Two weeks ago, the annual wine harvest began in Mallorca, at least in some parts such as the region called Pla i Llevant which covers Petra, Porreres, Manacor and Felanitx. White grapes are always the first to be harvested, at least here in Mallorca, and in particular the Chardonnay, Macabeu, Malvasia and Giró varieties, amongst others. The grapes in the rest of the island usually have another week or two to make the most of the high temperatures but now, at the beginning of September it is time to get ready for some serious grape picking. The region of Binissalem, for instance, begins its grape harvest during the first week of September. The harvest there will culminate in the Festa des Vermar also known as Sa Vermada, a celebration lasting nine days leading up to the last weekend of September. The region of the Serra de Tramuntana is the last one when it comes to wine harvesting here in Mallorca due to the climatic conditions in this mountainous area.
Mallorca has a wine-making tradition going back a long time. Some people say it goes back to the Romans. Plinius mentioned wine from Mallorca as early as 100 B. C., giving Mallorca a wine tradition of more than 2,000 years. Even during the Moorish period wine was produced on the island.
During the second half of the 19th century, wine production in Mallorca was on an all-time high level even in comparison with continental Spain, France or Italy, both in terms of quantity as well as quality.
Between 1891 and 1905, the Phylloxera louse destroyed nearly all of Mallorca’s vineyards. It was downhill from then on with the quality of Mallorcan wine suffering a lot in the process.
Production in Mallorca got off to a good start again in the Nineteen-Twenties and even more so, in the Nineteen-Fifties and -Sixties. But the emphasis then was on high quantity output. Quality was of a lesser concern. The visiting tourists loved the stuff. It was very cheap, like 300 pesetas for a 5 litre flagon of vino tinto, or even less. It was paradise, for some.
Over the last 15 years or so, we have witnessed a renaissance in Mallorcan wine making.
First of all, every campesino with a quantity of vines on his land would actually make his own wine. His father had made his own wine, and so had his grandfather. The foundations were laid then, some basic wine making techniques were known and there was no reason why one should not confront the experimental challenge of combining some old traditions with a few new resources.
Also, the tourist profile had changed. Suddenly some tourists arrived who were actually interested in more than just sun, sea and some large quantities of Sangria. They appreciated a better wine, showed an interest in the food, in olive oil and other Mallorcan specialities.
After the Phylloxera set-back, most Mallorcan wines came from Binissalem. They were sold under the Denominación de Origen Binissalem. A few years ago, a new Denominación de Origen was established, that of Pla i Levant, covering Bodegas from Es Pla (the centre) and from the East of the island.
Every year, new Bodegas started up, such as AN, Son Sureda Ric, 4 Kílos, Binigrau, Vi d’Auba and many more. Suddenly, Mallorcan wines began to win medals at international wine testing competitions. Some forgotten grape varieties, native to Mallorca, were rediscovered and appreciated for their unique characteristics and flavours.
Many of the smaller vineyards would rather their wine was known as Vino de Mallorca. We may well find that in a few years time all wine from Mallorca will be sold under the Denominación de Origen Vino de Mallorca. It would probably make sense, too.
One of the more important annual Mallorcan wine gatherings is held in Pollença, the Fira del vi (Pollença Wine Fair). This event takes place every year in April in the Cloister of the Santo Domingo Convent, an historic venue in front of the Joan March gardens, where cultural activities are organized throughout the year such as the Festival de Pollença. This fair with wines from all four Balearic Islands is a must for wine lovers. The Fira del vi usually presents an excellent opportunity to learn about, taste and compare the best of our islands’ wines, including the first ones from last year.
In the old days, grapes were pressed by stomping or foot treading. For hundreds, possibly thousands of years, it was men and women who performed the harvest dance in barrels and presses, stomping or treading grapes into what is commonly referred to as must (unfermented grape juice). Grape treading is an ancient method already used by the Romans and the Greeks in their respective ancient empires and has since been practiced by the French, the Italians, the Portuguese and the Spanish, as well as here in Mallorca and elsewhere on the Iberian peninsula. The human foot is considered to be far more gentle than any form of mechanical grape pressing. Although there are now automated alternatives, grapes for the highest quality wines are still routinely pressed by the foot, which still results in the best juice and colour extraction.
Nowadays, wine in Mallorca and elsewhere is produced by modern means and technologies; no foot treading is done any longer in the wine making process. Except, in Binissalem during its annual Festa des Vermar, the wine harvest festival (September 14th – 23rd). As part of that festival, the Concurs de Trepitjar Raïm (the grape treading competition) will be held. The competition is held in two age groups, one of 12 to 16 years, and one of adults over 16 years. Last year, the winning team of the youngsters’ group extracted 2.3 litres of must out of 24 kg of grapes during a five minutes challenge, whereas the winning team of adults managed to obtain a hefty 10.4 litres of grape juice out of 50 kg of grapes. The proceedings are usually a lot of fun to watch. You can download the festival programme of activities from the townhall website, a bit nearer to the time.