John Blandy first set foot on Madeira in 1808 to work in the accounting office of Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, wine merchants. In 1811 he established his own company. Today, under Chris Blandy, the family continue to own and operate the Madeira Wine Company, preserving a tradition that has lasted for over 200 years and through seven generations.Blandys are unique in being the only founding member of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their original wine company. Under the Madeira Wine Company, they own a collection of leading Madeira houses including Blandy’s, Leacock’s, Cossart Gordon, Miles and a range of still wines produced under their Atlantis brand. Today the company is the most awarded Madeira producer with a total 76 gold medals, 116 silver medals and 21 trophies to their name. Three of these trophies were awarded to their winemaker Francisco Albuquerque by the IWSC for “Fortified Wine Maker of the Year”. An incredible achievement and confirmation of the family’s position as the leading Madeira producer and its pivotal role in reestablishing Madeira as one of the world’s great wines.
Of all the original founders of the Madeira trade, the Blandys are the only family to still manage and own their original company.
The Madeira Wine Company excels in all areas of quality wine production. Their three-year-old range, which includes the UK’s leading Madeira label, Blandy’s ‘Duke of Clarence’, is now produced at their new state-of- the-art winery in Caniçal (on the South Eastern tip of the island). Here they have employed the latest ‘estufagem’ technology which heats the wine in stainless steel tanks using external hot water jackets. This is much softer than other methods which utilise tanks heated internally by hot water coils. After four months in the estufas the wines undergo two years oxidative ageing in oak. The three-year-old blends are made using the island’s red grape variety Tinta Negra which is highly versatile and produces three distinct styles ‘Duke of Sussex’ dry, ‘Duke of Cumberland’ medium and ‘Duke of Clarence’ rich.
At the Madeira Wine Company, any wine older than a three-year-old blend will be matured in small oak casks (average 550L) and naturally heated by Madeira’s subtropical climate at the Blandy’s lodge. Known as ‘canteiro’, it’s a far slower and softer process than ‘estufagem’ exposing the wines to more oxidation and evaporation (up to 7% of volume can be lost a year).
It’s also closer to the original ‘Vinho da Roda’ (‘round trip wines’) – a method practiced up until the early 19th Century which entailed shipping wines on round trip voyages through the tropics to create the madeira style. Crucially, all these styles are produced using the island’s main ‘noble’ white varietals, Sercial, Verdelho, Bual & Malmsey, which collectively represent less than 15% of the island’s total plantings. Uniquely, these varietals always indicate the style of Madeira – Sercial is dry, Verdelho is medium dry, Bual is medium rich and Malmsey is rich.
The family have always been seen as the drivers and innovators of the Madeira category.
In 2000, they introduced the “colheita” category – a vintage wine with a maximum ageing limit of 18 years, allowing sufficient time to develop the wine’s complexity yet preserving its youthful vibrancy. In 2014, they were the first to release wines in large format bottles. The family are also championing the revival of the island’s noble white grapes, planting their 7 hectares with these rare varietals.
Most recently they have released vintage wines produced using Tinta Negra. These wines, produced in ‘cantiero’ and launched under the Leacock’s brand, demonstrate the grape’s potential to offer the complexity of the noble varietals at a fraction of the cost.
When it comes to tourism on the island, Blandy offer one of the leading Madeira wine experiences. The Blandy lodge, in the centre of historic Funchal, purchased by Charles Ripath Blandy in the mid-1800s, has one of the island’s leading and most popular Madeira tours. In 2016, it opened the “1811 wine bar & bistro” offering worldclass food and wine in the intimate setting of the Blandy’s lodges. The lodge also has luxurious self-catering apartments which have been recently converted from old store rooms.