Tenerife, known internationally as the “island of eternal spring”, is the largest and most populous of the Canary Islands with an area of 2,032km2.The island is also home to various wine making regions, including the DO Abona. The wines here are defined by the character of the native Listán variety, as well as the legendary sweet Malvasía Canaria wine, the true rediscovery of the region in recent years.
The island of Santa Cruz de Tenerife forms part of the Canary Islands, situated in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Africa, close to the coast of southern Morocco and the Sahara, and forms one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain.
The history of viticulture in the region dates back to the fifteenth century, when settlers planted the first vines with the aim of producing a local supply rather than importing wines from outside the island. These settlers, from various backgrounds, brought the best strains of their respective regions and countries and planted on the land granted to them.
During the middle of the 18th Century, partially due to policy adopted by England during the war with Spain, the Malvasía Canario wines began to see a slight crisis, with a dramatic drop in prices and profits. However, local viticulture saw further decline due to a huge outbreak of powdery and downy mildew. These serious setbacks were not helped by the boost in the cultivation of bananas in coastal areas of the island.
The modern history of viticulture on the island began in the ´50’s, when the Cooperative Fasnia launched a winery and began to bottle its own wines, although it closed after a few years due to technical difficulties.
Years later, in 1988, the Cooperative of San Miguel created a new winery, becoming the first winery with production technology. Although it was in 1990 when the Cooperative Cumbres de Abona was formed, a pioneer in wine development in the region, as its regional character made it the most important winery of the region and one of the most prominent of the island in regards to the number of partners and production. It was this jump in quality that lead to the official recognition of the DO Abona in 1996, the newest of the five DO’s on the island of Tenerife.
The DO Abona is located on the southern side of the island of Tenerife, extending over the hills that descend from the Mount Teide massif towards the coast. The DO is currently home to 1,200 hectares of vineyards, around 1200 winegrowers and 14 wineries. The vineyards are spread over seven different municipalities and extends over a range of altitudes between 350 and 600 metres with some reaching as high as 1,700 metres, perhaps the some of the highest vineyards in Europe. Many of the vineyards lie of large terraced slopes, which makes cultivation very difficult, but the revival of old methods is now demonstrating the value of the new generation of vintners.
Until now the transformation of the region has been slow and costly, with the suitability of varieties and wines seeming to never arrive to the island, perhaps for being just so far from the innovations that occurred on the peninsula. However, in recent years a positive contagion of the peninsular wineries came to the island with force, and despite adverse weather conditions, modern oenology is now a reality in Abona. However it should be noted that given its distance from the mainland, the island was not affected by the outbreak of phylloxera and the vines are planted their original pre-phylloxera rootstock, which is reflected in the purity of the wines without the influence of a rootstock. If we consider that the majority of the vineyards were introduced from Europe in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, before the phylloxera swept vineyards, we can see that they are preserved with a high degree of purity.
Climates Soils and Varieties.
The region is home to a dry and sunny climate, although its orientation can be effected by the Trade winds, especially in the higher areas. Overall the D.O. Abona experiences a mild Mediterranean climate, with extraordinarily healthy conditions, allowing for cultivation of vineyards where pesticide treatments are practically not necessary. Rainfall is scarce, with around 350mm per year in coastal areas to 550 in higher areas. For this reason, farmers in the region understand the importance of water and preserving it, developing systems to make better use of it, such as the use of volcanic sand, known as "jable", as a padding, which not only prevents the growth of weeds, but also retains water of night showers, like a sponge.
The soils on which the vineyards grow are divided into two main groups: in the midlands the terrain is dominated by "jable", a kind of volcanic ash rich in puzolanas, which result in the areas characteristic white colour covered by the green of the vineyards. The levels of organic matter are normally low so that the contributions are more frequent in a zone where only the goat breeding is of great importance.
In the highlands the type of soil that dominates is the more or less clay loam, with good content in organic matter and good drainage due to the volcanic conditions of the area. These lands of greater natural fertility do not give high yields because the altitude affects vegetation and production. Let us remember that the vineyards are situated at altitudes higher thatn 1000m.
The red grape varieties grown in the DO Abona include the Listán Negro, Moscatel Negro, Negramoll, Bastardo Negro, Malvasía Rosada, Tintilla, Vijariego Negro, Tintilla, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Ruby Cabernet, Syrah, Tempranillo and Castellana Negra. In regards to white varieties, vineyards in the region cultivate the Listán Blanco, Bermejuela, Gual, Malvasía, Moscatel, Verdello, Bastardo Blanco, Forastera Blanca, Pedro Ximenez, Sabro, Torrontés and Vijariego Blanco varieties. White varieties account for over 60% of the vineyards, with 40% corresponding to red varieties, located on higher grounds, with high clay content in the soils.
The Listán Blanco is the most cultivated variety in the region. Nevertheless over recent years the DO Abona has seen the reintroduction of traditional varieties that have been growing in the Canaries since the sixteenth century, which gave way to excellent wines, and although after the debacle of trade were gradually disappearing, they remained on the island of La Palma, El Hierro and in the region of Anaga in Tenerife. These native varieties include the Gual, Verdello, Sabro, Bermejuelo, etc., although the star of the show much by the Malvasía grape, the real discovery in the region, as it has adapted so perfectly to the soil and climate conditions of the region, offering great opportunities for winemaking, for natural sweet, semisecos, semidulces or fermented in oak barrels. Red varieties represent around 40% of the vineyards, 10% of which are the Listán Negro and Negramoll varieties, with other varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Ruby Cabernet, Castellana, Vijariego Black, Black and Tintilla Baboso.
Wines and Wineries.
Three of the wineries in the DO Abona are cooperative societies, while the rest are privately owned medium sized wineries managed by their owners. Modern technology has been implemented in all of the wineries, with cutting edge systems of productions, stabilization and bottling for the production of Abona wines. Stainless steel tanks, modern membrane presses, roller crushers, rotary filters, automatic temperature control systems for fermentation, and modern bottling groups are some of the elements that wineries in the DO Abona have implemented.
Bodegas Frontos. This winery has been built in a 540,000m2 rural property, in a reconverted old family farm where tradition is combined with modern winemaking technology. The winery has been built and developed following the criteria and understanding the importance of environmental conservation, sustainable development, respect for cultural diversity and responsible tourism strategies. Between 1998 and2003, the project which gave rise to Frontos was designed, the vineyards were restructured, recovered and replanted the best indigenous varietals, driving techniques and new crops were introduced and a new winery was built with modern technology. Under the Frontos brand, a wide range and variety of wines are made: an organic dry white wine, an organic fruity white wine made with Listán Blanco, a mutivarietal classic white wine, and we white Classic Selection with barrel aging. It also develops an intense rosé, single varietal red wine made with the Baboso Negro gape, and a Tinta Tierra multivarietal.
Cumbes de Abona. This is an example of a modern cooperative. The cooperative was founded in 1989 as the result of a gradual deterioration suffered by the wine sector in the southern region of the island. It is currently composed of 720 partner vineyard owners. The cooperative produces a complete collection of wines under the families and labels Testamento, Flor de Chasna and Cumbres de Abona.