Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Snow In July: The Vermar Tradition

The president of the Binissalem Designation of Origin regulatory council said the other day that the grape harvest is expected to be 25% lower than last year. The quality, however, will be exceptional. Will, therefore, the grapes being hurled around at the town's sports centre this Saturday lunchtime be of sufficient hurling quality? Maybe they are the low quality ones. Grapes that can afford be hurled. Let's hope so. If the harvest is a quarter lower, the last thing you can do with is a good grape or many being chucked about in joyous grape battle abandon. Grape battles are, in theory and probably in practice, not ideal for wine production.

At least when it comes to the grape-treading competition, you would suppose that some productive use could be made of all the stamping in barrels that will occur in the Plaça Església on Sunday. The purpose of the competition is, after all, the pursuit of the most juice. Or maybe they just leave it and drink it as grape juice.

The Vermar is one of Mallorca's prestige fiesta and fair occasions. The actual wine fair can seem almost secondary to all that proceeds it: the battle and the competitions. But without wine there would of course be no Vermar fiestas, no celebration of the grape harvest, no place for Binissalem right at the centre of the Mallorcan wine map.

These are fiestas that created tradition where tradition didn't exist. The "vermadores" and the "vermadors", the harvest maidens and the harvest young masters, were inventions of tradition once the Vermar emerged from the confines of an essentially private wine buffs event at Can Gelabert. These young people, granted roles of honour for the fiesta, will preside over the offer of the grape must - "most novell". Maybe this is a productive side to the grape-treading competition. The offer, with due ceremony, is made to Santa Maria de Robines, Our Lady of Robines, and also the parish church. Robines was the old name of the centre of power, a farmstead along with two others, one of which from Muslim times was Beni Salam.

Prior to this offer of the grape must there is a solemn mass, but the Vermar has never really been a religious fiesta. As with its acquired traditions, such as the vermadores and vermadors and even the grape battle, any religion was grafted onto that private function of 1965, one organised by the writer Llorenç Moyà. He, Moyà, was characteristic of the way in which men of culture (they were normally men) helped to shape traditions, fiestas and festivals. Other prime examples are Alexandre Ballester in Sa Pobla (even though he was originally from Inca), who was active with the demons' culture, or Miquel Bota Totxo, who was instrumental in the founding of the Pollensa Music Festival.

The centenary of Moyà's birth was recognised in Binissalem last year. Although accepted as one of the greats of Mallorca's literature in the twentieth century, the recognition he received during his lifetime was not as great as it might have been. And after he died in 1981, that recognition lessened still. His "revival", though, is such that he was honoured last year and that a book about him has been published. It was presented on Monday at the Can Gelabert Casa de Cultura, the venue for that gathering which was to spawn the Vermar fiestas. The image for the fiestas programme features a black and white profile of Moyà and some grapes.

The Vermar, therefore, has become a tribute to one man. It is surely unique among fiestas in this regard. And the fiestas have developed into an occasion for the arts that provide even more recognition of Moyà's contribution. Among this artistic endeavour is a glosador "combat". Typical of many a fiesta, the glosador verses have taken on a greater poetic depth at Binissalem. The first prize last year was for verses which referred to "one evening in July when it was on the point of snowing, a puput (hoopoe bird) walked to harvest with an owl and a camel dressed in fine silks". It went on to mention flies that carried on their wings the vines from Biniagual (a part of Binissalem) and a fool who looked at prices for going to Jerusalem because there was a bull from Bethlehem half sick from phylloxera with wine from Binissalem.

The phylloxera was the pest that devastated the vines in the late nineteenth century, a natural disaster still firmly embedded in the popular collective memory. It was one from which Binissalem was to eventually recover. And in 1965, Llorenç Moyà laid the foundations for the firm re-establishment of Binissalem at the heart of the island's wine trade. The Vermar fiestas rightly recognise and honour Llorenç Moyà.

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