Home > History of Wine > “Planted Among the Rocks” : Thomas Nichols 16th Century Descriptions of the Wines of the Canary Islands

“Planted Among the Rocks” : Thomas Nichols 16th Century Descriptions of the Wines of the Canary Islands


Perhaps I am naïve but I continue to be amazed by the vinous materials available through online archives.  Even well-known primary sources reveal additional details rarely or not at all discussed.  In searching for additional sources to add to my upcoming Wine and the Sea post I came across some fascinating descriptions related to the wines of the Canary Islands.  The English trade with the Canary Islands clearly existed in the 16th century when the sweet white Malvasia grew became popular in Europe.  As I noted in A Brief History of Wine from the Canary Islands there were vineyards in in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Las Palmas.  In Richard Hakluyt’s The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation made by sea or ouer-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth, at any time within the compasse of these 1600. Yeres (1599-1600) there is a description of the Canary Islands written by the Englishman Thomas Nichols.[1]

Hakluyt, Richard. The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries. 1599.

Thomas Nichols was born in the city of Gloucester in 1532.[2]  In 1557 he moved to Tenerife where he was a commercial representative for three London merchants for seven years.  In 1583 he published A Pleasant Description of the Fortunate Ilandes, Called the Islands of Canaria, with Their Straunge Fruits and Commodities.[3]  Of Gran Canaria, Thomas Nichols writes that it had “singular good wine, especially in the towne of Telde.”  Of Tenerife were there was “very good wines in abundance…Out of this Iland is laden great quantity of wines for the West India, and other countreys.  The best growth on a hill side called the Ramble.”  The Island of La Gomera had “great plenty of wine.”  The Island of La Palma was “fruitfull of wine” with the city of Palma showing a “great concentration for wines, which are laden for the West India & other places.”  The best location for vines “grow in a soile called the Brenia, where yerely is gathered twelue thousand buts of wine like vnto Malmsies.” Of the islands of Lanzarota and Forteuentura where there was “very little wine of the growth of those Ilands.”

A particularly interesting entry appears for El Hierro or “The Iland of Yron” where “There is no wine in all that Island, but onely one vineyard that an English man of Taunton in the West country planted among rocks, his name was John Hill.”  Perhaps this is the John Hill (1529-1611) who was born in Houndstone, Somerset and married Jane Rodney in 1569. What is fascinating is that we know an Englishman was cultivating a vineyard in the Canary Islands sometime between 1557 and 1564.  These facts are not entirely new but the Google entry for the El Hierro (DO), as well as a few others, incorrectly dates John Hill’s vineyard to the 17th century.[4]


[1]Hakluyt, Richard. The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation made by sea or ouer-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth, at any time within the compasse of these 1600. Yeres. 1599-1600.  URL: http://gateway.proquest.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:citation:99842463
[2] Castillo, Francisco Javier. “The English Renaissance and the Canary Islands: Thomas Nichols and Edmund Scory”,  Proceedings of the II Conference of SEDERI. 1992.
[4] El Hierro (DO). URL:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Hierro_(DO) Last Accessed: 22 November, 2013.
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