Ramon Llull and his magnificent Tree of Science 

Ramon Llull

Ramon Llull, surely, is one of the most important minds in the history of Mallorca and may well be considered also to be one of the greatest thinkers of mediaeval life in all of Spain. He is considered the father of Catalan literature and also, one of the most universal European scholars of that time.

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Ramon Llull was born in 1232 in Palma de Mallorca. As a boy he served King Jaume I the Conqueror as his page and, when older, he acted as tutor to Prince Jaume, the future king of Mallorca. During his youth, Llull lived at court, serving as a butler and manservant while leading a cheerful and sometimes extravagant life. He was married and had two children.

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Following a number of apparitions at around the age of thirty, Llull gave up his bohemian lifestyle and adopted the Franciscan ideal, giving away his worldly possessions and becoming an itinerant preacher. Setting aside enough money for his abandoned wife and children, he renounced his immoral ways, working fervently to bring about the union of humanity with one universal religion and with comprehensive common interests. He wrote some 280 books of Scholastic Philosophy, on Science, Education, Mysticism and Grammar, as well as novels, which were translated into Arabic, Catalan and Latin. Today, Ramon Llull is seen as a forefather of the method of combinatorial thinking, the basis of modern computer software architecture.

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One of the most extensive and characteristic works of Ramon Llull’s is a book with the title Tree of Science (Arbor Scientiae). It is particularly interesting to us at Son Alegre with our holistic approach to organic agriculture. The book is a good example of Llull’s methodical and contemplative approach. Arbor Scientiae is structured according to a special arboreal symbolism by using the tree and its parts as a representation of human nature and relating them in a clear and understandable way with science. A tree and its roots, trunk, branches, leaves and fruit are taken as symbols of various disciplines of science. The roots represent the basic principles of every field of science; the trunk is the structure; the branches, the genres; the leaves, the species; and the fruit, the individual and their acts and finalities. This way, natural and moral philosophy converge. The objective of this encyclopaedic comparison served to enable the comprehension of universal knowledge, art and science.

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This book is considered the most beautiful and complete of the Llullian œuvre.

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Vinya Son Alegre dedicate their 2016 white wine, with the colour of light, to Ramon Llull, who called himself Ramon the Fool but was also known as the Enlightened Doctor of Mallorca. On this wine’s label, we illustrate various samples of Llull’s Ars Magna discs of his combinatorial method.

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¡Salut!

 

The Astounding Ways of Nature

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Nature’s Secret Canon

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Nature is extraordinary, almost strangely funny in a way,  in as much as it is so simple in everything it does, whilst at the same time the environment, the earth and the whole universe are incredibly complex and complicated in their vastness and their seemingly endless, infinite expansion.

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Spending a lot of time on the farmland, as we do on a daily basis at Son Alegre in our vineyard, and that includes Sundays as well as weekdays, we are in constant contact with the wonders of Nature and the natural world, the marvels of the elements, the wind, the weather, the effects of the sun, the moon, the stars and the planets. There is vibrant plant life and flora and there is boundless animal activity and inexhaustible fauna. There is a buzz all around us day-in and day-out, a constant movement of tiny creatures, ants, beetles, insects, worms, butterflies, bees, birds and wildlife such as rabbits, hedgehogs and rodents, and so on.

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Working on the land and in the vineyard gives one the opportunity to watch and to learn. One cannot but observe that Nature does not follow our human rhythm, our clock or our calendar. There is no twenty-four hour period in Nature. There is no seven day cycle. There is no Summertime and there is no holiday, festive or otherwise. Nature and plants, bees, ants and mycorrhizae are busy doing their job, only guided by daylight and the sun, the moon and the stars, being not much bothered by wind or rain, although occasionally interrupted by storms or hail, by torrents or flooding.

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Nature does not take a day off on Sundays, for example, and ants, worms and butterflies do not get an eight hour day, or sick leave or vacation, ever. They are all on the job continuously, day after day, from morning to night, and then again the following day. Our sheep demand their feed, as do our pigs, be that workdays or Sundays; they would more than just wonder if they did not get their food or water at the appointed hour.

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As we watch and observe, inevitably we come to realise that there are patterns, structures and schemes in everything Nature does and creates. There are rules and regulations that get repeated again and again. One might say that there is an underlying code, a secret canon perhaps of form, shape and conduct that governs the way things are shaped and the way things grow. The makeup of organisms and the structure of plants and animals all seem to follow a rule that perhaps is best explained by the shape of a spiral. A snail’s spiral pattern might be the pattern that illustrates best the way Nature organises herself.

The Italian mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bigollo, better known as Fibonacci (ca. 1175-1250) was perhaps the first to discover that secret canon (well, it should be mentioned that even before him, the sequence had been noted by Indian mathematicians as early as the 6th century). Fibonacci came to express it in a mathematical formula that is known as the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, ad infinitum.

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One might call the Fibonacci sequence Nature’s numbering system. It seems to appear everywhere in Nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants to the branch arrangement on trees, from the pattern of the florets of a flower to the bracts of a pinecone and the scales of a pineapple. The Fibonacci numbers seem applicable to the growth of every living thing, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, and even man and woman and all of mankind. Even the Milky Way seems to be structured around the same shape or pattern, and other galaxies also follow the spiral Fibonacci pattern. This pattern or number sequence is often called Golden Ratio or the Golden Section.

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What has all that got to do with wine you may ask?

Well, if you make organic wine the way we do at Son Alegre there is no question that Nature has to be the guiding force. We cultivate our vineyard according to the principles of Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) which implies a “total respect for Nature and the environment”. Our vineyard is a perfect example of how Nature looks after herself. We love our work and our vineyard; hence we are grateful to each stone, each branch, and each animal or insect, thanking them for their contribution and collaboration so that this land enables the vines to produce grapes and give us the best 100% organic wine possible. Only through respect and love of Nature can we find the balance and harmony that we have all lost and which we do need so urgently.

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The particular weather conditions of our land give our wine the unique and special qualities it has. During the hot months of summer, the cold air coming from the sea is reacting with the warmer air which has been heated by its contact with the warm earth and this encounter generates a fresh air stream during the hot afternoons. One tends to believe that it is the grape which gives the wine its flavour, when it really is the soil on which the grapes are cultivated creating our wine’s particular taste. This is due to the typology of the soil, Call Vermell in our case, providing some elementary nutrients to the vines, and also partly due to the microclimate of the area.

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At Son Alegre, a very important guide for our work is the lunar calendar. By observing the phases of the moon, the way our ancestors always have, we know the most propitious time for the pruning of our fruit, the grafting of plums on to almond branches, the planting of new trees, the sowing of cereals, the harvesting of our grapes, the mating of pigs, sheep or donkeys, or even the cutting of our hair. Nature creates and gives peace, supports us and helps us find a balanced state, just what is needed so badly in our times.

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We grow vines on 12 hectares at Son Alegre on the edge of Santanyí, in the area between Son Danus and Ses Angoixes. For us, growing the grapes is an opportunity to live out our fascination of the wonderful complexity of the natural environment. We use the classical methods of practice in viticulture and oenology. The grape harvest is done only by hand and in crates, the pressing is done the traditional way, the fermentation is facilitated with indigenous natural yeasts and the barrels used for the ageing of our red wine are made of French oak.

And all of this makes for a better wine. At least this is what we believe.

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We Are Proud To Introduce Pep Costa 2015, An Elegant White Wine

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The fruity mellow white wine of our 2017 season is dedicated to Josep Costa Ferrer, the founder of Cala d’Or. We applaud Pep Costa’s visionary perceptiveness and are happy to bear witness to him being named Hijo adoptivo de Santanyí (adopted son) later this year (August 11th, 2017). The photo below shows Josep Costa Ferrer and his wife Modesta Gispert Vilardebó in the year 1905.

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Our elegant new Pep Costa 2015 white wine is composed of organically grown Giró Ros grapes, an autochthonous Mallorcan variety. The grapevines were four years old when the grapes were selected by hand at the end of August 2015. Son Alegre is one of only a few vineyards of Mallorca cultivating all their vines according to EU organic farming standards following the principles of Biodynamic Agriculture. All our wines are rigorously controlled by the CBPAE (Consell Balear Regulador de l’Agricltura Ecològica – Balearic Council of Organic Agricultural Production).

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The mature white wine was vinified at a temperature of between 16 and 18º C during the fermentation process with a maceration of 21 days. The fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The wine matured for ten months in the tanks and a further ten months in the bottle. The wine was bottled in February 2017. The alcohol content is 11.8% Vol. Only 4,000 bottles were produced. We would like to have had more of this wine but we are a young and still small vineyard. In any case, we are grateful for what we have been able to achieve in the fifteen years of our existence.

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Pep Costa 2015 white wine is best served at a temperature of 8-10º C and is well suited to the hot days of the Mediterranean summer and the setting of our beautiful Isla de la Calma. The wine is agreeable on the palate, fresh and distinct. The colour is crisp and full. The wine has a complex disposition and can be drunk on its own, in the company of good friends, with appetisers, tapas or cheese, with fish or seafood, with chicken or white meat, with  pasta and also with vegetarian dishes. 

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At Son Alegre, we continue to cultivate all our grapes and all other crops with the utmost regard for Nature, respecting our land and our soil by following biodynamic principles according to Rudolf Steiner and adhering to some guidelines of Masanobu Fukuoka and Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison, by applying methods of natural farming and permaculture to agriculture done the organic way. We simply allow Nature to fulfil its integrated and holistic function, although this may occasionally lead to reduced volumes and a lower profit margin. Profit-making is never our primary concern.

Quality is our principal objective.

 

 

The Amazingly Rich Diversity of Balearic Grapes

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Between 1869 and 1891, the Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria published the most intriguing œuvre about the Balearic Islands under the title Die Balearen, spanning some 6,000 pages of information spread over 9 books. Ludwig Salvator, for nearly 40 years a resident of Mallorca, learned the island’s local language and conducted research into its flora and fauna, history and culture, as well as agriculture, architecture, industry and navigation, and so forth.

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The extraordinary publication is pretty rare in its original edition, published in German, but book lovers can sneak a glimpse of the beautiful edition by visiting the impressive library at the Fundación Bartolomé March, in Palau March, just below the Palau de l’Almudaina in Palma. Admission is free (Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 to 14:00h, Tuesday and Thursday from 16:00 to 20:00h). Or you could have a look at the online version here (in German).

It would appear that the Archduke’s masterpiece, which has no equal in the field of regional studies and ethnology, was never published in English, however, it is available in Spanish (Caixa d’Estalvis de les Balears “Sa Nostra”, 1980-91) and, as far as the Mallorca segment is concerned, also in Catalan (Govern de les Illes Balears and Grup Serra, 1999).

In an ample chapter on agriculture the encyclopaedic publication contains in all three languages a prolific section on vines and winemaking, with the description of 39 indigenous grape varieties found in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza. The Archduke is said to have planted the Malvasia grape on his estate near Valldemossa.

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Only last week, the Govern de les Illes Balears and its Department for Environment, Agriculture and Fishery published a very useful and informative book in Catalan about the native grape varieties in the Balearic Isles. If you are interested in wine and wine making in Mallorca, give yourself a treat and acquire this stupendous sourcebook, listing, in great detail, 28 autochthonous grape varieties suitable for winemaking (Al·leluia, Argamuss, Batista, Batista mallorquin, Callet, Callet negrella, Escursac, Esperó de gall, Fernandella, Fogoneu, Fogoneu mallorquí, Gafarró, Galmeter, Giró negre, Giró ros, Gorgollassa, Malvasia de Banyalbufar, Mancès de capdell, Mancès de tibús, Manto negro, Moll, Quigat, Sabater, Sinsó, Valent blanc, Valent negre, Vinater blanc and Vinater negre) plus 10 more varieties classified as table grapes (Calop blanc, Calop negre, Calop vermell, Joanillo, Mamella de vaca, Moscatell, Moscatell romà, Pepita de oro, Pepita rosada, Peu de rata).

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Of course, many more grape varieties exist in Mallorca and are cultivated for winemaking but those are predominantly of either French, Italian, Spanish or German origin.

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To make things a little more complicated and perhaps also a bit more intriguing, there are some grape varieties that currently are not authorised for winemaking by the Mallorcan mandarins, be those grapes of foreign, national or native origin.

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Oh well, politics.

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Today’s photos of grapes and vineyard were taken by John Hinde. Thank you very much.

In February the almond trees are blossoming

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At Vineyard Son Alegre, we are not only interested in wine and olive oil. We are interested in all things of nature and everything else that makes and shapes the culture of our beautiful island.

The month of February is the time of the almond blossom. As our Mallorcan proverb says, ‘Pel mes de febrer floreix l’ametller‘ (in February the almonds are blossoming).

Right now almond trees are in full bloom all over the island. The Mediterranean climate aids the Almond tree (Prunus dulcis) even though it is not an indigenous plant like the Olive tree (Olea europaea), the Holm oak (Quercus ilex) or the Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua). Almond trees were mostly planted here in the aftermath of the Philoxera disaster some hundred and twenty years ago which wiped out most of the Mallorcan grape plantation, to give affected farmers a new life-line and a new source of income.

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After the recent cold spell with the snow and heavy weather we had a fortnight or so ago, the flowering of the almond trees under a blue sky in February suggests the imminent arrival of Springtime and once again the awakening of the natural beauty of this island.

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Sadly, almond trees in Mallorca are currently suffering from a deadly disease or tree pest, an infection inflicted by the xilófago insect. Quite a number of almond trees have already died as a result of this affliction. One speaks of up to 12,000 hectares of almond plantations lost over the last few years. There is also recent news about the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium, a vibrant plant pathogen that causes further damage to our almond trees as well as olive trees and cherry trees. Authorities in Spain are concerned that this bacterium also threatens citrus fruit trees as well as the Mallorcan vine.

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The town of Son Servera is holding the Fira de la Flor d’Ametler tomorrow from 09h00 to 14h30 in case you should be so inclined. We might as well enjoy this natural beauty whilst it is still around.

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All photos of today’s blog entry were taken by John Hinde. Thank you very much for letting us use them here.