Somewhere at the North End of Pico Island, AD 1449
“And here, my love, is our new vineyard.”
“This wasteland of black rock? Are you kidding, João?”
“Maria, with a little labour we will be able to grow figs and grapes here in abundance.”
“I know you are a sailor, and know little about farming. I’m a farmer’s daughter, so here’s a quick lesson: figs and grapes are plants, and they grow in dirt, not black rock.”
“My love, we will build walls to protect the plants from the wind. We will grow them near the ground, where the warmth of the rock will sweeten them.”
“My mother told me I should marry Manoel. He owns a donkey and a cow, and will inherit 15 arpents of good land. Mamie was right, you are a dreamer and a fool. Meu Deus married an idiot.”
It turns out that João was a visionary. Pico was discovered in 1439, and grapes were being grown here a decade later. The chunks of volcanic rock are used to build walls that enclose tiny patches of land: square plots for grapes and round ones for figs. The vines and trees are then planted in what appear to be cracks in solid rock.
Production and reputation of the wine has waxed and waned, but at one time the wines from the Island were so highly esteemed that they found their way to the cellars of the Czar of Russia. The vineyards on the Island now have UNESCO designation, a tribute to the ingenuity and persistence of the farmers on the Island.
And as for Maria and João, they had a hard but successful life on the Island. Their descendants were fishermen, farmers and whalers. During particularly difficult times, many left the Island for the United States, Brazil, Africa, and other destinations. During the last few decades, many of their descendants remaining on the Island have worked in tourism. In the most recent census, the population of the Azores had declined by 4%, but the wine growing area around Madalena bucked the trend as one of the few municipalities in the Azores to see an increase in population.