Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, Portugal

An outstanding example of the adaptation of farming practices to a remote and challenging environment

By UNESCO World Heritage

The volcanic island of Pico (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

Pico is the second largest island of the Azores, covering 444.9 km², 42 km in length and 15.2 km at its maximum width. It is dominated by the Volcano of Pico on its western half and populated by more than 14,000 inhabitants. The highest point of the island, at 2,350 m, is also the highest point in Portugal, located at 28°23’58’’ longitude west and 38°28’07’’ latitude north. In the coastal zone of the island we can find the vineyards of Pico, unique in the world for their configuration, location and cultivation, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004 as the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture.

Evidence from the 15th century (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

As with other Macaronesian islands, the introduction of vine planting was led on Pico by the Franciscan friars who soon recognized the existence of suitable climatic conditions for wine production. The first plants will have been brought from the Mediterranean islands, particularly from Sicily and Crete. The grape variety that gained preference for its productivity and quality of the wines produced was verdelho, a variety of verdicchio of Cretan origin.

Wine production (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

After a slow start, the wine produced became famous for its quality and by the end of the 17th century it was already exported to other islands and from the 18th century to most countries in northern Europe. Most famously various bottles of Verdelho do Pico were supplied to the cellars of the Russian czars.

Grapevine Diseases (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

In the middle of the 19th century, devastating attacks of powdery mildew blighted the vineyards of the Azorean islands. Farmers in the region opted to replant with species from America, which are more resistant to the disease. Whilst the new American species were more able to combat the powdery mildew, they were not resistant to phylloxera, which was a devastating blow to the aspirations of Azorean producers until the beginning of the 20th century.

Abandoned vineyards (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

The death of many vineyards, and the replacement by some red grape varieties less conducive to the specific climate of the Azorean islands, as well as the general difficulties of wine production in the Atlantic islands, meant that a significant part of the vineyards ended up being abandoned. Today, despite the recovery in recent years, many abandoned pens are still visible waiting to be resumed.

Extreme conditions (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

The vineyards are located in extreme conditions, very close to the sea and planted on the fissures of the mother-stone in volcanic soil, a very unusual kind of agriculture. The unusual sea proximity, between 50 and 300 meters, sprays the vineyards with salt. The influence from the volcano and the clouds that usually gather around it, led men to plant their vineyards so close to the sea one may hear “the crabs singing”. The stone walls known as currais, built around 500 years ago are meant to protect the vineyards from the maritime wind and salt while creating a warmer microclimate for the plants.

Traditional farming techniques (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

Harvesting is not easy. The harvests are made by hand and require some gymnastics, crossing the walls, harvesting the grapes from the ground, carrying them back without the help of machines. The view around helps motivation. And foreseeing the unique and so Azorean flavour of wine at the end also encourages.

Azorean wines (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

The result is a fresh fruity wine, dry and light, which is the ideal companion of a seafood or fish dish and also Isabella wine – a native American varietal that belongs to the Vitis labrusca family, whose presence is mandatory on the tables on feast days. Currently, a new generation of winemakers is developing new grape varieties and reviving the strength of Azorean wines that are once again conquering the world.

A beautiful human-made landscape (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

The way the vineyards are organized is also a demonstration of the islanders' astuteness: in the face of the adversity of a soil that prevented the island's agrarian development, these black labyrinths were raised for the benefit of the cultivation itself. The result makes the landscape of Pico a unique sight, with short black volcanic walls punctuated with green next to the sea.

Wine Museum (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

Hosting this historical and cultural heritage surrounding wine and vineyards, the Museu do Vinho (Wine Museum), in Madalena, opened its doors in the former Convent of the Order of Carmo, in 1999. This is the perfect place to learn more about the fascinating history of wine on the Azorean island, through ethnographic pieces, objects linked to the cycles of vitiviniculture, and the stories of those who mastered the craft.

Wine Museum (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

The museum includes the friars' conventual house, the lagares and stills warehouse, a vineyard, a building that houses a three-tap mill, a viewpoint and a forest of centuries-old dragon trees, whose age is estimated at between 500 and 1,000 years.

Criação Velha (2004) by Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard CultureUNESCO World Heritage

The vineyards of Criação Velha are one of the most concrete examples of this singular beauty, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the islands trails takes you through the wide expanse of vineyards, here it is possible to experience one of the most unique scenarios in the world, and enjoy a true connection with mother nature.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Visit Azores: www.visitazores.com/en

More on Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/1117

Photos: Martin Kauffman; ATA

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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