"The wines of the Balearic Islands can definitely be compared to the best wines of Italy".
The history of wine in Mallorca dates back to ancient times. The Romans are believed to have introduced viticulture to the island, and there is archaeological evidence that wine has been produced on Mallorca for at least 2,000 years.
For example, the Roman naturalist and historian Cayo Plinio the Elder wrote in his works on Nature & History "the wines of the Balearic Islands are quite comparable to the best wines of Italy".
During the almost five centuries of Arab rule from the 8th to the 12th century, viticulture only lasted because dried grapes were an extremely popular foodstuff due to their long shelf life.
In 1229, Jaime I (1213-1276) conquered the islands and later founded his own kingdom of Aragón (which also included the French Roussillon and Spanish Catalonia), which lasted until 1343. Wine production on Mallorca was given a new lease of life. The nobility and the clergy owned their own cellars. The high quality of the island's wine can be judged from the fact that Mallorcan winegrowers became suppliers to the Aragonese and Castilian royal courts in the following century. It is true that not all sources report only good things about wines of that time: some are said to have rather etched holes in the tables.
In any case, wine cultivation remained an economic factor in the centuries that followed. Many people found work in the vineyards. Different varieties were cultivated, including Manto Negro and Callet, which can still be found on the island today.
The town of Binissalem became the centre of wine growing in Mallorca in the 14th century, and special wine barrels were even made to export the wine by sea. During this period, Mallorcan winegrowers exported their wine to other countries such as France and Italy.
At the beginning of the 19th century, it is said that 335,000 hectolitres were produced annually. (Today, the island's production reaches about 40,000 hectolitres of wine per year. - Status: 2014)
After Philoxera - introduced from North America in the middle of the 19th century - ruined the French vineyards in a short time, the French were first forced to import large quantities of wine. Then the little phylloxera also destroyed the vines in Portugal, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Suddenly, all of Europe wanted Mallorcan wine. This boom phase began in 1865 and peaked in 1891 with exports of 500,000 hectolitres.
The demand was almost too great for production. Ultimately, the quality suffered. Finally, the plague of Rioja reached the sunny island in 1891. Within a few years, island winegrowers who had quickly become wealthy were once again faced with extinction. Winegrowing on the Mediterranean island was slow to recover from this catastrophe. The First World War and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s brought further setbacks.
In the 60s, things finally started to look up again. With the tourists, demand and production increased. However, these 60s wines were mostly of inferior quality and were considered 'skull crushers'. In fact, many of these wines for hardy people with a penchant for daring came from the mainland, as Mallorcan production was no longer sufficient for the tourists' thirst for wine. But the bad reputation remained. Of course, this chapter is already history.
Parallel to the increased demands of mass tourism and the growing number of individual tourists, young, independent winegrowers recalled the centuries-old tradition of winegrowing. These years saw a general return to old customs and a search for cultural identity.
In Porreres, French grape varieties such as Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon began to be cultivated in the 1980s. The first Mallorcan sparkling wine was also created here, which the Mallorcans, unimpressed by the French original, call 'champàn'. Binissalem and Pla i Llevant were the first wine-growing areas on the Balearic Islands to bear the Denominación de Origen, abbreviated to D.O., the designation of controlled origin for Spanish quality wines. And some of the island's white wines are among the best Spain has to offer.
Many new wines from Mallorca are very individual in their style. Some young winemakers are experimenting and do not want to impose any restrictions on themselves. Therefore, these wines do not carry the quality designation D.O. Binissalem or D.O. Pla i Llevant, but are served as table wines, which does not mean inferior quality, but rather innovation.
At present, the wine industry in Mallorca has around 100 bodegas and wine-producing companies. These - mainly small to medium-sized businesses - usually do not have enough acreage themselves to cover their production. Consequently, they also buy the grapes from local winegrowers, of whom there are currently around 200 on the island. These include the large producers as well as the small ones who grow vines on their finca.
This is by no means the end of the history of wine on Mallorca, but only the beginning of a new chapter...
Come with us on one of our wine tours and learn more about Mallorca, its wines and the people behind them!
Picture left: local grape variety Callet (Photo: MCT)
Picture right: Bote mallorquin (Photo:MCT)