Extreme wine, extreme interview: The Madeira Wine Company’s Chris Blandy & I hit the slippery slope
It was a throw away line, not a serious suggestion from The Madeira Wine Company’s dynamic young director. But the more I thought about it, the more apt it seemed to interview Chris Blandy of The Madeira Wine Company on video while wicker toboganning down the (steep) streets of the island’s capital, Funchal.
How so? Well you may think wicker toboganning is a crazy pursuit, but Madeira has to represent one of the world’s most extreme forms of winemaking. Seeking to replicate the 17th to 19th century practice of barrel-ageing wines on long sea voyages through the tropics, wines are actively heated to temperatures well north of 40 degrees, whether by estufagem or direct sunlight (pictured). Then there’s the ageing process and ageability of the wines – last week, we tasted an 1863 Bual and 1870 Verdelho Solera, which had been aged in barrel for 58 and up to 142 years.
The viticulture is fairly extreme too. Until last week’s tour around the island’s vineyards, I’d not fully appreciated just how fragmented, sometimes thimble-sized, they are, nor how wild, whether tumbling down towards cliff edges or located up high, like the last of The Madeira Wine Company’s grapes which came in on Thursday – Sercial from Jardim da Serra, at 800m. And to put thimble-sized in perspective, The Madeira Wine Company’s growers supply anything between 16kg to 32 tons of grapes (the average is one ton). In short, it’s viticulture, but not as we know it!
More on this extreme but beautiful island and wine later but, for now, here’s my interview with Chris Blandy’s take on managing its extremes and his plans for the company going forward.