Monday, October 3

A wine from La Palma is aged for a year on ‘the route of the Indies’ and will help those affected by the volcano

During the 16th century, the Canarian ports were one of the last supply points for the ships that crossed the so-called maritime route from the Indies to America. The dock of Santa Cruz de La Palma, where the court of the Indies created by King Felipe II is also located, was one of the most common, and the crew made supplies. Wine was one of the products that was incorporated on board for the long voyages; specifically, Malvasia, a variety “that gladdens the senses and perfumes the blood”, in the words of William Shakespeare. It endured the journey in good condition and on the way back, if it was left over, it acquired exceptional characteristics. With this precedent, the Palmera Tendal winery shipped on December 15, 2020 a barrel of sweet white malvasia in the hold of the Tres Hombres ship, a brig of the Fairtransport cooperative, dedicated to the transport of organic and traditional goods with zero emissions between Europe and America. The shipment returned to the island a year later and the idea is to allocate the proceeds of its purchase to those affected by the volcano.

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“It is a way of aging wine that has existed for centuries, we are linking the history of 300 years today”, explains Constancio Ballesteros, who together with his wife Nancy Castro, both winemakers, founders of the Tendal winery in the municipality of Tijarafe 27 years. Both acknowledge that it is a somewhat “utopian” and “bohemian” project, but the González Byass winery has already carried out similar projects with Jerez wine on board the Juan Sebastián Elcano School Ship.

And on La Palma, in a medium-sized winery that sells around 80,000 bottles a year, the opportunity arose when they learned that the brig was landing on the island and was buying artisanal Palmero rum from the Aldea brand or salt from Teneguía. “It was an opportunity that should not be missed,” adds Ballesteros. It is such an exceptional project that when they returned to the port, they had to wait five days to collect the barrel because it lacked a tariff code. “It was neither export nor import. Neither purchase nor sale. The one from the customs agency, which is already 65 years old, has been battling for five days,” explains Castro, until obtaining “a new summary for the barrel, which is already registered. for other similar initiatives “.

They chose a sweet malvasia that is produced in Los Llanos Negros in Fuencaliente, near the San Antonio volcano because they considered it to be “the most favorable.” That area “has a mattress of ash that withstands humidity and a lot of heat, which makes it ripen differently, and being south, the heat from the soil gives a high alcohol content, which is why they are natural sweet wines.” And Castro y Ballesteros, with experience in maturing wine at the bottom of the sea since 2007 in bottles, saw the opportunity to obtain the so-called return malvasia. “We took advantage of the ship, which was going to Martinique, the Dominican Republic and all the islands of San Martin, from where they take rum, cocoa beans or coffee, which goes in the same winery and generates smells and nuances appropriate for wine in barrels. Then they come back, go up to Holland and go through the Azores, although they have also made transport from France to Denmark. ”

In addition, the brig passes “latitudes and longitudes that have different pressures throughout a year”, which also gives it different properties that, added to the salinity and the movement of the ship itself, have resulted in “an impressive wine, exceeding our expectations. “, indicates Castro, who does not hide his joy. After a year seeing the routes of the ship and generating expectations, they were able to taste the wine on December 21. “It’s phenomenal. It’s a genuine wine. The color just tells you,” says Ballesteros, showing a glass that has just been served directly from the barrel. “And the aroma too. It has gained a lot in a year,” he adds, as he has compared it with the same variety on land. With the barrel they hope to obtain around 250 bottles, although first it must go through the tasting committee of the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin of La Palma for its qualification and, in addition, they will ask specialized people to value the wine.

The idea of ​​auctioning the wine was linked to the project from its inception. “We were interested in the project, the results. We were thinking of donating a part to the Red Cross. But it was uncovered” (referring to the volcano) and they will allocate what is paid for the wine to those affected by the eruption. Due to the quality of the wine and the cost involved in producing it, with the type of grape or the payment to the ship, “the price will carry four digits” and “will be a grain of sand”. But they are still evaluating how to do it. In principle, they have planned to auction it because it can raise the price, but still “you have to think about it well,” says Ballesteros.

The Tendal winery, located in the northwest region of the island, in Tijarafe and Garafía, has not suffered from the inclemency of the volcano. In fact, the ash that has fallen on their crops “can be beneficial,” says Ballesteros. However, given that practically their production is sold on the Islands, they have lost customers located in affected areas. “In Las Manchas more ash has fallen and what was there has disappeared,” he says.

The hope of saving the 2022 crop buried under ash

“If the volcano stops completely, we are on time, but if it changes again we will not be able to work,” explains Federico Simón Rodríguez, winemaker at the Tamanca winery, which has 65% of its vineyards covered in ash and in areas evacuated by toxic gases, between Las Manchas and Jedey. “If it were a layer of 20 or 30 centimeters it is even good, but if it buries them it is a huge job,” he says, although for now he believes that the crops “are salvageable” because the vineyard does not need much water and the volcanic material provides advantages. , such as its ability to absorb moisture.

However, he acknowledges having gone “very little” to see these crops, because the concentration of gases in the area has impeded the passage and the main work is focused on the Tamanca restaurant, also located between Las Manchas and Jedey and where they sell 30 % of its production. “The restaurant helps us sell wine and wine helps us to give life to the restaurant,” explains Rodríguez, who adds that this crop is deeply rooted on the island.

In 1505 the conquerors planted the first vines on the island and, as in the whole of the Archipelago, it was the main crop until plagues caused it to be abandoned in the 19th century. In 1994 the Denomination of Origin La Palma was created, when abandoned vineyards began to be recovered and the production and commercialization of indigenous wine was promoted, made with old and rare varieties in the world, since some of the strains that are still grown in the Island were lost in almost the entire European continent during the so-called phylloxera crisis, a pest from America that ravaged the European vineyard at the end of the 19th century.

“Practically all the families on La Palma have had a vineyard or a small winery,” says Rodríguez. “Dad was the one who started the history of Tamanca. He started to make in grandfather’s winery. They were difficult years here and he emigrated to Venezuela in 1953, after the San Juan volcano; he made his savings and returned in ’59 and started with the wine”. And in 1995 he entered the Regulatory Council. “The first vintage we bottled was in ’96. And to date.”

Rodriguez says that in good years, they have been able to produce between 80,000 and 100,000 bottles, but in recent years, the drought has reduced harvests. In fact, the Regulatory Council indicates on its website that both the 2019 and 2020 vintages were harvested around 500,000 kilos approximately on La Palma, a low production figure only comparable to that of 2007.

But the volcano has also left unrecoverable crops by being buried under lava. Onésima Pérez, from the Vitega winery, explains that 10% of its production was in Todoque, where it also lived and had just planted 5,000 olive trees. “All that he took away.” Now he lives in Garafía, where the winery is located and has most of his crops. Despite the catastrophe, he was able to save the 2021 harvest for the most part, since “it was harvested before the volcano emerged.”

Pérez says that you still have to wait a few months until he starts to take out the first bottles. From the 2020 harvest, it reveals that practically everything is sold. He is left with Vijariego, which has been in barrel for about 14 months and Crianza, which keeps them aging for 24 months. In addition, it is also one of the few wineries that matures the wine in tea barrels, the same material from which the boxes are made that the palm trees forced to vacate their homes have taken with them as relics.

“It is a wine from the northwest region, which is not made in any other part of the island: in the towns of Garafía, Puntagorda and Tijarafe. The American or French oak tastes like wood, with the aroma of vanilla. The tea smells mint, eucalyptus, it has a touch of resin in the mouth. It is different from all the others. And we have been the first winery to bottle and certify tea wine on the island, “explains Pérez.

Like other wineries, Pérez relates that since his great-grandfather they make wine on the island, in small wineries. It is in 1995 when it begins to bottle and obtains the certification of appellation of origin. “Formerly all families had vineyards for their consumption. Vineyards have passed from generation to generation,” he adds. Pérez has always been in charge of Vitega, who on some weekends receives the help of his son, a winemaker, and her husband.

Work has not yet begun for next year’s harvest and he acknowledges that during the Christmas season he has been “a bit down”, but he will celebrate the holidays with his family in Garafía and “put that aside for a moment.” “That” is the volcano and Pérez wishes that the eruption is really over, but he believes that still “many days have to pass to say that it is gone. As long as we see it puffing up some smoke, one has fear and uncertainty for it to emerge again, “he concludes.