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One of the largest Portuguese wine producers, it was founded by José Maria da Fonseca (1804-1884). His father had become rich through tobacco trading and bought his son a vineyard near Azeitãjo south of Lisbon in the DOC area of Setúbal. He began building a large winery in 1834. He introduced new techniques, for example, he spread the vines further apart. The Castelão Francês variety was planted on a vineyard called Periquita. The wine became so successful that the vine was soon named after it throughout Portugal and became widespread.

A new blend with acidic notes was created for the Moscatel de Setúbal, which was already being produced at the time. Today, the sweet dessert wine is largely produced by Fonseca. Another pioneering act was that, apart from port, he was one of the first in Portugal to bottle the wines. José Maria da Fonseca ran the winery for 50 years and was honoured with Portugal's highest award by King Pedro V (1837-1861) in 1857. In 1944, the fifth-generation descendant António Porto Soares Franco created Lancers, an enormously successful rosé wine (he had already created its predecessor, Faisca, in 1937, which is considered the first Portuguese rosé). The first white wine appeared on the market in 1945.

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