Over three centuries Taylor’s has built perhaps the greatest reputation of any Port house. Certainly its vintage wines are some of the most sought after upon release as well as at auction, and it has been instrumental in the resurgence of interest in Port in recent decades.
This enviable reputation and the quality of the wines may owe something to the stability of the company since it was founded in 1692. Of all the British Port shippers it remains the only one to have seen a smooth succession through the generations, never having been bought or taken over by outside interests.
The founding father of the company was a Smithfield pub landlord and landowner named Job Bearsly, who set up as a general trader in Oporto, selling the acidic red wines of the Minhao region among many other products. It was his son Peter who became, as far as anyone can tell, the first British trader to venture inland into the then remote Douro Valley in search of the richer, heavier wines which he believed would be more to the taste of the British.
It wasn’t until 1816 that the first Taylor, Joseph, appeared on the scene and in 1836 he was joined by John Fladgate. Joseph died in 1837 and shortly afterwards a Dorset wine merchant by the name of Morgan Yeatman joined as a partner. Over the years they acquired fine vineyards, not least the superb Quinta de Vargellas estate, purchased in 1893 after being ravaged by phylloxera. Having restored Vargellas to health and prominence the estate has become one of the company’s principal vinification centres.
Fladgate was ennobled by the Portuguese for his services but it was the Yeatmans who ran the business throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, until the passing of Dick Yeatman in 1966. Shortly after his death his widow Beryl asked nephew Alistair Robertson, then working in the brewing industry, to come and help run the company and, despite his initial reluctance to leave London for a somewhat sluggish Port industry still suffering in the wake of the Second World War, he came.
Robertson instituted a number of changes, including acquiring the famous Port house of Fonseca, (they later acquired Croft and Krohn too), and aided by the marketing nous of fellow partner Huyshe Bower, who sought out new markets to reduce the company’s dependence on the British market, and Bruce Guimaraens, scion of the Fonseca house, his tenure saw the revival of Taylor’s.
The greatest innovation of Alistair Robertson’s management was the introduction in 1970 of Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Ports. Though the claim as to who first developed the idea is disputed by some houses, it is clear that the introduction of a late bottled vintage wine, already filtered so that there was no need for the customer to decant it, proved hugely popular and has remained so ever since. It did much to restore the company’s fortunes, not to mention the fortunes of the trade which was quick to latch onto the innovation and launch rival versions. Not far behind the introduction of LBV Port was the increased emphasis on aged tawnies, which Taylor’s pioneered at the same time.
Throughout the 1970s Taylor’s began to expand their own land holdings, acquiring good sites when the chance arose, including the old vineyard at Quinta da Terra Feita in the Cima Corga region, so that they could have complete control over the source of their fruit. It was a visionary approach that is having an increasingly important impact on the availability of excellent fruit as the number of Douro growers who turn to making table wines over the last decade has increased.
In 2000 Alistair’s son-in-law Adrian Bridge was appointed Managing director and works closely with his wife Natasha and winemaker David Guimaraens to maintain the trajectory achieved by Alistair.