Cortijo de Suerte Alta is a family estate located on the right margin of the Guadajoz river, near the small village of Albendín, township of Baena, in the province of Córdoba, in the heart of Andalucía, to the South of Spain.
In 1924 the Marquis of Bedmar set on foot the conversion of a previous “dehesa” and cereal land into olive groves. The trees were planted every 13m, with three trunks each and arranged in triangles. This gives a density of 75 trees per hectare. The traditional varieties of the Baena region - picudos, hojiblancos and picuales - were intermingled to help with crosspollination and reduce “vecería”- a habit of producing good crops every two years-.The olives coming from the family estates were ground at two family mills, one of them was in Suerte Alta and the other one in nearby Cabra.
The present owner Manuel Heredia Halcón, Marquis of Prado, grandson of the abovementioned Marquis of Bedmar, runs the estate since 1986. The planting is concluded in a different more modern frame: the trees have only one stem and the planting frame is of 7m x 7m with an average density of 205 trees per hectare.
In 1996 Organic Farming is undertaken under control of the C.A.A.E.-Andalusian Council for Organic Farming- and an irrigation system is initiated.
Today the Cortijo de Suerte Alta estate comprises 255 hectares of olive groves, with an 80% of traditional, intermingled olive trees, and it yields an average of 250.000 Kg. of olive oil per year.
In 2006 the new mill is built next to the family house, in the heart of the estate. This enables Suerte Alta to round up the whole production cycle: from the olive trees to the bottling, and is one of the clues for an exclusive Extra Virgin olive oil based on three characteristics:
ESTATE PRODUCED AND BOTTLED, ORGANIC, D.O. BAENA.
The estate and the harvesting process
The Country is a sea of olive trees set on rolling lands with some thicket bits near watercourses and boundaries, and tamarisk trees on the margins of the river Guadajoz.The difference in altitude between the river and the heights is of 160 metres, and average altitude is of 350m above sea level. Rainfall is scarce, the average is below 400 litres per year. The soil is chalky.
THE OLIVE GROVES
D. O. Baena olive oil draws its characteristics from the intermingled three varieties typical of Andalusian olive trees.The flavours and fresh-fruit taste proper to Picudo and Hojiblanco blend with the stability of Picual. The olives grown on the traditional trees, almost a century old, are blended with olives grown on the younger intensive groves. Drip-feed irrigation, entirely buried, ensures the perfect development and ripeness of the fruit. Organic farming has improved the growth of a local vegetation cover which stays in place during the rainy season. All this aspects as a whole give our olive oil its flavour, fragrance and distinctive character.
The estate´s farm work is entirely carried on by a work team born in the nearby village of Albendín and commited to the estate for years, even generations as is the case of the Mencianos family. Their great experience and responsibility ensure perfect farm work, essential to obtain perfect olives and perfect olive oil.
All the farm machinery is our own thus eliminating risks of external contamination and possible ill-treatment done by a third party lacking the necessary care and preparation.
Low average rainfall is at the origin of low crops in Cortijo de Suerte Alta. Even though the irrigation system is very efficient, loss of humidity on the fields must be kept to a minimum. Thus, hoeing is kept superficial to prevent damaging shallow roots responsible for absorbing moisture. The local vegetation cover is preserved during the rainfall season because it retains water, makes it filter through and prevents it from flooding away. When the dry season arrives, this vegetation cover rivals with the trees for water. It is then necessary to hoe superficially in certain places with a cultivator machine. This kind of work is never done on the whole of the estate : there has to be enough germination to keep the vegetation going in the next season. Steep slopes are also left alone to prevent water flooding away ; farm work here will be limited to cleaning the vegetation around the trees for harvest purposes.
It takes place in spring and autumn and takes into account the annual leaf analysis. All of the products have an organic certification and their composition and dosage are under the control of the C.A.A.E. Because of the dry climate fungus disease is not an important problem , preventive treatments take place in March and September with a low concentration copper solution. The fly and prays population is kept under control by means of bottle traps filled with water and “fosfato biamónico” to lure them in. If necessary a treatment with “Bacillus Thuriengensis” is made in May to control prays population. Natural predators, “crisopas” for example, are encouraged by leaving alone thickets established along cattle tracks and streams. As a result of all this methods and proof of their effectiveness olive oil from Suerte Alta has an average acidity of 0,2º, a basic parameter of quality.
All the nutrients incorporated are either organic or natural. They come with an organic certification and application control from the C.A.A.E. both in their composition and dosage. They are incorporated through the irrigation system and by foliar feeding to boost absorption and effectiveness. Fertilisation through the irrigation system allows a precise dosage in time so that the necessary nutrients are provided at the right moment. Organic manure and mineral salts are provided according to the results and deficiencies detected by annual analysis. Because of the soil being limy chlorosis is a very common problem and so magnesium sulphate and iron are used to overcome it.
The irrigation system is drip fed, buried, with drip pipes interspersed between the olive rows to make the most of only 1.500 m3 of water per hectare, per year. It is divided into sectors and is automatically controlled through programmers. Drip pipes have one drip per metre and each one runs along the centre of the lane in between two olive rows. This way the root system stretches out to reach the central drips and so absorbs also the maximum rainfall.
Pruning and thinning are done by trained staff from Suerte Alta, every two years, and taking into account growth and land parcels. Pruning remains are classified on the field; some of it is allotted to the “Cortijo” and the rest is splintered and applied as mulch to the fields. This mulching began in 1995 and since then there´s been no need to apply phosphorus; the remains provide the soil with all the phosphorus it needs and with one third of its need in potassium.
The harvest begins on the first week of November when optimum ripeness conditions are reached. All the olives gathered come from the trees; they are pulled down onto special sheets or onto the vibrator´s umbrella with our own farm machinery so that we may control the vibration´s intensity and avoid damage to the trees or the olives.
The harvest is timed according to the different ripening times of the various land parcels of the estate. At the end of December all the olives coming from the trees have been picked. In January, the olives that have fallen to the ground are collected, crushed and stored apart.
Before the harvest begins, the olive trees from the boundaries are vibrated, thus establishing a security perimeter to avoid possible contamination by non-organic neighbours. This olives are crushed the first and are useful to clean and tune the engines at the beginning of the season. Obviously this olive oil is stored in a separate vat.
Olives are transported to the mill immediately after being picked. The delay between picking and crushing is of a few hours.
The oil´s origin is guaranteed as it all comes from the 255 hectares of olive groves from the estate of Suerte Alta. A daily, thorough, computerised control of the olives crushed each day, including entries on their land parcel, the dominant variety, and general data relating to crushing and mill operations enables us to trace back the origin of each one of the 28.000 Kg tanks in the cellar. The oil from each one of the cellar tanks comes from aproximately 20 hectares from the estate.
Each bottle has the label of the D. O. Baena Control Council (Consejo Regulador de la D. O. Baena), with a stamped batch number that traces back its origin to the exact land parcel in Suerte Alta from where it comes.