Celebrating the Nature of Biodynamics

Rudolf Steiner

World Biodynamic Day is celebrated every year during the Pentecost weekend, i. e. today.

Winemaking at Vineyard Son Alegre is not just a matter of following organic standards within what is called Natural Farming or agriculture of non-intervention with no ploughing or turning of the soil, with no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, with no weeding by tillage or herbicides and with no dependency on chemical pesticides.

We also follow a number of biodynamic principles as propagated by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian-born spiritualist, lecturer and spiritual teacher. He founded the Anthrophosphical Society, the first Waldorf School, Anthroposphic Medicine, Eurythmy and many more things. Biodynamic agriculture encompasses soil fertility, plant growth and livestock husbandry as ecologically interrelated tasks.

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Steiner had been asked to hold a course on agriculture and he gave a lecture series at Koberwitz Palace, Koberwitz, Silesia (now Kobierzyce, Poland), on Whitsun in June of 1924. In the course of ten days he held a total of 8 lectures entitled ‘Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ which were part of ‘The Agriculture Course’, introducing a totally new and unconventional way to farm. Steiner himself wrote on the aims of the lectures: “As lecture-content I placed the being of the products which are delivered by agriculture and the conditions under which these products come about. These discussions aimed to reach those practical considerations that can spiritually illuminate the decisive questions. This is then added to the practical insights and what is gained from the scientific researches of today.”

The lecture series presented a complete reversal of the mechanical-materialistic causal analysis of matter in farming by suggesting a holistic land management approach to agriculture.

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Allow us to quote some of Steiner’s thoughts from the Koberwitz lecture series:

“Two things we must observe in the plant life. The first thing is that the entire plant-world, and every single species, is able to maintain itself – that is to say, it evolves the power of reproduction. The plant is able to bring forth its kind, and so on. That is the one thing. The other is, that as a creature of a comparatively lower kingdom of Nature, the plant can serve as nourishment for those of the higher kingdoms.” (Lecture 1)

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“Altogether, we should be clear that the whole domain of Agriculture – including what is beneath the surface of the Earth – represents an individuality, a living organism, living even in time. The life of the Earth is especially strong during the winter season, whereas in summer-time it tends in a certain sense to die.” (Lecture 2)

“The Spiritual here must always have physical carriers. Then the materialists come, and take only the physical carrier into account, forgetting the Spiritual that it carries. And they are always in the right – for the first thing that meets us is the physical carrier. They only leave out of account that it is the Spiritual which must have a physical carrier everywhere.” (Lecture 3)

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“It is simply untrue that the life ceases with the contours – with the outer periphery of the plant. The actual life is continued, especially from the roots of the plant, into the surrounding soil. For many plants there is absolutely no hard and fast line between the life within the plant and the life of the surrounding soil in which it is living.” (Lecture 4)

“Nevertheless, by prolonged tillage we can gradually impoverish the soil. We are, of course, constantly impoverishing it, and that is why we have to manure it. But the compensation through the manure may presently become inadequate – and this is happening today on many farms. Then we are ruthlessly exploiting the earth; we let it become permanently impoverished. We must then provide for the true Nature-process to take place once more in the right way.” (Lecture 5)

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“So 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 on 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.” (Lecture 6)

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“Organically speaking, the plant is in all respects an inverse of the animal – a true inverse. The excretion of air and warmth has for the plant the same importance as the consumption of food for the animal. In the same sense in which the animal lives by absorption of food, the plant lives by excretion of air and warmth. This, I would say, is the virginal quality of the plant. By nature, it does not want to consume things greedily for itself, but, on the contrary, it gives away what the animal takes from the world, and lives thereby. Thus the plant gives, and lives by giving.” (Lecture 7)

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“The plant, as we saw, has a physical body and an ether-body, while up above it is hovered-around, more or less, by a kind of astral cloud. The plant itself does not reach up to the astral, but the astral – so to speak – hovers around it. Wherever it enters into definite connection with the astral (as happens in the fruit-formation), something available as foodstuff is produced – that is to say, something which will support the astral in the animal and human body.” (Lecture 8)

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Steiner’s ideas are embracing the holistic view of interconnectedness and make for interesting reading and learning. Should you want to know more, you can read the 8 lectures, one by one, on-line. The lecture series is also available as a book under the title ‘Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ in either the printed or the digital version.

 

In Aqua Veritas

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Today, March 22nd, we celebrate World Water Day.

World Water Day has been observed on this day since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22nd as ‘World Day for Water’.

This day focuses on advocating the sustainable management of freshwater resources and also pays attention to the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in developing countries.

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Water and water management play an integral part of any agricultural activity, especially so in the case of a farm managed on organic and biodynamic terms of natural farming as at Vineyard Son Alegre in the municipality of Santanyí in the southeast of the island of Mallorca. At Son Alegre, we cultivate vines, olive trees, carob trees and Xeixa, an ancient species of wheat (Triticum aestivum) indigenous to Mallorca, which used to be grown all over the island hundreds of years ago but sadly has virtually disappeared and is only slowly being reintroduced now by us and a few like-minded young farmers.

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During the first three months of this year, we had plenty of rainfall here on our finca with almost 250 litres of rain on our land, plenty for us and our needs but not half as much as in other parts of the island where massive downpours were said to have fallen. That’s almost half the amount in less than three months of what we had last year over the span of 12 months.

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During the twelve months of 2017, we measured a total of 460 l of rainfall per square metre on our land. With an extension of 512,500 m2 (51 hectares), we would have benefitted from about 235,000,000 litres of rain. A large portion of that water, roughly one third, is absorbed by our plants and vegetation, as well as consumed by our animals, by insects, birds, ants and other creepy crawlers. An estimated further one third of all that rainwater evaporates in wind and sunshine. The remaining one third filters down into our subterranean groundwater aquifers which we can then access whenever our vines need irrigation during the high temperatures of summer. We resort to irrigation very little; last year we supplied water to our vines on only four occasions with an amount of roughly 200 to 250 l per plant in total, using some 3,500,000 l in total.

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An old proverb says In vino veritas, a Latin phrase meaning ‘In wine there is truth’. We would rather claim In aqua veritas.

Masanobu Fukuoka And The Four Principles of Natural Farming

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At Vinyes Son Alegre in Santanyí (Mallorca), we follow the Natural Farming methods as developed and promoted by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008). This Japanese farmer, Agricultural scientist and philosopher is celebrated for his method of Natural Farming and re-vegetation of arid land, threatened with desertification.

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Fukuoka realized that nature was perfect just as it was. He believed that problems in nature only arose when humans tried to improve upon nature and use the countryside solely for their own benefit. He became an advocate of no-till, no-herbicide grain cultivation farming methods traditional to many indigenous cultures, by creating a particular method of farming, commonly referred to as ‘Natural Farming’ or ‘Do-nothing Farming’.

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

• According to Fukuoka’s observation, the soil cultivates itself. 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.

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• 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 livestock. 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.

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• Weeds are the enemy of the farmer. Fukuoka observed that when he ceased ploughing, his weed growth 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 soil and in the 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.

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• 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 herself, nature prefers hardier stock. Fukuoka’s fourth principle is: No dependence on chemical pesticides.

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At Son Alegre, we let Nature do her job and we do not assume that we know better. Nature has been making wine for over two thousand years here on the island of Mallorca and we are happy to step back a little to let Nature produce some more great wine for the next two thousand years.

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(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.)

Zen And The Art of Winemaking

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Joy and contentment are not easily encountered in our times. It seems that maybe our grandparents and ancestors found happiness and gratification in the activities of their daily lives, their labour and their vocation. We, however, appear to have come to expect contentment and fulfilment mainly from our bank statements. We have all become hostages to the rule of the zero, the infinite number of zeros that we wish to find on the balance of our bank statements. One might say that our forefathers had a better deal by far, with less stress and less pressure. Without any doubt, our ancestors had their problems too, but they were perhaps less affected by the mercy of the banks, the global chemical conglomerates and the restrictive demands of politicians, the marketplace, wholesale distributors and the competition.

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When you work in agriculture, as we do, one is easily overwhelmed by the sheer weight of responsibilities and the daily chores, not to speak of the intricacies of the weather conditions, which are often adverse, and the fickleness of nature in general. Here in Mallorca, due to the absence of large expanses of farmland, agriculture does not feed the farmer any longer, the way it used to. The young generation says that there is no fun in farming anymore as there might have been in the old days because there is no money to be made, at least not here on this small island. There is no profit possible in the harvest of almonds or carobs, for instance. The cost of labour involved in picking the fruit is higher than the price paid by the merchant dealers. Almonds are often left on the trees. The young generation prefer to work in the finance sector and banking, as well as in the tourist industry, in hotels, bars and restaurants, because income earned there is much greater than any earnings from the land.

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At Vineyard Son Alegre, however, we enjoy our work on the land on a daily basis. We did not go into the business of making wine to get rich quick. Profit is not our main concern and financial gain will never be our principal motive. We take an organic and biodynamic approach to agriculture, focusing on grapes, olives and Xeixa wheat, because we simply love nature and see the challenges it presents us with as part of our personal way of life, of growth, acceptance and continuity. Wine making to us is a matter of the Metaphysics of Quality. We see ourselves as part of the greater good that the universe is and see our role on the land as one of nurturing and of giving back to the land what life has given us all along. It is really an assessment of values.

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We find contentment in looking after our plants, vines, trees and produce, because we believe that we are but a small ingredient in the holistic existence on the planet with its clockwork precision. We enjoy knowing that our part is essential to the ecosystem, vital to the natural structure of it all and also, significant to the social context.

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It gives us pleasure when we have another successful harvest of grapes or olives, even though there may be the occasional hailstorm or flood, or other blight. It gives us joy to see bees and ants, bugs, ladybirds and insects at work on our land. We feel grateful listening to the birds on our estate. It makes us happy to see the buds burst open in the springtime and to watch the growth of our fruit in the summer. And we feel fortunate to be allowed to pick the grapes and harvest the olives when it is time to reap the benefits of what nature has given us. We believe that nature teaches us about harmony and empathy every minute of the day and we feel that humility makes for happiness because of that.

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As Mahatma Gandhi said it so perfectly: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.

Molts d’anys.

Feeling Quite At Home

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Winemakers generally tend to be proud of their achievements, their masterly skills, their finesse and their crafty connoisseurship. At Vineyard Son Alegre, however, we do not have much time for such self-praise; in fact, we don’t think that we do all that much for our wine, really. It’s Nature who does it all for us – the wind, sun, rain, the soil, birds, sheep, ladybirds (Coccinellidae), the moon, insects, beetles, ants, bugs and bees. Believe it or not, it’s all of these that make our wine. The human input in our vineyard is only marginal and we try to reduce our involvement even further.

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Talking about the birds on our land for instance: we have observed that birds have multiplied in numbers and in varieties of species since we established our vineyard in 2002, in the south-east of Mallorca, just north of Santanyí. We must be doing something right in not doing so much to our vines that so many birds are feeling at home on our land. They are happy building their nests year after year and laying their eggs, to brood and to hatch the next generation of Common wood pigeons (Columba palumbus), Common quails (Coturnix coturnix), Rock partridges (Alectoris graeca) or Common pheasants (Phasianus colchicus).

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We have also seen, or better, have heard, the Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) as well as the Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos).

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We believe that we have had visits from the Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla), a member of the Woodpecker family, as well as from the Hoopoe (Upupa epops).

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We have in addition evidence of the European bee-eater (Merops apiaster), easily the most beautiful of all our feathered visitors, despite the fact that we have not found their nests or eggs yet. We are on the lookout, though.

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We have admired the Alpine swift (Apus melba) as well as the Pallid swift (Apus pallidus), even though they would build their nests not amongst our vines but under the roofs of our storage barns.

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There is evidence of the Eurasian golden oriole (Oriolus oriolus) on our land and of the Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

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We get the occasional visit from seagulls; the sea is not far from here and, during the hot months of summer, the ‘embat‘ airstream seems, for instance, to bring the Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and the European herring gull (Larus argentatus) to our property. We do not think that they nest on our land though. We are not sure, however; we are still learning about the wildlife happening before our very eyes.

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We believe that all these birds, and other species yet to be identified in time to come, feel at home on our land precisely for the same reasons that make our wine so special: the fact that we leave them undisturbed and unmolested. We do not plough the soil, nor fertilize our land. We do not use pesticides to fumigate, nor employ chemicals to combat the so-called weeds, neither for plant diseases nor for insects.

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We let Nature do its job and we do not assume that we know better. Nature has been making wine for over two thousand years here on the island of Mallorca and we are happy to step back a little to let Nature produce some more great wine for the next two thousand years.

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All we want to do is say thank you. Thank you, Nature, thank you, birds, thank you, wildlife. Thank you all.

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¡Salut!

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)