis Barroul from Chateau de Saint Cosme, and Johanne Selbach of the Mosel Valley in Germany. Both are growing grapes and starting ventures in the region, and are vehemently opposed to this industrialization which will include active burning flare stacks, huge open brine pits, a truck and rail depot, compressor stations– all in the bucolic, burgeoning wine region. We would love for this story to get some attention. For more information, please contact us at:

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