Madeira’s location in the Atlantic made it an important strategic port of call which led to the rapid expansion of the island’s wine, especially in countries such as the United States of America. It was so popular in the USA that in the 18th century, Madeira wine is reported to have represented over 75% of all wine imported into this market.
The archipelago is situated at 32º 38’ latitude north and 16º 54’ longitude west, about 1100kms off the coast of Portugal, and 590 kms off the coast of Morocco.
The total area of the island is 741kms2, of which the vineyards occupy about 490 hectares.
The island relief is steep and a mountain range that climbs up to 1.862m (6.109Ft) in altitude above sea-level – the highest peak is Pico Ruivo – runs the length of the island, virtually dividing it in tow, and causing 7 different micro-climates that have a determining effect on where the vineyards are planted.
The overall sub-tropical and temperate climate, together with the fertile volcanic soils provide perfect conditions for the growth of a wide range of different crops.
Due to the geography of the island of Madeira, the vast majority of the vineyards are relatively small in size. Vineyards can be found from sea level up to an altitude of 800 meters, perched in small terraces known as “poios”. So as to maximize the use of land, it was very common in the past to find grapes planted in pergola – or “latada”, as it is commonly known in Madeira – with vegetables planted at ground level. In the latter years, many vineyards have been reconverted to modern espalier conduction, which improves the maturation of the grapes due to increased sun exposure.
The family have had long-standing relationships with the farmers and over the years, agreements have been passed down from generation to generation.
The family currently own 2 vineyards:
On the north of the island, the 5 Ha property Quinta de São Jorge growing Sercial, Verdelho and Malvasia de São Jorge.
On the south of the island, 7th generation member Andrew Blandy owns the Quinta de Santa Luzia property, a small 1 Ha experimental vineyard, growing the 4 noble white varietals, Sercial, Verdelho, Terrantez, Bual and also Tinta Negra.
The vines are planted in small terraces on the steep slopes around the Island. The traditional way of training the vine – in “pergolas” or trellises (know as “latada” in Portuguese) – is crucial to minimizing the impact of deseases caused by humidity and allows a planting density of 2.500 to 3.000 specimens per hectare. However, there are some areas where the “espalier” way of trainig vines is employed with success, allowing the planting of 4.600 to 5.200 vines per hectare.
Madeira has a mild sub-tropical climate, with warm summer months and temperate winters. Nevertheless, higher up the mountains, temperature and humidity vary dramatically and on occasions, the peaks can become white from snow.
The north side of the island is subject to the north Atlantic winds, and therefore cooler and more humid, whilst the south side is warm and sunny. The climate contributes to a rich and diverse flora where flowers, fruit and vegetables grow in abundance.
Madeira is rich and diverse in terroirs. As a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the vineyards are exposed to the ocean breeze and the grapes from vineyards planted at lower levels can show saline and iodine notes.
The soils are acidic, rich in mineral, iron and phosphor, and poor in potassium, which all contribute to the trademark acidity of the wine. In fact, the acidity is one of the most remarkable assets of the wines, allowing this unique wine to keep fresh even after having been bottled for many years.
Irrigation is provided by an ancient system of canals called “levadas” that brings water from the mountains down to the agricultural plots, until the ocean.