HANDICRAFT OF THE ESPARTO GRASS
IN THE APPELATION OF ORIGIN“MONTILLA MORILES”
The esparto grass is a perennial grass of the northwestern African and Southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. It is of family of Gramineaes and scientifically it is named “stipa tenacissima” Since antiquity, the process of transformation of the esparto grass has 7 phases: harvest, drying, immerse in pool with water to soften it, drying, smash, clear and spin. It is used for crafts: cords, espandriles, baskets, slammers, etc.).
The use of esparto grass in Spain is as ancient as its history, they have found it in some prehistoric necropolis household goods made with esparto grass, since then, generation after generation, and it has been present until today. The fabrication of the esparto was very important to the economy of a lot of towns in Spain, until the arrival of plastic, when the products of esparto stopped being profitable.
In my shire the “industries” of wine and of the esparto grass have been connected, because some tools made with this material was essential in the process to elaboration of the main wine of this A.O such as: Pedro Ximenez. The first phase of production consists on laying over the “capachos” (made in esparto grass) the freshly-cut grapes to mature under the sun. Once the grapes reach the to due maturity (red-brown color) then, they are brought to the equipment’s hall to be pressed, still with the “capachos” piled-up one on top of the other on tall and heavy piles.
We can find these products of esparto grass in the geography area of A.O “Montilla-Moriles” that include 3 shires from the South of Cordoba: Campiña Sur, Subbética and Guadajoz Campiña Este, in total 17 towns: Aguilar de la Frontera, Montilla, Moriles, Doña Mencia, Montalbán, Monturque, Nueva Carteya, Puente Genil, Baena, Cabra, Castro del Rio, Espejo, Ferna-Nuñez, La Rambla, Lucena, Montemayor y Santaella.
Francisco de Alvear, Count of Cortina from Montilla, was promoter of the “industrialization” of the viticulture production, he “modernized” the work of his wine cellar and now, it (Alvear wine cellar) and his wine are known around the world. Thanks to his political influences he got, in 1932, that the wine produced in this area was protected by the A.O. Montilla-Moriles. This “industrialization” has promoted complementary economic activities: barrel-making, craft of esparto grass, packing, bottling…)
In Andalucía, due to climate, the esparto grass is abundant and for long time the transformations of this plant constituted an important source of income in a lot of zones, until the arrival of the plastic replacing the “traditional capachas” as material to lay the grapes on. In my opinion, as environmentalist and protector of traditions, this is negative to the wine, because the sugar of the grapes is in contact with the plastic at high temperatures under the sun and this can produce chemical reactions no good for the wine. I would like to promote the return to the traditional elements although it will be more expense.
In summary, to introduce the craft of esparto grass in the shire, I suggest a joint-venture between public and private institutions to create an “Institute of Handicraft “Esparto””, a place where the older master will teach this work.
To this project the local government (due to lack of public funds) will only contribute with the use of a spacious local to install a workshop, a showroom and a interpretation center, it must also help in the bureaucratic paper work (licenses, permissions, register….), in the promotion of this activity through its channels and in the provision of “atrezzo” in the interpretation center. The private part will put contribute the machines and the tools necessaries for the production: pools of water, rakes, “maniotas”, spinning wheels, etc, in the production of pieces for the showroom and in the managing the venture.
This “project” for a Sustainable Development based on I.P involves T.K (Traditional Knowledge) coming from the older masters artisans and the younger designers, in fact, aside from the traditional pieces used in the wine–production, I would like to create new pieces as: lamps, blinds, carpets, umbrella stand, furniture, expandriles, packing, protection panels to moving companies, sun-umbrellas, cleaning sponge, anti-slip carpet to industrial floors, just as example. The joining between the older masters and the younger designers can produce a storm of creativity and they can create interesting proposal and designs that can be very profitable economically.
So, the project will involve:
Traditional Cultural Expression: working in creation of Traditional Handicraft that goes in interpretation center with a digital library, and organizing a Festival (yearly) with artisans from all over Spain.
Traditional Knowledge: with the older masters teaching the traditional method in the seminars and professional institute.
Genetic Recourses: In time, I would like to create an Esparto Institute that will study it for commercial and scientific purposes and maybe develop a plant with better-qualities.
The project’s logo: will be register as trademark to distinguish of other similar products, and to be subject of desing.
Industrial Design: will be made open-source so that any younger designers could try his hands on it and they will share the sales’ benefit of the pieces made with their designs.
Trade Secret: in the production pieces, add saponina of quillay, emollient and tensioactiv cationic concentrates (like biotina) that can soften the fabric more than ever, it should be treated as a trade secret because it will increase the sales.
The benefits create by this project to the shire are:
Moral Benefit: The joy of preserving and utilizing in commercial ways old techniques of Traditional Knowledge, that have been an important part of Spain’s Artisanal History.
Social Benefit: Local job-creation in the production sector with people laid-off from the wine industry decrease due to the crisis, with creation of professional figure: master-artisans, esparteros, product supervisor, etc. But also will be available positions for administrators, managers, coming from the closing of many local companies due to the crisis.
Economic Benefit: If local government support as described then initial investment will be only between € 36 K- € 52 K, recoverable in 3 to 5 years. Salaries, social security, VAT, materials purchasing, utilities, transport, packing, design, commission, taxes, services, etc.. those will “move” the economy.
Environmental Benefit: Esparto Grass grows free without pesticeides and sometimes in farmer’s land, so it’s a favor to the farmers to collect it. In production the other product used is H₂O which can be recycled and electricity that can be originated from solar and/or wind power.