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Viala, Vermorel and the grapes of Madeira

In 1901 Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel started their monumental task of collecting knowledge of all the grape varieties used for viticulture by man. It took the two and about 70 other colleagues almost ten years until they completed the work in 1910. The work named “Traité Général de Viticulture – Ampelographie” was published by Masson et Cie, Paris and contained 7 heavy volumes. With more than 3000 pages and 50 pounds of solid book, they had collected 24.000 grape varieties, showing the most important of them on 500 chromolithographed plates, 70 engraved plates, and 840 engraved illustrations in the text. The first volume offers general information about grapes, grape biology and viticulture. Volumes II to VI contain information on different grape varieties a well as the beautifully chromolithographed plates. Volume VII is a dictionary on grape varieties, listing all the different synonyms.
F. Chempenois, Paris, the famous fine art printing company that produced most of Alphonse Mucha’s finest work, printed the 500 chromolithographed plates after the perfectly detailed drawings of A. Kreyder and J. Troncy. Many volumes were later sliced apart to sell single chromolithographed plates to wine lovers and collectors all over the world. Even after 100 years, the colors of the grapes still shine vibrantly and intense and are a joy to watch.

In 1991, exactly 90 years after the start of the works for Viala’s and Vermorel’s epic publication, Jeanne Laffitte, Marseille, edited a reprint of 1000 complete sets, almost as heavy and beautiful as the original. The French agricultural banking company Crédit Agricole had subsidized the re-edition of this monumental encyclopedia.

So how much did Viala, Vermorel and their colleagues know about the grapes used for the production of Madeira wine? With Madeira wine having a long and glorious history certainly experts like Viala and Vermorel must have mentioned the grapes of Madeira in their work.

And indeed they have: The Madeira grapes start with Verdelho de Madere in volume III at page 88. Bastardo appears in volume IV on page 208.The Boal grape is mentioned in volume VI, starting at page 213. Sercial can also be found in volume VI at page 218. It is not that easy with Malvasia, Moscatel and Terrantez. The first two simply have so many synonyms and varieties that it is quite hard to find the “real” Malvasia and Moscatel for Madeira. Malvasia Fina is mentioned in the dictionary, Malvasia Roja has its own chapter in volume VI at page 246. A Malvasia candida is not mentioned. The today used Moscatel grape is probably synonym to Muscat d’Alexandrie and can be found in volume III, page 108. But there is also a Muscat rouge de Madere in volume III at page 319. Terrantez is mentioned in volume VII in a few brief lines. Finally Tinta Negra mole appears as Tinta Molle in the dictionary in volume VII.

The general impression is that in 1901 to 1910 the grapes and wines of Madeira have not been of much importance to the wine drinking world. Interestingly enough some detailed information about the grapes of Madeira had been contributed by J. Duarte d’Oliveira, proprietaire-viticulteur in Porto. However he has no connection to the D'Oliveiras company, as Luís D’Oliveira told me.

The pictures below show some of the beautiful chromolithographs of the 1901-1910 work of Viala and Vermorel. From time to time it is possible to get some of the cut plates at auctions.

viala books

The seven volumes of the 1991 reprint by Jeanne Laffitte.


viala book2

The title of Viala’s and Vermorel’s “Traité Général de Viticulture – Ampelographie”.


viala bastardo

Chromolithograph of the Bastardo grape. Please note that the following chromolithographs

are taken from the original 1901-1910 edition. They were all cut from the original

volumes and mounted in frames, some of them slightly damaged in the process.


viala boal

Chromolithograph of the Boal grape.


viala malvasia roja

Chromolithograph of the Malvasia roja grape.


viala muscat rouge de madere

Chromolithograph of the Muscat rouge de Madere grape.


viala sercial

Chromolithograph of the Sercial grape.


viala verdelho de madere

Chromolithograph of the Verdelho de Madere grape.

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