We like to keep on learning, and its good to take a break sometimes. It’s important not to get seduced by the idyllic, but small world that is our own vineyard. So, in this spirit, we sent Tim and Bev, and Grandma, to Madeira to see how the Portuguese do things.
A beautiful tiny island in the Atlantic, Madeira was once a volcano. And the islanders have learned to live on its slopes as if it were easy, which it definitely isn’t. Hair-raising roads, death defying cliffs, houses carved out of the side of the mountain, barely a flat space anywhere. And that extends to their many vineyards, which cling precariously to the hillside. No problem with drainage here! In fact, the steep slopes and the porous volcanic soil mean that, despite a very pleasant temperate climate, the main issue is the need to water the vines in the growing season. A 20 acre vineyard that we visited needed to apply 40,000 litres of water daily. In footballing terms, appropriate as Madeira is the home of Cristiano Ronaldo - Astley 1 : 0 Madeira
With a climate similar to ours, without a cold winter, they face the same disease threats such as mildew and botrytis, and adopt the same approach of low level, sulphur-based spraying to protect their precious grapes. However the slopes mean that the vineyards are usually inaccessible by machinery, so spraying involves many hours, miles of hoses, and a lot of manual labour. (Astley 2 : 0 Madeira).
They grow a variety of red and white grapes very successfully, with the long growing season and very fertile soils leading to some great quality wine sand some amazing yields. One vineyard we visited talked of 16 tonnes per hectare, at which point we asked them to repeat the fact because we thought we must have misheard (Astley yields 25% of this... in a good year!). We hadn’t misheard. Astley 2 : 1 Madeira
We tasted many Madeira wines - it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it… from fresh dry whites, via rose to light reds and on to the product for which the island is world famous - Madeira wine or "Malmsey" itself. It would be unfair to compare the whites with our own - we’d probably be biased anyway. But the Madeira wine is something unique in the world. So, we made a special pilgrimage to Blandy’s, the inventors of the fortified red wine process back in the mid 1700’s.
And what a treat! We were allowed, by special invitation, into the family’s vaults and private collection, seeing a bottle dating back to 1752. Because Madeira is oxidised during fermentation, and then fortified by the addition of alcohol spirit, it can keep indefinitely. Our guide had recently tasted a wine from 1811. We had no such luck, but were able to taste a number of excellent vintages, and to leave with our spare suitcase suitably filled.
I think we have to give this one to the Madeirans: a late equaliser - Astley 2 : 2 Madeira.
But there’s no place like home. Great to be back. Astley wins on penalties!