From grandfather, to father and now to sons, the legacy of the three generations of the Vinhal farms has always been about passion, innovation and sustainability. With the help of our partnership with Southland Merchants, we’ve been able to bring the coffees of Rafael Vinhal to our shores for the second year in a row, adding not just one but three outstanding coffees to our line-up.
The origins of the Origin
Along with the family’s farms, each generation inherited another legacy; the spirit of innovation and dreams of competing with the world’s best. Rafael, the eldest Vinhal son, tells of this spirit of innovation on the farm, “My father, my mother, and I, as well as the team at the farm, share this spirit. We have two head guys at the farm; one started working with my father back in the 1980s, and the other has been with us for over 10 years. These guys also share the same spirit.”
“We have always wanted to bring Brazilian coffees to the table with Ethiopians, Panamas, and Costa Ricans, and to beat them,” Rafael goes on, “That’s my goal, that’s what I’ve had in my mind since the very beginning.”
Within the world-renowned coffee producing region of Cerrado Mineiro, the likelihood of Rafael continuing his family’s legacy was almost a certainty. Luckily for Rafael, passion for the craft and a desire to produce truly outstanding coffee runs through his veins.
Located in the northwest of Minas Gerais state in Brazil, the entire economy of the region of Cerrado Mineiro is centred around coffee. Rafael’s late grandfather, Zico Vinhal, started working in coffee in the early 1980s. He built a warehouse in Patrocínio, the very first in the city, to help farmers with milling and re-milling their coffees. By 1988, he had jumped from running the warehouse to planting his first coffee crop. Afonso Vinhal, Rafael’s father, later took over the family business from his father and that same warehouse became a private warehouse for the family’s own crop.
The knowledge passed down through the generations of every stage of the coffee producing process, from planting the first seed, to everything about post-harvest processing to the importance of the dry milling phase, has helped the Vinhal farms consistently produce world-class results in the cup.
After a few years, this first farm in Patrocínio had to be sold by Afonso due to a big frost event. He then moved to a new area, which after a few year also had to be sold due to recurrent frost. Eventually they landed on the farms you know today and have stayed there for almost 30 years. For many other producers, this issue of recurrent frost in the region, was enough for them to give up on coffee and move onto other business, but not for the Vinhals.
According to Rafael, there’s no chance the Vinhal family will give up on coffee any time soon. “At the end of the day coffee is a business for us, but there’s so much more behind it,” Rafael says, “It’s my grandfather’s legacy, he unfortunately passed away a couple years ago, but for us coffee is pure passion.”
Commitment to innovation and excellence
By region’s standards, the Vinhal farms’ 170 hectare land is quite modest, and after almost 30 years on the farm there is no longer any extra land to plant on. Instead of packing up and moving on again, Afonso and Rafael decided to invest in quality and infrastructure, through experimentation with micro-lots, to bring the best out of every harvest.
The learning process when dealing with post-harvest is very difficult and time-consuming, you need to harvest the cherries, process them, before drying & milling so they’re ready for export. Only then can you get them in the hands of roasters to taste the result in the cup. Before waiting another year for the next harvest to try and improve on your efforts.
“We would start processing a batch and we would say, ‘let’s separate this lot, one half we de-pulp and one half we keep on the cherry,’ and see what the results were.” Rafael explained, “When it comes to coffee processing, the possibilities are literally endless, I’ve tried 500 different methods and 499 of them went wrong.”
The head farmers of the Vinhal properties, Michel Oliveira and Alair Borges began keeping meticulous records of every plot on the farm with details on the variety, processing methods used in the previous harvest and the results they had.
“When it comes to coffee processing, the possibilities are literally endless, I’ve tried 500 different methods and 499 of them went wrong.”
Rafael, being a new father himself, tells a story of his farmers treating the coffee cherries like a newborn baby, waking up in the middle of the night to monitor the temperature of the fermenting cherries.
Obsessed with finding the perfect balance of experimentation and quality—Rafael, Afonso and their team have worked tirelessly to refine their varietal and process combinations from more than 300 micro-lots to the handful of sensational lots you’re tasting today.
Seasonal improvement producing sensational results
While developing this lot (the same Double Ferment Washed we've been enjoying the past two years), Rafael was given the chance to taste the result of his efforts, roasted by different coffee roasters around Brazil. Out of the ten he tried, every single one produced a completely unique experience in the cup. “I was so sure that all these coffees were the same,” Rafael said, “If I hadn’t packed every single bag, I would’ve said they were completely different coffees.”
Learning to embrace the seasonality in coffee to create a uniquely exceptional experience with every coffee, Rafael shares another story of a different roaster who called him up after this looking for a coffee to compete with at their first ever competition. Rafael decides to take this lot and send him two or three bags. And later that year, this coffee went on to become the regional champion in Cerrado Mineiro. This roaster named the coffee cocada after a type of sweet coconut dessert in Brazil. Inspired by the distinctive experiences from farmer to roaster, Rafael began to name each lot, as he continued to drive quality from every harvest.
Leaving behind a sustainable legacy
Next to producing acclaimed flavours and unique aromas, the Vinhal farms have adopted standards of excellence in sustainability practices and innovative craft production. Centered on sustainability and quality, the coffee produced from Vinhal farms are the epitome of ethical coffee production. Certified by the Rainforest Alliance, 4C (Common Code for the Coffee Community) and Certifica Minas, a local certification in in the Cerrado Mineiro Region.
Rafael, talking about the legacy he wants to leave behind in the coffee industry says, "We want to build a new era for coffee in Brazil. The traditional way to do this business is made to separate each stage of the chain,” Rafael continues, “What Southland Merchants and Five Senses are doing here to connect producer and roaster, is the complete opposite of the traditional way to deal with coffee. Just to have my story being told to customers is already a big honour and a big victory for me.”