Friday, September 21, 2007

On the home stretch

'Behind the scenes' - Luisa records the incoming crop

2007 Harvest - Day 6 - Friday 21st September

At the same moment that many Bodegas in our area are springing into action, our 2007 campaign is about to draw to a close. In some ways this can be one of the most complicated parts of the whole harvest.....

We have two presses, each with a different maximum and minimum capacity. Incredibly the minimum capacity is probably more important than the maximum - exceeding the maximum is practically impossible anyway, as the grapes will not physically enter into the press. However, leaving the press with too few grapes can cause the pneumatic membrane to rupture, as it is forced to over-expand and presses against the rubber 'fingers' on the inner walls of the drum. (Does that make any sense to you?)

Meanwhile, back to the original story. Taking into account these weight restrictions we have to ensure that we are not left with an odd few hundred kilos of grapes at the end, as obviously we would not be able to fill even our small press to the minimum level. This might sound like a relatively simple problem that is easy to work out, but believe me, it can be quite tricky when your brain is seizing up at the end of a long week!

And so, apart from the one night of rain, and missing one day to accomodate the drying process, we have enjoyed pretty much a perfect week. I will post a resume of proceedings in the next day or so.

With thanks to my small, but beautifully formed team for 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The 'Big Boys' join in

Who me? 150kph in the vineyard? Impossible!

2007 Harvest - Day 5 - Thursday 20th September

Speaking to our electrician yesterday I am reliably informed that some of the larger players (the two main Co-operatives) in our denomination are entering the game today. I have always been puzzled as to how such a small denomination (less than 3,000 hectares in total), can support two such large Co-operatives, so you can imagine my complete astonishment when I tell you that a third Co-operative opens it's doors for this harvest. This is assuming of course that the doors have actually been fitted yet....

I am sorry to tell you that this new co-operative was possibly born out of a lack of trust between the bodegas and the growers. The absence of contracts or the complete abuse of such, mean that the growers form co-operatives in an attempt to achieve some sort of security and continuity - you cannot blame them really. The downside of this is, of course, that there is more pressure put on grape supply, and rumours already abound of increased prices - the last thing that any denomination needs.

However, setting up a new co-operative is one thing, selling the wine that they produce from a standing start, is quite another. Time will tell.

So, meanwhile back to our Bodega, the grapes continue to roll in and all is well here in a warm, sunny Barrantes - I only wish I could get my ADSL connection to work properly - we have recently upgraded the connection to 3Mb, but quite frankly I don't think the lady on the local switchboard can handle it......

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blowing hot and cold......

Fran shows great determination when loading the presses!

Harvest 2007 - Day 4 - Thursday 19th September

Today is yet another sunny day, but without the breeze, and consequently warmer than yesterday. One of the big problems that we face in these conditions is the risk of catching colds and flu - perhaps I should explain......

It's quite simple really - one minute you find yourself working in a warm sunny reception area checking in grapes as they arrive, and the next you are down in the bowels of the cellar racking 'musts', where the ambient temperature is usually between 12°C and 14°C. Alternating between a sweatshirt and a t-shirt there is naturally the risk of catching a chill - a sore throat is pretty much an occupational hazard (although this could be caused by the presence of suphur that is used to protect the fresh juice).

Today's only real problem is a shortage of electricity! It would seem that the recent upgrade of our cooling system (which obviously works overtime during the harvest), has overloaded the circuit a little. You would think that the electricians might have thought of this before now! But no matter, a few adjustments and a bit of sticky tape appears to have done the trick and everything is working again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Normal service is restored

Any ideas what this is?

2007 Harvest - Day 3 - Tuesday 18th September

I have mentioned before that we follow the forecasts closely at harvest time, and I have to admit that they got it spot on once again. We opened the shutters this morning to reveal a perfect blue sky, exactly as promised. The other successful prediction was a drop in temperature - about 4/5°C cooler than the first day of harvest, but still a very pleasant 22°C (72°F). The only slightly unexpected element was a cool fresh breeze (although this did actually help to ensure completely dry fruit).

After nearly three full days of picking it is quickly becoming evident that the yields this year are much lower than 2006, which I guess is only to be expected. We should not forget that the last few of years have produced some record figures, partly owing to new plantings, but also because of some very abundant yields. From a quality standpoint this is no bad thing, albeit that some of our growers would probably find this mentality a little difficult to understand. Naturally they are more motivated by weight, despite the fact that we actually pay more for quality grapes rather than merely volume.

At the very end of the night, we did experience one minor hiccup (let's hope it will be the first and the last), when one of the presses seized up and refused to move. Thankfully this occurred when it was empty, and being cleaned, so hopefully it will be repaired before start of play tomorrow......

N.B. The above photo is taken looking directly down into one of the tanks as the first litres of grape 'must' arrive from the presses.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hold the presses!

Angela in the lab - testing 'must' samples

2007 Harvest - 17th September 2007 - (not Day 3!)

As we drove home from the Bodega late yesterday night it started to rain, exactly as the forecasts had predicted. By this morning the rain had stopped, the roads and pavements had dried up, but the atmosphere was still a little damp, and skies overcast.

We immediately examined the vine canopy to see how much water had been retained, and decided that, in the absense of any wind or sunshine (to dry the grapes thoroughly) we would suspend picking for the day.

We are confident that this will have no effect on the overall quality (as the amount of rain is so little) and the forecast for the rest of the week is for sunny skies, albeit that the temperature has dropped to the low 20's C (around 70°F)

Looking forward to an unexpected early night tonight!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

There's nothing like being prepared

My guess is that this guy was once a boy scout!

2007 Harvest - Day 2 - Sunday 16th September

They say that grape pickers are nomadic, but one of the guys working for us this year takes all the prizes! Take a look at his 4x4 pictured above (click on the picture to enlarge) - he appears to be prepared for all the perils of the Galician outback.

OK, so now back to the serious business of harvesting grapes. The weather forecast for today was not perfect, but we did at least start in bright sunshine. As the day wore on however, the sky did become a little overcast, mostly high cloud, and we did experience just a few spots of rain that fell in the late morning, but not even enough to dampen the pavement.

The grapes collected so far are very healthy, with good sugar levels, and perhaps just a hint more acidity than last year, although it is very difficult to judge this so early on. Our first look at the grape 'must' (which is in the midst of 'settling') reveals a nose of apricot and peach, with the same fruits appearing on the palate, together with apple and pear - very typical of the variety. It appears to have good weight and concentration, balanced by a fresh acidity, but obviously we will know more accurately after fermentation.

After a reasonably relaxed weekend, we await the onslaught of the new week.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I've always wanted a Lamborghini

OK, so it's not the Murciélago Roadster, but it has an open top!

2007 Harvest - Day 1 - Saturday 15th September

So, we finally decided to go early again - not as early as last year, but I am sure that we are the first Bodega in our zone to start picking. As I mentioned yesterday, it is never an easy decision, but after continued sampling of all the vineyards over the last few weeks, monitoring levels, we called Herminda and her team into action. (For those of you who don't recall, Herminda does a fantastic job for us both rounding up, and managing our pickers).

Under perfect blue skies, and temperatures of about 28°C (82.4°F) the grapes started to arrive by mid-morning - looking pretty healthy considering the relatively poor, damp summer that we have experienced this year. Certainly the hot, dry conditions that we have enjoyed for the last two weeks has provided a welcome boost to the maturity, and helped to reduce the acidity, which until now, has been quite elevated.

I guess that one of the secrets to a successful harvest is organisation, and I have to say that this year we have everything planned to the last detail, so that when the grapes finally arrive, there is no big panic or fuss.

In summary, the first day has passed off pretty smoothly, but at this stage we are still only building towards the crescendo that will probably arrive on Monday, when we invite more of our grape suppliers to join the campaign.

So far, so good.

N.B. The Lamborghini is actually not ours- one of our local tractor dealers has kindly loaned it to us for the duration of the harvest to help collect grapes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

To pick or not to pick.... that is the question

As wine making decisions go, deciding upon the optimum moment to start the harvest is probably one of the most difficult.

In a perfect world, all grapes, from all our different vineyard sites would reach full maturity at more or less the same time, with the perfect balance of sugar, acidity and pH. The nights would be cool and the days warm with perfect blue skies.

Unfortunately the reality is a little different..... whilst the sugar (potential alcohol) increases, and the acidity falls there can also be a loss of aromas - so it the end it all becomes a bit of a gamble and a question of holding your nerve. Deciding upon the correct moment to reap the full potential of the grape is one thing, but then we also cannot afford to forget the vagaries of the local weather. Torrential rain can very quickly dilute an entire years efforts in the vineyard.

We have our fingers well and truly crossed, and our presses at the ready.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Top Spanish prize for Casal Caeiro

Casal Caeiro - a wine of 'Distinction'

As you may have gathered if you have read my blog over the last year or so, I am not a great fan of wine competitions - there are often too many inconsistencies, both in the samples submitted, and the wide range of tasting categories.

The GALLAECIA is a local competition, tasted in Santiago de Compostela by 65 sommeliers and professionals who travel from all around Spain to judge the wines. Over 400 Galician wines are submitted, and these are whittled down to a final selection, that in turn are judged by 5 top sommelieres and 5 members of the local Consello Regulador.

There are no gold or silver medals as such, just a Certificate of Distinction, which is recognised by the Xunta of Galicia, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, and the European Union.

For me at least, the most significant accolades are those bestowed by sommeliers who really understand our wines and denomination, and accredited journalists who make unsolicited tasting notes about our Albariño.

Castro Martin in New York

Angela at the Lincoln Centre

September is usually the time of year when our thoughts turn to grapes rather than a 'big apple', but this year we made time to squeeze in the annual tasting of our new Castro Martin importer in New York City.

At the famous, and prestigious Lincoln Centre (or should it be Center) Castro Martin rubbed shoulders with many other top wine producers from around the world, and appeared to be very well received even in such illustrious company. Naturally we hope that the enthusiasm for our Albariño (and it's packaging, which was also admired), will be converted into listings and new orders!

So, after a quick shop-a-thon in New York, and just a little jet-lag, we find ourselves back at the coal face, rushing around preparing for the harvest. The contrast between the big city and rural Galicia could not be more extreme.....