The island of Madeira was discovered in 1418 by João Goncalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira and grape-vine was introduced and brought into Madeira through Infante D. Henrique. The principle island of Madeira has a surface area of 730 square kilometres, and a maximum length of 57km from east to west and 23km from north to south. A mountain range forms a backbone that divides the island into two halves.
The highest point is Pico Ruivo, 2000 metres above sea level. It is principally in the sunny hillsides of the south side of Madeira that the grapes are cultivated from which Madeira wine is made. Infante D. Henrique was active in starting up the planting sugar cane from Sicily and sent to ships to Cândia in Greece to bring the young plants of MALVASIA. His object was to obtain for Portugal the trade in sugar and sweet wines which hitherto had been the privilage of the Genose and Venetians. Later, other varieties were planted- SERCIAL, BOAL, VERDELHO and TINTA DA MADEIRA which, by virtue of especially good soil and climatic conditions, produced wines of superior quality and became famous.
Madeira wine has spread all over the civilised world, especially in the most aristocratic courts of Europe. One of Shakespeare’s immortal characters in the play Henry IV – Flastaff – was accused of exchanging his soul for a leg of chicken and a goblet of Madeira.
The region of Madeira includes the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo both with different characteristics; while Madeira is forested and temperate, Porto Santo is hot, dry and bare. The soil of Madeira is by nature, volcanic, the relief is accentuated and vegetation abundant due to the humidity and mildness of the climate. The vine is cultivated in terraced steps named “poios” which extend on the slopes from high up down to the sea’s edge.