It took a bit longer than expected, but here is the first post in the History Series of our blog!
This is an overview of the book: The History of Tenerife Wine!
A quick recap: The book is Tenerife Wine, by Carlos Cologan Soriano and it does many things. It tells an amazing story of how the wineries in Tenerife overcame obstacles during a trying time, conveys a story of perseverance, as well as a love for their craft in a way that makes sense of their entire wine existence.
Most importantly for those of us in America, it shows us the relationship between the United States and Tenerife and how it pertains to the history of wine in the United States as we know it. Carlos Cologan Soriano will change the way we think about the history of wine in America, and how it pertains to our founding fathers, forever.
Prologue & Summary
Wine in Tenerife began emerging around the middle of the 18th century with several milestones really helping propel them into international prominence, including: the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolutionary War.
Malvasia was the grape leading the charge, as wine from Tenerife was shipped to the 13 Colonies (the US for all intents and purposes) through the Atlantic trade route. Along with Madeira, these wines were the main export on this particular trade route, especially because people in the 13 colonies enjoyed wines from both places. The islands lucked into being right along the trade route, so their location really helped this cause. That, and the fact the wines could withstand the long voyage.
Ties to the 13 colonies of the New World and the Canary Islands came to a sudden halt and were completely severed not much longer after the momentum was started. The English strictly forbade the Spanish to trade with America and started restricting the trade routes, going through Madeira only, not the Canary Islands. This fact has only recently been brought to light, because the official documents have been locked in the archives of the families on the island of Tenerife, so it essentially has gone unnoticed for centuries.
The families in Tenerife were at a crossroads. The majority of the trade they were getting was from the United States, so they felt they could not stop receiving this income. People are always the most resourceful when they need to be, and this was one of those times. The island of Madeira is only 309 miles from Tenerife, which makes it very close when you are traveling across the Atlantic Ocean. Many local wineries began shipping pipes of wine from Tenerife to Madiera, and in some cases, Portuguese ships would go to Tenerife, load up with Tenerife wine and then drop it off in Charleston, Boston or New York. Here is the kicker: When the Portuguese shipped these wines themselves… they were all shipped as MADEIRA.
I will let that sink in for a second.
Let’s first go back to go forward. In the 16th century, wine from Tenerife was the wine that those in England chose to drink, since they could no longer receive Malvasia from Crete. This went on for some time, but plenty of competition arose. Port, Sherry, Madeira and the like started to become more popular, which made the English stop working to get wine from Tenerife and in turn, kept the island wines out of the market. During this time, Tenerife’s only glimpse of light was to be like Madeira. Since wine was always set in trade, North America was the only place the Canaries had the option to trade with. Due to what was exported, both local economies were interested, and thus started the relationship.
In 1770, 27 ships from North America labeled Puerto de la Cruz came into Tenerife carrying corn, wheat and flour and sometimes even oak staves. As this trade continued, the only viable market for wine in Tenerife was North America. The winemakers in Tenerife decided that due to this fact and knowing how popular wine from Madeira was to their new-found partners, they would start to fashion their wines more like Madeira to please the people in North America.
Although Malvasia was always the go to grape used in Tenerife, desperate times called for desperate measures. They shifted gears to red grapes so they could then add them to brandy they purchased from Mallorca, to ultimately give the closest texture to Madeira possible. Even though the trade with North America would eventually be cut off, many of the families kept their personal relationships with the people there who bought their wines, so they knew they would have those avenues still available. Figuring out how to get it there was the issue. No one more important in this venture than the Franchi family, who had the best relationships of all. Their wine would go directly through the port in Newport or in New York and be shipped to the city of, you guessed it…PHILADELPHIA.
This brings us back to that fateful time right before our country as we know it today became independent. The wineries on Tenerife were making wine to taste like Madeira to please the people of the 13 Colonies. They were shipping it, or having it shipped to the island of Madeira to be sure it was able to get to North America. While the pipes were in Madeira, they were being labeled as MADEIRA.This book contains, what are essentially sales transactions, that prove these sales were actually happening.
This feels like a good time to wrap it up, because short of saying what the punch line is, I think we are already there.
When our founding fathers toasted, on July 4th, 1776, to celebrate our new country, they did not toast with Madeira. No. They toasted with wine made on Tenerife, that everyone until now thought was Madeira.
So the next time you want to toast your founding fathers on Independence Day, the next time you want to toast this wonderful country, and do it properly, find some wine from Tenerife and remember this story.
I searched high and low to see if this information was readily available yet, and I have not been able to find it. Carlos Cologan Soriano has a blog himself, that recaps the entire book over years’ time and has all of the information in it if you are interested. Jancis Robinson wrote a small blurb about it as part of her Tenerife tasting she did last year, however, other than that, I haven’t been able to find information readily available that told this story and I wanted to share it with as many wine lovers as I could. What I could find, are plenty of articles talking about “toasting how our founding fathers did” and it being all about Madeira. The more I saw these the more I knew I had to find a way to get this out there. I hope you found as much enjoyment from this history lesson as I did. I encourage you to seek out Carlos Cologan Soriano’s blog to learn more or look for the English translation of the book to come out (rumor is sometime this fall).
I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
Until next time,