Madeira - history & location

The Portuguese island of Madeira is located in the Atlantic Ocean, about 600 km west of Morocco and about 1,000 km southwest of Lisbon. The island was discovered in the early 1400's by Captain João Gonçalves (popularly known as Zarco meaning "squint"). The island was covered with dense forests, which is why Zarco came up with the name Madeira, which is Portuguese for wood. The story goes that in order to purify the island for settlements, he started a fire. Whether coincidental or intended, the fire smoldered for seven years, producing massive amounts of potassium, which mixed with the volcanic soil, creating the ideal soil for vines. The first vines were planted shortly after. To this day, and despite the fact that due to the mountainous nature of the soil, all vineyards are very small and difficult to access, viticulture is still one of the main activities on the island. Today Madeira's soil consists mainly of basalt and is rich in magnesium, sulfur, iron, and aluminum. However, the soil does not contain lime. This type of soil blocks phosphorus and potassium. Due to this combination, the grapes have a fairly high acidity.


There are 3 main wine-growing areas in Madeira: Câmara de Lobos (on the south coast), São Vincente and Santana (on the north coast). The wineries in Madeira do not own land but buy their grapes from winegrowers, who usually also grow other agricultural products. The only exception to this is winery Henriques & Henriques, which owns about 10 hectares of vines. An average winegrower owns less than half a hectare of wine-growing land, he brings about 1500 kg of grapes to the producer at harvest time. But there are also wine growers who only bring 60 kg of grapes. Very early, the picked grapes were brought to the press house in “borracho”, these are goat skins of 45-50 liters. The yield of a vineyard was then also expressed in numbers of goat skins. The best grape varieties in Madeira are: terrantez, verdelho, bual, tinta negra, malvasia and sercial.

Madeira wine is a fortified, long-lasting wine. The wine is made by aging with heat and oxygen. The simpler (and cheaper) Madeira's are already on the market after 3 years, but the most beautiful Madeira's only after 10 years or more. The wines are characterized in particular by the balance of fresh acidity and soft sweetness and the beautiful complex aromas that have arisen through maturation. There are different styles depending on the grape, maturing time and the winery.


Madeira is quite mountainous, so the island has different climate zones. It is more rainy in the north and sunnier in the south. It often rains in Madeira, so the island is very green. The temperature is fairly constant throughout the year and usually does not drop below 10 degrees. On the other hand, it does not get very hot in summer.

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