Tenerife Wine, the wine that globalized the world

I confess my complete fascination for the second half of the XVIII century. To begin with, illustration emerged as an intellectual movement in Europe. Thanks to this new vision of the world, more scientific and modern, some ideas lead to the foundation of a new American nation as well as to the French Revolution. Both of these historic events give evidence of the new time the world was facing: now reason and science were to determine who should hold economic and cultural supremacy. In addition, after America’s War of Independence,reborns strongly and international trade is dominated by both the United Kingdom and the United States. India, China and Australia, oriental colonies of England until then, are incorporated to the world scene.

Throughout this process, the Canary Islands were privileged witnesses of each of these events. On one hand, we received the greatest explorers of the 18th century, such as Captain James Cook, La Pérouse, Borda, Bligh, Vancouver, First Fleet ships and an endless number of outstanding sailors and scientists who left their mark in the Canary Islands and whose legacy still lasts. These scales were due to the special geolocation of the islands and the adequate conditions to stock up on  wines and other supplies so necessary for the long sea journeys.

But in addition to these circumstances, the wine export activity  developed in Tenerife maintained at the end of the 18th century enabled local exporters to weave a new network of commercial relations. The opportunity of putting personalities such as George Washington, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin, King Carlos III, ministers like Floridablanca, ambassadors like Aranda, viceroys like Gálvez or Branciforte,joined by the most famous members of the British Royal Navy as the Earl of Sandwich, John Jervis, Horatio Nelson and even the French nobles in exile, their common denominator is Tenerife Wine.

Needless to say, that without wine, it would not have been possible to bring the manufactured goods from London or Hamburg to our homes. Therefore without wine we would not have had neither cloths, silks, tools, meat, salted fish, organs for churches, worked silver, religious figures for churches, or simply wax or the peculiar spermacetum of whales with which to lighten up the nights.

Therefore, it is fair to say that Tenerife’s wines or Tenerife Wine was our best currency and almost our only presentation letter in the world. Our island was economically succesfull during the eighteenth century because of the wines,. It is necessary to remember that without the export of wines it would have been impossible to have wood for hogshead staves or to import the necessary cereals when the droughts dried our fields. 

Would it be an exaggeration to say that wine saved us from bankruptcy? Not al all. Wine was the lifeline in many ways,  but above it all, it allowed us to be relevant in a globalized world. Wine put the Canary Islands on the map, and, just like that we were known as the wine islands. Although anecdotal, it is reasonable to say that Tenerife wine, and possibly those of Cadiz and Malaga were the only Spanish agricultural products loaded to America.

From now on, when experiencing our wines, we can say that George Washington drank them as a medicine. When we taste them, we will know that the British and American Army, as well as the British Navy, provide Tenerife wine to their troops. The truth is that Tenerife wine of was much more than a drink, it was a survival guarantee for sailors and soldiers.

It is convenient to keep in mind that, this recovered memory, these souvenirs, are part of a family history, and we were not the only ones. So if this is such a rich example of wine legacy, imagine what could be known if we had access to other files. This idea leads me to think that we only know a small percentage of what really happened and, although I am well aware that this volume is not going to change anything published so far, perhaps it would make us reflect on consider the precious information we have not preserved.

Above all, what really is important in this Tenerife Wine is condensed in the saying  that says, if you do not know where you are going, you must at least know your roots.

Carlos Cólogan Soriano

Historical researcher and author of the book Tenerife Wine

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