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Netjets Volume 4 2018

ON THE VINE From the

ON THE VINE From the Fire and Sea THE LATEST WINE REVOLUTION IS ERUPTING FROM THE VOLCANIC SOILS OF THE AZORES. JEFFREY T IVERSON REPORTS ON WHY THE VINTNERS ON THE MID-ATLANTIC ARCHIPELAGO HAVE BOTH HISTORY AND INNOVATION ON THEIR SIDE Fly west of mainland Portugal, and 1,500 kilometres later a string of nine islands suddenly rises out of the Atlantic – the Azores. An unspoilt archipelago of giant fern forests and vertiginous waterfalls, of blue crater lakes and bubbling thermal baths, it’s a place where the Earth still seems nascent. On the shores of Pico island, the ripples of black lava underfoot appear to have cooled only yesterday, and a 2,351m volcano fumes still overhead. Yet this isolated, telluric paradise has been cultivated by humans for centuries, and was even once home to a winemaking industry of such breathtaking proportions – the chessboard of walls built to protect its vineyards could have circled the globe twice. By the 20th century, though, they were almost entirely overgrown, forgotten like the once-renowned Verdelho do Pico wine. But today, a new generation of winemakers is leading an unlikely renaissance in the Azores, bringing these exceptional insular crus to the attention of oenophiles around the world once again. In 2016, the team at Red Squirrel Wine, a British specialist importer, received an offer from the charismatic Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita to taste the wines of a peculiar passion project he was developing. Expecting sun-baked continental reds, they were instead presented with a series of bracing, oceanic whites from the Azores. Azorean on his father’s side, Maçanita had learned from agriculture department officials a few years earlier that several Azores grape varieties were nearing extinction. Determined to help, in 2014 he joined Azores natives Filipe Rocha and Paulo Machado to found Azores Wine Company ( The team at Red Squirrel Wine, captivated, agreed to import their full range – “a leap of faith,” admits their managing director Nik Darlington. “There was an exceptional story to be told, but we also recognised that these wines were completely unknown.” Not any more. Cutting-edge restaurants like Belgium’s Nuance, Portugal’s Belcanto and London’s Anglo now serve what Decanter’s Sarah Ahmed calls “a flurry of penetratingly dry, brisk, über-mineral, salt-flecked white wines”, from the 100% Terrantez do Pico, with a “nose of white pepper, ponzu, pink grapefruit and green mango”, to the Verdelho Original, boasting a “palate of succulent, tropical green fruit”. It’s a second life for these grapes that Franciscan monks, through sheer will and ingenuity, first adapted to this challenging maritime terroir in the 15th century. On Pico’s rock-strewn coastal lava fields, they cleared tons of basaltic stones and used them to create a vast network of enclosures called currais (corrals), planting the vines in cracks in the lava floor, widened with iron rods and mallets. The black basalt walls shielded the grapes from the salty winds and retained heat, helping them ripen overnight. The golden-hued wines produced became a staple of maritime trade. By 1816, the Azores was producing more than 13 million litres a year, exporting to Brazil, the United States, England, Holland, Angola and Russia’s Winter Palace in St Petersburg. But all that ended in the mid-19th century, after the accidental introduction of the destructive American vine louse phylloxera. The industry collapsed, and the wines of the Azores disappeared into history. Today, the archipelago is writing a new chapter, thanks in no small part to Azores Wine Company. By embracing their Azorean identity through single-varietal bottlings celebrating their indigenous grapes, they’ve provided an inspiring template for success. “What Azores Wine Company has tried to do is pay respect to our history, to our viticultural heritage,” says cofounder Rocha. “So, this renaissance is not only about us. All the producers on the islands have started to improve their wines and develop their exports now. And that’s our mission, to make people believe again in this region’s incredible potential.” Ahmed tastes that potential in the “powerfully concentrated citrus fruit and piquant, salty tang” of the 100% Arinto do Açores by Pico’s Curral Atlântis ( Likewise, José Vouillamoz, co-author of the seminal Wine Grapes guide, praises the complex fruit and nut aromas of Adega A Buraca’s ( Vinho Licoroso and the German Riesling-esque oaked Arinto by the Pico cooperative ( And for Master Sommelier John Szabo, the Czar cuvée by José Duarte Garcia (czarwine. pt) of late-harvested, raisined native grapes, cask-aged five years, is categorically “mind-bending”. In the 14 years since Unesco’s 2004 classification of the Azores vineyard landscape as a World Heritage Site, the total hectares under vine has grown from 120 to nearly 1,000. On a recent visit to Pico island, Darlington was moved by the sight of men and women from Azores Wine Company replanting the historic currais vineyards, rebuilding these ancient black stone walls between mountain and sea. “It’s simply amazing; they’re having to clear entire forests.” It’s bigger than just planting a vineyard, he says: “They’re resurrecting an entire industry.” ■ PEDRO SILVA (5), ANDRE SCHUMACHER/LAIF, © CZAR 70 NetJets Pico Airport

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