By Javier Martín
Easter Island, Chile, Nov 22 (EFE).- In 1866, French priests Kaspar Zumbohm and Theodore Escolan landed on Easter Island carrying a variety of flowers and plants to broaden the first mission to the island, which had been established months earlier by the navigator and slave trader, Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier.
Among those plants were different types of European grapevines, which were initially brought to the island for use in sacramental wines. But they were never harvested and were left to the wild, forgotten in the lush volcanic gardens that separate the thousands of caves that dot the remote island.
That all changed in 2008, when José Mingo, a businessman specialized in wine with years of experience in Chile’s best vineyards, saw them peeking out from the craters, next to a row of collapsed Moais – the famous monolithic human figures that were carved by the local Rapa Nui people.
The discovery sparked a dream that a decade later has become a reality: Manutahi, the first wine to be grown, harvested and bottled on the Polynesian island.
“That was the beginning of this great dream of making wine in Rapa Nui,” Mingo tells Efe in an interview.
His partner, agriculturalist José Tuki, made the project possible by providing ancestral secrets of a land that is rich in minerals, has scarce water and very humid winds.
“(The project) was born with two ideas: the first, to make the first wine on the island with the agricultural management of the Rapa Nui; and the second, to produce a wine for the Rapa Nui, for the people, so that it later expands to the rest of the communities as a sustainable agricultural alternative,” Mingo explains.
Obsessed by the idea, the two men began the journey: Mingo sent samples of the vines taken by the missionaries to the University of Tenerife, so that its genetic material could be studied.
Tuki, on the other hand, prepared a space in his small plot of land to place the rows of single stakes for the vine buds to grow without wire to connect them, a time honored technique.
He also created a system to collect rainwater in tanks, introduced drip irrigation — a novelty on the drought-prone island — and relied on using seaweed that grows on the Pacific coast as a substrate.
The experiment will yield results for the first time this year, because as Mingo explains, last year they had “a very difficult harvest because of the pandemic. In addition, a large part of the clusters were eaten by Polynesian chickens, (it was) something they had never seen before.”
This year they expect to collect roughly 250 kilograms of different varieties of grapes and to produce with them 250 bottles of Manutahi, which means “the first bird” in Rapanuis.
“We want to see which variety is doing best to obtain wines of an acceptable level, and then improve as the plants mature,” says Mingo.
The soil they use to grow the vines is free of pesticides and other chemicals. “I noticed that the golden soil below this black one was the one that retained much more humidity,” explains Toki.
“My ancestors hope that future generations contribute to this island. I believe this is making history,” he added. EFE