It's fair to say that the new generation of wine producers on the Ballearic's largest island, Mallorca, is making an impact, much like the name of Ca'n Verdura's flagship cuvée Supernova implies.
With over fourteen million tourists visiting Mallorca each year, in recent times, the island was indeed in danger of losing its unique cultural heritage and rich trove of indigenous grape varieties to international grapes planted in neat rows at wineries designed as vanity projects. The cost of vineyard land has soared with luxury vacation homes replacing old vineyards and without regard for the region's unique cultural tradition of planting vines in polyculture. Such is the price of living in paradise where the story is similar to other islands across the Mediterranean, who struggle with the mixed-blessings of balancing international success with the retention of the cultural traditions which created the demand in the first place.
However, all is not lost. The seeds of Mallorca's rebirth lie within the new generation of winemakers, farmers, and chefs who are diligently cataloging, recuperating, replanting, and exalting the thousands of years of history pre-dating the boon of modern tourism. Like a Supernova, the modern wine and culinary scene of Mallorca are rapidly reviving and celebrating local, ecologically sustainable food and wine production, which is both culturally relevant and gastronomically compelling. Starting with modest budgets and against the odds, our protagonists are now leading the conversation about the future of conservation and agriculture on the island.
Enter Tomeu Llabrés, his self-described viticultura en miniatura, and his visionary work with the indigenous mantonegro grape at his micro-winery, Ca'n Verdura Viticultores, which he founded in a former auto garage in 2012 in the Binissalem denomination, located in the north-central portion of Mallorca. Through a steadfast focus on the mantonegro grape, Tomeu has demonstrated this ancient variety has incredible potential, creating some of the most ground-breaking wines of the Balearic region. In recent tastings, the mantonegro grape has drawn flavor comparisons to another island grape native to Italy, the nerello mascalese. Placing indigenous grapes in context can be tricky. Still, there certainly seems to be a similar renaissance of native varieties in Mallorca, and one can draw comparisons to those occurring in Sicily.
Tomeu and Ca'n Verdura's ancestral origins can be traced back at least six generations, where they were cultivating Binissalem vineyards between "possessions" (large agricultural farms), in traditional vineyards of mixed agriculture where grapes share space with other traditional crops such as apricot, almond and olive trees. This is the type of polyculture that is traditional to Mallorca, and a type of agriculture favored by Tomeu.
Following this tradition, Ca'n Verdura focuses on old-vine vineyards planted in the traditional en vaso (or goblet) vine training system, with reliance on the indigenous mantonegro and callet for red wines and moll (prensal blanc) for the white wines of Binissalem. Like other small projects on the island, international varieties are relied upon in small quantities for practical reasons in entry-level blends. Still, the future of plantings is clearly indigenous varieties. The soil of Binissalem is cal vermell, red clay soil with limestone, and small to medium-sized gallets.
Tomeu obtained his oenology degree in Tarragona and later gained valuable practical experience under Alvaro Palacios in Priorat, as well as when he returned to the island working with bigger house names like 4 Kilos, Anima Negra and Son Campaner, working on the ideas at night which would someday become Ca'n Verdura.
The namesake Ca'n Verdura red is a vibrant entry into the range and a love-letter to the Mallorcan landscape. A blend of around 70% of mantonegro with callet, monastrell, and filled out by whatever is best each year, in this vintage, old vine cabernet. The impression is a Mediterranean thrill ride, crushable and friendly.
The flagship Supernova white is made from his best moll (Binissalem prensal blanc), while his Supernova rosé and negre are selected from his best plots of mantonegro grapes. Mantonegro is selected from vineyards from the five villages of Binissalem, with a focus on the village of Santa Maria, in particular, which are considered the finest vineyards in the area. Production is necessarily very limited, as every bottle in this garage winery is sold each vintage.
Ca'n Xicatlà is a very limited production white wine (or sometimes orange, depending on vintage) coming from very old plants in the Santa Eugenia where you find the rare mutation of the mantonegro grape called mantonegro cabellos, which gives red, white and pink grapes on the same plant, from vines planted in the 1950s. Equally rare is a micro-selection of very old mantonegro from a special parcel from the Santa Maria village he bottles only when the vintage demands, called Son Agulló. Both are rare unicorns for the lucky few, artistic expressions of the technicolor possibilities of the future Mallorca.
Every parcel is hand-picked and fermented separately, then blended later. Only indigenous yeasts are used, and his vineyards are worked without the use of chemical treatments. A key to practicing this type of agriculture is the Levante winds, which blow across Mallorca from northeast to southwest off the island of Minorca, cooling and aerating the vineyards, which are almost always windy.
Making Ca'n Verdura in an old garage in the center of the ancient Binissalem village, Tomeu has created a very nuanced, playful, cutting-edge project. Quick to crack a joke and with the English, he learned from Tony Soprano and a pop-culture sensibility which leans towards David Bowie, Tomeu is the rebel we needed from an island where it is easy just to fit in and tune out.