June 14, 2012

0249 PORTUGAL (Azores) - The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture (UNESCO WHS)

Nine volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, at about 1,500km west of Lisbon, with the status of Autonomous Region of Portugal (which means that they have its own Government), these are Azores. These islands have naturally evolved into three recognizable groups: the Eastern Group (Grupo Oriental) of São Miguel, Santa Maria and Formigas Islets; the Central Group (Grupo Central) of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial; and the Western Group (Grupo Ocidental) of Flores and Corvo.

Until proven otherwise, is credited with the discovery of the archipelago the Portuguese Goncalo Velho Cabral, who discovered the island of Santa Maria, the southernmost in the Azores, in 1432. By the year 1457 all the islands had been visited by either Portuguese or Flemish explorers. The colonization of then unoccupied islands started in 1439 with people mainly from the Portuguese provinces of Algarve, Minho, Alentejo and Ribatejo, to whom were added Madeirans, Moorish prisoners, enslaved Africans, Sephardic Jews, French, Italians, Scots, English, Germans and Flemings.

Almost from the beginning, the settlers brought vines on islands. According to some reports, the Franciscan friars were the ones who brought the verdelho grapes, a white wine grapes which gave their name to one of the four main types of Madeira wine. When winemakers on Pico Island discovered that this grape variety made good fortified wines, Pico was on the map. For who don't know, a fortified wine is a wine to which has been added a distilled beverage (usually a distilled also from wine, brandy for example), the best known styles of such wines being madeira, marsala, port, sherry, and vermouth.

Over time, Pico's winemakers exported their wines to mainland Europe in increasing quantities. After Czar Nicholas II of Russia was deposed and executed, searchers found wines from Pico in his imperial cellar. But their success came to an end when oidium and phylloxera arrived on the island. It was not until the 1990's that growers once again turned to the traditional grapes and began to plant verdelho, arinto and terrantez. Production began to increase, and the three IPRs of the Azores - Pico, Biscoitos and Graciosa - were established in 1994.  Pico's most famous wine, the fortified verdelho, is now classified as a Vinho Licoroso de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada (VLQPRD), or "quality liqueur wine produced in a specific region."

The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from 2004. The Pico wine region consists of a narrow band of land that stretches along the island's northern, western and southern coastlines. There is little protection from the strong winds that blow in off the Atlantic or from surges of sea water. The enterprising inhabitants found a unique way to protect the vineyards, building a network of walls from basalt blocks, without mortar, which divide the land in thousands of small, contiguous, rectangular plots (currais).

According to UNESCO site, "the extraordinarily beautiful man-made landscape of small, stone walled fields is testimony to generations of small-scale farmers who, in a hostile environment, created a sustainable living and much-prized wine." The landscape is dominated by Pico Mountain (2351 m), a stratovolcano to which is due the specific soil, with basalt and clay predominating, which, along with mild climate, creates special conditions for vineyard.

About the stamps
This maxicard is part of the series of eight named Wines of Pico, issued in two sets, one in January 1st and onether in September 14, 2006.

The stamp from the back is one of the two issued on January 12, 2012, with the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the Escola do Exército (Academia Militar)
• marquis Sá da Bandeira (the fonder of Escola do Exército) / €0.32
• the coat of arms of Escola do Exército / €0.68 – it’s on the postcard

sender: Maria do Ceu Martins (direct swap)
sent from Vila Nova de Gaia (Portugal), on 04.06.2012
photo: Mauriciu Abreu

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