Alongside one of his carefully tended vineyards (which cover five-and-a-half hectares), Thomas Wambsganss points out an apparently unremarkable large rock. But when he sprinkles a handful of earth over its surface, a face – chiselled into the stone more than 3,000 years ago – is gradually revealed. This primitive image is Bodega Mandia Vell’s distinctive logo.
The estate itself has enormous historic interest: dating from 1263, Mandia Vell was one of Mallorca’s first three ‘fincas’ – a gift to one of King Jaime I of Aragon’s top soldiers, after the island was recovered from the Moors. Located a few kilometres from Manacor, the estate once stretched to the east coast’s Cala Mandia. The estate buildings include an old Arabic hospital and Roman chapel.
“The quality of the previous Bodega Mandia Vell wines was already good, and now I add my own signature and experience: Actionism in the vinyard, ” Thomas says. Quality begins in the organic vineyard, where he works around 70 per cent biodynamically. Important tasks include reducing the number of grapes and leaves on the vines to result in higher-quality grapes. His sheep provide natural soil fertilizer. Land preparation included removing more than ten thousand tons of rocks from just two hectares.
His German-style wines are fresh, fruity and low in alcohol “so you can easily enjoy a second or third glass on your terrace in the summer.” Thomas is a fourth-generation winemaker but, whilst his two brothers went into the family business, his love of wood led him initially to carpentry training. When his brothers left the winery, Thomas swapped woodworking for winemaking: “Making furniture is art, and so is producing wine.”
He moved to Mallorca in 2004 as manager and oenologist at Can Vidalet, then spent around 10 years at Castell Miquel. At Mandia Vell, he cultivates Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Pinot Noir – but the native Callet and Mantonegro varieties previously grown here have gone: “If I can’t make a 100-per-cent-clear wine that I like, the variety is not for me.” To those stating they can drink a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, America, or Germany, he says: “True. But this is a Mallorcan Sauvignon Blanc…it’s local, it’s the terroir. The wine is the mirror of the land.” With the assistance of a young Mallorcan he’s training and helpers at harvest-time, Thomas does everything himself. “When you buy my wine, you’re buying me too,” he says.
He uses French oak barrels only – disliking the vanilla aromas from the cheaper American oak – and buys only from producers who plant trees. “Working with nature is now the most important thing we have to do,” he says. He has recorded weather data over the years, showing that Mallorca now has less rain and is hotter. “The biggest problem we face is the bacterium ‘xylella fastidiosa’. It’s not in the vines here but has destroyed a lot in America.”
The distinctive new Mandia Vell bottles are Thomas’s most visible change: “They are made of stone lined with glass, take less energy to produce than glass bottles, and wine quality is 100-per-cent secured.” With no light passing through the 5mm thick bottle, there’s no wine deterioration and the temperature remains consistent.
Thomas was the first person in a small German bodega to use screw-caps (in 1999); at Castell Miquel he used glass stoppers: “My philosophy is that a good wine doesn’t need a cork.” He mentions a new type of natural ‘cork’ made from sugar cane, which can be eaten afterwards. A future change perhaps?
Visits to Bodega Mandia Vell are by appointment only, for a minimum of ten people. They include his tour of the vineyard and cellar, wine tastings and snack (including Thomas’s home-made spicy sobrassada). And, for sure, he’ll sprinkle earth on that ancient rock…
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When it comes to Mallorcan wine, there is now a huge amount of variety and choice, so choosing one can be a very difficult and almost overwhelming task. […] Mallorcan Wine