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The Wines of Madeira

On this page you will see the following, in order of gradual publication, today is 6/21/2018 - future dates, more stuff:  1. An introduction to the enchanted island; 2. the contexts of Madeiran wines, from physical environmental as well as cultural historical perspectives; 3. Ole's and Ane's gradual engaging with Madeiran wines over the past 20+ years;  4. the what and where of the critical species contributing to the various wines, including consideration of the smallholder farmer, the producers, and the distributors;  5.  details on our 2012 visits to eight fortified wine producers, and two producers of table wines;  6.  comments on issues and new directions in Madeiran wines. Please note that clicking on a picture will sort to a page with access to enlarged photos (this is worth doing!) I have learned that the translation of this page to other languages is apt to cause a lot of confusion. This has proven especially true for Portuguese. My apologies for this.

Madeira: The Atlantic Island of Flowers and Wine (and truly good people)

 Beginning the Venture

      No, it was not wine that brought the 15th century Portuguese explorers to the uninhabited Madeiran Island group. It was its rather favorable position in the Atlantic for the re-provisioning of their sailing vessels en route to the Americas. Prince Henry the Navigator, and his successors, developed an active program of settling the island with village-farmers, craftsmen and merchants, while facilitating local  governance by dividing the island into territories granted his loyal lieutenants.
This lady represents the rural small 
farmers who till their tiny vineyards
 and market garden terraces while
 many of their children find work 
overseasfrom Brazil to the 
United Kingdom 
Identified first on the Medici map of 1351, the first actual recording of the island of Madeira was by the captain sent by Henry the Navigator to explore it. Captain Zarco, on July 1, 1420, labeled the newfound island, Madeira, 'the Island of Woods', now an autonomous province of Portugal 
     The latter included  Bartolomeu Perestrello, father of the woman who married Christopher Columbus. He, of subsequent Americas discovery fame, took up residence in Funchal in a quinta located on a street now named Rua Cristovao Columbo. Madeira means wood in Portuguese. Its abundance was important over the centuries in repair and retrofitting the wooden vessels plying the Atlantic. In addition, the America bound explorers, followed by merchant shippers, also learned that among a great number of crops that lent themselves to a productive harvest on the island, vinifera grapes was one that not only did well, but its reduction to wine, subsequently fortified by natural spirits or brandy, became early a valued cargo to bring across the Atlantic. Captain James Cook, being harbored off of Madeira on Saturday, September 17th, 1786, wrote in his journal: 'Compleated our wine and Water having recd of the former 3032 Gall(ons) . . . ' (Cook, p. 17). Noel Cossart comments that Cook expected and received fortified Madeira wine, to ensure not only that it would last for the planned 2-year around the world sailing, but also that it would aid in preventing scurvy among the ships' complement. It might be noted that other export crops early developed successfully on the island, cane sugar and bananas, lost out over the centuries to the Caribbean and Central America, though bananas made a comeback during the difficult years of wine sales in mid-20th Century.
In a remote place on Madeira, a 17th
Century scene, workers are loading 
pipes(casks) of wine onto lighters from 
where it is transferred to America bound 
vessels. While natural resources from the 
Americas was the main reason for conquest 
and trade, this served well as needed
ballast for otherwise empty ships. Azuela 
tiles (blue hand painted) are common in
Portugal in public places, and are rather 
festive as permanent outdoor displays.
      For several centuries Madeira was the fortified wine of choice in colonial America and then the United States. It became a cause for pre-revolutionary protest in Boston when the British seized John Hancock's ship, the Liberty, because they wanted more import duties from the unloaded 25 pipes (3,150 gallons) of Madeiran wine, and that was in 1768. Madeiran fortified wine was also used as the congratulatory toast by the signers of the US Declaration of Independence in 1776, and favorably commented upon by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in various of their correspondence. Ane and I visited in 2018 a bar-restaurant in Savannah, Georgia that has a wine cellar exclusively devoted to the memories of the massive tonnage of Madeira wine brought in to the city for national redistribution during the 17th-19th centuries. When touring the Madeiran Wine Company's museum in October, 2012, I came across a letter signed by President Eisenhower, thanking for his gift of a bottle of fine Madeira wine sent by the newly formed company.
      When Ane and I first arrived on the island in 1996 this was not on our mind as our plane began its descent over this enormous pile of volcanic rock, rising steeply to 6,000 feet out of what that late afternoon was a very unruly Atlantic Ocean. As the plane tilted and we eyed the very narrow finger of a concrete landing platform extending out into the sea, I began feeling a survival anxiety not felt since we many decades earlier flew into the Houghton-Hancock Airport on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Northern Michigan. Here also was a very narrow landing strip, always lying athwart, it seemed, the massive winds barreling in from Lake Superior. The wings would dip dangerously close to the landing surface to counter the winds, only to right itself in the very last second, following some seemingly extraordinary time interval as the land was careening toward us. Well, I glimpsed that anxiety in my mind as hefty Madeira shore bound winds caused the pilot to tilt the wings dangerously close (it seemed) toward the white caps of ten foot waves, with adjacent mountain tops quickly disappearing from view. Fortunately the flight from Lisbon is fairly short and does not call for serving more than a small sandwich and coffee, otherwise I fear the growing anxieties would have taken over with calamitous results. The airport north-east of Funchal is an engineering marvel (airport easily googled for details). Subsequent arrivals were much less hair rising; indeed, some were revealing of the incredible beauty of this island.
 Our first arrival in Funchal was in 1996, when the very short runway was a challenge to the most experienced pilot. Even after the 2006 major enlargements, winning the award of the year for the world's best engineering design, it was considered the ninth most dangerous landing airport in the world. Do not let it worry you - the stats do not bear this out!

Toward the end of April the Islanders celebrate Flower Week. This is a festival with participants of all schools and many organizations/individuals from all over the island. The parade usually begins forming on the harbor in Funchal mid-morning, and may be ready to begin moving several hours later. We have seen this extraordinary spectacle twice, each time it took over two hours for the entire parade to pass in review. Onlookers include most everyone else on the island, plus day visitors arriving by cruise ship (when the behemoths are in harbor that may add an additional 8,000 or more). It is perhaps notable that only by air and by cruise ships can you arrive in this paradise.
     A few illustrations of the nature and habitats of Madeira will aid you in seeing the vineferous foundations of this island. This piece of our earth is no large affair, and yet, prior to the European Union regional development thrusts in the 1990s, which wrapped the island like a cocoon in new tunnels and freeways, it would take a full day to drive around this 30x15 mile island. This was due, of course, to its truly tortured topography.
Vertigo inducing hiking trails traverse the
5-6,000 feet highlands, Pico do Areiro
As an explosive lava outpouring of the moving continents some 90 million years ago, the Madeiran chain of islands evolved in a series across the Atlantic Ocean as volcanic eruptives of the earth's crust shifted ever westward. The island itself rose gradually from its molten magna origins on the ocean floor some 13,000 feet, as 7,000 vertical feet of this hardened lava rock is below sea level. The end left the island with an east-west profile of about 35 miles and a north-south maximum extent of 15 miles. It rises to above 6,000 feet in places in its elongated center. In fact, there is something of a plateau surface at around 4500 feet that separates the more steeply carved slope of the northern shores from the gentler decreases in elevation on the southern side. Think here sunny, drier, easier cultivable southern vs. steep, cooler, wetter northern slopes; this is critical to understanding the locality of wine species and their cultivation.
     Let us then take into account the global location of this island. Some 500 miles from the African coast of Morocco, well south of Gibraltar, and thus in a fairly warm climate zone. For those of you in the know about climate conditions in general you will readily see that an island rising to 6,000 feet in this subtropical part of the Atlantic Ocean will impart a truly incredible fauna and flora. This is a true paradise of diversity in plant life, from which has come the appropriate designation: Flower Garden of the Atlantic.
The Levada da Portela is one of the older
aqueducts, its adjacent wider walking path

 with the adjoining ancient til trees indicate
 several centuries of use. The broken 
limbs resulted from a powerful 
and devastating storm passing over
the island February, 2010
From this also has come a somewhat belated effort to rescue the remaining original upland Laurasilva (evergreen) forest. A vast and botanically rich ecosystem it was dominated by species original to the islands. In past centuries the onslaught of tree harvesting, agriculture and habitation, as well as invasive plant life, left only a few original niches behind. Determined efforts have brought about a Portuguese government designation of 20% of the island as the Madeira Nature Park. Subsequently this was selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Natural Area. Being in the subtropics the island is favored by a Mediterranean climate with its distinctive wet winters and dry summers. 
The Laurasilva forest extends here along the valleys of the Janela River and its tributaries
       Funchal, the capital city, is on the same latitude as is San Diego, California, Savannah, Georgia (US), and Shanghai, China. Further modifying the weather is the seasonal dominance of the northwestern air masses in the winter half, which because off their prevailing wind direction renders the steep slopes of the northern shore decidedly wetter while the southern slopes are in something of a rain shadow. All of these aspects have influenced the agricultural utility of the relatively small patches of land carved and then terraced into steep hillsides in a density rarely found elsewhere on the earth's surface.

 A southeastern large amphitheater-like depression with the potential for a sheltered port favored the location of Funchal, the capital city of some 110,000 people (about 45% of the island's total). Beautiful gardens were built over a century ago by mostly British gentry, vested in the wine industry. This is now the Funchal Botanical Gardens
     The weather bitten northern steeply ragged shoreline of Madeira. From here to the nearly as sharply rising interior highlands falls most of the precipitation. How then to provide regular water supplies to the thousands of agricultural terraces painstakingly cut into the steep slopes over the centuries? From an engineering perspectives Madeirans have accomplished what I consider the ninth wonder of the world. An intricate water transfer scheme that through complicated user contracts allocates needed water to each and every plot of land on the island. Nearly 1300 miles of aqueducts (levadas) have been cut into the slopes. In the early day (16th C.) the feat was accomplished by lowering workers in wicker baskets from on high. In the end the levadas provide easy access to the most otherwise inaccessible places in the heights of the interior and elsewhere, in some cases through narrow tunnels up to 5 kilometers in length. While their adjacent foot paths are necessary for regular maintenance and repairs, they also provide small scale hydro power and, for visitors, exiting hiking opportunities.

     Irregularly shaped and sized terraces climb the slopes in the distance in the picture above. The terraces have been created at enormous human labor cost. They are supported by up to 30 vertical feet of basaltic rock walls, all of which have no mortar binding, thus allowing free water drainage. They will range up to a maximum of 2,700 feet in sheltered locations, though grapes are rarely seen grown above 1,500 feet.
In 2010 we had rented a home (the Villa Dragoeiro in
Funchal) for a longer stay, from our good friends
Jose and Maria Chaves. We were then becoming better
 acquainted with the local red wine and chose this as
 an excellent match to the island specialty of beef chunks
 grilled over a wood fire scented by laurel wood.
 Pricewise it helps when the owner also has his own
 small vineyard and winery. Here, enjoying lunch
 with us is our daughter, Karen and grandson, Ethan.
 Note the beef hanging from skewers over the table.

Madeiran Wine Experiences

So, we did have a local contact, Jose 
Chaves,who brought us to the owner
(Jose de Costa Souza) of the Casas Proxias,
a Fragateira snack bar in Porto da Cruz. 
He, as others in this area, buys 
the local grape, Isabella, a vitis Aestivaldis 
varietal. This American fox grape was 
brought to Madeira to replace the vines 
90% destroyed by the oidium disease in 
1840. From the Isabella grapes the 
owner has made a Madeiran 
style fortified wine, 15 years old, that he
 proudly poured and sold to us packaged in 
a one liter plastic coke bottle. Well, it was 
inexpensive and quite good. Below, 
hanging from the ceiling, is the traditional 
goat skin used in transporting the must 
from the small local community foot 
stomping presses to the wine producers 
in Funchal. This no longer is a practice
   Our first visit to the island was for a Christmas and New Year's break, 1995-96. We spent two weeks in two separate time share resorts on the coast by Canico, just eastward over the hills from Funchal. These were exciting weeks of exploring the colonial villages spread across the island, getting tired from walking miles of levadas, enjoying the seemingly always flowering gardens and experiencing the capital of Funchal over the holidays. The New Year's Eve fireworks from the hills surrounding the bowl occupied by Funchal with its many lit up cruise ships was awesome. Most especially when we joined the locals, total strangers, who shared liberally of their homemade ponchas, homemade spirits from wine lees (truly heated your innards!) Notably, the Funchal fireworks show, totally without official organization, received the Guinness record in 2006 as being the world's largest fireworks!
     Though we had been heavily involved in wine/vineyard research over the years, somehow we had not been turned on to the delights of fortified wines. Though non-fortified wines, both whites and reds, are made on the island, none are especially notable, and all are too expensive given their character and quality, unless you had a local contact and could fill your bottle directly from the barrel. Very good and inexpensive Portuguese mainland wines are plentiful in the groceries, so no need to probe the local production, it seems. When 16 years later we finally made an issue of Madeira wines we learned of the difficulties of maintaining vineyards, and of the costs of procuring equipment and even corks for bottling for the smaller producers of table wines. It was not possible for them to compete with the much better known and lower cost products so readily available from the mainland.

Planning a Winery Visit Tour

      Now, a serious wine tasting tour takes careful planning. Having been on the island during the winter and spring months we decided to make this trip right after the wine harvests and the initial preparation of the crop at the winery have been achieved. Thus management folks might be more readily available for what for them would be another leisurely tour of their property and a tasting of their wines. October, 2012, before the winter rains, would be good.
      From experience earlier gained in planning overseas wine tours it had become clear that there were two options in how to proceed. Either contact directly the management of the desired individual wineries, or find a local contact person who, having decided that the inquiry was seriously professional, could then contact wine companies and lay out a schedule for the time period the inquirer was in town. In the case of Madeira the only real option was to seek the assistance of the Madeiran Wine Institute. With the help of our contact we enlisted the support of a staff member of the Madeiran Wine Institute. Dr. Maria Noelia Gomes arranged a four day schedule to see seven of the eight producers of Madeiran fortified wines, one producer of table wines, and the manager of the major wine cooperative on the island. In the end we wound up with two fewer producers. Even so we were quite satisfied that we had moved toward an enhanced appreciation of the industry.
This remarkable image is a painting covering 30 per
cent of the outside end wall of the newer Funchal 
building belonging to the Madeiran Wine Institute,
 the governing agency for the wine industry on the 
island of Madeira
       Certainly, the likely best beginning for a visitor with any intent to absorb the character and essence of the Madeiran wine industry and its products is the
Madeiran Wine Institute. It was founded in the late 1970s, and in June 2006 was joined by the local embroidery and handicrafts industries. The resulting IVBAM continues with primary responsibilities for regulations and control over growing, producing and trade practices of the wine companies, as well as promotional activities. IVBAM has testing
laboratories, and does field testing of new approaches and varietals. A major attraction is its museum with its displays of historic characteristics and changes in all of the industries in its domain.
       It seems reasonable that a detailed look at a number of wine producers of Madeiran wines, fortified or table, should be preceded by a short summary of the vines and their vineyard demands. Herein are found a number of the keys to understanding what does well, and what does not, in many of the critical sectors of the industry. The term viticulture includes consideration of the nature of the species grown and their growing conditions; viniculture deals with the production process, from harvesting to bottling. As the editors of the massive opus: The Sothesby's Wine Encyclopedia, 5thEd. (2011) notes: 'vinification is.... the art and science of damage limitation'.

Let's Talk Viticulture

     First the grape species. For making traditional Madeira wines there are three acceptable classes, in order of importance: 1. Noble varieties (Bual, Malvesia candida, Sercial, Terrantez, Verdelho - all are white grapes, and Bastardo - a red grape);  2. acceptable varieties (Moscatel - white; and Malvasia rosa, Tinta negra mole, and Verdelho tinta, the latter are red grapes); 3. additionally there are a small list of species that has been approved for table wines by the European Union's authorities on wine production and labeling. As indicated earlier the oidium disease was very destructive to the native grapes, and hardier American varieties were brought to the island to replace the dying vineyards. The problem was only partially solved by the time the dreaded Phylloxera louse (attacking roots and leaves) made its invasion. Along with the remainder of Europe depending on the vitis vinefera varieties, Madeira lost about 98% of its noble vineyards by 1885. This time the more resistant root stock of American species were brought over and planted to receive local vitis vinifera grafts. By the turn of the century the industry was recovering, but not until after a serious depletion of its world markets (the loss of the Russian Empire market and that of the United States following Prohibition in the 1920s were especially damaging). The Bastardo and the Terrantez grapes were brought back as were the remainder, though these varietals are now once again favored in a few select places. In both cases these are deemed to be the more superior in the bottle result.
     Maria Noelia Gomes of the Madeiran Wine Institute ( kindly provided the following information on the locations of the designated 'Noble' species on Madeira, as well as their photos below. What is significant here is the divergence in 'best' terroir for the individual species. This is a function of microclimates, again think elevation, orientation, soils and drainage, as well as tradition. Difficulties multiply for the growers as some species are much more demanding on care during the seasonal cultivating process and in harvesting. Many growers therefore tend to lean toward the easier-to-grow species, those that the producers may favor the least. This has recently become something of a continuing bone of contention, as seasonal field workers are becoming more difficult to find. Simultaneously producers are increasingly interested in expanding the acreage committed to the Sercial species, and to replace existing lower value vineyards with the more valuable Terrantez, if not with some clone of the Bastardo. So note the much greater acreage that is devoted to the planting of that most accommodating of grapes, the Tinta negra.
This map shows concentration of the Noble designated grapes plus the Tinta negra. Please note that there are vineyards all over this island, so what we have here only identifies the major production districts. The image is barely readable at this scale. Clicking the map will enlarge it to an appropriate size. Then compare given Noble specie concentration with the topography below and you can better visualize the critical relationships of northern/southern exposure and elevation above sea level.

Photos of this model of Madeira are taken south to north, with the eastern 1/2 half on top. Again the locational info is easier to read if the images are enlarged. Note that the highest elevations are reached toward the northern and wetter 1/3rd of the island providing a more gentle slope for the southern 2/3rds.
      In 2011 there were approximately 1,500 acres growing 'Noble' grapes used in fortified Madeira wines. Among several thousand growers, almost all part time and with very small terraced holdings, 1,600 were duly registered for growing Noble varieties. In toto they provided nearly 4 million kilograms of berries to the eight producers, only one of whom is not involved in exports.

Vineyards of Sercial grapes climbing up the
Porto Moniz slopes facing northwest in the 

more moist and cooler parts of the island. 
Dried heather boundary barriers protect
the vineyards from the sea breezes.
Being furthest from Funchal and at the foot
of the Madeira Nature Park makes this an
attractive place for leisure homes,
thus threatening the Sercial acreage

       The 'Noble' grape species,          from driest to sweetest:

Sercial is a wine for aging. In fact it needs several years in cask to mellow its high level of acidity. Those who in the past were unwise in drinking it too young would complain of its 'esgana cao' (dog strangler) astringency. Today it is limited to far fewer acres than in its heyday of the 16th-18th centuries. It is pretty much confined to the high elevations of the northwestern slopes of the island in the Ponta Moniz area, very little remains in its former kingdom of Jardim Serra in the southern highlands just northwest of Funchal. Growing in a moister and cooler environment, Sercial is harvested in October, a month or more before the harvesting of bual. Given time, the resulting wine will acquire a nutty, almond-like aroma and a very dry finish. It may improve in cask and bottle for over fifty years! The Madeiran Wine Institute suggests that Sercial 'is perfect as an aperitif and goes well with olives, toasted almonds, caviar or salmon canapés and hors-d'ouvres with mayonnaise.' It is subtle with smoked fish, and delicate with freah goat cheese. Refreshing also as a long drink with slice of lemon and ice. However, this latter would not be my choice for so exquisite a wine.

 Verdelho is a close second to Sercial in its need for cool and more moist environs. This was the first species imported to the island, likely from Portugal in the 15th Century, and it became the most popular during the early period of Madeiran wine fame. On the island Verdelho is mostly concentrated in the higher elevations along the northern slopes. The greater acidity of the must leads to a longer maturing process. Vinification results in a medium-dry style with a gradually acquiring scent of roasted nuts and sweet charcoal.                      
Upland from Sao Vicente are new fields of
Verdelho. The varietal is making a slow
comeback, in spite of its demands on
labor for extra care in cultivation and
harvesting. Here the effort is led by the
Madeiran Wine Institute's experimental
vineyards, of which six are now in
operation across the island
     The MWI suggests
 its relevance as an
 aperitif, and its positive match with olives,
 toasted almonds and dried fruits, and it is
 pleasant with consomme, fresh cream
 soups and onion soup au gratin. It is
 equally exhuberant with Serrano ham or
 smoked game, soup bowls of game, curd
 cheese, and mushrooms with garlic or
 stuffed, and it is tasty with duck or goose
 pate de foie gras. It bears noting that
 neither of these two dry wines should be
 consumed in less than five years from
 harvest. Though there are wines now being
 vinified and sold as dry with only three
 years of estufa maturing, these are not
 likely to include either Sercial or Verdelho.

Bual, not a highly productive vine,
dominates the south facing slopes west of
 Funchal. The sunnier the locale the better
due to its problems with mildew. Here it
covers the slopes of San Antonio, but is
 threatened by the expansion of Funchal.

Bual/Boal is a much sweeter grape than either of the preceding. Its needs include a much more sunny and warmer location, thus placing it in vineyards on the lower southern slopes of the island. The sweetness allows a higher potential natural alcohol content, and a long lasting life. This, as you are learning, is a dominant feature of fortified Madeira wines. Perhaps only the better Sauternes and some Port wine will outdo an ancient Madeira. The resulting wine tends toward a fairly dark and rich raisiny character, sweet and mellow to your palate (honey and smokey comes to mind). Its essence continues long after the last swallow. The MWI suggests that the wine is harmonious with fresh tropical fruits and fruit tarts. Young Bual, 3-5 years, go well with soft cheeses, while older Bual matches with older cheeses. Consider serving with cheese and fruit soufflés, and after a meal with milk chocolates, pralines, petit fours,  and fresh cream cakes.
A sheltered location at sea
 level was chosen by the
Jesuit Padres for the likely
first vineyards on the island
Malvesia candida is by far the sweetest natural juice grape of the lot. Best of them all thought the British who call it malmsey. It came initially from a strip of slender land accessible only by sea at the foot of the south facing and one of the highest, shoreline cliffs in the world, the Cabo Girao (height of 1800 feet above sea level). Jesuit missionaries established this small vineyard in the 16th Century. At that time the grapes attained a raisin dryness before harvest. After the banishment of the Jesuits the vineyard languished for over a century. It was bought in the late 1940s by a British couple. They built a cable car and retrofitted the land for rental cabins, a small restaurant and a botanical garden, a hobby of the owner. Small amounts of Faja dos Padres Malvesia are still be made on the land, and vinified by Vinhos Barbeito. Following vinification and storage a Malvesia will be full-bodied quite fragrant, exhibit a deep dark color, a rich texture and sweet caramel-coffee flavors. The latter will linger in the mouth for a long time. Both Malvesia and Bual are considered desert wines, but major efforts are being launched to pair them with a variety of cheeses and fruits, and other foods in the attempt to further curry the interest of the consuming public.
Grower here is using the traditional Latada 
training system consisting of wires criss- 
crossing on posts at a certain height, thus 
anchoring the vines. Though difficult to get at 
for pruning, weeding and harvesting, the 
Tinta negra are much easier to grow and 
are heavy producers. This grape is 
gradually replacing many acres of the 
Nobles. Just imagine having to tend to 
this vineyard on the northern steep slope, 
1200 feet directly above the roaring
Atlantic Ocean. Thank you - not I.

Tinta negra is the most significant grape on Madeira, in terms of acreage harvested. It is also the only red grape of consequence. Additionally Tinta negra is the most widely grown grape at the beginning of the wine exporting history of the island. Hancock notes that it carries a taste "much  the flavour of Burgundy" and was "commonly mixed with the other (species)" (p.53). And that was in the early 1700s. Tinto negra's importance is likely expanding. While contributing up to 85% of the blend in many of the fortified and aged Madeiras, it is also proving to do well by itself. Noel Cossart in his epic, Madeira: The Island Vineyard (see below), suggests that Tinta negra is capable of assuming the character of the Nobles, depending on the altitude it is grown. Several current producers will vehemently disagree. Comparatively easy to cultivate, resistant to disease and very productive, Tinta negra is a great favorite of growers.
     Generally speaking, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of fortified madeira is its ability to age forever, the older the better. Open a bottle of good madeira, sip from it for a week, a month, a year, freshness, character and flavors seem to not dissipate. This is well reflected in the trade patterns over the past five years of economic turmoil. While in 2007 total shipments were 3.78 million liters, this had decreased to 3.01 million liters by 2011. However, generally speaking, the older the wine the better it has survived in international trade. Tradition continues to rule, it seems.

Our Visits With the Producers

     A grand and thoroughly enjoyable story is told of the early development of the Madeira wine industry and its foreign trade dependency, by David Hancock in his recently published, Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste (referenced below). Should you be even mildly interested in Madeira, let alone its wine history, no better beginning than here. Hancock builds a fascinating tale of Madeiran growers, farmers, producers and their joint interests in terraced vineyards, details of selecting appropriate vinifera species, evolution of harvesting and production  technologies, settlements across the island, mercantile houses in Funchal, and the problems of shipping, eventually, unspoiled pipes of wine overseas. The complexities of the process and its changing impacts on local and national economies are well covered. So, particularly, are the continuous changes in producers, in all cases well linked to the British Isles and the European arena in general. While there have been dozens of producers operating at any give time, only eight are now commercial vendors. It was our task in October of 2012 to interact with each of these, facilitated, of course, by the kindness of Maria Noelia Gomes of the Madeira Wine Institute (MWI). The details and observation that follow lean also on info provided by Noel Cossart's and Tim Atkinson's published works, see below, as well as material provided by the MWI.  

Ane Gade and Maria Chaves
being served a 1977 Boal.

Pereira d'Oliveira, Lda

     This is one of remaining purely family affairs remaining on the island. Founded in 1850 the company gradually absorbed the inventory of five other family firms, the earliest of which was founded in 1820. It is now headed by a two brother team, 5th generation of the family, Luis and Anibal, plus Anibal's son, Filipe.
     Ane, Maria Chaves and I were warmly greeted by Luis D'Oliveira when we arrived at the tasting room on the Rua dos Ferreios 107. D'Oliveira is an apparent gentle man in his mid-fifties who spent little time extolling the virtues of his wines, though what we were served surely must rank among the finest produced on the island. He did get a bit agitated about some of the changes in the wine industry not to his liking. There are new regulations from the European Union now governing much of the producers activities. Growers are unwilling to commit
The tasting room in this house built in 1612
has many of the more cherished pipes of
ancient Madeira wine. Other storage
facilities are in adjacent buildings.
extra work required to suit the needs of their more attractive Noble species, and unhappy with then being required to heed new production control restrictions. So there is generally too much emphasis on mass production of more easily handled species, whereas the traditional wines are neglected. What likely is worse is the increasing interest in using Noble wines, especially Sercial and Verdelho varieties, in table wines. Luis D'Oliveira is a confirmed traditionalist. His firm has much to offer on the behalf of this position. As other families were bought out in an earlier day, so was their extensive stock of pipes of wine dating back, in some cases, several centuries. So this is not a house with a very large sales volume, rather it favors the older Noble reserves and vintages. D'Oliveira
tressed that their key market remains the
When you enlarge this image you will see
that the displayed bottles are in order of
date, with the oldest on the upper left.
 That happens to be an 1850 Verdelho,
likely bottled within the last 10 years.
It will cost you 700 Euro here at the
tasting room, a good deal more if bought
in the US or Europe. The lower two
shelves have very recent bottlings of 5 to
3 year old wines, with prices down to 10
Euro. These are all excellent sipping wines.
British, some other European and the American, his largest import customer. Here he deals with Emanuel Berk's firm (Rare Wine Co. of California), which handles only the more exclusive wines. Some business is gained through passers-by stopping in, but less and less from cruise ship passengers, 1,000s of those there may be on any given day in Funchal through the year, and within easy walking distance. The firm produces an average of 150,000 liters of wine per year, buying from 140 or so growers, and uses a small number of field agents from the principal production areas to interact with the growers on issues of appropriate weeding, thinning, and best harvesting dates for ideal sugar content, and other matters. This process and the subsequent vinification of the berries brought in is under the guidance of Anibal and Filipe D'Oliveira.
This is our very first tasting of Madeiran
wines that included most Noble varietals by
vintage extending back to 1907. It became
 an enjoyable test of our ability to discern
the variations in olfactory and palate
perception. This extended from the drier
yet still full-bodied and flavorful
Terrantez to that somewhat unusual
Bastardo, and the dark, unctuous
Malvazia (whose few sips would carry
the night, on and on).
     Luis D'Oliveira favored us with an incredible selection of Madeira wines, as follows:
1. Terrantez Reserva 1977 - this medium dry wine was awarded a silver medal in the 2001 International Wine and Spirit Competition.
2. Verdelho Reserva 1966 - a gold medal winner at the above competition. This is a medium dry wine that has matured in cask for forty years before bottling.
3. Boal Reserva 1938 - a medium sweet wine that was not bottled until 2012. This underscores the fact that all older wines are kept in oak casks until time comes for bottling, as determined by market factors. The wine can continue maturing, mellowing, growing darker in its complexion while in pipes, but all of this stops when in bottle.
4. Bastardo Reserva 1927 - a medium dry wine from the grape that has now pretty much disappeared from the landscape - much to the regret of some producers. Again the D'Oliveiras benefit here from their great accumulation of ancient wines. Wolf Peter Reutter (MadeiraWineGuide blog) noted an aroma of dried fruits and some coffee, with a palate of bitter toffee, coffee and a sweet rich fullness followed by a dry medium length finish.
5.  Boal Reserva 1922 - another silver medal winner
6.  Malvazia Reserva 1907 (bottled in 2003) - a blockbuster of a wine! (and a price to match), but here is what Niklas Jørgensen (Mad About Madeira blog) had to say, "Its dark, dark color impresses and gives a hint what's about to hit the nose. Burnt sugar, vanilla, freshly ground coffee (how on earth is this possible after spending 96 years on cask?), oriental spices, orange peel, and walnuts (on the palate); the floral, orange zesty, incredibly long and clean finish is all about balance".
      For Ane and I the adventure with Luis D'Oliveira was the beginning of our introduction to the earthy delights of Madeiran fortified wines. We learned about exclusivity, pomp and bravado, but also we learned that there are fortified Madeiran wines that are apt to be readily available to the individual ready to try something new that is affordable. The three to five year olds are truly splendid wines to test out with aforementioned foods, or to just enjoy as aperitifs, though, let it be said, these are all based on Tinta negra! But read on.

The Madeiran Wine Company

In a showroom dominated by Blandy brand
products, wines have been maturing in 

casks using several year long exposure
 to a controlled heat environment. This 
is the so-called Canteiro method. Ane is
 taking notes with Jose and the MWC
 representative standing by
     Located on the prominent Avenida Arriaga in Funchal, opposite the Palace, is the Sao Francisco Lodge of the Madeiran Wine Company (MWC). This is also within an easy walking distance of the cruise ship harbor, so frequently this visitor's center is thronged with tour groups and people speaking a variety of languages. So it was when Ane, Jose Chaves and I had our appointment (Oct.,
A bibliophile's dream, and a rich resource
for historic research of the Madeiran wine
industry. This is Noels Cossart's collection
 of his family's records dating almost to
their company's beginning in 1745. It was
 donated to the MWC where the collection
 now rests in the splendid museum.
2012) for a show and taste with one of the promotional agents at the Lodge.
     The MWC emerged gradually from the older Madeira Wine Association (1913), founded by a number of families who felt that a greater outreach and impact would result from joining together. In the 1920s the old established families of Blandy's and Leacock partnered in the Association. Later they were joined by Cossart/Gordon, and by Miles. In 1981 they changed the name to  the Madeira Wine Company. For decades there was a dutiful attempt to maintain the traditional profiles of the respective family brand, in view of the long-standing market that had been developed for over a century, especially in Britain. Now there is a variant of this differentiation happening. Blandy's brand favors a shorter fermentation before it is stopped by the addition of alcohol. The result is a more full-bodied, sweeter wine. A notable example is the well known Duke of Clarence Full Rich Madeira, a three year old wine based on the Tinta negra grape. Miles' brand is
 Early use of the estufagem, artificial
   heating of the Madeira wine in metal
  containers surrounded by hot water
pipes. In the early day the wines
achieved a maderization change
when aboard sailing vessels. Here 

the wine heated up, oxygenated, 
 gained body, a much darker quality
  and the well-known hints of caramel. 
This is in the MWC museum.
now the 5 year old medium sweet from the Tinta negra. Cossart Gordon's brand is based on Noble grapes from the highland, wet northern slopes with the result of a drier, longer lasting wine, normally this is sold as 10 or 15 year vintage wines. The Leacock brand favors the traditionally famous Leacock's St. Johns. Even so, when you check out the listing of wines available from the MWC you will find that all these brands, except for Miles, have an array of blend (Colgheitas), Frasquerias (vintage), dating back to the 1950s. The MWD produces nearly 1 million liters per year, most of it exported throughout the world. Almost 90% of their wines are Tinto negra focused on the lower end of the market. They are trying new packaging and styles, as with Blandy's Harvest, a wine aged in Canteiro for six to eight years. Also new is the Alvada, a 5 year, styled 'old and rich Madeira', 50-50 blend of Malvasia and Bual, and a new style Cossart Colheita, aged 10-19 years in the warm lofts of the lodges. We benefitted from tasting the Alavada and the Cossart Colheita, which is considered a 'baby vintage' wine (regulations assure the consumer that wines labelled
Modern estufas engineered 
as heating units to achieve
 the traditional months of 
elevated temperatures in 
the maturing process. 
These are at H&H though
similar units are found in
 the facilities of all 
producers. (H&H Photo)
vintage have been in casks at least 20 years). It should also be noted that MWC is now moving toward using Sercial and Verdelho varietals in the making of a table wine, that is apt to be on the tart and acidic side, perhaps like a Pinot Gris, though perhaps even drier, like a Muscadet though more acidic. The company has now partnered with the Symington family of Port wine fame.

Henriques & Henriques Vinhos S.A.

    We arrived a bit late for our appointment at H&H. Due to Ane's cold we had to reschedule to begin with, and now we were running late. The firm has recently moved to new quarters in Camara de Lobos, with the substantial aid of the European Regional Development Program. For a while we had gotten lost, but then we spotted, a bit off the center of the village, their sparkling new quarters. In retrospect they are difficult to miss, rising on an incline up to four stories. Nonetheless we were greeted and then guided by Maria Aguair, the firm's promotional manager.

In 1992, with the aid of major European
Union grants, H&H commenced a $6M
expansion of its facilities, including this
ideally designed building in Camara de
Lobos. A step pattern that permits truck
access at every floor level, and the all
important southern sun exposure. The
latter allows wine in casks to mature 

 the natural heat of the sun, the so-called
Canteiro method. Note the large windows.
      The Henriques family were early settlers in the Camara de Lobos area, and soon owned extensive acreage. It was not until 1850 that the family firm was founded. It was joined eventually by a trio of friends who became owners after the death of the last Henriques in 1969. It averages about 900,000 liters of wine per year, the vast majority of this is focused on the mid- and low-priced markets (3-5 years old) like everyone else but it also caters to the premium priced markets with a set of 10, 15, 20 years old and dated wines. It is the only major producer owning a vineyard, 25 acres, the largest contiguous vineyard on the Island. Production here is concentrated on the Verdelho varietal, with a minor effort on Sercial, and a beginning on Terrantez. Their wine list continues to include some very old reservas from well before the foundation of the company in 1850,  and Soleras, the oldest from 1898. You should be in a hurry if you want to obtain one of the less than 100 bottles of the remaining W. S. Boal (bottled 1927), but you will have to pay 1000 Euros for the privilege. Otherwise, H&H are exporting a good deal of their production as 'modified' wine, i.e. in a very lightly salted/peppered condition for the 
1. Madeira depends on wood for maturing. 
Casks are laid in the traditional Canteiro
 system and benefit from benefit from
 the fairly high natural  heat for varying
 periods of time. With Maria Aguiar 
we are also learning that the French
 Oak wine casks were formerly used for
 Whiskey and are sent to Madeira for
 seasoning for a period of time before
 being returned to their owners. 
2. So, it was perhaps then 
less of a surprise to see 
worker clean recently 
empty wine casks, char 
and buff them i
preparation for their 
shipment back to Ireland!
overseas Madeiran wine sauce market, as well as sending overseas a regular wine 'certified' for the exclusive use by the chocolate filler market. In neither case are these shipments liable for extraordinary export/import limitations and duties. This is a likely approach for continued success in the overall Madeiran wine industry.
   Ane's notes:
1998 Tinto negra, Single Harvest - some acidity, aftertaste of figs, pleasant
10 Year Sercial - medium dry wine, hefty acidity, makes mouth pucker - delicious
15 Year Verdelho (gold medal recipient) -complex and sweet, a bit heavy
2000 Boal - not very aromatic, but hints of honey and almonds, palate is quite sweet with
      notes of citrus, more likable than the Verdelho, balanced with noticeable acidity,
 Behind me there was a row of H&H wines,
about 25 in all, ranging from their new
sugar content defined low cost wines
(extra dry to sweet), to their 20 year
varietals. Having tasted some of the very

 best the island had to offer that day, we 
yielded to tasting only five low to medium 
priced wines. I asked Maria Aguiar if any 
group had ever requested to taste all
available. "Yes" she said,"there was one, 
of recent memory,
turned out to be a very long day".
     nice finish
10 Year Malvesia - subdued aromas,
     some nuttiness with sweet caramel
     and honey, palate well balanced by
     acidity, caramel (toffee) flavored,
     hints of smoke, nice finish
     This was a very accommodating selection in the range of varietals; we were able to observe the difference in color (increasingly darker the sweeter and older, in general), in aromas (generally quite aromatic with honey, nutty fragrances and caramel), and  generally well balanced palate (the sweeter wines always well conditioned by the fairly high acidity levels (these wines just do not fall flat). Flavors depend in degree on dryness but favors honey, caramel, nuts (almonds and walnuts), and a smokey tendency. The fortified and balanced nature with fairly emphatic flavors tend to have these wines last quite long in their aftertaste - perfect for after dinner enjoyment.

An astounding diversity of liquors (25 of
these), rums and ponchas, greet you upon
entering the offices of J. Faria & Filhos.
So where are the Madeira wines?
Why are we here?
New administrative quarters 
and production facilities 
for J. Faria & Filhos

J. Faria & Filhos, Lda       

     Luis Faria's father founded the company in 1950. Luis Faria now is the General Manager. He greeted us warmly as we pulled a late afternoon in October, 2013. On that day we had already had a number of several hour long visits across the island, and were, quite frankly, tired. Well, this was a firm of a different character altogether. Founded as a diverse liquor manufacturer, it was only 15 years ago that the firm ventured into the production of fortified Madeira wines, and then betting largely on the 3 and 5 Year Tinta negre relatively sweet wines. It was assumed that these lower cost wines were a more ready market entry for this new direction. The firm is now gradually moving to 10 Year wines of greater refinement, a Boal to be bottled in 2013, for example. All of the wine sales are through the local PC Goncalves company. And perhaps therein lies the key to understanding the eagerness of 'the new kid on the block' in the fortified Madera wine industry. Contacts in the liquor business, wholesale and retail, literally the world over. Not the otherwise critical need to get overseas distributors interested in another Madera wine. So I surmise. In any case the firm had reached in excess of 250,000 liters of wine production by 2008, and is investing heavily in estufas and storage tanks. The expectation is to have a total storage capacity of 600,000 liters. Four years ago J.Faria moved into new quarters on the 
Luis Faria showing us one of his relatively
new products - a 5 Year Tinta negra
 western outskirts of Funchal. An imposing
 five story building, planned for likely
 future expansion. Luis Faria guided us
 through the five floors of the building and
 led us finally to the tank filled courtyard. J.
 Faria & Filhos, as is true for most of their
 competitors on the island, have benefitted
 from Portugal joining the European Union,
 and having its, otherwise impoverished island region, eligible for special economic development funding for its agricultural and industrial interests. 

Justino's, Madeira Wines S.A.

 Julio Fernandes' office was a bit 
intimidating. It comes replete with
documents extolling the virtues of the
Justino wines, and a rogue's gallery of
prizes in adjacent cabinets, none more
glorious than those won by Broadbent,
with whom Justino's has had a long-
standing relationship. 
     What a blockbuster of a place this is. Newly built, away from the former cramped home in the middle of Funchal, this is just off the freeway between the airport and Funchal. European Regional Funds also was a major factor in this development. Formed initially as a family venture in the 1870s, Justino's was reconstituted as a company in 1953. With the death of the most recent local owner, Sigfredo Costa Campos, the firm was gradually bought out by one of France's largest producers and distributor of alcoholic beverages, the privately owned Le Martiniquaise.
Very privately (?) I must say that I have not
ever seen my friend Jose Chaves with a
more content and happy countenance. 
     We were warmly and generously greeted and treated by the General Manager, Julio Fernandes, for two and a half hours (October 17, 2012). This entailed a very detailed tour of the premises and an extensive tasting seminar. It was in the nip of time that we were able to catch Julio Fernandes since he was preparing for a next day trip to China to further the firm's market interests. The nearly two hour tasting actually preceded the tour.
     It was a comprehensive learning experience. Julio Fernandes served ten wines, all with the specific purpose of learning the variations in the characteristics and quality of fortified Madera wines.
The generous and patient Julio Fernandes, 
with Ane Gade and Jose Chaves. 
Eleven selections have been poured, now
 its time for the more deliberate, 
comparative,and emotive learning of 
differences in varietals and the aging 
     At our previous visits with producers the focus in the order of presenting their selections of Madeira wines was always the younger and drier wines come first, then follows the older and sweeter. Certainly this is a reasonable, as well as an effective, way of wine tasting. At Justino's this similarly was the approach, but with perhaps greater attention paid to the nuances of varietals and the effects
of aging. Eleven wines were served, first we had an acquaintance tasting with each serving, and then the leaving of a larger portion in the glass for subsequent comparison, by varietal and by age. Particularly meaningful to us since the

The significance of color and other visible
characteristics in the tasting process. While
color seems more elusive on direct
observation note the more critical
differences seen in the reflections on the
white sheet below the glasses (enlarge the
photo for the better effect). These are the
selection of 10 Year wines. From left they
are the dry Sercial, medium dry Verdelho,
medium sweet Boal, and quite sweet
Malvasia (Malmsey, as Broadbent would
have it). Note that reflective colors depends 
on intensity and direction of the light 
source, as well as density of the medium
 (i.e. how much wine in the glass). Therefore,
while this helps in distinguishing an 
important wine character, this is not used in
the actual definition of color. For that you
assess what is in the glass itself.

whole process was elaborated, step by
step, by a very engaging, involved, and
patient proctor, Julio Fernandes.
Here is the tasting list, with comments:
1.  3 Year Fine Dry -
2.  5 Year Fine Dry -
both of the above, destined for the
mass market at comparatively low cost,
were both pleasant example of fortified Madeiras. Two more years of maturing was fairly easy to note in depth, intensity of flavor, and length in finish. Fruity and well balanced.
3.  Sercial, 10 Years - a dry, more full-bodied wine than the preceding. Strong acidity, yet well balanced. Honey and walnut on the nose. Drier fruits dominate the palate, good finish.
4.  Verdelho, 10 Years - medium dry, otherwise somewhat heavier than the Sercial, less intimidating acidity; consider for an aperitif. Justino's suggests that ham, delicate white meats, and smoked game will be well supported by this wine.
5.  Boal, 10 Years - medium sweet, a deeper colored and heavier bodied, yet quite acid, wine; caramels and chocolate are emerging on the nose, fruity flavors dominated by prunes, some toffee and caramels. Long uncloying sweet finish..
6.  Malvesia, 10 Years - a range of
aromas of darker dried fruits (figs, raisins)
Ane is practicing her
'sniffing' talents; I see her
olfactory capacities as
being far superior to mine
and a difficult to define heavy sweetness (molasses?). The
palate finds the sweeter quality still well balanced by high acidity. A long pleasant finish. Enjoy with sweet, honey-buttered or chocolaty deserts, and strongly flavored cheeses
      Julio Fernandes paused for a moment explaining the character of a type of wine that has been on the fortified Madeira market for only a couple of decades: the Colheitas.These are all vintage wines, i.e. from the same year, but are blended, either same grape - different casks and vineyards, or from more than one varietal.  This gives the
winemaker considerable freedom in choosing among the many options available from the maturation casks. At least five years in oak is required, and then tested for the desired results before bottling. Single varietals are identified by label and year of vintage, as in the following.
7 - 9. Colheitas, 1999, 1997, 1995 - in all cases these were defined by heavier aromas, fuller in mouth and with more balanced bodies, long lasting flavorful aftertaste. Flavor defined by toffee, caramel, varying degree of nuttiness and dried fruit, especially raisins and prunes.
     Fernandes then offered two frasqueiras or vintage wines. Requirements for these long lasting wines are at least 20 years in casks, at least 85% from a single harvest (year shown on bottle), but like the Colheita this may be a blend of Noble varietal of that same year. The desired final result comes from a very careful selection of the remaining up to 15%; that is the winemakers choice.
10.  Malmsey, 1933 - a revelation, an exceptional wine, intense across the board, yet lighter than expected for an aged Malmsey - i.e. to be sipped, not slurped! Let me tell you what Niklas Jørgensen (reference below) had to say about this wine a year ago: 'Golden amber color. Wonderful intensity on the nose. Tobacco, floral scents, dried fruits and walnuts. Just a hint of coffee and bitter chocolate. A touch of mint, as well. A real sniff wine, presenting what Malmsey is all about. On the palate the sweetness and acidity have found each other . . .. Orange like acidity, toffee, raisins soaked in fine brandy, tobacco and a spicy finish. Long length although the taste is not as intense as the bouquet. This is the kind of Madeira I would like to drink at Christmas' (in his Mad About Madeira blog, n.d.). Rated by The Wine Spectator - 90, and recently available at for $350.00. Well folks, clearly Ane and I have yet to arrive at the golden tongue taster level, and hopefully never will. That was quite a mouthful, Niklas, and I am not talking here about the wine.
11.  Sercial, 1940 - oh, my, here we go again - we do need a bit of Niklas (he actually maintains that this is one of the Madeiras that turned him on to the island's wines some decades ago). But without him: Much drier, even tart, but full of aromas, and complexity of flavors; lasts forever beyond the finish.
Entrance to Justino's serves also as the
receiving area for the grapes delivered by
some 900 growers from late August to
early October, imagine the congestion.
 This is also where the destemming,
crushing and initial fermentation of the
resulting must takes place.

Casks of wines aging for 10
years and over in the
Canteiro method.
Depending on quality they
may be blended as 'baby
vintage' Calheitas, or
arrive as Frasqueiras
       The preceding was interspersed with comments by Fernandes on his relationship with the growers. He has a number of agents in the field. They monitor and advise, as needed, the 900 some growers who sell their crops to Justino's. Pride is taken in the fact that each delivery is paid in cash in full at the time of delivery, by prices coordinated and set by the Madeiran Wine Institute. Traditionally growers are paid in segments over the year following delivery. Fernandes also elaborated on his relationship with the owner of La Martiniquaise. 'I go to Paris and am treated as a trusted personal colleague of the owner. I present my report and recommendations for continued support and improvements, new directions, etc. These are always well received and I normally get the immediate go-ahead' (somewhat paraphrased). It is notable that profits have since 1994 years been reinvested in Justino's, a process allowed in part by the absence of stockholders. Thus the major investments in new facilities, the considerable expansion of production across the board,  the introduction of new approaches, including the use of certified organically grown grapes, and the positive results in the continuing search for new or expanding markets. Justino's is now the largest exporter of Madeira fortified wines.

Concluding observation on the fortified Madeiran wine industry

As compared to the other fortified wine
producers on Madeira the ABS is a charm.
It is very traditional in everything, and
produces a mere 4,000 bottles, or so, per
year! Looking at the details of this photo,
and you gauge that this is on the lighter,
more elemental scale of production. Do not
let that deter you from a visit. Their wines
are clearly of a high standard, though it is
made solely for the local market. Ane and

 I took this photo in 1996, there may have 
been some changes.
     So we were not able to see all of the producers that were lined up for us. Regrettably so. The heavy cold infecting me from the fellow in the seat in front of me on the airplane from London to Lisbon descended upon everyone else in our company. So some meetings were cancelled and were not capable of rescheduling due our other commitments. We do hope that next we are on the island we will be able to catch up. I should note that we had a wonderful interlude at an earlier date (Christmas, 1996) with Artur de Barros e Sousa Lda (ABS). We walked in on Christmas Eve, had a brief tour of their facilities, and tasted a range of their wines. No detailed records remain of this encounter. But it was timely for the two of us alone at Christmas time on the island. Possibly it solidified our interest in a return.
     In general terms there is really quite a lot to be said about today's fortified Madeira wines, not just in favor of the incredible satisfaction that anyone might achieve by consuming this elixir of life, but other factors are taking hold. These are all evolving conditions that may for a long time aid in achieving stability, if not expansion of the industry, to the benefit of growers, the producers, and the general local island economy. This is an emerging and maturing industrial enterprise, led by innovators and others very actively seeking an enhancement of Madeiran wine's unique niche. Traditions are pointedly (and publicly) being upheld by a couple of the producers, particularly D'Oliveira and ABS. This is bodes well for stabilizing conditions for the more valued Noble varieties.
      However, there are others who do not look askance at enlarging their ability to provide fortified Madeiras for the cooking and dessert industries overseas, thereby influencing the continuity of grower's interest in investing time in the perhaps more marginal operations, on those difficult slope terraces. But I am just guessing here. Does seem though that these tiered terraces have a value that go beyond the vineyards service they provide. I am thinking about the visually beckoning appeal of steep, fully cultivated slopes, and the positive image this has for tourism development. I have seen enough already abandoned and overgrown terraces to let me speak to this.
Woods, vineyards, and homes
all traversed by levadas -
a most welcoming landscape. 

But slopes are too steep for 
machinery. Pictured are the
 H & H holdings at Quinta
Grande, including vinification
facilities. (H&H Photo)
      Also I am thinking of the miles of Levadas that will continue in their maintenance due to the continuing active agriculture. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, producers are now actively seeking new approaches to catering to new and perhaps more worldly consumers, and to new places to merchandise their products. Perhaps even more revolutionary, they are actively pursuing marketing options for Noble wines vinified for the table, i.e. not fortified. This involves particularly Sercial and Verdelho varietals. These producers have a traditional international distribution network that will aid in this process. While its success will depend largely on the expansion of that network, it will have important implications for growers. Along the way I should think that there will be a gradual consolidation of vineyard ownership patterns to the point to where most growers will no longer have to be dependent on some other job while they tend to the vineyards on the side.
     Finally, there has been a concerted movement to have fortified Madeira wines included as table wines, especially given their considerable variability in taste, body, color, and sugar/acidity balances. This is, of course, hardly a new idea. Harriet Pinckney Horry, a Charleston, South Carolina native and publisher in 1770 of her 'receipt book', advocated the 'adding of a little Madeira wine' to a sausage stuffing and a full pint of it to fish soup (Hancock, p. 287). Subsequently, it served those dishes well to have them accompanied by the same wine at the dinner table. Gradually, over the centuries, fortified Madeira wines became more the favorite drink of the aperitif and after dinner consumer. With the welter of table wines now available is this effort then like tilting at windmills?
     What these thoughts actually introduce is the next segment of my Madeira wine story. There are local producers with expectations for an eventual international market for table wines, though thus far their products may just have reached the Portuguese mainland. Their story is no less interesting, their challenges equally, if not more, complex, but there is the similar determination to succeed in a world that some folks are beginning to feel is 'drowning in wine'.

Producers of Madeiran Table Wines 

Ane is walking a village street of Porto
da Cruz. On the steep slopes ahead are
vineyards dominated by American grape
species. This is about the only major area 

on the island that they do so.
      For as long as there has been Madeiran wines there has always been wine on the table in people's homes. Mostly these were vin ordinaire, frequently homemade from American vitis varietals. What needs to be remembered is that with the devastating diseases and pests of the mid-19th Century, replacements were American vitis labrusca, riparia, and rapestris. As Cossart noted (p.89) the American vines took many years to establish the root system capable of handling the needed vitis vinifera grafts, then it was a good number of years before the plants could produce commercially. The interesting aspect of this was the leaving of some areas on the island essentially free of grafted vineyards, thus there exists today a deal of remaining acres of American vitis. These are now all harvested for home use, or for local sales in bars, as the one mentioned toward the beginning of this essay. A major reason for this is their lack of acceptance for certified wine production by the European Union authorities.
      What we are finding now in the gradually growing table wine commercial industry are traditional European vinifera. These include Riesling, Arnsburger, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc among the whites, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, Merlot, Complexa, Shiraz, and Deliciosa among the reds. To these must be added the traditional white Madeiran Noble grapes of Verdelho and Sercial; Boal is also now being considered.

Engr. J. Pedro

Adega de Sao Vicente

      We visited the Madeira cooperative winery, Adega de Sao Vicente, on October 19, 2012. There to greet us and show us around was the manager, Joao Pedro. The winery was established by the Wine Institute of Madeira, and therefore follows tightly the regulations governing such enterprises in the European Union. There are two designations of table wine, DOP Madairense and IDP Terras Madeirenses. Both are made here by the ten to twelve winemakers who bring their crops here for production. In most cases the grapes are vinified by the winery cellar master, but some are vinified by the owners. It is interesting the diversity of grapes that are brought in. Clearly there are a deal of experimentation going on in these smaller ventures. Following Joao Pedro's tour of the plant, we had opportunity to taste some of the products. Included were:
1.  Verdelho - slight citrusy aromas, figs and citrus in the mouth, strongly acid, not well balanced, seemed too young, but not likely either to survive more than a couple of years when ready. The Verdelho along with the Sercial is currently favored by two of the producers of fortified wines we had earlier visited.
2.  Riesling - a blend of 60+% Riesling, and Verdelho, Arnsburger and Boal in varying percentages; slight citrus-pear fragrances, pineapple, citrus, pear, candied fruits on the palate, pleasant follow through. A surprisingly pleasant wine though I daresay that a German would not be likely to recognize this as a Riesling.
3.  Pedra Fogo - a vintage 2009, pleasant enough red wine, seems too acid and young. This wine was produced from 7-9 year grapes; give the vineyards a few more years.
4.  Tinta Barroca (2009) - mostly a blend of mostly TB, with Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon; here we are moving toward a deeper red, a la Bordeaux style. May still have a ways to go, but seems to have a good start, still too acid.
The Adega is a surprisingly complex operation. It was organized to encourage experimentation in table wine production, as well as to encourage the smaller producers to adhere to rigid labeling requirements for commercial sales. Being of varying scale of production, producers have different sized fermentation tanks available to them. Some of them insist on being their own cellar masters.

Duarte Caldeira & Filhos, Seixal Wines Lda.

With some support by the European 
Union'sAgricultural Support Fund, Duarte
 Caldeira and his son are trying to move
 beyond the current boutique nature of 
the their winery.
      Later that afternoon we spent time with Duarte Caldeira and his son, at Sitio do Lombinho in Seixal, a most pleasant experience. This winery was started from vineyards on the grandfather's lands (Alfredo Caldeira) on the north shore steeply sloping toward the Atlantic with the vineyards benefitting in photosynthesis from the water's reflected sunlight. Still most of the grapes are bought from farmers in the area, though there is an intent to enlarge the personally owned grape lands. Duarte has diligently made this the family business, producing two white and three reds, all quite distinctive wines, with labels that follow. Check out their blog and you will see the artistic labels applied to the wines identified as Terras Doavo - Grandfathers' Lands (
The view from the Caldeira garden terrace
next to the home and winery is enchanting.
Crowded homes fill a small defile in the
sharply rising cliffs of the island's northern
shore. Terraced vineyards, lending
themselves to no mechanical equipment
whatsoever, climb the hillsides.
      So far the overseas market is restricted to mainland Portugal, but there are hopes for a wider distribution. In the meantime the lovely garden and a spectacular view from there provides the locus for group lunches and dinners that feature the firm's wines. When there we tasted two whites and two reds; the Terras Avo, a white, largely Verdelho, wine, is a well balanced, fairly acidic and on the dry side; citrous dominates in nose and flavors, nice finish, should compete well on the international market. Duarte Caldeira and his wife, Sofia, actively promote the wines whenever, and whereever, the MWI is sponsoring tastings.

      Ane and I have come near to adopt the island of Madeira as our vacation home. Beyond the excitement of our re-encounter with the striking beauty of this island upon every return, particularly important to us has become our warm relationship with the Jose Chaves family.  Daughter, Silvia, included in this photo. We are here at their Villa Dragoeiro enjoying one of our favorite Madeiran meals, espetada, beef chunks grilled over laurel wood, accompanied by local wines. These are fairly heavy American vitas wines poured directly from the grower's barrel into whatever kind of plastic or glass container available at the time. The dessert is the Bolo de Mel, the justly famous Madeiran honey cake. Make by Maria Chaves, this goes especially well with a rich Boal or Malvesia. Very much like its liquid brethren the cake mellows and improves with age.
(The Villa Dragoeiro has its own web site - look it up!

End Note
      For the moment this ends my account on the island and wines of Madeira. Do not delay your visit here. You will find the landscape, the people, and the wines about equally exuberant. But should you not have this kind of travel in mind, then think about it as you enjoy your next glass of Madeira!
      I do suspect that I will be returning to this page periodically to improve and enhance the script and the images. Do feel free to send me your comments and suggestions.
Ane and I have just finished a fairly demanding 5 hour 
hike along the weather bitten and truly vertiginous
northeastern cliffs of Madeira. The foot path was hacked
 into the side of the mountains at about 1,000 feet above
 the Atlantic at the beginning of the 17th Century to carry
 goods, including sheep skins of wine to Porto da Cruz
for consumption and shipment. Now it is time for a well
deserved Portuguese BEER, a product well learned
from the British. Point here being that should you be
 traveling with a confirmed non-wine drinker, then
there are other worthy choices on Madeira.



Cossart, Noel (1984). Madeira: The Island Vineyard. Christie's Wine Publications,
     London, England. (The author is of the old Cossart family that joined to form the
     Cossart, Gordon & Co Ltd., in the 19th Century. This lasted for 203 years until it
     became a partner in the Maderan Wine Company in 1953).
Edwards, Phillip (ed.) (2003). James Cook The Journals. Penquin Books, London,
     England. (First published by the Hakluyt Society, 1955)
Elliott, Trevor (2010). The Wines of Madeira. Trevor Elliott Publishing, Hampshire,
'Entrevista com Luis D'Oliveira', INEWS (Augusto, 2012), 34-39. (note: this is the
     quarterly publication of the Instituto do Vinho of IVBAM).
Gregory, Desmond (?). The Beneficent Usurpers: A History of the British in Madeira.
     London, England: Associated Universities Press.
Guoveia, Luisa Maria (2005). The Laurisilva of Madeira: World Heritage. Servico do
     Parque Natural Madeira.
Hancock, David (2009). Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American 
     Trade and Taste. Yale University Press. New Haven, Connecticut
Ludtke, Jean (1989). Atlantic Peeks: An Ethnographic Guide to the Portuguese-Speaking 
     Atlantic Islands. The Christopher Publishing House, Hanover. Massachusetts.
Press, J. R. and M. J. Short (eds.) (1994). Flora of Madeira. The Natural History
     Museum, HMSO, London.


Duarte Caldeiro & Filhos, Seixal Wines Lda: >hhtp//<
HM Borges: ><
Henriques & Henriques: ><
IVBAM, Instituto do Vinho, do Bordado e do Artesanato da Madeira, IP (Madeiran
     Institute of Wine): ><
Jancis Robinson: Jancis fairly often speaks glowingly of Madeira wines in her blog
Justino's - Madeira Wines, S.A:  ><
Mad About Madeira: A very comprehensive blog with gobs of detail, especially tastings
     (posted by Niklas Jørgensen)
Madeira Wine Company: >< (also have a look at
Rolf Peter Reuter's MadeiraWineGuide, a very informative blog that ranges from a many
      page index of who's who, what is what in Madeira wines, to extensive tasting notes
The Madeira Collection: >< (one of several leading
      purveyors of collectible Madeira wines)
The Wine Searcher: >http//< (will provide suggestions on
      where in the world given types of Madeira wines may be purchased, and their prices
      - very up-to-date).
Vinhos Barbeito: ><
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; fairly comprehensive and up-to-date; has good
      reference lists