Recent work for Son Prim, a small family-run vineyard in Mallorca, made me think again about the red soil known in Mallorquín as call vermell. This red clay, often mixed with sand, gravel and stones, was formed by the erosion of limestone.
Alcover-Moll, the dictionary of Catalan/Valencian/Balearic languages describes call vermell as ‘granular and very dry soil, red in colour, which sharpens the plough when working it’.
According to the etymologist, Joan Corominas, the word call comes from the Latin word callis (streets), which was used to describe different sorts of steps and paths. He suggests that call vermell’s malleability, when worked by the plough, makes it look like streets. The ploughshare opens up the ground and, as water makes its way in, the furrows become bright red.
Call vermell describes a range of soils whose depth, clay and gravel content vary. Some soils are more suitable for cereals or sheep grazing. The more freely draining soils suit vine growing. Here, the clay component acts as a store of nutrients, sought out by the vines’ roots.
Coromines, Joan. Diccionari etimològic i complementari de la Llengua Catalana. Barcelona: Curial, 1981. P. 432-433