Believe it or not the Founding Fathers toasted signing the Declaration of  Independence with Madeira wine.  This rather sweet dessert wine from this Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean was very popular during colonial times. 

One might ask how did Madeira become so popular?   The answer lies in the fact that starting with Columbus, Spanish ships made their last stop before crossing the Atlantic going west in the Canary Islands to load up with provisions while Portuguese ships stopped in Madeira or one of Portugal’s other islands in the Atlantic.  One of these provisions was wine, thus Madeira wine was regularly brought to the early colonies. 

On his first voyage of discovery Columbus made his last stop the island of Gomera in the Canaries.  The island had only been conquered by Spain the year before his historic trip in 1492 which parallels the fact that his trip coincided with the conquest of the last Moorish stronghold in Spain, Granada. 

We had a Norwegian au pair for our daughters when we lived in South Africa.  She taught them that the great viking explorers Eric the Red and Lief the Lucky had actually first “discovered” America.   When they asked me about this I replied that, “Yes they discovered America but then they lost it, so Columbus had to find it again 400 years later.”  

Somewhere along the way Madeira wine fell out of favor or rather became an infrequent wine choice relegated to that category of wines known as “dessert wines.”  Probably the most popular dessert wine today is “ice wine” which apparently originated in Germany.  The key factor in making this wine is to pick the grapes after the first frost has served to concentrate the sugar in the grapes.  I find the “ice wine” made in Ontario, Canada to perhaps be the best on the market today.

Of course most people know that other Portuguese dessert wine staple, Port wine.  This wine is named for the city of Oporto in northern Portugal from which it was first shipped to England by English wine makers who settled in Portugal.  In fact the wine company with which I am now working to bring their wines to the US market was started by a pair of brothers from England who settled in the Oporto area in 1820 to make Port wine.

The Reynolds family moved from Porto to the Alentejo region of Portugal to make, not wine, but the corks for the wine bottles.  Alentejo is part of the area straddling the border between Portugal and Estremadura in Spain from where most corks come.  The Reynolds boys essentially became speculators in corks since the cork trees take about 7-10 years to grow the thick bark from which cork is made.  They bought the future production of the cork farmers at today’s price for future delivery. 

The cork growing area is also suited to growing several of the unique Portuguese grapes so the Reynolds family in 1850 added wine production to their flourishing business.  Today the winery produces very carefully made wines that represent the best examples of wine from Alentejo.

I say carefully made since they use the “chateau method” for making the wine.  The essential difference is that they do not press the grapes to extact the juice to ferment in large vats.  Instead they throw the entire grapes into the vats, which in this case are not stainless steel but made of French oak, the same French oak used to make the casks in which the wine is aged.  The grapes are circulated from bottom to top and in the process press each other as they ferment. 

This fermentation of the entire grape and the use of French oak fermentation vats give Reynolds wines their distinct qualities and tastes.  The special process also makes them a bit more expensive to make so they are destined to a special market.  We have launched the wines in the Tampa Bay area and we are doing well at bringing this special wine to the American public.

One could say we are taking the American public back to our colonial roots. Perhaps one could even say we are bringing a “revolutionary” wine to the market.