The history of the wine-making tradition in the Canary Islands is rich and fascinating, with roots that go back centuries and result in high-quality wine production across the archipelago. In today's post, we will dive into the vinicultural past of the islands, uncover the secrets of their unique wines, and understand how this tradition has endured to the present day. From the 15th century to today, join us on this journey through time.
The Origins of Viticulture in the Canary Islands
Viticulture in the Canary Islands has its roots in the time of the colonization of the Canary Islands, in the 15th century. The first settlers, explorers, and traders brought grapevines from the Iberian Peninsula and other European territories and planted them in the island's fertile volcanic soil. Over the years, these vines adapted to the unique climate of Tenerife.
Although it cannot be determined exactly when the first vines were planted in the territory, there are documents that speak of the "vineyard of Hannibal," located in Fuerteventura between 1402 and 1412, as the first that was planted in the islands. This, as its name indicates, belonged to Hannibal, son of the conqueror Gadifer de La Salle.
Similarly, there are other references that speak of the vineyard of the Portuguese Fernando de Castro as the first that was cultivated in Tenerife, in 1457. In El Hierro, the oldest vineyard dates from 1526, planted by the Englishman John Hill.
The Golden Age of Canarian Viticulture
The 16th century is known as the golden age of Canarian wine. During this period, the cultivation of vines replaced that of sugar cane. Moreover, the sweet wines of Malvasia acquired a fame that was enhanced by the ease of exportation from the archipelago to the rest of the world. Thanks to all this, wine became the main source of income for the Canary Islands for almost 300 years.
The Dark Age of Canarian Wine
Between the 17th and 18th centuries, the wine industry slowed down. The year that marked a before and after in this process of decline was 1663 when the Staple Act was approved. This English law ended the supply of Canarian wines to the British market, which was its main consumer. The production of the archipelago was replaced by Portuguese wines from Porto and Madeira, which began to become popular during this time.
To all this was added the eruption of the Garachico volcano in the 18th century, which buried the main commercial port of Tenerife at that time.
The Impact of Phylloxera
In the 19th century, vines infected by phylloxera were introduced from the United States, which destroyed much of the European vineyards. Although other plagues such as oidium and mildew did reach the Canary Islands, they were not affected by phylloxera. This caused some grape varieties to only survive in the archipelago, becoming indigenous to the territory.
Among these varieties are the Listán Blanco, Listán Negro, Aromatic Malvasia, Marmajuelo, and Vijariego, among others.
Introduction of the Denominations of Origin (DOP)
During the 20th century, the renaissance of the wine sector was developed, accompanied by the appearance of the Denominations of Origin. The first of them arrived in 1985, with the wines of the Tacoronte-Acentejo region (Tenerife). These began to promote and value the sector.
Currently, the archipelago has eleven Denominations of Origin for Canarian wines. One of them is of regional character, several of insular character, and the rest belong to Tenerife areas with a marked winemaking tradition:
- DOP Canary Islands,
- DOP El Hierro
- DOP La Palma
- DOP La Gomera
- DOP Gran Canaria
- DOP Lanzarote
- DOP Abona, in Tenerife
- DOP La Orotava, in Tenerife
- DOP Tacoronte-Acentejo, in Tenerife
- DOP Valle de Güímar, in Tenerife
- DOP Ycoden-Daute-Isora in Tenerife.
Challenges and Future Opportunities
Looking to the future, the wine sector in the Canary Islands faces both challenges and opportunities. Climate change is a constant concern, with the need to adapt cultivation practices to ensure long-term sustainability. However, the growing interest in wines with a unique identity and the rich history of viticulture in the Canary Islands present significant opportunities for expansion into international markets.
The wine-making tradition in the Canary Islands is a testament to the resilience, innovation, and dedication of its producers over the centuries. From the first vines planted by colonizers to modern sustainability practices, the archipelago has maintained