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Viticulture is said to have been introduced in the early 15th century by Henry the Navigator, who brought back vine material from Crete (Candia) or from Cyprus. Others suggest that Franciscan monks introduced viticulture from Madeira and mainland Portugal. Regardless of who really did introduce the first vines, wine production quickly flourished in this mild and humid Atlantic climate thanks to the hard work of Carmelite and Franciscan monks. So much so that in 1816 André Jullien reported in his seminal book Topographie de tous les vignobles connus that wine was produced on all nine islands to a total of more than 30,000 pipes (13.4 million litres) a year, exporting to Brazil, the United States, Russia, and England.
The first vineyards are from the late 1400s. But the huge increase was in the 1600s The golden era was in the mid 1800s when all of Pico Island was vineyards. It was the base of the economy for both Pico and Fayal island and important in the other islands. Today, the islands of Pico, Teceria, Graciosa and Sao Miguel have reignited the winemaking traditions of the islands and each produce wine of varing quanties.
Production in 1852 was almost 10 million litres, but with powdery mildew arriving in 1853 and then phylloxera in 1857, production dropped all the way to 25,000 Liters in 1859, never to get back on its feet. It was a calamity and although the people didn’t give up easily, after a while it was no longer possible to survive. Pico and Fayal Islands lost half of their population during this period to the American continent. Production in 2019 was 250,000 litres in Pico.
The three indigenous grapes are:
1. Arinto dos Açores (exclusive to Azores so distinctive and not related to mainland Arinto), this is the one with most texture and acidity, it is very bright and pure;
2. Verdelho (same as Madeira, different from mainland Verdelho), is the juicier of the three, with some fresh tropical notes, but still tense and fresh
3. Terrantez do Pico (exclusive to Azores), slightly floral, is the more saline of the three.
In the Azores there are 21 producers certified wine across the islands.
Quina da jardinette A family-owned vineyard located in Fenais da Luz. The grounds are spectacular and Mario the owner is welcoming and you can taste their wines at the Quina. The chard
Pico island´s vineyards are in extreme conditions, very close to the sea and planted on the fissures of the mother-stone in volcanic soil, challenging the very definition of it. The unusual sea proximity, between 50 and 300 meters, sprays the vineyards with salt. The sea works its way from underneath, blending with the rain´s freshwater in a combination of brackish water where the vineyards´ roots drink from. The influence from the mountain and the clouds that usually gather around it, led men to plant their vineyards so close to the sea one may hear “the crabs singing”.
The stone walled currais, built by men around 500 years and classified by UNESCO, since 2004, as a World Heritage Site, are meant to protect the vineyards from the maritime wind and salt while creating a warmer microclimate for the plants.
There are 3 types of grapes commonly used in the winemaking of the Azores. These vines will be grafted (in the most part) to an American root or base as this can resit the humidity and disese that infects the vines otherwise on the islands.
Verdelho is the only Azorean traditional grape variety that keeps the same designation on the islands of Pico, Terceira and Graciosa. Such fact is in line with the history of the variety in the archipelago because, as one may deduce from the quotations on the vineyards origin in the Region, it is considered the oldest and most typical.
It is similar to the Verdelho that is grown in Madeira as well as in Australia to where it was taken from this Portuguese island around 1824. However, the micro satellites profiles scientifically prove it is a variety different from the Italian Verdecchio, the Spanish Verdejo and the Portuguese Gouveio which, in the mainland, is also referred to as Verdelho.
Arinto dos Açores
It is the most important grape variety of the archipelago. It is autochthon and unique in the world, its origin unknown to this day. However, recent studies indicate that it is descendant from the Verdelho.
Of the three traditional grape varieties grown in Pico, it is the most resistant to weathering and has the highest production capacity combined with an enological quality similar to, or even superior to what is noticeable in Verdelho.
Terrantez do Pico
Terrantez do Pico, from the three autochthon grape varieties from the Azores, is the one that has the smallest cultivated area. It’s unique in the world and it was almost extinguished, fact that motivated a hard work from the Azores government Agriculture Department, in S. Miguel island. At the same time, the national and international attention called by the wine made by António Maçanita, led to a huge enthusiasm to replant this grape variety.
The use of the geographic name is important for not spreading error or confusion with the Terrantez grape variety that exists in Madeira and mainland Portugal. The molecular analysis show without any doubt that is a unique grape variety in the world.
The largest and most well-known wine company on the island is The Azores Wine Company.