Magma and Muros de Magma. The Biscoitos relics are back.
Some times the phone would ring. Nuno, a good friend of mine and former colleague at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia, would call to ask for my opinion on matters related to the Biscoitos Cooperative Winery. He was the one carrying out the harvest. And with each call I felt increasingly curious. I knew about the unique potential of the Azores wines, of course, but I wasn’t familiar with the particular case of the Biscoitos. Nuno was holding a true treasure in his hands. So, in 2009, I boarded the plane to go see it with my own eyes. And that was when I immediately surrendered to the beauty of Biscoitos.
The incredible story behind the Biscoitos wine had all the necessary elements to keep it running, but the truth was that it was under great threat. The heroic viticulture that are a part of working with curraletas, stone walls that shelter the vines from the sea, just a stone’s throw away, was far from cost-effective for producers. Without conditions to market their wine, that fabulous Verdelho that conveys the nuance of those basaltic rocks (biscoitos), the local Cooperative Winery was unable to buy the harvested grapes from its 60 associates. This production, unique in the world, was slowly being abandoned…
During that first trip, when I was still in Terceira, I picked up the phone and called Anselmo Mendes, the man that inspired me the most in this winemaking life, to discuss the risks and potential of Biscoitos. Anselmo welcomed my pitch with excitement and it didn’t take long until we started working on the idea to set up a consultancy partnership with the cooperative. Our goal was to reframe production and create added value by effectively changing the placement of these wines in the market. And that’s exactly what we did. During 2011 and 2012 we harvested the grapes that would allow us to produce the famous Muros de Magma, the first wine we bottled in the Biscoitos.
Sure enough, Magma was a success, but the experience bumped into past financial troubles that were coming back to undermine the cooperative and didn’t allow it to support this new investment. We were back to square one. After this, the Biscoitos region again lost vineyards and gained holiday homes and all sorts of bizarre infrastructures among a green and black landscape, rich in both history and symbolism.
We had mixed feelings of optimism and frustration about the Azores. We couldn’t believe we had lost the opportunity to make wine in the Biscoitos, but our hands were tied. And in 2015, thanks to the will of several people involved, we decided to make a different proposition: we would be running the cooperative and would also buy all the grapes at the promising price of 1,5 euros/kg, thus trying to foster production and replantation of vineyard in the abandoned curraletas; we would also start to produce two wines centered around the Verdelho variety — Magma and Muros de Magma. These wines would be marketed under the Protected Designation of Origin of the Biscoitos as part of the Anselmo Mendes portfolio. Of course, the Cooperative would also get a part of the revenue and its share of bottles for sale.
With this agreement in place, the two first 2015 Magma and Muros de Magma are about to be launched. Both carry unique features that can only be traced back to this volcanic haven: its acidity and salinity, very discreet aromas and surprising palate. It’s as if we couldn’t tell what each glass would reveal.
In March and April we brought the first samples to the mainland. We shared them with the press and the feedback was truly amazing. This was due to the acknowledgement of the quality in these wines, but also because of their history. I believe when a bottle unveils something genuine, a true reflection of its land, the wine is always something else. We are proud but have a lot of work ahead. The 2016 wines will be bottled in June, but production is still scarce. I hope we’ll be successful and able to foster production and the plantation of yet more vineyards. And perhaps help save the Biscoitos.
PS: As one would expect, the 1600 Muros de Magma bottles (barrel-fermented) and the 2400 Magma bottles have practically sold out…