The last Bastardo

Admit it – Bastardo sounds more interesting than Trousseau. Unfortunately the growers on the island of Madeira disagrees and today the grape is more or less extinct. You will find a plant at Rua dos Ferreiros 109 when you stand at the courtyard of the small family run firm of Artur de Barros e Sousa, and should you visit the experimental vineyard of IVBAM, the island’s control institute over wine (and embroidery!), you will find one row with Bastardo vines averaging 35 years.
Now, the Campo Experimental outside Calheta, on the western part of the island, sadly will uproot its Bastardo vines soon. Why you most likely think and that is what I asked when standing there as well – finally getting the chance to see the Bastardo vine on Madeira. Engº. Magalhães who run the Campo explained that they had done all possible tests and experiments with the old Bastardo vines now and needed the space for new experiments.
As the hopeless wine romantic I am I couldn’t understand why someone wanted to uproot these old beautiful vines, but Mr. Magalhães assured me that they had already taken cuttings from the vines and replanted on a new row. All indigenous grapes must be preserved and it was only those old plants which had done their job now.
You see, this is the mans job; to experiment and find out what is the best possible way to cultivate the indigenous grapes of Madeira, and communicate this to the people involved in the cultivation of grapes. Pergola or Gobelet? In which soil does Malvazia perform at its very best? Where should the Sercial be planted on the island? Why has Terrantez a history of being considered a difficult grape to cultivate? Are the Moscatel grown on Madeira the same as the one found in Setúbal outside of Lisboa? These are some of the tasks they struggle with here in the peripheral Calheta.
But it doesn’t stop there. Besides their main task to work with the noble grapes of Madeira they also experiment with other Vinifera’s in order to be able to recommend what grapes suit the land when it comes to table wine. Hence one will find all classic grapes being tested here from time to time.
Back to the Bastardo. A legendary wine needs a legendary story. Furthermore it needs to be of limited availability in order for the reputation to spire and even better is if you can put 50 years to the story. Or why not 83 years because this is what most likely gave the Bastardo grape on Madeira its repute! We know of five vintages of Madeira Bastardo the, roughly speaking, last 200 years. One stands out and that is the 1927. The great Bastardo year.
One firm, a today non-existing partidista (maintainer of stocks which they aged and sold to shippers), Adegas de Torreao, had a quite large quantity of the 1927 Bastardo on cask. When the passionate owner Vasco Lojas passed away there were no one to take over in the family – or rather, no interest. Thankfully the old warehouse with its casks ended up in the best possible hands when Pereira d’Oliveira bought it. And today you can actually buy a quite recently bottled 1927 Bastardo from them. Some is still left on cask and there you have it. A legendary wine on a today extinct grape few has tasted, but with a story worthy of the legendary status.
Mr. Luís d’Oliveira – the man who keeps the 1927 legend alive!
But why don’t any one want to cultivate Bastardo on Madeira? Is it really that tough? Actually no, although it buds late that shouldn’t be a problem on the island. The reason is more likely money and since the Bastardo can give irregular yields most farmers rely on grapes that will allow them to cash in. Can’t blaim them – if it is someone who has been taught the dangers of a monoculture it is the Madeiran’s – and with that followed a transfer to more reliable grapes. Sorry Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvazia, Terrantez, Moscatel and….Bastardo. Tinta Negra Mole is the sheriff in town today.
So sitting there, next to the Bastardo vines in Calheta, Mr. Magalhães told me I might be one of the last to see the old Bastardo’s before they were uprooted. Strange – it left me with both sadness and some bizarre selfish feeling. Anyway; here they are – some of the last Bastardo’s of Madeira!
And should you be inspired, wishing to take part of the legend of the 1927 Bastardo, then check out Pereira d’Oliveira who stocks it, both in bottle and continued cask ageing. Price? Oh, just around EUR 200. Not much for a legend, right?
Somewhere here the remainders of the 1927 still lies in cask!