Farm: Fazenda Rio Verde
Varietal: 100% Yellow Icatú
Altitude: 800 to 1,350 meters above sea level
Owner: Ipanema Agricola
Town / City: Alfenas & Machado
Region: Sul de Minas, Minas Gerais
Overall: Milk chocolate, dried apricot, biscuit
Fazenda Rio Verde Icatu Nat - Brazil
At Mercanta, we deal directly with farms and cooperatives of all sizes, large and small. What all share is the production of the very highest quality coffee. Ipanema Gourmet has been producing coffee since the 1970s and is certainly one of the largest farms with whom we work. Their production area, composed of five farms, stretches over more than 4,500 hectares total area. Approximately 70% of this total land is devoted entirely to coffee (the rest is primarily conservation area). It is not surprising, then, that the total annual production at Ipanema exceeds the annual production of several of the world’s smaller coffee-producing countries!
Rio Verde is one of the smaller farms nestled in the wider estate. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest of the company's farms. Located in the heart of the Mantiqueira de Minas Mountains, this 1,566 hectare farm is a true natural sanctuary, where coffees are grown at elevations of up to 1,300 meters above sea level, surrounded by virgin forests, waterfalls, springs and hiking trails. In fact, the farm is home to 52 catalogued springs, all of which are protected. Only 626 hectares of the farm are given over to coffee production, with a full 773 hectares being devoted to conservation. To this end, Ipanema has created the Environment Monitoring Centre (EMC), which has been installed in an old henhouse on the farm. The Centre monitors farm management practices as related to water use, soil fertility and erosion, vegetation and climate.
The farm was already established before the newly married Antonio Fachardo Junqueira and Gabriella Augusta inherited the farm as a dowry. However, it was the couple who first established coffee here in 1887. In 1920, their grandson, Antenor, took over management of the farm and began implementing incredibly innovative processes for the time, separating lots by quality and color and constructing brick patios to improve the drying process.
During the period between World War I and the Economic Crisis of 1929, the farm went through great difficulties and to deal with them, Antenor made great efforts to become self-sufficient in the production of flour, cachaça, sweets and jams, beef, chicken, pork, wool, and various herbs and vegetables. In 1964, Antenor’s son-in-law, Luiz Cyrillo Fernandes assumed control of the farm and continued innovations and sustainability efforts, building new infrastructure for wet and dry processing and milling of the coffees. He also invested in an intense soil fertilisation program. 81 separate chicken sheds were filled with 136,000 hens solely with the aim of generating 800 tonnes of organic fertilizer a year. This program ran from 1964 through to 1992.
Luiz Cyrillo Fernandes himself continued to lead the business and was involved in all decision making up until 2002. Always aiming for the most innovative techniques and equipment, he traveled widely to find ways to improve coffee production. Through his work during this time, Ipanema Coffees was a pioneer in introducing procedures that are now standard practice in Brazil, such as pruning techniques and mechanical harvesting. After the liberalisation of trade in 1991, Ipanema Coffees was one of the first companies to begin exporting products abroad. In the same year the first coffee bags were shipped to Europe, and thousands of other shipments followed.
In 2002, engineer and current CEO, Washington Rodrigues, stepped into the founding family’s footsteps. He was responsible for various innovations and solutions which allowed the company to enter into new markets and build up long-lasting relationships with buyers.
Under his leadership some of the company`s achievements became milestones in the history of coffee in Brazil. For example, Ipanema Coffees was one of the first companies to construct infrastructure for wet milling and was the first to be certified by Utz and Rain Forest certification programs. Specialty coffees became the company`s flagship. Until now Ipanema Coffees is a permanent participant at International specialty coffee fairs and is also a founder of the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA). Their Premier Cru project, initiated in 2014, has taken specialty coffee to new heights in the country, and they continue striving yearly for more.
More about Rio Verde:
Rio Verde’s clay soil is rich in decomposed minerals and full of nutrients due to its rich flora and fauna. Its altitude and plentiful water sources make it ideal for growing not only coffee but also Macadamia and renewable timber. High elevations combined with mountainous topography create a unique microclimate, with mild temperatures and rainfall average of 1,600 mm a year, ideal for growing Yellow Bourbon, Acaia, Yellow Catuaí, Yellow Topazio, Mundo Novo, Yellow Icatú and Catucaí. The diversity of the environment along with the many planted coffee varieties makes for numerous ‘terroirs’, each with its own taste nuances and complexities.
The farm is separated out into 69 different ‘glebes’ – or plots – each of which possesses its own small microclimate and is treated and processed separate from the others. 32 of these glebes are located above 1,000 metres, and special care is taken to preserve the coffee’s natural potential for quality from these. This 100% Yellow Icatú lot comes from a single gleb and was processed using the Natural method.
Ipanema’s mills, located across two processing centres in Fazenda Capoeirinha and Fazenda Conquista (also part of the Ipanema group), can prepare up to 140,000 bags of coffee a year. At the peak of the harvest, the company’s cupping team analyses more than 300 samples per day.
Natural coffees such as this one are subject to meticulous standards from harvest through to resting. Coffee is selectively harvested either mechanically or by hand and then delivered to dry for up to 9 days on raised beds or patios. The coffee may also be finished in one of the farm’s 48 mechanical driers, where they are slowly dried at an even and soft heat for around 48 hours. Bean quality is monitored in each dryer, carefully evaluating the appearance and taste profile of each 20 bag batch. After drying, the coffee is then placed in wooden bins to rest at least for 60 days in order to homogenize internal moisture and improve the taste profile. At every step of the process, until exportation, Ipanema’s team evaluates the quality of the lots.
In addition to its coffee production areas, Ipanema also cultivates a sustainable harvest of eucalyptus trees. Unlike most other coffee farms that grow eucalyptus, this is not a diversified timber crop; the eucalyptus at Ipanema is grown exclusively to provide the natural fuel required during the coffee drying process.
Not surprisingly, Ipanema is one of the largest employers in the area and offers around 2,000 jobs during the peak harvest time, in addition to its 300+ year-round jobs. The workers enjoy many benefits such as free distribution of soy milk, food staples, a medical plan, transportation and lodging.