Madeira is known for its varietal wines, but upon its discovery, there were no native varietals on the island of Madeira! The initial settlers planted grapes that were common in mainland Portugal, except for Malvasia or Malmsey that originated from the Mediterranean (Crete).
The heating of the wine during the ageing process is unique. Its origins came about during the era of discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries when the sailing ships passed by the island to pick up fresh water and supplies, in the form of wine in barrels which were loaded onboard the visiting ships to provide much needed refreshments to the sailors, and to also act as ballast. Legend has it that on one particular round trip to India, the barrels of wine were returned to the producer on the island who discovered that the wine had improved considerably, which was attributed to the heating of the wine by the high tropical temperatures, as the ship had crossed the equator 4 times. For many years, the practice of shipping wines on a round trip became normal, and gave birth to the “vinho da roda” (round trip wines).
With time, the practice of shipping barrels on a round trip became costly, and following the introduction of steam ships, the journey became much faster, and producers started using the “canteiro system”. As sales grew, and demand increased, producers were challenged to find a faster way of supplying their costumer’s needs, and as a consequence, the “estufagem” system was invented.