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.)

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!

At Son Alegre, we are passionate about Nature. Our wines reflect that passion.

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At Vineyard Son Alegre, we follow an organic and biodynamic approach of agriculture. We believe that natural processes and interactions are not only necessary, but are quite indispensable in the growing of quality grapes and, in the end, 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 grapes. For us, a passionate approach to an organic, ecologic, biologic and biodynamic agriculture is the only conscientious way to make wine.

Ramon lo Foll white

This wine is composed of grapes of the Chardonnay, Giró Ros and Malvasia varieties. It matured for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in March 2017. The alcohol content is 12.5% vol.

Pep Costa white

This mono-varietal wine is made 100% of the autochthonous Mallorcan grape Giró Ros. It matured for 10 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 10 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in June 2016. The alcohol content is 11.8% vol.

Foner rosé

This wine is a coupage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes. It matured for 6 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 3 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in March 2017. The alcohol content is 13.5% vol.

Calonge 1715 red

This wine of the 2015 harvest is composed from grapes of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot varieties. It matured for 15 months in stainless steel tanks and aged for 6 more months in the bottle. It was bottled in January 2017. The alcohol content is 14.5% vol.

All our organic wines are grown in harmony with nature and made with loving care.

Allow Us To Present Our New Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Over the last fifteen years or so, there has been quite a renaissance of quality virgin olive oils here in Mallorca. It is really quite remarkable. In the Nineties, Mallorcan olive oils were few and far between. Now, however, we are spoilt for choice of Mallorcan virgin olive oil from Sóller, Caimari, Manacor and Santanyí, to name but a few of the main olive growing regions. The Consell Regulador de la Denominació d’Origen Oli de Mallorca applies strict measures of quality control and today endorses a sizeable number of olive oils with a Denominació d’Origen certificate.

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Currently, there are 69 Virgin Olive Oils labelled with the ‘d’O‘ seal, the Oli de Mallorca Denomination of Origin. This certificate was created in 2002 in accordance with European Union regulations, confirming that the thus marked and sealed oil is an agricultural product originating from a clearly defined location whose quality and characteristics are principally due to the geographical environment in which it is produced by natural factors and human activity.

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Of the 69 Mallorcan Virgin Olive Oils, only seven are grown and produced under 100 % organic conditions as controlled and certified by the CBPAE (Consell Balear de la Producció Agrària Ecològica), without the use of any pesticides, insecticides, chemical substances or inorganic fertilisers. Sileo oli d’oliva verge extra from Son Alegre is one of these few Mallorcan quality olive oils and it is 100 % organic. Try some if you can. You will like it.

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ArbequinaEmpeltre, Picual and Hojiblanca are the principal olive varieties on this island. Our olives are of the Arbequina variety. We harvest them by hand in late October when the olives on the tree are three different colours, green, purple and black. The three colours signify that not all of the olives are fully ripened – if they were, they would all be black. We have decided to let some olives not quite ripen. That way we can ensure a superior quality of olive oil combined with a better taste. If we were to wait any longer, chances would be that the olive fruit would be attacked by the Olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae), a serious pest in the cultivation of olives, and that would of course alter the taste of our oil dramatically, unless we were to spray against the little insect. We will never spray, and hardly ever with with copper, which we are allowed as an organic producer. We are committed to Nature and to the wondrous ecosystem on our land that we have allowed to develop over the last ten or fifteen years. We have not plowed our olive orchard once in the last twelve years; in fact we do not even enter our orchard all year long other than at harvest time, simply to leave the trees, their natural environment and our biological ecosystem as well as the prevailing biodiversity completely undisturbed.

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Every year, our olives are the first ones to be pressed at our Tafona (oil mill) in Sóller, the Cooperativa Agrícola de Sant Bartomeu de Sóller. The oil mill is famed for their gentle handling of olives and renowned for their output of oil of the best quality. We are proud to collaborate with them year after year and we are grateful for the liquid gold that they gently press hydraulically from our olives, store for us during the two or three months of the settling process and the bottling of Sileo Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the end of their labour. Before bottling, our olive oil is tested by an ENAC-laboratory (Entidad Nacional de Acreditación). Our 2016-17 Sileo virgin olive oil extra was measured with a degree of acidity of 0.6%.

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Here is a photo showing the production of olive oil in Mallorca in times gone by, courtesy of Oli Monnàber Vell in Campanet (photographer unknown).  Muchas gracias.

All photos of today’s entry were taken, as always, by John Hinde, with the exception of the historic photo (above). Thank you, John.

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.

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.