The Volcanic wines of the Azores

Dr. Jose Vouillamoz, co-author of Wine Grapes, talks about the volcanic wines of the Azores in Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages this month.

The islands were discovered between the 14th and 15th centuries. It is said that viticulture was introduced to the islands in the early 15th century by Henry the Navigator, who brought back vine material from Crete. Wine production quickly flourished in this mild and humid Atlantic climate. Today, viticulture has survived only on three out of nine islands in the Azores due to introductions of downy mildew and of phylloxera from America in the late 19th Century. We have wines from two of the nine islands in the Azores, Terceira and Pico.

One of the amazing things about the wine industry in Pico, an island found in the centre of the Azores islands is that the western surface of Pico’s landscape is dominated by barren lava layers of basaltic mother rock. The ‘Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture’ described as such by UNESCO, attained World Heritage Listing in 2004. The vineyards are surrounded by spectacular, reticulate dry-stone walls made of black basalt stones, only the notoriously hardy grape vine will grow here.

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Vouillamoz spoke to one of our producers, Paulo Machado of the Azores Wine Company about the main reason for building this spectacular and laborious network of walls. It is generally thought that the main reason for these walls is to protect the vines from strong winds and from salt spray from the ocean. However, Machado explains that the prevailing reason was more down to earth; the black basalt stones first had to be removed from the ground to render the soil fertile. The removed basalt stones were then used to build these protective dry-walls. Killing two birds with one ‘basalt stone’ as Vouillamoz puts it!

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The plots are divided into jeiroes, servidoes, Canadas and currais in order to facilitate access and wine protection.

I defy anyone not to be moved by Pico’s intricate chequerboard of dry-stone walled “currias” vineyards’ – Sarah Ahmed, Decanter July ‘17

Sarah Ahmed from Decanter magazine (Portugal, but not as we know it, 2017) wrote about the wines of Azores Islands. Speaking of wine production in Pico, Ahmed lauds the two native grapes Arinto dos Acores and Terrantez do Pico as the grapes producing the top wines from the island.

We have five wines listed from the Azores Wine Company in Pico, all showcasing the best in vinification that the island has to offer. They can be found on our website here. Or from the island of Terceira, Adega Dos Biscoitos, gives us two wines from the volcanic soils which the Verdelho grapes are grown made by the young rising star of the wine making world, Diogo Lopes. You can find them on our website here also.