– I have the best bottle cleaning machine in the world, Artur tells me.
- Look, my hands, he says and laughs joyously.
Sincere friendliness, a trademark it seems, registered by the Madeiran’s, is also most present at Artur de Barros e Sousa. The Olim brothers, Artur and Edmundo, owns and runs the family firm representing the fourth generation descendant’s of the founding Pedro José Lomelino.
Little, it seems, has changed at Rua dos Ferreiros 109 since the lodge was established almost 90 years ago. Perhaps deliberately because this small firm only produces around 8000 to 10 000 litres every year, selling the vast majority to customers visiting the lodge. But even if it is a marketing strategy it is a most delightful one and as a Madeira aficionado a feature I love taking part of.
Artur and Edmundo are most proud of being the only company left not using any estufagem – everything is matured according the canteiro system. The lodge capacity is around 90 000 litres so everyone can figure out this is a quite a small enterprise. Entering the three storey lodge is magical and walking the storey’s checking out the old casks is a true joy.
- You should come in summertime, Artur says. -Then the whole courtyard is covered, he continues.
Now we see buds finding its way out and the leaves starting to multiply but I can imagine how beautiful it must be, seeing the pergola trained vines providing a most welcomed shadow during the hotter days summertime. There are Terrantez, Sercial, Verdelho, Moscatel, well you get it – all grapes currently representing Madeira wine, or has in the past.
- And if you come later you can taste my Verdelho grapes and compare with the wine you have in the glass, Artur says.
You never feel as if you’re an intruder here – Artur or Edmundo always greets with a smile, and open arms. On the occasions we visit them during our stay there’s a continuing flow of people visiting, tasting and walking the canteiro. And most visitors buys a bottle or two. Especially after tasting a glass and realizing this is good stuff, really good.
Artur and Edmundo has a sound way of looking at Madeira – they only bottle enough to have on the shelves and that can be as little as 150-200 bottles filled up at a time. Frasqueira on demand one might put it. Checking the IVBAM (the control institute of the Madeiran wine) listing of producers that export Madeira you will not find Artur de Barros e Sousa.
-Our production is too small, Edmundo tells me.
- But we do ship to private customers from time to time. – And we do have our long time followers, he continues while showing me the boxes they pack in when sending abroad.
The bottling on demand means that every time they bottle it is a new wine since the canteiro ageing keeps on developing the remaining wine. Hence; buy a bottle, fall in love, ask for a new one of the same vintage – and get another wine with further cask age and more concentration – and fall in love again! The ever changing wine is a true fascination and a joy to follow.
Modernists screaming after stainless steel, impeccably clean surrounding environment and internationally styled wines don’t bother. The canteiro is all about letting everything have its own pace; spider cobs are not removed and the cleaning lady does definetely not come every Monday and Thursday. Simply put; don’t disturb the casks too much.
- But sometimes a cask starts leaking and I have to repair it, Artur says when we’re walking the canteiro, looking at the ancient casks that most likely are well past 50 years of age. Formed by time I am still impressed they keep on delivering.
I find myself thinking of the craftsmanship of cask building and how tough it is to find skilled people – or having someone trained for repairing and building. What will happen with Madeira wine considering the now following generations – young people with an unbound attitude, ability to travel and not following their inheritance?
Not to forget the cultivation of grapes that are done by people averaging fifty years – wine producers don’t want to own land but who shall deliver the grapes? Large scale production is impossible on the island due to its topography. The risk Madeira wine will have to higher prices to keep up in the future is not at all a nightmare scenario – it is in my opinion maybe the only solution to make sure the few producers not get even less.
My oldest daughter, soon to be three, loves visiting Artur and Edmundo. It’s exciting checking out the courtyard and trying to find Casper, the friendly ghost, that we have told her lives in the lodge. This my friends, is how you visit wine producers, and keep the little ones happy!
I ask Artur about the grapes they buy; where they’re from and which ones he buys. As with most producers the Verdelho comes from São Vicente and the Sercial he gets from Jardim da Serra and Porto Moniz. The latter by the way, Madeira’s most peripheral village is worth a visit.
Not only for the serpentine roads leading to the west side of the island, or the giant Eucalyptus trees along the way spreading their fragrance, no, the little village is very impressively located and just sitting there, at the sea side watching the giant waves hitting the cliffs, is a meditative moment in itself. Not to forget the view behind you, looking at all the steep sites filled with vines such as Sercial. Heaven when you’re mad about Madeira and its wine.
Finally, the Boal and Malvazia that are brought in from Campanário. But what about the unusual Listrao that I’ve heard Artur makes, with grapes from the neighbouring island of Porto Santo.
- No, not more, he says. - No quality.
In the shop, tasting room and office Edmundo reigns. Also here time seems to have stopped and when the telephone rings and Edmundo picks it up we’re fascinated the ancient phone is still working. Alexander Graham Bell would have been proud of that one! But this is the company profile and you can’t but love it.
- I know nothing about computers, Artur says to me the first time we meet. - I only know wine, he says and laughs plentifully.
We’re now poured the bottlings available for purchase at the firm and Edmundo starts with the 1986 Sercial (93 p). Fine, transparent amber colour. A tougher style of Sercial with its dark chocolate, orange peel, tobacco notes and wet earth. The taste has some sweetness to it giving the acidity a fine balance. It is elegant, still quite young and vivid in the mouth and the lemon scent, chocolate, roasted almonds, brown melted sugar and smoky mid palate is lovely. A most individual Sercial showing class!
Three more years added in age now when Edmundo serves us the 1983 Verdelho (94 p), in my opinion the best glass they currently retail. Golden amber colour. Spicy, fruity on the nose nicely backed up by dates, ground coffee, sugar cane and vanilla. Quite complex. The taste is filling the mouth and yet again I am thrilled by the grape’s ability to not become too secondary in its character. Pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a slightly smoky style. Fine concentration, high acidity and a long finish. Bravo! Edmundo tells me he believes the 1981 Verdelho is even a better wine but he had only one or two left on the shelves when we were there.
Next pour is a Boal Reserva Velho (93 p) – a wine with a similar age as the two previously but a blend. Darker in its colour than the first two it is also a more sullen style with its bouquet of burnt sugar, honey cake, smoke, orange peel and vanilla. Fine Boal nose. Quite dense and sweet in the mouth with fine acidity, nutmeg, caramel and tobacco. Long taste and fine maturity. An elegant Boal.
Last glass in the first line up, the 1986 Malvazia (93 p). Darker amber. Bouquet typical of the grape; it’s floral, showing note of dates and figs and a lovely caramelized vanilla note. Quite full bodied with fine sweetness, chocolate, ground coffee, grape notes and hazelnuts. Long, lingering acidic aftertaste. A prototype wine.
- You taste wine. I drink my coffee now, Artur laughs when he hangs up his coat and passes by us and Edmundo. - This I do every day, he says, greets, and walk out on Rua dos Ferreiros.
As a comparison Edmundo now serves us three younger wines – colheita’s. A 2003 Verdelho (91 p), a 2003 Boal (90 p) and a 2003 Malvazia (91 p). They all differ a lot from the vintage wines or the Reserva Velho with their grape character, youthful style and vivid fruit. They’re all a joy to drink and very reasonably priced at around 20-22 Euro’s a bottle.
It happens a lot with the vines on the courtyard during our five week stay in Funchal. In the beginning of March it mostly look like dead branches but in the end of the month there are buds and several leaves indicating it all starts soon – again!
It’s easy to like the wines of Artur and Edmundo Olim and before leaving for home we pay a last visit. Edmundo then pours a most elegant and classy Verdelho Reserva Velho (93 p) – around thirty years of age. It shows fine spiciness, pears, wet rocks, vanilla fudge and a touch of honey. It’s elegant taste, not powerful at all but still filled with complexity, shows nutmeg, lemon, fudge, sugar cane and a delicate note of clove. God, I love this individual style of wine.
People like the two Olim brothers should have a medal for their efforts in continuing their heritage. It’s almost a mission on the point of extinction. So, whenever you get the chance – do pay them a visit!