Farm: Fazenda Onze Mil Virgens
Varietal: Red Catuai
Processing: Pulped Natural
Altitude: 1,160 metres above sea level
Owner: Ana Cecilia Velloso
Town / City: Rio Paranaiba
Region: Cerrado Mineiro
Overall: Grapefruit, nougat, syrup
Fazenda Onze Mil Virgens (Ana Cecilia) - Brazil
Onze Mil Virgens has been in Ana Cecilia Velloso’s family for four generations. Although she is an architect by training, her relationship with coffee started at birth. Her great-grandfather, Miguel Veloso, was a pioneer in the Carmo do Paranaiba region. When he first established São Luiz Estate (of which Onze Mil Virgens is part) in 1969, the Cerrado Mineiro was agriculturally underdeveloped and there was no coffee to be found. Manoel Veloso dos Reis, Ana’s grandfather, was also a pioneer. He took over from his father, strengthened the family’s legacy, and founded the town’s first agricultural cooperative. He was also the first to implement drip irrigation and to work with pulped naturals in the region.
The family has long been acknowledged for its quality in coffee production, but the reputation didn’t immediately correlate to commercial recognition. Ana’s direct involvement with the farm started in 2013, and since then she and her brother, Lucio Velloso (who has worked on the farm since 1998), have followed in their ancestors’ pioneering footsteps. As fourth-generation farmers, they have had to balance traditional insight with the demands of today’s market. They set their sights on the specialty coffee market, but they realised the high natural quality of their coffee wasn’t going to be enough. Innovation (just as in their great-grandfather’s and grand-father’s days) was going to be the key to success.
The first step in innovation was to develop a business plan! Ana and her brother set about formulating a Development Plan, a Business Model, and a Brand Strategy – a fully modernized business approach. In doing so, they honed their vision and established their purpose. This allowed them to act with more direction and to take further steps towards quality.
The second step in innovation was with regards to technology. The family has always worked based on good agricultural practices looking for an optimal balance of quality, productivity and cost. Farm management is highly professionalised, and waste is eliminated wherever possible. In order to improve systems even further, the family has begun annual quality mapping, so that they know where on the farm the best coffee comes from. This helps them with the planning of post-harvest activities. They have established a field specifically for experimental varieties. They also invite manufacturers to test new agricultural products and machinery with them, so that they can be at the cutting edge of farming. Finally, the implementation of Enterprise Resource Planning software has enabled them to monitor costs and administration, thus maximising efficiency and productivity. Prioritizing innovation in this way is expensive, Ana admits; however, in the long term, it makes the farm financially sustainable.
On Onze Mil Virgens, just as in the rest of the region, harvesting is mostly mechanised. The farm has plots of Yellow and Red Catuaí, Red Catucaí, Yellow Icatú, IPR 100, and Arará. Every lot is separated according to its varietal, and the harvest is planned and executed with preference to maintaining single varietal lots. The priority with every harvest is to undergo a selective mechanical harvest where the maximum ratio of mature coffee is harvested. The team at São Luiz have been thoroughly trained so as to ensure that the ripest cherries are picked and so as to minimise the selection of under-ripe beans. Selective manual harvesting is done in the younger coffee plantations, such as on Lot 33, where this particular lot of Red Catuaí was grown.
Generally, the coffee processing method is defined after the quality mapping analysis that is conducted before harvest. Once the best performing lots are identified, the post-harvest processing is defined. Usually most of the harvested coffee will be delivered to the wet mill to separate immature fruits and floaters from the denser, ripe cherries. The ripe cherries will then undergo the Semi washed (Pulped natural) or Fully washed process. In cases where the vast majority of the harvested cherries are perfectly ripe, the coffee will be placed directly onto patios for sun-dried Natural processing (such as this Red Catuaí lot).
The final (but perhaps most important) step in Ana’s innovations involves working relationships on the farm. Currently their team consists of 28 members – some of whom have been working on the farm since her grandfather’s time. An additional 40 individuals are brought on during the harvest season. The Farm Manager, Fausto do Espírito Santo Velloso, has a very close relationship with the senior staff. They include his childhood friends and his godson’s parents. On the weekends he meets them to talk, not about work, but about family events. For Ana and her family, this approach doesn’t just make the farm a nice place to work, it is also important for ensuring crop quality. It means that everyone working on the farm is motivated and invested in the farm’s success. They believe in Sao Luiz and what it stands for.
However, it is also true that good relationships don’t happen without work. As such, the farm highly values investing in their workers. They hold regular workshops and training sessions. They pay attention to how their team operates. And they also strive to create personal value and quality of life based on what their staff tell them that they need.
Surely, even knowing all this about such an amazing farm, most people will still wonder ‘Why the name?’ Onze Mil Virgens means ‘Eleven Thousand Virgins’ – a pretty racy name for a coffee farm! What people in the region say is that Onze Mil Virgens previously belonged to a bigger farm in Rio Paranaíba rural area that had around 11,000 acres. It was a ‘Virgen’ forest (Cerrado biome) at the time. When it was divided into many farm lots, the parcels that got separated into Onze Mil Virgens kept the moniker. Slightly less racy but still pretty great.