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“The Fajã dos Padres is without doubt the most celebrated of all the vineyards in Madeira.”
- Alex Liddell
For more than 400 years, the Fajã dos Padres has been revered both as Madeira's greatest vineyard and the home of the Malvasia Candida grape, which was thought to be extinct nearly a century ago.
But in the 1970s, one Malvasia Candida vine was found to have survived, hidden among some rocks. After years restoring that vine to health, it was used to replant the original vineyard. But needless to say, it took a few years not only for the vines to produce, but for the wine to fully age in barrel.
The first bottling, by Barbeito's Ricardo Freitas, didn't happen until 2012, and it was followed by two more bottlings in 2019 and 2020. Today, the first five vintages bottled—1986, 1990, 1993, 1996 and 2001—are today exceedingly rare and increasingly collectible.
Hidden beneath a towering cliff and, until thirty years ago only accessible by boat, the Fajã is a spit of volcanic soil jutting into the sea from Madeira's south coast. Its natural gifts made it the source of a Malvasia that was said to be the finest of all Madeira wines.
It is difficult to imagine a more perfect site for Malvasia. According to Madeira author Alex Liddell, the grape “thrives only at very low altitudes and in microclimates that provide sunny, sheltered locations.”
The Fajã matches that description perfectly. It faces full-south, is at sea level and is sheltered by its cliff. Here, the vines bask in sunlight and heat—both direct from the sun and as reflected from the ocean and the cliff face.
According to Liddell, Fajã dos Padres was “constantly praised for the quality of its Malvasia—the finest on the island—by all commentators from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. It is not only the most famous of Madeira's vineyards, it is the only famous one, equivalent in Madeira terms to Château d'Yquem in Sauternes.”
And Noël Cossart wrote of the Fajã in Madeira The Island Vineyard, “The grapes there were baked to raisins before they were picked and produced about 20 pipes of the most exquisite Malmsey.”
In writing about Barbeito’s 1996 Fajã dos Padres, Antonio Galloni commented on the wine’s “palate-staining density.” While it is rare to find a Madeira not yet 30 years old with that level of concentration, it is not at all unusual of Madeiras from Fajã dos Padres.
The immense concentration of the wines is due not only to the Malvasia Candida grape, but it also thanks to the sun-drenched warmth of the vineyard and the warm aging conditions in the vineyard’s ancient barrel room. This last point is especially important, since each vintage has spent more than two decades in barrel there.
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