The Madeira Collection
The lush, spectacular island of Madeira lies far out in the Atlantic Ocean, 600 km west of the coast of Morocco.
It was discovered at the beginning of a Golden Age of Portuguese exploration in 1419 by Joao Gonçalves Zarco, whose ships were blown off course to a beautiful, densely forested island. They named it "Madeira" - the Portuguese for wood. Because of its subtropical climate and fertile, volcanic soil, the island was perfect for growing vines. And not long after, a distinctive local wine, also called Madeira, began to flourish.
The uniqueness of Madeira wine also came about by accident. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the wine was exported on long sea voyages to distant European colonies such as the Caribbean and the Americas. Grape brandy was added to slow fermentation and the barrels were warmed in the ship's holds, which could reach significant temperatures during the tropics.
By the time the fortified wine reached its destination, the taste and bouquet had changed radically. At first people were uncertain, but then they developed a fondness for it. Before long, barrels were going halfway around the world, purely to enrich and enhance the taste. The demand for this special vinho do roda (return wine) was enormous, and it's
fame spread quickly.
After the great sea voyages died out, producers in Madeira looked for a way to create the same effect more efficiently. Initially, they simply exposed wine to the sun by building large warehouses with glass roofs - hence vinho do sol (sun wine). Then they developed a more sophisticated method of heating the wine in estufas (stoves). Using pipes to circulate hot water, the wine is gently heated in stainless steel vats to temperatures of 45°C. This process takes three months and is called estufagem.
For premium wines - canteiro - a different technique is used. Here the barrels are placed on wooden beams (called canteiros) in the warm eaves of wine huts.
The wine matures gently and develops its unique character over many years.