Did you know that we have 40 colonies producing honey regularly at Abadía Retuerta? This is the busiest time of the year for bees. As beekeeper Miguel Rodríguez explains, an army of bees work tirelessly to make the most of the fields when they are full of flowers.
But before this happens, a great deal of preliminary work is needed. In April, the queen bee’s egg-laying cycle is at its peak. The population of the colony and therefore the number of worker bees needs to grow.
“At this stage we have to make room in the hives, first so that the queen can lay more eggs and then to store the honey. During the reproductive stage, the colony’s energies are focused on breeding, but from then on they start to store the honey,” explains Miguel Rodríguez.
Another important development at this time of year is the “swarming”. A new young queen is born and stays in the colony and the old queen leaves with half of the workers. “We have two options to avoid losing so many worker bees: provide more space for the colony by placing more supers at the top or take advantage of the situation to multiply the number of hives,” says Miguel who closely monitors the colonies during spring.
Miguel Rodríguez is a forestry engineer. Spurred on by Gonzalo, a colleague who had attended a course in Palencia, Miguel took on beekeeping as a hobby. But the weekend pastime with six beehives and the idea of producing honey for his own consumption went further and in 2012 he decided to pursue a career producing artisan honey with his friend Gonzalo. Thus was born Miel Montes de Valvení. At present, the company manages 400 beehives located in different points of the Cerrato region, spanning the provinces of Valladolid and Palencia. 40 of them are in Abadía Retuerta.
The monks’ honey
The initiative not only encourages plant pollination on the estate which is beneficial for the vineyard, but also seeks to recover the products that the monks had traditionally made on the Retuerta estate.
As with wine, the weather determines the characteristics of the honey to be collected each year, in this case conditioned by the plants that bloom in each new ‘harvest’. “Two years ago a heat stroke damaged the flowering of thyme and that year sage and lavender were the dominant flavours in the honey,” explains Miguel. That’s why all the honey produced at Abadía Retuerta displays the vintage on the label.
Beyond these harvest variations, we have discovered a clear consistency of flavour in the estate’s honey. “It is the combination of various aromatic plants that grow at this time of year, but it also blends in the aromas of the holm oaks. It’s a mixture of flower and forest honey,” says Miguel. The difference is that the flower honey comes from the nectar collected by the bees, whereas the honeydew exuded by the acorns of oaks and holm oaks is also present in the forest honey.
A natural product
Harvested in September, the honey is left to rest for about ten days to decant (there may be parts of wax mixed in) and lose moisture. After that, it is ready for packaging. The whole operation is completely natural. For Miguel, there is a big difference with pasteurized honeys as the latter lose most of their aromas and properties during this process.
As they are not pasteurized, artisan honeys like Retuerta’s usually crystallize with the cold. The traditional solution of placing the jar in a bain-marie to restore its liquid form is still the best. You only have to keep an eye on the temperature. “As long as it does not exceed 35ºC (95ºF), the properties of the honey are not altered,” says Miguel.
The hives at Abadía Retuerta can produce around 800 kg of honey per year. Some of it is used in our restaurants, but it can also be purchased at the winery’s store and on our website. Like wine, honey is for us another snapshot that illustrates what has happened on the estate in a given year.