By admin on February 23, 2012 in Blogs

Verdelho wines aging in barrels

I arrived in the island of Terceira yesterday on the Hellenic Wind. This Greek ferry has been put into service by the Azorean government, and runs mostly empty given its gigantic size. Maybe because it is empty or because the waves are particularly rough that day, the boat pitches and rolls quite a bit on the journey, and I am glad for my scopolamine patch. The poor man sitting beside me is retching for hours. I think I have some Dramamine in my medicine bag, but unfortunately I’ve only packed gravol, trusting to my patch. I am no help to the poor man, who barely gets an hour’s sleep during the four hour ride.

I saw Angra, the second biggest city on the islands, and a world heritage site. It is beautiful, but in a touristy way so I will not write more of it. Today I am in Biscoites, in the north of the island, where wine making was a big deal in the past. At the wine museum, I identify myself as a writer on a fellowship, and the tour guide takes me for a special tour through the vineyard and the winery. I hear much about the role of sailors from India, Macau, Timor, and Brazil who stopped by the islands enroute to Lisbon and how they sold spices and furniture in the island because the authorities would confiscate such purchases on the mainland.

In Angra, there is a famous sweetshop “O largo” which sells a small cake named after Amelia, the last Portuguese queen. I discover at the wine museum that the cake was originally called a “Bolo Indiens” because it was made with spices brought over from Goa and only renamed as a publicity stunt when the last king visited the island in the early nineteenth century.

This tiny fruit from Brazil is a cousin of the guava

This tiny fruit from Brazil is a cousin of the guava

The vines in Biscoites produce the famous verdelho wine. As we walk along the fields I am surprised to see the grapevines lying flat over the basalt stones the way squash would cover a garden in Toronto. There are no stakes here, no supports to grow the vines away from the ground. In fact, there is no soil here either. The roots simply disappear into fissures in the basaltic rock and are irrigated by channels of rainwater that carry away the minerals from the lava-born rocks. Basalt heats up well in the sun and radiates its warmth through the night, allowing red grapes to grow well on the northern slopes. Maria, the tour guide, has taken a shine to me, so she gives me a small fruit to eat. It tastes just like a guava though it is the size of a cherry. She is pleased with my report and tells me that the aracal is a fruit from Brazil, a cousin to the guava. When I leave, she will empty a whole basket of them into my bag. But for now, she takes me on a tour of the equipment people used to make wine. I see a washing tub carved out of a single piece of basalt. Usually used for clothes, once a year grapes are crushed in the tub and the juices drained away to make wine. The tub, the sweet aracal berries and the anecdote about the Bolo Indiens make me happy because already I know that they will figure in the story I am currently working on.

But there is more. Inside, Maria shows ropes made of the tail hair of cattle and out of the nerves of whales, locks made out of wood with keys also carved out of wood. The ingenuity of the islanders forced to make do with what was available to them amazes me. I leave the winery quite drunk as my hosts insist that I try all the wines and spirits made on site and pour me generous portions. They are happy to have a writer visiting them, and they question me on my work as they ply me with figs, with these little guava fruit. By the time I leave them, we are on firm footing as friends. I wander to the bus stop and realize that it is barely noon!

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