Notes from an Italian hermitage – despatches from BOLOGNA #3
Talking Rum and Location with author Miguel Bonnefoy – Venezuela
3rd March 2018
TalkingLocationWith.. author Miguel Bonnefoy and the inspiration for the setting behind his novel Black Sugar, set in Venezuela.
About a year ago, I met Alexandre Vingtier, an expert in cane-based alcohol. It was he who revealed to me the poetry that exists in rum. With a glass in his hand, he spoke about its amber colour and its perfume with hints of cinnamon and pineapple. As I listened, rum, in his words, became a written poem. A week later, I travelled to Venezuela where maestro Néstor Ortega welcomed me at the Hacienda Distillery Santa Teresa. \\ Maestro Ortega showed me the sublime transformation of rum: from the harvest under the tropical sun by bronze-skinned workers with straw hats and linen shirts, all the way to the moment when the bottle is opened for a sample, or palo, as it’s known in Venezuela. It was then that I understood the sheer variety of its aromas: guava and green lime, soursop and honey, but also leather and oak, dried mango and old wood. Very few places have left such an impression as the Hacienda Santa Teresa.
Hacienda Santa Teresa is in El Consejo, a small town in the heart of the State of Aragua, West of Caracas. After driving through green hills, passing mamones and casabé sellers, I arrived at La Victoria, where the sugar cane plantations from the hacienda extend to the foot of the nearby mountains. For almost 2 centuries, the sun has warmed these meadows. It is a paradise of wide and open spaces, with enormous Caribbean royal palms and samanes crowned with noisy guacamayas flying above me. In the distance is the old train station, but travellers no longer arrive here. The locomotive sits proud and magnificent under a layer of dust as a reminder of the splendour of past times.
I walked for a long time, imagining the route of rum: sugar cane fields, its harvest, its artisanal bottling process, and pirates. I think of its spirit, which has always maintained a powerful link with its land of origin. In this hacienda, I was walking in the steps of the first Vollmer, Gustav Jullius Vollmer, who came from Europe with antiques, his German traditions and the hope of exile. He married Panchita Ribas, niece of General José Felix Ribas and cousin of Simón Bolívar, with whom he had six children. Together they developed new varieties of sugar cane in this hacienda. Thes families that came from the land of choucroute and baeckeoffe became used to eating asado negro, polvosa de pollo and pastel de chucho, and learned to use molasses to create the nectar of the fertile valley of Aragua.
Who would have thought the delicate scent of a sugarcane leaf hides the mystical aroma of oak or a cherry tree? Who would have thought the magical silence of redbeeds gather the harmonic voices of chocolate and vanilla, green plantain and sweets? Today, I can say that from my visit to Hacienda Santa Teresa I keep not only historical dates and maps, but a strange, obsessive geological passion accompanied by a newfound appreciation of a vast range of flavours and aromas. My memories of that place are of ripe fruit, a splash of honey, and golden ink that made me write a book that tastes of rum.
Thank you so much to Miguel for sharing such a lovely piece on location and rum…
Read our review of BLACK SUGAR
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