Wine is a way of life in Madeira. Wine is made all over the island and it is considered rude not to accept a glass or an invitation to see where it is made. Madeira though often over looked, is one of the three great fortified wines of the world – the other two being Port and Sherry. Like Port, the original Madeira wines were not fortified but only became that way in order that they might better survive long sea transportation. It wasn't until the middle of the eighteenth century when British merchants on the island, began to add distilled spirits, made from sugar cane, to preserve it on its long voyage to the Americas. But at this point, the two wines differ. Unlike Port that enjoys peace and quiet as it matures, Madeira improves the more it is mistreated. This was not always known. It was discovered one day, when a shipment returned unsold after an arduous journey at sea. From that time forth, Madeira has always been heated to achieve its special qualities.
Madeira never really recovered from the vine diseases of the 19th century. After that, the Russian Revolution and American Prohibition almost put an end to Madeira. With the new EC regulations and a government initiative in 1979 to improve the quality of the wines, Maderia's future looks promising again.
The Madeira producer, Shortridge Lawton, was the last firm to abandon the practice of sending their wines around the world on ships in order to gain the "cooked" effect. Today they are part of the Madeira Wine Company.
The Madeira Wine Company was an association of 27 British-owned producers that is now owned by the Blandy and Symington families of Port wine fame. (see Port Producers) They ship 52% of all Madeira exported in a bottle. They sell their best wines under the names Blandy and Cossart Gordon. The Leacock & Co and the Miles Madeiras labels are used for their economy blends. Some of the other old names have been preserved as brand names to maintain style differentiation: Aguiar Freitas, A Nobrega, Barros Almeida, Bianchi, C V Vasconcelos, F F Ferraz, F Martins Caldeira, Funchal Wine Company, J B Spinola, Krohn Brothers, Luiz Gomes, Madeira Victoria, Powder Drury, Royal Madeira, Rutherford & Miles, Socieda Agricola da Madeira, Lomelino, Vinhos Adudarham, Madeira Meneres, Vinhos Donaldson, Shortridge Lawton and Welsh Brothers. There are only seven independent producers outside the Comany of which, Henriques & Henriques is the largest.
The Madeira Firms
Firm • Year Founded
Barbeito • 1946
Blandy Brothers (MWC) • 1807
H M Borges Sucrs •
Cossart Gordon (MWC) • 1745
Henriques & Henriques • 1850
Leacock (MWC) • 1741
Lomelino (MWC) • 1741
Madeira Wine Company • 1913/1981
Pereira d'Oliveira Vinhos • 1820
Rutherford & Miles (MWC) •
Shortridge Lawton (MWC) • 1757