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.

The Soil Has the Last Word

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Son Alegre‘s Miquel Manresa was recently asked to give an interview by the new magazine ConCiencia, published in Palma on a monthly basis and now only in its second month. The interview was published in the issue of December 2016 under the heading ‘La tierra tiene la última palabra‘ (The soil has the last word). We at Son Alegre are very happy about this published feature and would like to give you the opportunity to see and read it for yourself.

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For those of our friends who might struggle a bit with the Spanish language, here is a brief translation of the interview:

THE EARTH HAS THE LAST WORD

Vineyard Son Alegre

The owner of Son Alegre, Miquel Manresa, proudly shows us his vineyard, a perfect example of how Nature looks after herself.

Our walk begins by listening to the “sound of the earth”. This man is in love with his work and his vineyard; he lets us participate in his dialogue. He speaks with each stone, with each branch, and each animal or insect, thanking them for their contribution and collaboration so that this land enables the fruit produce to give us the best 100% ecological wine.

The land is doing the cultivating process all on its own. There is no need for us humans to do what roots, worms and microorganisms can do best. In addition, the act of ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Miquel tells us with absolute conviction that only through respect and love of Nature we can find the balance and harmony we have lost and which we do need so much.

Miquel continues to tell us that the vineyard is cultivated according to the principles of Fukuoka [1] which implies a “total respect for Nature and the environment”.

The particular weather conditions of our land give our wine the unique and special qualities it has. 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 summer afternoons.

We tend to believe that it is the grape which gives the wine its flavour, when it really is the land on which the grapes are cultivated which creates its particular taste. This is due to the typology of the soil, providing some elementary nutrients to the vines and also partly due to the microclimate of the area.

At Son Alegre we grow vines on 15 hectares at two different locations, one on the edge of Santanyí, in the area between Son Danus and Ses Angoixes, and the other one in the neighbouring area of Can Taconer in Calonge.

For us, growing the grapes is an opportunity to live out our fascination for 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 fermentations are facilitated with indigenous natural yeasts and the barrels used for the ageing of the wine are made of French oak.

At Son Alegre, a very important tool for our work is the lunar calendar. By observing the phases of the moon, the way our ancestors always have done it, we know the most propitious time for the pruning of our fruit, the grafting of plum on to almond branches, the planting of new trees, the planting of cereals, the harvesting of our grapes, the mating of pigs, sheep or horses, or even the cutting of our hair.

He speaks very animatedly, explaining all the intricacies of the finca, that we find it slightly difficult to follow and, more so, transcribe so much information in a single interview.

Nature creates and gives peace, supports us and helps us to find a balanced state of equilibrium, just what is needed so badly in our times. Here, the conversation focuses on education and the importance of keeping children in permanent contact with a natural and healthy environment. *

* ConCiencia and MundoFeliz propose to our readers to use this special set-up to hold workshops for schoolchildren, to give the young ones an opportunity to connect with the land.

We could spend hours and hours talking to a person who conveys so much ancestral wisdom, learned through the work which he carries out day by day in his vineyard, being continually connected with Nature which he loves and so deeply respects.

Miquel, it would be an honour for us to have you at some of our conferences and events. You will always have a special space in our magazine. And of course, we will taste your wines!

To which he responds, with his usual relaxedness, being as calm and cheerful as is his land, that he will gladly share his knowledge with us, our readers and friends.

See you soon, Miquel.

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[1] The Principles of Fukuoka:

Do not plough or turn the soil: In this way the structure and composition of the soil is maintained with its optimal conditions of humidity and micronutrients.

Do not use chemical fertilizers or prepared compost: Through the interaction of the different botanical, animalistic and mineral elements of the soil, the fertility of the cultivated soil is regenerated as in any non-domesticated ecosystem.

Do not use herbicides or weed killers: These destroy the nutrients and microorganisms of the soil, and are only justified in monocultures. Instead, Fukuoka proposes an interaction of plants to enrich and control the biodiversity of the soil.

Do not use chemical pesticides: These also kill the natural richness of the soil. The presence of insects in farming can be healthy.

Do not prune: Allow the plant growth to follow its natural course.

Use clay seed balls.

These fundamental working principles are based on a philosophy of Do- Nothing (Wu Wei), or more accurately, of not intervening or forcing things.

Fukuoka reached a degree of comprehension of the microsystems of the soil and devised a system of farming that desists from unnecessary tillage and unnecessary endeavours of traditional agriculture. His method, which he sometimes called Natural Agriculture Mahāyāna, is based on starting to give and to then receive in a natural way, rather than be demanding on the soil until it is exhausted.

Winter in a Mallorcan Vineyard

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When driving through certain parts of Mallorca in November and December, one will pass by many a vineyard in a state of colourful display – yellows, oranges and reds. These vineyards were full of activity during the months of August and September when the grape harvest was taking place. Now at the beginning of winter, the vine fields appear quiet and sturdy, tranquil, and often quite dead and without any active life whatsoever.

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But invisible to us, there is more activity than meets our eyes. Yes, the Vitis vinifera vine plant has slowed down its business of fruit production but now it is producing a substantial amount of Ethylene (H2C=CH2), an organic compound which is needed for the process of abscission (the shedding of its leaves). At the same time, the vine plant is also producing Abscisic acid (ABA), a plant hormone which is needed to enter into the dormant state – the period of hibernation – during the winter months. ABA prevents cells from dividing and suspends growth.

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The vine plant is very intelligent in as much as it knows exactly how to regulate its metabolism, its energy consumption and its growth. By stalling growth during the winter a lot of energy is saved. This process is similar to an animal’s hibernation. Most animals who hibernate store food as fat and then use it to run their essential systems during the winter, rather than grow any more. Likewise, the vine’s metabolism slows down during dormancy, and this is partly why cell growth is impeded. Since the plant has to conserve the energy it has stored, it is best if it uses the energy up slowly and only for essential functions.

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We at Son Alegre think it is best not to interfere in this energetic process of shedding and absorption. In fact, we interfere in our vineyard as little as possible throughout the year. We have our unsung hero helpers such as ants and worms, ladybirds and bees, spiders and snails, who help us day in, day out, with the aeration of our soil and the distribution of plant nutrition, macronutrients, micronutrients and moisture. Without these helpers we simply couldn’t do our business; without them there would be no Son Alegre wine.

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Let’s not forget what Nature does, every second of the day, all year round. Thank you.

And let’s not forget to say Thank you to John Hinde, the photographer of the photos of today’s blog entry and, in fact, of most of the photos published on this blog throughout the year.

Thank you, John. Thank you Nature. Muchas gracias.

Soundscapes in the Vineyard

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One tends to underestimate the influence and, perhaps, importance of sound in agricultural practice, or even in life in general. Sound constitutes an integral part of the identity of any given piece of nature or any particular piece of land. Like a human fingerprint or DNA, any given piece of landscape, a vineyard for example, has a unique and individual sound profile or sound identity which ultimately distinguishes the piece of land, let’s say the vineyard, in a singular and, quite possibly, unrepeatable way.

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A vineyard in Pollença, for example, has by the particular nature of its ecological, natural and geologic components and constituents, a different composition of sounds, tones, acoustic vibes and bioacoustic signals when compared to a vineyard in Banyalbufar or another one in Santanyí. A vineyard in Mallorca has a different ‘soundprint’ or sound ‘DNA’ from one in La Rioja and a Spanish wine field has a different sound definition from one in France or another one in California. Even a vineyard in Santanyí like ours at Son Alegre has a different sound ‘persona’ from another vineyard just down the road, let’s say, in Cas Concos des Cavaller.

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Some of the sounds in the vineyard us humans can hear, such as animals, the wind, rainfall, thunder or birds, whereas other sounds are not decipherable by the human ear due to their pitch or frequency. The human hearing range is commonly given as 20 to 20,000 Hertz. The frequency of sound pulses of ants, moths or other insects can be as high as 30,000 Hz and thus, can’t be heard by us, whereas the sound frequency of anurans (frogs, toads, amphibians) can be as low as 6 Hz and are equally inaudible to us.

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But there is even sound created or caused by plants, by minerals and other organic, non-animal matter. Trees make a sound and are even said to communicate, as do mycorrhizæ (fungi which grow in association with the roots of a plant). The earth structure in the Lithosphere and further below makes a sound, too. In fact, one might say that there is nothing on Earth, or even nothing in the Universe, which is totally silent and without any sound. Sound defines anything and everything, be we aware of it or not. Human capacity to hear or decipher sound or noise is not the criteria for the existence of acoustic signatures or sound structures or Bioacoustics.

Soundscape ecology is the bio- and geo-acoustic branch of ecology that studies acoustic signatures from whatever source within a landscape (the soundscape). The soundscape of a given region can be viewed as the sum of three separate sound sources: Geophony is the first sound heard on earth. Non-biological in nature, it consists of the effect of wind in trees or grasses, water flowing in a stream, waves at an ocean or lake shoreline, and movement of the earth. Biophony is a term introduced by soundscape ecologist, Bernie Krause, who in 1998, first began to express the soundscape in terms of its acoustic sources. The biophony refers to the collective acoustic signatures generated by all sound-producing organisms in a given habitat at a given moment. It includes vocalizations that are used for conspecific communication in some cases. Anthropophony is another term introduced by Bernie Krause along with colleague, Stuart Gage. It represents human sources from heavily populated urban regions usually contains information that was intentionally produced for communication with a sound receiver. The expression in various combinations of these acoustic features across space and time generate unique soundscapes.

(quoted from Wikipedia, thank you very much)

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Soundscape ecologists seek to investigate the structure of soundscapes, explain how they are generated, and study how organisms interrelate acoustically. A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain the structure of soundscapes, particularly elements of biophony. For instance, an ecological theory known as the acoustic adaptation hypothesis predicts that acoustic signals of animals are altered in different physical environments in order to maximize their propagation through the habitat. In addition, acoustic signals from organisms may be under selective pressure to minimize their frequency (pitch) overlap with other auditory features of the environment. This acoustic niche hypothesis is analogous to the classical ecological concept of niche partitioning. It suggests that acoustic signals in the environment should display frequency partitioning as a result of selection acting to maximize the effectiveness of intraspecific communication for different species. Observations of frequency differentiation among insects, birds, and anurans support the acoustic niche hypothesis. Organisms may also partition their vocalization frequencies to avoid overlap with pervasive geophonic sounds. For example, territorial communication in some frog species takes place partially in the high frequency ultrasonic spectrum. This communication method represents an evolutionary adaptation to the frogs’ riparian habitat where running water produces constant low frequency sound. Invasive species that introduce new sounds into soundscapes can disrupt acoustic niche partitioning in native communities, a process known as biophonic invasion. Although adaptation to acoustic niches may explain the frequency structure of soundscapes, spatial variation in sound is likely to be generated by environmental gradients in altitude, latitude, or habitat disturbance. These gradients may alter the relative contributions of biophony, geophony, and anthrophony to the soundscape. For example, when compared with unaltered habitats, regions with high levels of urban land-use are likely to have increased levels of anthrophony and decreased physical and organismal sound sources. Soundscapes typically exhibit temporal patterns, with daily and seasonal cycles being particularly prominent. These patterns are often generated by the communities of organisms that contribute to biophony. For example, birds chorus heavily at dawn and dusk while anurans call primarily at night; the timing of these vocalization events may have evolved to minimize temporal overlap with other elements of the soundscape.

(quoted from Wikipedia, thank you very much)

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Back to Son Alegre and our vineyard. We do not pretend that the soundscapes at Son Alegre make or shape our wine but we are certain that there is an effect of everything upon anything. The biophonic sound spectres and the bioacoustic ‘soundprint’ of our land are unique, distinguished and individual and affect our wines in a very particular and exceptional way, just as our soil does, which is also very singular, as do the meteorological conditions of our land, as do our organic agricultural practises and our biodynamic approach to farming. The sound does not make our wine but, without any question or the slightest doubt, Son Alegre wines would be different if the conditions, acoustic or otherwise, under which they are produced, would be distinct. Our wines are like no other wines, anywhere.

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Omnis est sonus. All is sound.

Note:

The graphic spectrogram illustrations above were borrowed from the Internet, courtesy of www.beautifulnow.is and www.soundstudiesblog.com. However, these graphic images do not represent the soundscapes of our land at Son Alegre nor its acoustic DNA. The photographic images were taken by John Hinde on our finca in Santanyí.

Tot és so.

Harvesting Olives at Son Alegre

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This week and last we started this year’s olive harvest at Son Alegre. Our one thousand plus olive trees of the Arbequina variety are doing very nicely, thank you very much. We planted the trees in 2004 and they have not been sprayed with pesticides, insecticides or herbicides for almost ten years now. Neither have we treated our land or our trees with growth enhancing substances such as fertilisers, be they of synthetic or organic nature. Although we would be allowed to use some organic pest repellents we abstain from such interference because we do not want to disturb the biodiversity of our olive grove that we have so carefully encouraged and maintained over the years. Using organic insect-repellent sprays such as Kaolin, a silicate clay mineral, would undoubtedly give us a higher yield when it comes to harvesting the olives but the downside would be a product of a lesser quality and this is not what Son Alegre stands for.

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We are very particular about collecting our olives just before they all reach complete maturity with the presence of three colour olives on each tree – green, purple and black. This way we are assured a maximum quality of our SILEO Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If we waited any longer we might well achieve a higher yield but would receive an oil of a lesser quality.

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For maximum freshness we always take our olives to the oil mill on the same day of the harvest. In fact, every year our olives are the first ones of the new season to be pressed at the oil mill. As always, we collaborate with the Cooperativa Agrícola de Sant Bartomeu in Sóller, famed for their gentle handling of the olives and renowned for their output of oil of the best quality.

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This year, Mallorcan olive production in general has suffered a downturn in quantities due to the climatic conditions on the island throughout the year and the absence of any significant rainfall. At Son Alegre, our harvest was down by about one third compared to the previous year. This week and last, we harvested a total of 2,896 kilogrammes of olives, giving us a total of 404 litres of olive oil with an acidity level of only 0.5%. This will give us no more than 800 bottles of Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil of 500 ml each. The oil is now in the oil press in a state of non-intervention and repose before the bottling process takes place, probably in January 2017.

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Bon profit.

A Visit to Son Alegre by ESRA

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A group of visitors from ESRA Mallorca South East came to visit Son Alegre last week. The English-Speaking Residents’ Association in Mallorca (known as ESRA) was founded in 1983 and currently has some 1200 members island-wide. There are five regional ESRA districts in Mallorca (South West, Central, North, North East and South East). Members pertain to many nationalities such as Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Danish, Irish, Swedish etc. and a diverse range of professions from all walks of life, the common bond being that all speak English. Please consult the ESRA website if you are interested in their social activities or their help and information facilities. ESRA is a non-political, non-religious, non-commercial organization.

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Son Alegre first invited the visitors to tour the vineyard in Santanyí where the Son Alegre approach of natural organic farming under bio-dynamic principals was explained. The group then proceeded to our Bodega in Calonge where the installations were presented and the winemaking process was explained. We all headed to nearby Ca’n Taconer where the visitors had a chance to taste the current range of Son Alegre wines as well as Son Alegre‘s Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil, accompanied by Mallorcan tapas lovingly prepared by the ladies of the house, Francisca Binimelis and Maria Vadell. The event was rounded off by some classical guitar tunes presented by the well known Juan Reyes on his acoustic Spanish guitar. The presentation to the visitors was made by Son Alegre‘s Miquel Manresa in Spanish and translated into English by Klaus Fabricius.

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The event had been arranged and devotedly prepared for ESRA by Lucy O’Connor. The photos © were taken by John Hinde, Klaus Fabricius and Miquel Manresa.

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Should you or your organization be interested in a visit to the Son Alegre facilities, together with a wine tasting, please contact us on vinyasonalegre@yahoo.es or sinesolesileo@hotmail.es for a personalised proposition.

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Grape Harvest in Santanyí

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September is always a busy month for us here at Son Alegre in Santanyí. September is the month of the grape harvest on the island of Mallorca. Depending on area and grape variety, some grapes, especially white ones like Chardonnay, Macabeu, Malvasía and Giró varieties, may already have been picked in the latter half of August.

In the past there were plenty of grape harvests in Santanyí. During the 1880s, some 580 cuarteradas of land (approx. 420 hectares) were cultivated here with vines. But the Grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae), a tiny sap-sucking insect, destroyed virtually all of Mallorca’s vineyards, including the ones in Santanyí, between 1893 and 1898. Son Alegre is the first, and so far only, vineyard in the Santanyí area to grow wine again since almost 120 years.

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Even though this year was unusually dry in Mallorca with hardly any rainfall over the last eight months, the year 2016 promises to be a very good year for wine here in Mallorca, both in terms of quantity and quality. Our grapes do not seem to have suffered too much from the current water shortage. If anything, the lack of water may have improved the quality of our grapes; they are definitely smaller than usual but probably of a better quality. Had there been more water, the grapes would have a lower sugar level and a lesser concentration of aromas. It may have helped that we never plough our land and thus do not deprive the soil of any remaining humidity that might be stored that little bit further down below the surface where Mycorrhizae and other organisms form an important component of our soil life and soil chemistry.

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Ten days ago we started with this year’s wine harvest at Son Alegre. We collected about 6,000 kilogrammes of white grapes and expect to convert these into perhaps 5,000 bottles of Son Alegre white wine, ready for consumption in 2017.

Our red grape varieties, such as Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell, will be harvested anytime soon between the middle and the end of September, depending on their state of maturation and on the analysis of their sugar content.

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This year, Nature rewarded us again with a truly beautiful harvest, always in harmony with the land. We are truly blessed with our land and are grateful for what we receive from our soil, year after year.