T HE History of the Island of Minorca” written by John Armstrong “Engineer in ordinary to His Majesty” and dedicated to Richard Offarrel, Brigadier and Colonel of the Infantry, was published in 1752. The book had been written as a series of letters by the professional engineer who went to spend time on Minorca between 1742 and 1752.

It is much more than just an informative and descriptive historic document. It is the eye-witness account of the social and agricultural history of Minorca during the time the island was under British rule.

In one of the letters of the book, the author says that the ordinary drink for the Minorcans was water but that a splash of wine towards the end of a meal turned it into a festive occasion. The text adds that during the grape harvest, people drank a small amount of “poor quality”wine whilst the remainder of the production was despatched to the British.

It then says that amongst the fruits which were grown on Minorca, the one which took pride of place was the grape - not just because such good wine was made from its juice, but also because grapes in their natural state were so much appreciated on household tables.

The text then goes on to say that grapes on Minorca traditionally began to ripen in July but that the harvest period went on to the end of October. Armstrong calculated that annually on the island nothing less than 154'000 quintals (one quintal being equivalent to about 46 kilogrammes), were produced.

The most productive areas in this respect on Minorca were Mahon, Mercadal and Ferrerias, Ciudadela and Alayor. According to Armstrong, the value of grape growing and wine production was worth 26'950 Pounds Sterling. Our royal engineer also calculated, around the year 1740, that all those grapes produced 18'333 barrels (245 litres per barrel) of wine.

In the month of December, the British authorities of the island tried the wine and earmarked the samples that were of interest to the militia and government employees. Soldiers were able to purchase wine at retail prices. The average cost of Minorcan wine was 35 shillings a barrel. There was a much greater abundance of red wine than there was of white. The wine produced from the vineyards around Mahon was the most highly valued and consequently was frequently sent to England.

Armstrong mulls over the qualities of the product and says that it is of “an amethyst colour, gentle on the palate, with sufficient body to preserve its quality.” Whilst saying that wine from Mahon was valued most highly, Armstrong also gives assurances that the production in Alayor actually had a better taste and a certain similarity to Burgundian wine.

He said that the wine which was made by the monks in their vineyards on Minorca's Mount Toro was commendable.
And so we have evidence of some 18th century local wines which in general were of good quality and quite widely known, as much by the British as by the Minorcans. This successful wine production was continued into the 19th century, at the beginning of which the island was eventually to become, and remain, Spanish. The Minorcan writer and historian Ramon Cavaller wrote on this particular subject in 1984. He said that during that year on the island, there remained very little homegrown wine production, only in Sant Climent, Sant Lluís, and Llucmaçanes. He points out that 100 years before, around 1880, there were still 2 million vines on Minorca.

Cavaller says:“There were apparently two grape harvests a year. The first was at the end of July of the earliest grapes. The second at the end of November of those which had taken the longest time to mature, although this second harvest did not usually produce such a good wine.

The juice of the grapes was squeezed out by people treading them in great vats. Later, wine presses developed ... The skin, pulp and any cuttings from the stem were removed from the juice and vinegar was made from the juice of the stalks. The juice, pulp and the skins were put into casks to ferment and were later transferred to barrels after removing the pulp and skins. Before the barrel was sealed, a cloth set flame with brimstone was passed over the liquid. A tap was then inserted into the barrel which enabled the wine to be poured into flagons.”