Wine has had and still has, an important role in the economy and history of the Azores archipelago. In the early days of life on the Azorean islands, the production of goods was, as a rule, made to ensure the subsistence of the people in general. This was the fundamental concept of the economy of the Azoreans of old.
Each island had its own particularities in the production of goods, but all had a common goal – the self-sufficiency assured, throughout the archipelago, fruit of the various productions/cultivations. In the case of Pico Island, its abundance of basalt rock gave way, from an early age to the cultivation of vines. This phenomenon gave rise to the production of large quantities of wine, which exceeded the needs of local consumption, thus opening doors to the export of wine to the world.
It is important to highlight that this phenomenon of Azorean wine has also made itself felt on the island of São Jorge, the island of Faial, the island of Graciosa and the island of Terceira. All of them also had, and have, wine plantations and productions, but the island that has more expression in this sector is the island of Pico.
In mountainous lands, the wine is produced in stone corrals, which translates into a beautiful wine landscape that is not indifferent to anyone. It is considered a world heritage site, by UNESCO, since 2004.
These corrals serve as shelter to the winds and are very similar to labyrinths. Note that all these works in the vineyards, from planting, collection, construction of the corrals, among other processes, is done by hand.
Curiosity: There are so many stone punches from the vineyards of Pico Island, but so many, that all of them united are able to go around Ecuador twice. They constitute about 80,000 km.
With the development of wine production, the production of brandy also arose, as a substitute production, if the wines were damaged in the sea voyage to which they were subjected. The eau-de-vie had a greater capacity of resistance to this maritime transport necessary for the export of the products. This trade opened the Azores archipelago to Brazil, America and England – especially to the English community living in North America.
This exponent of the wine phenomenon was also due to the vital role of Horta, which acted as a launchpad for the Azores to the world. The wine and brandy from Pico, through Horta and its quality alone, were and are today internationally recognized.
At the turn of the 18th century, the wine will no longer be just a commodity of subsistence consumption but will become a commodity of great economic importance. As Gaspar Frutuoso rightly said, “they make good wine”. It is important to mention that wine gains its excellence due to the island’s microclimate and soil. The basalt, fruit of lava, reveals to have a great capacity to produce wine.
However, the spread of the plague called phylloxera, had catastrophic effects on the vineyards, leading to its decay. This decadence also affected Horta, which depended on wine to trade. This event only helps to prove the economic crisis that was felt at that time, due to the degradation of the vineyards. It is in this environment that whale hunting was discovered as a very important economic tool, thus complementing what was lost with the vineyards.
Today, the recovery of the Pico vineyards is a reality, and the quality of wine and production has increased greatly. We can say that the wine already runs on the international scene and is a great tradition and added value for the Azores archipelago. The recognition of the Pico vineyards as a Protected Landscape of Regional Interest of the Vine Culture, in 2004 by UNESCO, having a World Heritage status, as mentioned above, has boosted the winemaking and made up for even more losses caused by the disease.
Come and get to know this wonderful tradition and let yourself be enchanted by the land of sea, mountain, wine and whaling with the help of your travel companion, the tour guide Azores Natureza Viva.