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.
Wine has been cultivated in the Azores since 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 Faial island, the trade was also important in the other islands. 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 return to the highs of the mid-seventeenth century.
Today, the islands of Pico, Teceria, Graciosa and Sao Miguel have reignited the winemaking traditions of the islands and each produce wine of varying quantities. Pico, for example, produces around 250,000 litres (data from 2019.)
There are 21 producers certified wine across the islands. On Sao Miguel, Quina da jardinette, a family-owned vineyard located in Fenais da Luz is one of the leading producers. The grounds are spectacular and Mario the owner is welcoming and more than happy to show you around the Quinta. On Pico, the vineyards grow in extreme conditions, close to the sea and planted on the bare volcanic soil. These plants are so close to the ocean (between 50 and 300 meters) they actually get sprayed with salt. To protect the plants, stone walls or currais, were built and these are now classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Additionally, these walls also create a warmer microclimate for the plants.
There are 3 types of grapes commonly used in the winemaking in the Azores. These vines will be grafted (in the most part) to an American root or base as this can resit the humidity and disease that infects the vines otherwise on the islands.
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.
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 This 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, as it can be confused with the Terrantez grape variety that exists in Madeira and mainland Portugal.
Join us for a wine tasting at The Wine Cellar.