Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The great closure debate

So what is the best type of wine closure?

To be truthful I am a bit bored of writing about picking grapes, so I thought I would have a day off, and write about something much more contentious..... corks and closures! This has been singularly one of the most divisive subjects in the wine industry for a very long time now.

The natural cork industry has lost about 22% of it's market share and is fighting back with new fangled ideas such as ROSA (Rate of Optimal Steam Application) and supercritical carbon dioxide extraction to eliminate cork taint (please don't ask me to explain either of these, but suffice to say that they certainly sound very impressive!) At the same time there are many different accusations, claims and counterclaims flying around, and to be honest it's actually quite difficult to know who to believe.

There is no doubt that screw-cap has made a very big impression, (especially in white wines) to the extent that it is now actually quite difficult to find a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that does not use Stelvin. (Stelvin is a brand name, the 'Hoover' of the screw-cap industry, often used to describe the closure itself). Here at Castro Martin we have been asked by a few of our more progressive customers when we are going to start with Stevlin, and my reply is always the same; "one step at a time please".

After several months of testing back in 2002, we opted for a synthetic closure, and like any type of product, I think I should explain, there are good examples and bad examples. In the case of synthetics there are two main types, extruded and moulded - as the name implies a moulded closure is made in it's own individual mould, whilst extruded are made as one long continuous 'sausage' and then sliced into individual closures. Moulded tend to be more solid and impervious, whereas extruded can be better placed to mimic the behaviour of a natural cork.

We have opted to use one of the best synthetics on the market, and this is not, as some might assume, a way of saving money - it actually does not! The Nomacorc 'classic' that we use performs exactly like a natural cork - we do not suffer any premature oxidation (as experienced with some other synthetic brands), and we never have to worry about cork taint. Indeed, only yesterday, we were visited by two top Australian winemakers, and they were completely blown away by a bottle of 2002 that I opened for them.

I rest my case m'lord....

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gordon, the storm that never was.....

OK, I admit it, I didn't take this photo

Today we battened down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Gordon (or at least his tail), as he tracked his way across the Atlantic after his Caribbean sojourn. By order of the local government all schools are closed, government offices closed, health centres closed (let's just hope no one is injured), but we stop short of boarding up the windows of the Bodega.

At 7am I am out on the terrace of my home securing the sheeting on my garden furniture that I have stacked carefully in a sheltered corner. The wind is gathering pace as we brace ourselves for the onslaught, and at 8am the rain comes down - it looks as though the forecast of mayhem might be realised.

Then, an hour or so later it all suddenly disappears, almost as quickly as it didn't really arrive! By 10am the wind has pretty much stopped, the sky clears, and by lunch time the sun is out. To be honest we experience more severe storms in winter, and so we are left scratching our heads and asking what all the fuss was about? The only beneficaries appear to be the children, enjoying an unexpected days holiday - FIESTA!

Meanwhile, back at the Bodega we are all very busy - some working on the big clean up, trying to rid us of the dreaded grape must that sticks to everything, and spreads everywhere on the soles of your shoes. Others are busy with the wine-making operations - seeding the tanks is all but finished, and many are happily fermenting under strict temperature control.
So far so good, but let's see how the 2006 wine develops.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Day 8 - It's all over now

Angela and her able assistant

Day eight was merely what I call a 'mopping up exercise', mostly waiting for our suppliers to gather the last few grapes from their vineyards. Simple as this may seem, it's actually quite complicated owing to the capacity of our presses.

We have two Vaslin/Bucher pneumatic presses, one with a minimum capacity of 3.000kg and the other with a minimum of 4.000kg, and to load less than these quantities risks serious damage the press. So if we are left with an odd 1.000kg at the end of the last day, then we have a problem. The last few hours therefore, are spent anxiously trying to calculate the outstanding kilos and how this will dictate the loading of the last few presses. It's actually quite a tricky puzzle - like sudoku with grapes.

Anyway, the picking is over for another year, and now the serious work starts in the bodega with our vinification. We can be thankful that we have harvested in generally good weather, and that every grape has arrived at our door in a perfectly healthy condition. It's now in the hands of Angela, her very able assistant..... me!

P.S. Did you notice me slipping in another song title?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Day 7 - A race against the weather

Fran - Hero of the pressing room
As we pick the last grapes from our own vineyards, we are keeping a very close eye on the skies above us. Today is much cooler and overcast - probably the first day that is not 't-shirt weather'. The local forecasts are predicting a changeable scenario over the next few days, and naturally we want to get our fruit safely inside the bodega, so Herminda and her team have switched into overdrive.

Looking around the Salnes valley (northern part of the denomination) there are quite a number of our neighbours who have not even started to pick yet, so I can only imagine that either they do not follow weather predictions, or that their grapes are not as mature as our own. Believe it or not this is actually quite an unusual phenomena, as the sight of one bodega picking usually starts a cascade around the region. However, this year the start date within our local area would appear to be spread over a period of three or four weeks, and it will certainly be interesting to taste the resulting wines to see if there is a marked difference between the early and later harvested wines.

As the tanks in the bodega gradually fill up with must, so the indoor workload starts to increase - racking continues, and the seeding begins.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Day 6 - On the home stretch

And the prize for "cheesy grin of the week" goes to......Angela Martin
The famous Feijoo family - no, not a circus trapeze act, but one of our oldest and our best grape supplying family - and I do mean family - there are presently three generations actively delivering grapes to the bodega! Pictured above with Angela is Benito, delivering with his grandson on their tiny tractor (Angela is the one with the glasses). Benito's son (not pictured) is built like a bull and unloads cases three at a time from their other, larger tractor. To give you an idea, three cases comes in at 60kg dead weight, and each load they deliver can be up to 1,000kg!
So, it finally looks like we're on the home stretch as the back of this year's harvest is broken, along with my own. We are racking more of the musts, and Angela is glued to her laboratory chair (probably with grape juice), analysing the musts of every single batch of grapes that enters our door. She seems very content playing with her chemistry set whilst we men do all the physical stuff. I'm sorry, did that sound sexist?

Monday, September 11, 2006

It's just another manic Monday!

Is this art, or simply just an under-exposed photo?
And there was me thinking that Monday would be a quiet day - in the end we were so busy that I decided to rename the title of today's post....
I mentioned only yesterday I think, that the weekend was our busiest period - well, I lied - today was every bit as busy, and the volume of grapes entering was pretty much on a par with Saturday and Sunday. In addition to all this we have also been 'racking' the clean 'must' after a period of 'settling', so in some ways our workload was actually that bit bigger.
On tasting the clean juice, the 2006 is very sweet and concentrated, and it would appear that the acidity might be just about perfect, and therefore we may not need any malolactic fermentation for this vintage. Anyway, early days, and we will not be making any definitive decisions at such an early stage.
I should also mention that today we had a sharp mid-morning shower that lasted less than an hour - barely enough to penetrate the canopy (bearing in mind that with the pergola system bunches hang mostly under the vegetation). So no damage done to our precious albariƱo fruit.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Day 4 - Weekend Grape-O-Mania

Grape reception - spot the difference (no prizes)
Any weekend is always the busiest time during harvest. For the majority of our suppliers growing grapes is not a full-time occupation, and so at the weekend they take full advantage of their free time to call in family, friends and even distant acquaintances to collect grapes. Consequently we are inundated with grapes carried in all shapes and sizes of vehicle. (We do however prohibit caravans, and the entry to our grape reception is actually booby-trapped and can detect a chemical toilet from 5km).

Seriously though, we have worked around the clock, and kept grapes moving through the cellars at a rapid rate. The photo above was taken at one of our peak moments on Saturday evening - believe it or not there are actually four people working behind these pallets loading grapes that have just arrived into the presses. Pretty much every grape so far has been pressed within two hours of arriving, and many much less than this - if possible they go direct.

By the end of the weekend we should have 'broken the back' of this year's campaign, and should be past the halfway point, simply because of the weekend volumes..... and who said that Sunday was a day of rest!

P.S. I lied about the caravans..... it's actually only 4km!

Day 3 - Galicians in the Mist

Early morning mist on day 3
As Susie Barrie reminded us in her new wine book, Galicia is still a quiet rural backwater of Spain, and in common with many other smaller European wine regions, can sometimes be a little removed from the rest of the wine world.
It is at harvest time that I am reminded of some of the 'New World' v 'Old World' differences. I will explain......
In the weeks leading up to our harvest we have been busy on "grape watch" in our vineyards, constantly monitoring all aspects of the grape maturity, trying to anticipate the optimum time for harvest, and organising the bodega accordingly. The other factor that influences the picking date is of course the weather, and again, we monitor this very closely (using at least four or five different sources and correlating all the information). To a 'New World' winemaker this would not seem out of the ordinary, but here in Rias Baixas I am surprised to say that I have seen little evidence of this slightly more scientific approach.
From what I have witnessed so far, it would seem that many others simply appear to select a convenient date on the calendar (often weeks in advance) with scant regard to grape maturity. In fact, I heard a "chisme" (local gossip) that one bodega had actually delayed the date of their harvest because their banqueting facility was booked for a wedding at the time they had planned to start picking! Can this be true? Maybe we will never know.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Vendimia 2006 - Day 2

The new toy for collecting grapes
Now don't get worried a new mini-tractor does not mean price increases - what it actually means is that we have a friendly local tractor dealer who has loaned us this new toy for the harvest. I have no doubt that he will be trying to sell it to us at the end of the campaign (heavily discounted I hope, as it's now second hand!)
It's day two of the 2006 harvest, and the weather is a bit overcast and sultry, but thankfully still dry - I probably shouldn't have said that! The grapes are flying in, as Herminda and her team swoop through our vineyards - we have more than 35 people picking for us, and for those of you who don't know Herminda is the head honcho, and I for one, wouldn't argue with her.....
Herminda the human road block!

The grapes are in perfect condition, and the grape must is sweet with a beautiful floral perfume - I'm sure that it will make a cracking wine, and that 2006 will be an excellent vintage for us. Actually this reminds me of a producer I once knew (but who will remain nameless) who used to claim that every vintage was the vintage of the century - all I will say is that this harvest looks like the best so far this year.....

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The harvest starts here!

To let you know, our harvest is starting today - at least one or two weeks earlier than normal. I am not quite sure if this is a record for our Bodega, but I will let you know, when I have more time.

The weather here today is perfect, dry, with clear skies, and not too hot. I will do my best to update this site as we go along, and give more information about the grapes and must as it comes to hand. In fact, at 11.30 am the first grapes have just arrived.....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Discovering Wine Country

Several months ago we were visited by the English author and journalist Susie Barrie. She was busy researching a new book about the wines of Northern Spain - but not just any old book, an idea specifically targeted at "finding great wines off the beaten track". During her exploration Susie spent a few hours at our Bodega, tasting, asking questions and generally familarising herself with our region and denomination of origin.

The finished book itself is great, and higly recommended if you are visiting the Northern half of Spain - clear, informative and easy to read, and also on the plus side, we got a very nice mention:

An Englishman abroad

Galicia is still quite a rural place and if you don’t speak Spanish then getting around, using websites, arranging visits, and even ordering the right food can be challenging at best. So when the fun of it all has momentarily worn off, I’d suggest that you drop in on Bodegas Castro Martin, where you’ll find the most down to earth and friendly of English welcomes awaiting you. Andrew McCarthy’s story is the stuff of fairytales and as such it definitely merits a mention. He first visited Rias Baixas as an English wine buyer in 2001 and came to Castro Martin in search of top quality AlbariƱo wine to sell in the U.K. As it turns out he got more than he bargained for, because he found not only the wine he was looking for but also a wife in the form of the delightful Angela Martin, winemaker and daughter of the Bodega’s founder.

In 2002 they introduced a superior wine, Castro Martin, to the range. The new wine is made entirely from grapes grown in the Bodega’s own vineyards and is wonderfully elegant with a rich lemon meringue pie nose and juicy lemon concentration on the palate.

Don't take my word for it - buy a copy! Published by Mitchell Beazley the book is called Northern Spain by Susie Barrie, with a cover price of £12.99 (Of course this can be found quite a bit cheaper at Amazon)