Who was responsible for the discovery ?

An ordinary sailor was apparently responsible for the find. The boat on which he was sailing was carrying crates from Funchal which, for some unknown reason, were refused in Hong Kong. Shortly before returning to Madeira, the captain ordered that the barrels of "spoilt" wine be thrown overboard. The sailor - and who could blame him - thinking this a tragic waste, opened a cask and tried some of the wine destined to be tipped away. His face lit up as the first taste touched his lips and trickled over his palate. Over the course of the voyage the grape had been tipped in another, completely new, but positive direction and soon the wines were called "Returned  Wine" or "India  Circuit  Wine", among a variety of catchy  names that added to the wine's growing popularity in every port.
At the time, the general consensus of opinion was that the secret behind this special wine had to be somewhere along the journey over the equator. Was it the rocking of the ship that had done the trick or the great difference between the temperatures recorded during the day and those at night? Or had sea water, either when transporting the wine on to the ship or else just splashing around in the stern, managed to penetrate the barrels of Madeira? Perhaps it was a combination of various factors which contributed towards the new taste. Even today there is no logical, scientific reason for the change from an ordinary sweet table wine to Madeiran wine as we know it. One thing is certain, however, and that is that no other wine would put up with such rough treatment.

Naturally, people endeavoured to get round the necessity of transporting the wine over the equator by trying out all sorts of alternatives, including some which were very strange.

There is one story which tells of a man who hung a barrel over the entrance to his office so that every customer that came to visit him had to move it before entering. But even this simple and original technique proved - fortunately for the customers one might add - not to work. Thus the barrels were shipped back and forth over the equator until 1794 when a technique was discovered of artificially heating the wine in large ovens or wine hot houses, called estufas in Portuguese.



Bjelkaroy & Barbosa, Lda 1997/8 - Design Limbo