Pico Island Vineyard Culture: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Azores, Portugal
Wine lovers and astute sommeliers are already quite familiar with the world-famous wine regions in Portugal, such as the Douro, the Alentejo, and the Vinho Verde — all of which have brought the country much respect over the years, and attracted travelers from across the globe in search of that perfect glass of Portuguese vino. However, what surprises many people — even the keenest wine connoisseur — is that a tiny little island just off the coast of Portugal — boasts locally grown and harvested wine blends that rival any of the more famous Portuguese pours. This tiny island is Pico Island, located in the idyllic Azores Islands archipelago of Portugal.
To make this dreamy destination even more unique and special — besides its boasting some incredible wine — is that Pico Island in the Azores has a vineyard/wine landscape that is actually so rare and wondrous that is has been deemed an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once you get to Pico Island and get just one glimpse of how the vineyards are organized, among other super special scene-scapes, you will instantly understand why this place in Portugal has more than earned its historical — and present — acclaim.
For instance, unlike the growing conditions of most wines, Pico actually presents an environment and landscape that would be considered otherwise quite hostile for growing wine — it is a volcano island, with volcanic soil to boot, of course, which certainly is not a usually conducive scenario for grape growing (even though volcanic soil is indeed known to be rich in various nutrients).
And when we say the soil isn’t conducive, we mean that when wine was first being harvested and prepared in Pico Island, the soil itself was only just over a paltry 3% in arability. So when you think about it, the idea that the Portuguese locals of Pico were able to figure out a way to actually grow and harvest grapes — then turn that fruition into amazing wine that is now sought after all over the world — is a tremendous feat.
Aesthetics of the Pico Wine Landscape in the Azores, Portugal
While we have already briefly touched upon the science behind what makes the Azores' Pico Island wine landscape culture so unique, we wanted to also briefly touch upon how its aesthetics are dramatically different as well from the majority of vineyard landscapes you will see throughout the rest of the world. That is because rather than sprawling vineyards arranged in rows of grapes growing on suspended that reach for miles and miles, like those found in California’s renowned Napa Valley, for instance, the vineyards in Pico Island boast their vines in a far different position — the vines in Pico Island actually run along the ground versus trellising up toward the sky.
As we always like to add local terminology for you anywhere we can let’s discuss some of the important Pico vineyard and wine landscape Portuguese terms to be aware of as you journey to this pristine Portuguese island of Pico. The vines running along the ground are arranged spanning on top of tiny, dark black rocks known as “biscoitos,” tidily confined in similarly tiny squares enclosed by black basalt stone walls known as “currais”.
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Pico Island, Portugal Wine Landscape: The Science Behind It All
If you are wondering why Pico vineyards are arranged particularly in this way, you are not alone! It is, in fact, quite strategic — and brilliant. The basalt stone walls we mentioned just above are actually not there for the striking awe factor they pose. Instead, they serve as protection for the vines against the notoriously moody and somewhat unpredictable weather the Azores Islands receive throughout the year! The wind is among the biggest threats/concerns in Pico as far as the vineyards are concerned, as strong gusts are known to whip in from the ocean, bringing with them corrosive salt that could really upset the dynamics of the grape-growing process.
As for the tiny black rocks we also mentioned above, they are there for a really intriguing reason: heat production! It’s true! These rocks may be tiny, but they are mighty — possessing enough heat generated during the day to amass enough warmth to keep the soil status quo during the cooler nights — all of which aids in the stability and consistency of the grapes' growth and ripening process/cycles.
Pico Wines: From the First Seeds Sown to Today’s Sips
You can’t really separate any UNESCO site worth its salt from a rich history, and the Pico wine landscape definitely has that in spades! In fact, Pico's wine-growing industry first began way back in the 15th century — that is A LOT of grapes grown and wine produced over these years to now!
As well as being a favorite wine of Czar Nicholas II of Russia (it is said he was partial to Pico's Verdelho do Pico blend), Pico wines are absolutely delicious, no matter which blend you choose. As of today, there are 17 recorded grades grown on the Azores Island of Pico (accounting for red and white varieties). Pico reds are indeed tasty, and popular, however, it is Pico white wine varietals where most would agree Pico wines really shine.
Pico’s Vineyards in Pico Island, Azores, Portugal
We have already established that Pico Island in the Azores archipelago produces one of Europe’s finest wines, and its vineyards are among the official UNESCO Heritage Site family (since 2004). Also, we covered that a clear testament to the excellence of Pico’s wine is the fact that it was the chosen drink of the Russian Czars, as well as the European nobility.
Pico wine’s mere existence and impeccable quality are also proof of the people of Pico’s determination and diligence, as even when faced with the island’s stony soil, they were still able to cultivate thriving vineyards. They did this by getting creative, creating the above-mentioned stone-walled vineyards to produce what is now a beloved Portuguese beverage of choice that attracts travelers to come and sample from all corners of the globe. The Pico currais are particularly fascinating to behold, appearing much like a picturesque patchwork quilt of sorts, with little volcanic stone walls running parallel to the coastline as they stretch towards the center of the island.
Pico Wine Museums on Pico Island in the Azores, Portugal
Want to learn even more about Pico wines? Good news! There are a few Pico wine museums on the Azores Island, filled with fascinating information and even a few artifacts that really offer a unique and up-close glimpse into the intriguing world of Pico wine. In case you would like to add them to your Pico Island, Azores itinerary during your next Portugal trip, their names are: Museu do Vinho, Centro de Interpretação da Paisagem da Cultura da Vinha da Ilha do Pico, and Adega “A Buraca”.
Now Is THE Time to Come Taste and Savor Pico Wines for Yourself!
When you’re ready to explore these unique Pico wine and vineyard locales yourself, the great news is that Azores Getaways offers numerous travel deals and spectacular specials, including flights, hotels, and transfers at incredible, unbeatable prices. Whether you are a solo traveler, or you are journeying to Pico as a couple, family, or with a big group, Azores Getaways has a custom-made trip to fit your specific needs! Simply reach out to our Customer Support team today and get started planning the Azores trip of your dreams. We are delighted to help you organize your dream holiday to this magical, mid-Atlantic paradise!
A testament to the excellence of Pico’s wine, it was the chosen drink of the European nobility, as well as the Russian Czars. The wine’s mere existence and impeccable quality are also proof of the people of Pico’s determination and diligence, as even when faced with the island’s stony soil, they were still able to cultivate thriving vineyards. They did this by getting creative, creating currais (stone-walled vineyards) to produce what is now a beloved Portuguese beverage. The currais are particularly fascinating to behold, appearing much like a picturesque patchwork quilt of sorts, with little volcanic stone walls running parallel to the coastline as they stretch towards the center of the island.
When you’re ready to explore these unique locales yourself, the great news is that Azores Getaways offers numerous travel deals including flights, hotels, and transfers at great prices. Whether you are a solo traveler or are journeying as a couple, family, or with a big group, Azores Getaways has a custom-made trip to fit your specific needs! Reach out to our Customer Support team today, each of whom would be delighted to help you organize your dream trip to the mid-Atlantic.
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