Winyards and wine production on Mallorca

Vine cultivation probably came to Mallorca with the Roman conquest of 123 ad. The activity is documented during the Moorish occupation (903-1229), however, it was unlikely to have been important, as the grapes were not used for wine production, although raisins were an important part of the Muslim diet.

With the Catalan conquest of 1229, vine cultivation increased extraordinarily and vineyards for the production of wine started appearing. The new agricultural orientation that the conquerors instigated was probably based largely around vineyards and olive cultivation. Vine cultivation became a type of colonial monoculture, or at least that was the intention, and vineyards consequently spread throughout practically the whole island. In the majority of homes there was a bodega, even in small houses. In the fifteenth century a plague came down on Mallorcan vineyards and led to a decline in this cultivation, with it ultimately disappearing in many places.

Vine cultivation spread during the eighteenth century and the first third of the nineteenth. This expansion was helped along by the fact that in 1802 a tax exemption of twenty years was granted to those who cultivated vines. Production suffered mixed fortunes due to plagues until the end of the nineteenth century, at the same time there was also an enormous increase in demand from France. Phylloxera had destroyed French vine plantations, and in 1882 a contract was signed between France and Spain which favoured the export of Spanish wines. In Mallorca, vineyards grew up on land that had either been previously used for subsistence crops such as cereals and vegetables, or was uncultivated. This expansion was speculative, and more importance was given to quantity than quality. In 1891, there were more vineyards than ever, with 30,000 hectares of land given over to this activity; it is thought that the rise of the vineyard was one of the causes in the rise of small-scale land ownership as well. However, in the same year, 1891, the appearance of the phylloxera plague brought about the demise of all the vineyards on the island, and caused a serious economic crisis. Many peasants, day labourers and small land owners had to emigrate, the majority going to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Algeria. The solution to the phylloxera was to replant the vineyards with American vines, however, different cultivations, especially cereals and almonds, were planted in many areas. Phylloxera highlighted the lack of prevision of a sector that wasn´t prepared for competition on the world market, and on top of this, France imposed tariffs that restricted Mallorcan exports in 1892.

Vine cultivation recovered in the twentieth century, especially in Felanitx, and the creation of the Oenology Station has spread more scientific cultivation techniques. Production was more or less stable over the course of the twentieth century until the 1980s, when this sector found itself in a crisis that had been brought on at a general level the decadence of Mallorcan agriculture, or to be more specific, by the low profitability of the sector and the competitiveness of the market. Other handicaps were the excessive parcelling of land and the high number of vines per hectare, which made mechanisation difficult, and subsidies from the EU in return for abandoning this cultivation, which led to the destruction of 1000 hectares of vineyards between 1985 and 1996.

Wine is currently going through a revival. This has come about due to the development of quality wines that fetch good prices owing to their limited production runs and a strong internal demand from the tourist sector. There are two regulatory boards for wines in Mallorca, with two appellations d´origine: Denominación de origen de Binissalem and Denominación del Pla i Llevant de Mallorca.