Meeting Our Most Valuable Helper, The Ladybird

Ladybird

There is a debate as to what might be the most important bird, insect, beetle, animal or other living organism in a wine growing agricultural land such as ours at Vinya Son Alegre in Santanyí (Mallorca). There is no doubt that we could not do without the honeybee (Apis mellifera), the ant (Formicidae) or the earthworm (Hormogastridae), but truthfully, we would be out of business or rather, out of grapes if it were not for the Ladybird or Lady beetle (Coccinellidae). Honest.

Ladybird Coccinellidae (John Hinde)

You see, at a farm where the land is cultivated under biodynamic principles and where the fruit, in our case the grape, is grown under organic conditions, you will suffer, like it or not, from certain pests, such as lice, moths, parasites or similar. That’s why most vineyards in Mallorca, or certainly a great many of our competitors employ pesticides or other chemical agents to combat such potential harm or mischief.

ladybird (John Hinde)

We, instead, employ an army of Ladybirds or, as we call them here, Mariquitas (Spanish) or Marietes (Catalan). Our little helpers actually eat these harmful pests, or rather, eat their eggs before they even hatch. Each single Marieta can eat up to 200 eggs of small lice or moth or other parasites. 200 eggs, imagine. Assume a figure of 1,000 Ladybirds in our army and you’ll have 200,000 unborn lice, per day. No wonder that our vines are doing so well, lately; we can’t complain.

For more information about our wines, please visit our new website, Vinya Son Alegre. It is ready now in English, and about to be completed soon in German, Spanish and Catalan. It’s a lot of work, doing a website in four languages simultaneously, but there you go. Our little Ladybirds never complain, so, we’ll refrain from making a fuss, just the same.

Introducing The Chardonnay Grape

Son Alegre Chardonnay

The Chardonnay grape is widely distributed amongst Mallorca’s vineyards. This grape variety is probably the world’s most popular white wine grape and it is grown in virtually every wine-producing region. Even though this white grape is not autochthonous to Mallorca, it was certainly grown here successfully in 1870-80 when the Austrian Archduke Luis Salvator wrote his treatise, Die Balearen, listing the Chardonnay grape together with 38 other grape varieties grown here in the Illes Balears.

Son Alegre Malvasía

The Chardonnay grape in general produces wines which are dry to medium dry with pear, apple, tropical or citrus fruit flavours. When little to no oak aging occurs, Chardonnay tends to be more crisp and fresh. With extensive oak aging, the wines become creamy and buttery with vanilla, spice and oak flavors. Our two Son Alegre white wines, Sa Cala and Picarol Blanc, are made with Chardonnay and Malvasía grapes. Both wines are fresh and refined, in perfect balance of acidity, alcohol and fruity expression; they were not aged in oak barrels.

Reviving Winemaking In Santanyí

Naturalis Historiæ

Mallorca has a long standing tradition of wine making. It is said that the Romans brought vines with them and planted these, as they have brought so many other things.

In his treatise of Naturalis Historiæ (Natural History), Gaius Plinius Secundus (23 – 79 AD), better known as Pliny the Elder, elaborated on Mallorca’s œnological efforts and the art of wine making. He stated quite categorically that the island’s wines were equal to the best wines of Italy, his home country. 

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When King Jaume I conquered the island in 1229, Ben Abbad reportedly gave the invading king grapes of excellent quality.

In the region of Santanyí, wine was grown as early as the 13th century. During the 1880s, some 580 cuarteradas of land (approx. 420 hectares) were cultivated with vines. Sadly, the phylloxera pest, brought on by a mean vine-eating beetle, destroyed virtually all of Mallorca’s vineyards, devastating the ones in Santanyí as well, at around 1893-8.

At Vinya Son Alegre, we planted new vineyards in 2004 and produced our first wines in 2008 for sale in 2010. Ours is the first wine from the Santanyí region in over 100 years.

We currently offer three white wines, three rosé wines and six red wines. Please consult the Son Alegre website for further information.

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The Four Principles of Natural Farming According To Masanobu Fukuoka

natural farming

At Vinya Son Alegre in Santanyí (Mallorca), we aim to apply Natural Farming methods as developed and promoted by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913 – 2008). This Japanese farmer and philosopher was celebrated for his method of Natural Farming and re-vegetation of desertified, arid land.

One day, Fukuoka realized that nature was perfect just as it was. Problems in nature only arise when people try to improve upon nature and use nature strictly for human benefit. He became a proponent of no-till, no-herbicide grain cultivation farming methods traditional to many indigenous cultures, from which he created a particular method of farming, commonly referred to as ‘Natural Farming’ or ‘Do-nothing Farming’.

He summarized his experience in the Four Principles of Natural Farming.

• The earth cultivates itself, observed Fukuoka. There is no need for man to do what roots, worms, and microorganisms do better. Furthermore, ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Therefore, his first principle was: No ploughing or turning of the soil.

• Secondly, in an unaltered natural environment the orderly growth and decay of plant and animal life fertilizes the soil without any help from man. Fertility depletion occurs only when the original growth is eliminated in favour of soil-exhausting food crops or grasses to feed cattle. Adding chemical fertilizers helps the growing crop but not the soil, which continues to deteriorate. Therefore Fukuoka’s second principle is: No chemical fertilizers or prepared compost. Instead he promotes cover crops like clover and alfalfa, which are natural fertilizers.

Miquel_vines

• Weeds are the enemy of the farmer. Fukuoka observed that when he ceased ploughing, his weed population declined sharply. This occurred because ploughing actually stirs deep-lying weed seeds and gives them a chance to sprout. Tillage therefore is not the answer to weeds. Nor are chemical herbicides, which disrupt nature’s balance and leave poisons in the earth and water. There is a simpler way. To begin with, weeds need not be wholly eliminated; they can be successfully suppressed by spreading straw over freshly sown ground and by planting ground cover. No weeding by tillage or herbicides is Fukuoka’s third principle.

• Finally, what to do about pests and blights? As Fukuoka’s grain fields and orchards came more and more to resemble a natural ecology – with the proliferation of plant varieties growing all in a jumble – they also created a nature-like habitat for small animals. In such a habitat, Fukuoka noted that nature’s own balancing act prevented any one species from gaining the upper hand. Left to itself, nature prefers hardier stock. Fukuoka’s fourth principle is: No dependence on chemical pesticides.

arbequina olives

(Most of the information on the Four Principles of Natural Farming was taken from the website The One-Straw Revolution and can be studied there in greater detail. Here is a PDF-file of a book by Masanobu Fukuoka, The Natural Way Of Farming, if you want to go deeper into the matter.)

Collaborating With Armero i Adrover In Felanitx

barriques

At Son Alegre, we are in the process of planning to build our own winery to be located in the village of Calonge. Until the time of its inauguration, we are using the facilities and the expertise of our good friend Luis Vicente Armero González of the Bodega Armero i Adrover in Felanitx to macerate, ferment, blend and produce our Son Alegre wines. This collaboration began in 2008 and we are proud of what has been coming to the market since then. We are deeply grateful to Luis Armero and his set-up for the work and enthusiasm given to our wines, combined with their devotion and tireless passion.

Their family-owned company was founded in Felanitx in 1992 by Luis Armero and his wife, Antonia Adrover. Before setting up their own company, Luis Armero already came from the world of winemaking, while Adrover’s family had owned vineyards in the Felanitx area for years. They are considered as pioneers in contemporary Mallorcan wines of present day. The company is highly respectful of the environment; their work and production are governed by environmental considerations.

At the Armero i Adrover winery, stainless steel maceration vats are employed calculated to macerate the grapes from each plot of land with a capacity of 6,000 litres and smaller ones of 3,300 litres, both featuring an internal temperature control system.

Armero i Adrover employs American and French oak barrels for the aging of their red wines.

stainless steel vats

Understanding Biodynamics

AgriLecture_1

The following is an excerpt of a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner (Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture), as part of The Agriculture Course: Lecture 6, Koberwitz Palace, Koberwitz, Silesia (now Kobierzyce, Poland), June 14th, 1924. There were a total of 8 lectures on agriculture given by Steiner at the time, and should you be interested, you can read them one by one, on-line.

…. you must learn to see into the workings of Nature in all her different domains. Then you will really take the processes of growth in hand. (We shall afterwards see the same for animal growth – animal normalities and abnormalities). To get the growth-processes in hand – that is the really important thing. To experiment at random in these matters, as is done today, is no real science. The mere jotting-down of isolated notes and facts – that is no science.

Real science only arises when you begin to control the working forces. But the living plants and animals – even the parasites in the plants – can never be understood by themselves. What I said in our first lesson when I referred to the magnet-needle is only too true. Anyone who thought of the magnet-needle alone – anyone who looked in the magnet-needle itself for the causes of its always turning northward – would be talking nonsense. We do not do so; on the contrary, we take the whole Earth and assign to it a magnetic North Pole and a magnetic South. The whole Earth must be included in our explanation.

AgriLecture_2

Just as we draw in the whole Earth to understand the properties of the magnet-needle, so, when we come to the living plants, we must not merely look at the plant or animal or human world; we must summon all the Universe into our counsels! Life always proceeds from the entire Universe – not only out of what the Earth provides. Nature is a great totality; forces are working from everywhere. He alone can understand Nature who has an open sense for the manifest working of her forces.

What does science do nowadays? It takes a little plate and lays a preparation on it, carefully separates it off and peers into it, shutting off an every side whatever might be working into it. We call it a “microscope”. It is the very opposite of what we should do to gain a relationship to the wide spaces. No longer content to shut ourselves off in a room, we shut ourselves off in this microscope tube from all the glory of the world. Nothing must now remain but what we focus in our field of vision.

By and by it has come to this: scientists always have recourse, more or less, to their microscope. We, however, must find our way out again into the macrocosm. Then we shall once more begin to understand Nature  – and other things too.

AgriLecture_6

The Soil Determines The Wine

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When evaluating a wine, the choice of grape variety is perhaps of secondary concern. One distinguishes the primary aroma of the grape variety from the secondary aroma, which depends on the type of soil on which the vines grew. Often it is not the choice of the grape varieties that makes a wine taste the way it does, but rather where those grapes are grown, the microclimatic conditions in that particular location and the type of soil makeup giving nourishment to the vines.

At Son Alegre, we cultivate 15 hectares of vines on two sites, one on the edge of Santanyí in the area between Son Danus and Ses Angoixes, and the other in the nearby area of Can Taconer on the outskirts of Calonge. Both vineyards benefit from the Serra de Llevant’s moderating impact on climate as well as from the thermal conditions of the coastal area, at 7 km from the Mediterranean Sea to the South-East and 12 km distant from the West.

The particular meteorological conditions of our land effectively present us with average temperatures of one to two degrees Celsius lower than comparative terrains further inland. This is due to cooler air coming in from the sea, a phenomenon known locally as s’Embat. This cool current of air is created by meeting with warmer air, heated up from the land warmed up by the high temperatures of the sun and thus regularly creating a fresh breeze of air during the hot afternoon hours of summer.

Another shared aspect of the terroir at both of our sites is the Call Vermell soil, a clay loam formation containing plenty of iron oxide and lime. Our land is also interspersed with plenty of stones, characteristically preserving humidity that little bit longer than soil of a different makeup.

Wine growing for us is an on-going opportunity to accommodate our fascination with the wonderful complexity of the natural world. We employ classic methods of hands-on viticulture and oenology by practising only hand-harvesting, traditional basket press production, indigenous wild yeast fermentation, and fine French oak barriques for aging.

Son Alegre soil -1