All winemaking, anywhere in the world, starts with agriculture, on the land, in the vineyard. All the components of growing wine are nature based – soil, climate, the vine plant, the nutrients in the ground nourishing this plant, water, mycorrhizae, insects, ants, worms, microorganisms, bacterial cells, and so forth. Each gram of soil in and around plant roots is inhabited by up to 10 billion bacterial cells. It makes you wonder how much – or how little – we actually know about our land, our soil and our role in agriculture and, as a consequence, about the true mechanisms of growing agricultural crops, or in our case, about cultivating wine.
The key to agriculture and, by extension, the key to winemaking is a profound understanding of nature and its magical simplicity, combined with its infinite complexity. Us humans tend to think that we know it all and that we can control it all, can shape and master and manipulate nature and its mechanisms and can maximise the yield of our agricultural production. But little do we know, really.
Our way of thinking about agriculture at Vineyard Son Alegre is marked by an organic and biodynamic approach. We believe that natural processes and interactions are not only necessary but are in fact indispensable in the growing of quality produce and food, or, in our case, quality grapes and outstanding wine. We believe it is best to leave nature undisturbed to the largest possible extent. That is why we have not ploughed our land for over ten years because we do not want to harm the microbiology of our soil. We do believe that a more diverse soil microbiome will in general result in fewer plant diseases, in a higher yield and in a better crop of fruit or wine. For us, an organic, ecologic, biologic and biodynamic approach to agriculture is the only conscientious way forward.
With this approach, we have been farming our land on the outskirts of Santanyí for the last 15 years or so, ever since we acquired this land. We thought we were doing things the right and balanced way, in harmony with nature and in congruity with the Universe. Our vines – and olive trees – prospered and grew over the years. Our extra virgin olive oil and our organic wines found acceptance in the market. From 8,000 bottles of wine (red, white and rosé) we gradually increased to 10, and 15, and even 20,000 bottles per year. This year we increased our output to almost 25,000 bottles. All was going well. Or so we thought.
But BANG. On Saturday July 1st, 2017, Nature taught us a lesson and showed us that even a conscientious and biodynamic approach is no guarantee of success in agriculture. Our land suffered a downpour of 60-65 l of hail and ice over the course of 45 minutes at around midday, a hailstorm the likes of which had never been seen before in our area. In fact, nobody in Santanyí can remember such a wild and devastating storm of heavy hail, ever.
Our vines were almost completely destroyed and we lost an estimated 90 % of our crop of grapes. In the end, we managed to harvest barely 1,700 kg of grapes this year, compared with 22,000 kg last year. Our olives suffered a tremendous setback as well. We believe we have lost about 70 % of our olive crop and we are not sure that we will have more than 100 l of olive oil when the time for the olive harvest arrives at the end of October.
Surprisingly, and Nature often surprises us, our vines started sprouting new buds around ten days after the natural disaster and have developed a new and second growth of grapes since then. There may be a possible second harvest after all, albeit in late October, and weather permitting.
The second growth grapes, if any are harvested, will not have been subjected to the normal conditions of our land and of our Mallorcan climate, with the heat of July and August and hot nights during the Summer, but will have grown under conditions similar to those on the French Atlantic coast. It will be interesting to see what the end-result of this act of capricious weather will be and what kind of wine, if any, might result from it.
But that’s what nature is all about. Nature is always full of synergy and mystery, full of wonder and yes, amazement. The natural world surprises us in the good and in the bad. In the long run, it has proven again and again, that Nature is our friend. Even if this marvellous wonder of the natural forces can at times have painful consequences, we happily accept Nature’s wondrous ways. Ultimately, it is the best we can get.
If it is God’s will, a miracle will happen. If it does not happen, never mind. The lesson in humility is worth more than the fruit that the vineyard can possibly give us.
(Miquel Manresa Vadell)