Friday, October 26, 2007



On 27th October 2007 we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the inauguration of the current Bodegas Castro Martin wine cellar. Constructed during 1981, but officially inaugurated in 1982 with the '82 vintage - exactly 25 years ago.

This may not seen like very long, but you should bear in mind that the denomination of Rias Baixas was not actually created until 1987, and so it was Domingo Martin Morales (Angela's father) who had the foresight to build, what was then, one of the largest cellars in the area.

Built on three levels (thereby using mostly gravity to move the grapes, grape must and wine around) Domingo was also the first in Galicia to install stainless steel tanks for wine making - and with a total capacity of just over 200,000 litres (since increased to over 300,000) the locals considered him to be complete madman! Little did they know....

To clear up any possible confusion I should mention that Angela's family had actually been making and selling Albariño in the local area for generations before this time, but this was really the beginning of the 'industrial age' of wine making for the family.

So please raise a glass (of Albariño of course). Here's to Domingo Martin Morales, and the next 25 years!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Following the density

Measuring the density

In my previous reports I have mentioned that the natural yeasts of the Albariño in our denomination are not vigorous enough on their own to sustain the alcoholic fermentation. For this reason we are obliged to seed the tanks with selected yeasts to help convert the natural grape sugars into wine.

One of the key factors during this process is temperature control - the higher the temperature, the faster, and therefore shorter, the fermentation. Extremes of temperature, either too hot, or too cold can make the fermentation stick, and will ultimately have a detrimental effect on the finished wine. In white wine making temperature is especially critical, and we therefore analyse the grape must at least twice a day to monitor the speed of the reaction.

The method we use is quite simple, measuring the density of the must - in effect looking at the rate at which the sugar is being consumed. Examining the results gives us the information that we need for temperature control - if the sugar is being consumed too quickly we lower the temperature a little.

Depending on the temperature used, fermentation can take anything from one, to three or four weeks.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Responsible drinking?

Spain can be a country of contradictions - sometimes between Local and National Governments. I do not comment on many of these simply because they have no connection to the wine trade, but on this occasion, as it relates to alcohol, I feel compelled to comment.....

Last year, whilst explaining why we chose to opt out of the annual Albariño Festival (see August 2006), I mentioned a worrying phenomena that continues to grow here in Spain - The Botellón. Basically these are organised street-drinking parties that take place every weekend in nearly every city, town and village throughout Spain.

Young people take to the off-licences and supermarkets to stock up on spirits and mixers, on the pretext that they cannot afford to drink in bars and discos. The result being that public areas in cities, towns and villages throng with drunken young people well into the early hours of the morning as they openly swig from their bottles. (And when I say young, they start as young as 11, 12 and 13, simply asking their elders to buy the alcohol for them). The areas that they frequent are left littered with debris and empty bottles, and I will not detail some of the other sights and smells! I guess that the only saving grace might be that they do not appear to resort to any violence (as yet).

The Spanish Government has acted by printing the brochure above, stating that one in every three children between the ages of 14 and 18 gets drunk at least once a month, and then it goes on to warn parents that excessive alcohol can cause irreversable brain damage. Bravo! I may hear you say, there is at least one initiative..... but wait, how does Local government chose to back this National scheme?

Reported, quite incredibly, in the local Galician press, is a meeting between a member of the local Xunta and representatives of the young people. Their agenda? To discuss ways to prevent this under age street-drinking? Well, no, but actually to find alternative locations around the city of Pontevedra where they might re-locate their Botellón to create a little less disturbance!!!

Apparently the local Government believes that it is easier to accomodate the young people and find them a nice location, rather than to confront them and address the underlying problem.....

Is this a tale of 'political correctness' gone mad?

N.B. At the meeting, the young people turned down the alternative locations as unsuitable, so they will continue to party in the historic old town centre of Pontevedra. Heaven help the local residents....

Harvest 2007 - the full story

David shows off the 'fruit of his labour'

You may recall that immediately after our 2006 harvest (in the middle of September), it started to rain. Well, I can tell you now that it almost didn’t stop raining until the end of July 2007! Hardly a complete week passed without some form of precipitation, and this included many days of torrential rain, at times reminiscent of the tropics. Indeed the month of October 2006 recorded the equivalent of six months of the annual rainfall in just three weeks! Suffice to say that I guess we had what you could honestly describe as a wet winter, spring and early summer….

Of course, such humidity levels are not ideal for grape cultivation, and it is only fair to admit that we were obliged to spray against mildew and oidium a little more than usual. Having said that, the many hours that we spent in our vineyards during the early part of the summer certainly paid dividends. By using radical ‘canopy management’ techniques imported from the ‘new world’ (yet rarely seen here in Galicia), we were able to give our fruit the best possible exposure, effectively minimising the levels of treatment needed.

This year, we should certainly make special mention of David (our vineyard manager) who worked tirelessly under Angela’s supervision, to keep our vineyards in tip-top condition – even sacrificing weekends and days of his annual leave to ensure that essential work was carried out at the optimum moment.

The month of August, as we would anticipate, provided a much-needed break from the wet conditions, although temperatures remained fairly modest. However, the character of the 2007 vintage was probably defined during the final two weeks before the grapes were actually collected. The beginning of September witnessed a welcome increase in daytime temperatures, pushing towards 30°C (86°F). Under these conditions the grape sugars received a final boost, but perhaps more significantly, the acidity was reduced to a more manageable level.

Inevitably the actual harvest date was decided by a combination of the physiology of the fruit, and the Galician weather. And so, by Saturday 15th September, with all the boxes ticked, the 2007 harvest kicked off in perfect conditions.

I always believe that the secret of any successful ‘event’ is in the forward planning, and with each passing vintage, we implement the lessons learned from previous years. In this way we hope that each campaign might be a little easier than the last! In 2007 it would appear that this philosophy paid some dividends as our well drilled team went about their business. David and Juan in charge of grape collection, Luisa in charge of grape reception, Fran in charge of the presses, and Angela and I, swanning around trying to look important…..

Actually, I lied about the last part – During the harvest my task is to stay on top of the logistics and planning, making sure that that we have people in the right places when they are needed, and also ensuring that the grapes flow through the cellar in a timely fashion. Angela, meanwhile, can be found in her lab coat, recording the quality of every single grape that enters the Bodega.

The first weekend passed off without major incident, although it soon became clear that the yields of 2007 would be well down on those of 2006. It should be remembered however, that 2006 was a record year, and so this shortfall was only to be expected, and could perhaps equate to a better concentration, and therefore superior quality. We shall see…..

In the early hours of Monday morning as we left the Bodega to grab a few hours sleep, it started to rain (exactly as had been forecast). When we woke up it had stopped, the pavements had dried, but the sky was pretty dull and overcast, with not a breath of wind. In these conditions, having looked at the water retention in the canopy, we decided to suspend picking for the day.

By Tuesday morning the sun had returned, together with a fresh breeze, so naturally we returned to the fray. Fortunately, such a small amount of water had made no difference whatsoever to the quality of the fruit, and this proved to be the only small weather hiccup of the whole vintage.

And so, after one week of picking, all the grapes had been safely gathered in, and we moved into the cellar for the more complex process of the winemaking. The next few weeks will see virtually non-stop activity as we first allow the must to settle, before racking it into clean tanks to begin fermentation. Unfortunately the natural yeasts on the Albariño grape cannot sustain fermentation by themselves, so we stimulate the process by seeding with carefully selected yeasts. After trials with several different yeast strains conducted over the last few years, we have deliberately selected a very neutral variety that allows the delicate flavour of the grape itself to dominate on the palate.

Before fermentation our first view of this year’s ‘must’ reveals a greater concentration than last year – unctuous and with a thicker consistency. The nose and palate both share aromas of peach, pear and apricot (and not as floral as we sometimes see). This rich, generous mouthfeel that originates from the high level of grape sugar, will probably produce an Albariño of around 12.5% alcohol - the same as our 2006 wine. So, despite the reduced quantity that we have produced, we have high hopes for the quality of our 2007 wine.