Sao Jorge Island Economy
After a period of small scale subsistence agriculture, the local economy began to concentrate on a few chief exports of lichen, woad, and later wheat and corn crops. Woad was one of the most important exports from Sao Jorge. It was initially introduced by Willem van der Hagen around 1490 and was exported primarily to his countrymen in Flanders. Both woad and lichen were very popular in central Europe as a dye.
After 1571, these exports were later overcome by grapes and wine which endured for the next three centuries. The majority of the wine production was located in the area between Queimada, Urzelina, and Manadas, with grapes of the “Verdelho” and “Terrantez” castes as well as some Bastardo, Moscatel, and Alicante produced in an area that became lucrative and highly prized. Unlike the other islands, where grape vines grew on the rocky hedge-rows or around protective volcanic rocks, the grapes of São Jorge were grown between many of the natural species of bush and trees. Sao Jorge wines were so highly esteemed that the Count of Almada, then Captain General of the Azores, created the “Sao Jorge” brand in order to mitigate fraudulent sales. The wine was also appreciated during the World Exposition of 1867 (in Paris, France) where it rivaled Porto wine. Unfortunately, the Oidium tukeri grape/vine disease reached the island in late 1854 and destroyed the prosperous industry. Various attempts were made to restart the wine industry. Meanwhile the Filoxera disease continue to destroy many of the vineyards in the municipality of Calheta during the second half of the 18th Century and throughout the island the disease would bring many producers to bankruptcy. The remnants of the viticulturists of the island banded together around Casteletes, in Urzelina.
Yams are widely popular and cultivated on any plot of land. They were used as an important subsistence food during the islands formative years though they have never become a major export product. They were so important that they were included in the Coat-of-Arms of Calheta since 1694.
Fishing and tourism continue to be an important part of the local economy. Whale watching is one of the most popular activities.
While cereals, vineyards, and local vegetables are still grown sporadically around the island (much like the other islands of the Azores) the economy of Sao Jorge is currently dependent on the dairy industry.