Travels in Wine / Madeira

Travels in Madeira: Small is Beautiful

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Shaun Kiernan Shaun Kiernan / 10 December 2019

Travels in Madeira: Small is Beautiful

A two-day trip to the small exotic volcanic island of Madeira is special for anyone at any time of year, but I felt particularly privileged to be invited, particularly as our wine buyer Joanna Locke MW has yet to make the trip. As Jo was away on other business again this time, I was able to take her place in my capacity as Fine Wine Manager at The Wine Society.

We were hosted by the Blandys at their beautiful Palheiro estate where the gardens are something to behold
We were hosted by the Blandys at their beautiful Palheiro estate where the gardens are something to behold

It was the first time I had visited the island too, but I have long held a passion for the wines of Madeira – they have something magical about them, not just because they can last for decades, centuries even, but also there is a bit of a mystery about how they are made.

This trip, courtesy of one of our suppliers, would I hope shed light on all of this and more. It was timed to tie in with the Annual Madeira Wine Festival which takes place at the end of the harvest, so there were lots of exciting things going on.

Apart from the natural beauty of the place I was blown away by the enthusiasm and passion of all the people who make this remarkable product. I'd heard how lovely Madeira is from colleagues who know the island, but their descriptions didn't do it justice and it was an education, an eye-opener and a real pleasure.

We were hosted by Blandy's, possibly the biggest Madeira wine company on the island and taken on a two-day whistle stop visit of the island, its wine and food and the people who work very hard to produce what is an amazing product.

Testamant to the aging ability of Madeira, despite the fact that this was the same age as me it was much fresher and younger
Testamant to the aging ability of Madeira, despite the fact that this was the same age as me it was much fresher and younger

A bit about Blandy's

Blandy's Madeira is a 200-year-old family owned business with a long tradition in fine wine making. John Blandy - the founder of Blandy's Madeira – established himself on the island in 1811, he came here originally for a rest cure due to ill health but must have fallen in love with the place, returning to make the island his home. He established a successful shipping firm which expanded further with future generations, moving into banking (even issuing their own coins at one point) and other business interests. They built up large stocks of old wines – something which saw them through ensuing crises of oidium (in the 1850s) and then phylloxera. The revolution years of 1974-75 were a crunch time for Anglo-Madeiran families like Blandy, but they managed to diversify and reinvent themselves to weather the storms, though this necessitated selling off some of the company's assets.

The Blandy's wine shop in downtown Funchal is a wine lover's and historian's dream
The Blandy's wine shop in downtown Funchal is a wine lover's and historian's dream

In 1989, in order to further expand the global market, Blandy's approached the Symingtons of Oporto (Port producers for four generations and over 100 years) – and offered them a partnership with the purpose of strengthening the sales and marketing aspects of the business. In the later years, both winemaker and company have been respectively awarded Fortified Winemaker of the Year (at the International Wine Challenge awards) for three consecutive years.

Michael and Chris Blandy, representing the 6th and 7th generation, continue the work of their ancestors with Chris now running the business
Michael and Chris Blandy, representing the 6th and 7th generation, continue the work of their ancestors with Chris now running the business

On the 1st of August 2011, the year of the company's bicentenary, the Blandy and Symington family of Oporto signed an agreement that gave back control to the Blandy family of the Madeira Wine Company (MWC). Today, Michael and Chris Blandy, 6th and 7th generation members, continue to work in the company, maintaining a tradition that spans over 200 years.

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