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by Fred McMillin
for October 13, 1997

Christopher Columbus Sipped Here

Prologue: "There came in 1479 a Genoese sailor of some thirty years of age. His name was Christopher Columbus. He is said to have lived here in Madeira 'employing his time in making maps and charts for a livelihood while he talked with old seaman of their voyages and of the mystery of the western seas...' When Columbus lived on the island the wine industry must have begun to flourish. A Venetian traveller said the Madeira vines were the finest sight in the world." ...by Rupert Croft-Cooke in "Madeira"

The Rest of the Story: In my wine history course, we tasted several Madeiras while discussing Columbus and the subsequent arrival of European wine vines in the New World. It was Oct. 12, 1492 when one of Columbus' sailors shouted "Tierra, tierra." The vines followed some 30 years later.

Suprisingly, the most popular Madeira in my classes is not from that volcanic island, but from the Napa Valley. It is the oldest Madeira produced in the U.S.A....made by the V. Sattui Winery. Just as Christopher Columbus left Italy and traveled west, so did Vittorio Sattui (su-two-ee). He reached San Francisco in 1885 and founded the V. Sattui Wine Company. Today, it is run by his great-grandson, Daryl. As for that pungent-nutty-caramel Madeira, it's so popular, purchases usually are limited to six bottles. A little in the soup adds excitement at the start of the meal, and served with nuts adds a lot of charm at the end of the meal.

The Wine:
V. Sattui Madeira
Appellation—California
White Lane, St. Helena, CA
Phone—(707) 963-7774
Price—$20

Postscript: What does Sonoma's first commercial vintner, General Mariano Vallejo, have to do with Christopher Columbus? Well, Columbus fell into disfavor with the Spanish government. General Vallejo was a direct descendant of Admiral Alonzo Vallejo, who took Columbus back to Spain in irons!


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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