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. It is 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, Malvasía Canario wines started to slip into crisis, with a dramatic drop in prices and profits. Local viticulture saw further decline due to a huge outbreak of powdery and downy mildew, which was a disaster for vine cultivation. These serious setbacks were not helped by the boost in the cultivation of bananas in coastal areas of the island.
Nevertheless, modern history of viticulture on the island began in the 50s, when the Cooperativa de 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 Cooperativa de San Miguel created a new winery, becoming the first winery with production technology. Although the Cooperativa Cumbres de Abona was formed in 1990, which was a pioneer in wine development in the region, as its regional character made it the most important winery in the region and one of the most prominent on the island in regards to the number of partners and production. This jump in quality led to the official recognition of the DO Abona in 1996, the newest of the five DOs on the island of Tenerife. It also contributed to development in the sector, creating 15 more wineries and various other projects during this period, all under the support of the DO.
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 1200 hectares of vineyards, around 1200 winegrowers and 14 wineries. The vineyards are spread over seven different municipalities and extend 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 on steep 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, and it seemed as though suitable varieties and wines would never arrive on the island, perhaps because it was so far from the innovations occurring 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. In addition, 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 directly from shoots and with their original pre-phylloxera rootstock, which is what makes these vineyards unique. This brings great physiological and oenological advantages, which is reflected in the purity of the wines without the influence of rootstock. If we consider that the majority of the vines were introduced from Europe in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, before phylloxera devastated vineyards, we can see that they have been preserved with a high degree of purity.
Climates Soils and Varieties.
The region is home to a dry and sunny climate, although its orientation means it can be affected by trade winds, especially in 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 unnecessary. Rainfall is scarce, with around 350mm per year in coastal areas and 550mm in higher areas. For this reason, farmers in the region understand the importance of water preservation, 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 from night showers like a sponge.
The soils on which the vineyards grow are divided into two main groups: at medium altitudes (‘medianías’) the terrain is dominated by "jable", a kind of volcanic ash rich in pozzolana, which results in the area’s characteristic white colour covered by the green of the vineyards. The levels of organic matter are normally low, and therefore the contributions are more frequent in a zone where only goat breeding is of great importance.
In the highlands, the dominating soil type is more or less clay loam, with a good content of organic matter and good drainage due to the volcanic conditions in the area. These more naturally fertile lands do not produce high yields because the altitude affects vegetation and production.
The red grape varieties grown in the DO Abona include Listán Negro, Moscatel Negro, Negramoll, Bastardo Negro, Malvasía Rosada, Tintilla, Vijariego Negro, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Ruby Cabernet, Syrah, Tempranillo and Castellana Negra.
Regarding white varieties, vineyards in the region cultivate Listán Blanco, Bermejuela, Gual, Malvasía, Moscatel, Verdello, Bastardo Blanco, Forastera Blanca, Pedro Ximenez, Sabro, Torrontés and Vijariego Blanco. White varieties account for over 60% of the vineyards, with 40% corresponding to red varieties, located on higher grounds, with higher 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 cultivated in the Canaries since the sixteenth century and produce excellent wines, and although they were gradually disappearing after their trade debacle, they remained on the island of La Palma, El Hierro and in the region of Anaga in Tenerife. These native varieties, such as Gual, Verdello, Sabro, Bermejuelo, etc., are being reproduced beautifully, although the Malvasía stands out as the real discovery in the region, as it has adapted so perfectly to the soil and climate conditions of the region. It offers magnificent winemaking opportunities for naturally sweet wines, as well as semisecos, semidulces or wines fermented in oak barrels. Red varieties now represent around 40% of the vineyards, compared to only 10% when only the Listán Negro and Negramoll varieties were planted. Improved strains of varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Ruby Cabernet, Castellana, Vijariego Negro, Baboso Negro and Tintilla have since been planted in the region.
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 production, stabilization and bottling systems 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 has been built in a 540,000m2 rural property, in a reconverted old family farm over 50 years old, where tradition is combined with modern winemaking technology. The winery has been built and developed following the criteria and understanding of the importance of environmental conservation, sustainable development, respect for cultural diversity and responsible tourism strategies. Between 1998 and 2003, the project which gave rise to Frontos was designed, the vineyards were restructured, restored and replanted with the best indigenous varieties; piping 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: Blanco Seco Ecológico, Blanco Afrutado Ecólogico made with Listán Blanco, Blanco Clásico multivarietal and Blanco Clásico Selección with barrel ageing. The winery also produces a Rosado Intenso, the Tinto Clásico monovarietal made with the Baboso Negro gape, and a Tinta Tierra multivarietal.
Cumbes de Abona 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.