The production of medronho in Monchique is an ancestral tradition, but it does not close the doors to the future. Activity has increased and wants to continue to grow. For this, it allied with the knowledge produced in universities and there are even cloned strawberry trees planted by the mountains.
José Paulo Nunes, president of the Barlavento Algarvio Arbutus Producers Association (APAGARBE), revealed to the Sul Informação that «we have carried out a series of experiments with clones, from the best plants in the county» and there is already «an experimental field developed with the University of Algarve and the University of Coimbra, with 280 strawberry trees, to see what their reaction is. plants cloned in the field'.
The producer, considering that «these improved plants are very interesting», says that there is «a great dynamic» in the production of arbutus. “There are new people picking up on this. There were people who had abandoned strawberry trees and who are taking care of them. There is the prospect of increasing production».
And the increase in production is necessary, according to José Paulo Nunes, because «in terms of marketing, we practically have our product almost all sold. There are no difficulties in flowing”.
Currently, there are around 50 brands producing medronho brandy in Monchique and, according to José Paulo Nunes, «every year there are more brands».
At the Monchique Medronho Festival, that takes place this weekend, April 1st and 2nd, internationalization will be one of the topics under debate. Although there are obstacles to the export of medronho brandy, the fact that it will soon be certified at European level will open the door to foreign countries.
«We have a difficulty to internationalize, which will be the quantities. But, anyway, we are implementing the Protected Geographical Identification (PGI) of Medronho do Algarve, which can give a great help in that. We just need the approval, in international terms, of the European Union. It will be just confirmation, everything is taken care of. I don't think there will be any more obstacles to the confirmation of Medronho do Algarve», explains José Paulo Nunes.
When talking about arbutus, one thinks about brandy, but the fruit has several other applications, many of them yet to be revealed. «It can be used in confectionery, cooking, it can be dried, canned. There are a number of situations. I'm also going to send bagasse to the university, and then go to Germany, so that it can be studied, to see if there is any property that can be used. It is a production of the future, in many aspects, and there are still things to discover».
The strawberry tree is still important in the mountains for other reasons, namely cultural and social: «it's the things that connect to the mountains that have roots here. It makes them look after their things and take care of them. People take advantage of weekends, holidays, to catch their arbutus, it's a day of celebration, and all this mystique will not be lost. It is even more accentuated than it ever was», says José Paulo Nunes. And to show this mystique to those who don't know it yet, during the festival there will even be theater in the distilleries, with the project «Lavrar o Mar».
Even so, not everything is rose in the production of aguardente de medronho. José Paulo Nunes complains that high taxes prevent the sector from being more profitable. «With the graduation we have here, for each 0,7 dl bottle, the tax on alcohol is around five euros per bottle. The brandy appears on the market with a high price, but it is not a profit for the producer».
The president of APAGARBE therefore considers that "there are details in the legislation that could be improved, if there was understanding on the part of the authorities, without prejudice to charging for collection."