Wines of Porto Santo

When it was discovered, Porto Santo was a lot greener, but rabbits were imported for food supplies. That was not a smart move, because rabbits are known to propagate very quickly and to eat everything that comes their way. The same mistake was repeated in Australia over four centuries later. At that time there was no ecological awareness yet; everyone just took what they needed and, unfortunately, local trees like the magnificent dragon blood tree  were also affected by this attitude.

porto santo

Porto Santo island

Porto Santo was formed 14.5 million years ago by volcanic eruptions, it is twice as old as Madeira, and the difference can clearly be noticed, because erosion has made it a fairly flat island. It lacks those exciting mountain peaks that Madeira has, but with a perfect 9-kilometre-long fine sandy beach that stretches along the entire south coast it is the ideal summer residence.  Its human history is only a year older than Madeira; it was stumbled on by sailors in 1418 during a violent storm. The bay of this island provided shelter and was therefore christened ‘Porto Santo’, the Sacred Port.

Pico de Ana Fereira

An unreal, volcanic remnant is the Pico de Ana Ferreira, upright perfectly rectangular basalt blocks that rise to form a mountain, locally known as ‘the piano.’

Pico do Facho is the highest point on Porto Santo, with 517 meters in altitude. This influences the island’s climate to a far less extent than the mountains on Madeira do, which are at least three times higher. The coldest month on Porto Santo is January, with an average temperature of 17ºC, and in August, the hottest month, the average is 25ºC. That is what makes life on this small island so relaxed, hence the local advice: ‘If you want to read the newspaper, just wait for the wind to turn a page.’ The capital of Vila Baleira is close to the airport, and to get an idea of the size of Porto Santo: the runway takes almost the entire width of the island. 

Pico de Ana

Porto Santo vines

Vinha no chão

Millions of years of erosion have largely flattened the island, and human intervention in the form of cutting indigenous trees and importing rabbits, has destroyed the natural shelter. The vineyards are therefore protected from the wind by low walls of volcanic stones, sometimes supplemented with reed mats. The grapes grow as ‘vinha no chão’ which means ‘vineyard over the bottom.’ Walking through the wine fields, the plants look like bush vines, a wild plant, but in the early years of its growing, the vine is pushed down.
A wooden stick prevents the grape bunches from touching the ground.


Porto Santo grapes

The Caracol is a unique white grape, which can only be found on Porto Santo. It is on the list of authorized grape varieties for the DO Madeira. Caracol gives a lightly perfumed wine, with citrus and apricot notes, zest, and a full body.

Listrão (also known as Listau, or Listan in the Canary Islands) is in fact very well known, because in Spain it is called Palomino Fino, which is the grape from which all dry and sweetened Sherries are made!

The Moscatel grape can be found in all countries around the Mediterranean, but also on the Portuguese mainland, on Madeira, and on Porto Santo.