● “To discover the varieties of wine being produced on the Canary archipelago, what wineries are making them, what kind of landscapes define them and through which traditions they come into being, the three authors of this book traveled across the islands from east to west in the summer of 2014”
■ The incredible (but true) world of wine from the Canary Islands
By YURI MILLARES
Co-author and publisher of ‘100 Essential Wines from the Canary Islands’
Today there are wineries of both the most traditional and the most technically advanced sorts on the Canary Islands; in both cases the end products are wines with two special features that make them very attractive: they are original and of great quality. After all, wine production on the archipelago dates back to the 15th century, when the first colonists settled there after the conquest of the Crown of Castille and brought their grapevines with them to plant on the islands. Two further distinguishing marks are noteworthy as well: grape varieties unique in all the world and a very special tradition of diverse modes of cultivation. The colonists became inhabitants of a territory of widely varying landscapes and accordingly had to adapt their vines to conditions of volcanic ash, mist and haze, steep hillsides and narrow plains, high up in the mountains or close to the coast. And in every quadrant of the island they applied different cultivation techniques.
To discover the varieties of wine being produced on the Canary archipelago, what wineries are making them, what kind of landscapes define them and through which traditions they come into being, the three authors of this book traveled across the islands from east to west in the summer of 2014, following the harvests that begin in July on Lanzarote and end in the fall on La Palma. With the experience derived from having wandered the fields and wineries of these islands for twenty years, with the developed senses and oenological knowledge of experts who have lived among the wines, and the eye of an attuned photographer who turns snapshots immediately into art, we have identified 100 noteworthy examples of their viniculture for the present volume. For the first time in a book, the extraordinary world of Canary winemaking is presented here from the intimate perspective of what makes it unique, with an understanding of the singular location, landscape and climate that produce wines that are highly personal, and often even unique worldwide.
Our choices weren’t governed by ratings – in fact we didn’t rate the wines in the normal sense, since it wasn’t our purpose to offer a guide to the best wines of the islands. This is a book that aims to explore and reveal a unique winemaking tradition and to create an oenological picture of an extraordinary place and the people who keep it alive.
When we say “tradition” we are referring to much more than a few families who, from generation to generation, have developed a way of life and work associated with their vineyards. It also means that these are wines with history, wines that have traveled the world, even becoming part of History with a capital “H” over the centuries. The presence of Canary wines in the European Courts of the 16th century or their frequent mention in literary works like William Shakespeare’s Henry IV or Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe are only the beginning. Through the relationship we developed with Carlos Cólogan during our researches, we learned how the wines from the Canary Islands helped to finance the war of independence of the thirteen American colonies against England through the close and secretive connection of Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin and the financier Robert Morris with a family of Irish descent that used to export Canary wine to Europe and America from the Orotava port (Tenerife): the Cólogan ancestors themselves.
When we speak of grapes that are “unique worldwide,” we are referring to the fact that the extraordinary number of varieties on the Canary Islands is the result of the arrival of colonists over the course of centuries, each with their own vines that came from various places. And why is it that they are unique? During the 19th century a plague, the phylloxera, that came from the United States to Europe, devastated the cultivation of vines. Whole vineyards were uprooted on the mainland, and many varieties died out, in some cases surviving only on the Canary Islands, some of them of still unknown descent. Recent studies of those varieties’ DNA show 82 different grape species! Juan Jesús Méndez, vintner, investigator, and winemaking pioneer in the Canary Islands with traditional monovarietals informed us, for example, that “what we call volcanic Malvasia and aromatic Malvasia here are actually 21 different varieties! Because, according to international convention, one variety is different from another when there are at least three different micro satellites in the DNA.” That is how he found, for example, a variety of Malvasia that exists in only one country house of La Geria (Lanzarote): “Imagine the potential, a variety that does not exist anywhere else in the world, only in this country house.”
Furthermore, there is one variety that is already native to the Canary Islands and has not come from abroad: the volcanic Malvasia from Lanzarote. “It is a crossbreed that happened here on the islands. When we analyze the DNA, the sequence of the Malvasia from La Palma shows up and the next sequence of its DNA is Marmajuela,” explains Méndez. And this will certainly not be the last intriguing anomaly that is discovered, given that such investigation is only in its early stages.
Among the 100 wines from 42 wineries that we have described in the pages that follow is a story as complex, intriguing, and delightful as the Canary Islands themselves.