Mallorca's wine industry has been experiencing a revolution, as noted by Jancis Robinson, a prestigious wine journalist. The revolution Jancis stumbled upon has been brewing for some time. But what did she discover that was so interesting, and why did she call it a revolution?
Mallorca has seen significant growth in the wine industry over the past few years, thanks to the rise in exports, tourists consuming wine while on holiday, and an increase in the number of wineries opening.
Jancis Robinson focused on a few local wineries that have dedicated their efforts to preserving indigenous grapes, including Callet and Mantonegro.
However, there are many other recently approved grapes for winemaking, adding to Mallorca's diversity in the world of viticulture. This provides a new playing field for vine growers and winemakers to experiment with new wines and flavours.
Some established grape varieties, such as Giró Ros and Gorgollassa, are proof of this venture's success. Similarly, Escursac has been consistently rumbling in people's ears.
Other more recent examples include Mances de Tibu, Callet Negrella, Giró Negre, and Esperó de Gall. However, these grape varieties almost became extinct, as they were challenging to handle. They consequently fell out of favour and were replaced with grape varieties that produced quantity over quality.
Thanks to a few enthusiasts and the Conselleria de Agricultura's tireless team, these grape varieties are not lost, and the process of authorising new wine grapes is in progress.
I was invited to a tasting of Mallorcan wines made with varieties that are in the process of being approved so that they are fit for winemaking. This was later followed up by a visit to the experimental vineyard located in the surroundings of the Conselleria building. During this visit, I was amazed to learn about the process that occurs behind the scenes to ensure one of these varieties is fit for your table in liquid form. It takes no less than 10 years of going back and forth between local administration, the mainland, and European counterparts.
The process involves DNA testing, planting, protecting, recording, sampling, and producing. All of these processes are carried out under the watchful eye of the European Union to ensure that grapes accepted here are not identical to grapes that already exist elsewhere in Europe, such as Croatia, Greece, or Germany.
At first glance, the experimental vineyard doesn’t look like much. There are eight to ten rows of vines in groups of five plants of the same variety. However, my visit during late November emphasised the differences in the size, vigour, and colour of the leaves.
It was remarkable to see. The leaves on some Escursac vines were still green, but on the Callet Negrella vines, the leaves had turned brown, and I could sample some of the remaining grapes. Surprisingly they still tasted fresh and had a vivid acidity. As many as twenty different grape varieties are planted on this small patch of Call Vermell soil. One particular vine caught my eye due to the unusual shape of its leaves. The leaves were given the unfortunate name of ‘rat’s foot’ (see photo below).
The process of authorising new wine grapes is so complex that some of the varieties will never be picked, and consequently, we’ll never hear their names or try the wines. So the experimental vineyard in Palma is of great importance, not only for studying a particular grape variety and how it adapts but to preserve it and ensure it is never lost.
After seeing the vines at the Conselleria, I was taken to a structure resembling a greenhouse, or, to be more specific a polytunnel within a polytunnel. Upon entering through a double door, I found myself in an area where new vines are grown and then prepared for sending to Madrid. In Madrid, these vines undergo rigorous inspection because the authorities demand that the specimens be virus free before their arrival. This task is tough in Mallorca because of the heat and humidity on the island, as well as other factors that make Mallorca a cosy destination for plant viruses and other microorganisms. In this polytunnel construction, the plants are protected from the Mallorcan environment and covered with a special netting to ensure no contamination can attack them. When the specimens are clean and healthy, they go through the final stages before approval.
This intense process wouldn't be possible without the help of people who made sure the vines were looked after, preserved, and then experimented with new wines to cope with the demand for new flavours and culinary ventures. Next time you buy a bottle of wine, be curious about what Mallorca has to offer and open your taste buds to all the new flavours that will eventually come your way.