Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's more or less an exact science!

Many of you who read our blog on a regular basis will perhaps already know of my frustrations regarding the sometimes seemingly casual approach to business here in Spain. No matter how much careful planning and forethought you put in, the sad fact is that it is quite normal for at least one of your suppliers to let you down. To illustrate the point I thought that I would quickly tell of my most recent experiences....

We recently received our first order from one of the UK's most prestigious retail chains, so naturally we wanted everything to be perfect. The order was for a finite amount of wine, so in terms of 'dry goods' we knew, down to the last label, exactly what we would need. I should mention that, in the case of the labels and cartons, these would both be printed with lot numbers, and so too little would render us short, whilst too many would simply go down as waste.

We therefore specified very clearly (confirmed in writing) to both our label and carton producers the exact numbers that we would require, but that they should also allow a small margin for error over and above our actual order - we did suggest the amount that we would consider acceptable.

Of course you can guess what happened, but as always, the logic left me scratching my head.

In the case of the front label, the over-run was more than 15% (which was far more than we had suggested), whereas the back label over-run was 0%. Yes, they actually sent the exact number that we needed for the order, so in effect, we could not damage or lose one single label during bottling! Now, anyone who knows anything about bottling will know how difficult this is to achieve, and more especially with a label that we have never used before.

The cartons were actually worse. Despite telling our representative that he should personally supervise the production run himself we ended up with very nearly 25% more cases than we actually ordered. All printed with lot numbers and vintages that cannot be used for future orders.

Now I can imagine the response that we would get if our US importer ordered 400 cases of wine, but we actually sent him 500 - I don't think that we would stay in business for too long!

I know for a fact (because I have seen them) that the machines that produce these goods all have electronic counters, indeed, some are computer controlled, so in my opinion I am not sure how they can possibly justify such mistakes. No doubt I will find out!

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Christmas!

They say that the older you get, the quicker time passes - well, I must be getting very old! It seems like only a day or two ago that I started my Christmas preparations, when I sat down and wrote my Christmas cards, planned my Christmas gift list etc. And now it's here - we are just two days away from the start of the festivities!

We are of course reminded of this by today's singing of the Spanish Christmas Lottery, or 'El Gordo' (Fat One) as it is known - and yes, I did say singing. To be strictly accurate it is more a very monotone Gregorian chant that goes on for several hours - Madrid schoolchildren picking the numbers and singing them out to an expectant Spanish population. Probably the slowest, most complicated and monotonous prize draw you could ever witness. Although the total prize fund is the world's largest (this year estimated at some 3.2 billion euros), the top prize is actually only a miserly 3 million euros. The reason that it is the biggest lottery is because there are some thirteen thousand prizes, and so, in theory at least, you have a better chance of recouping some of your losses. Now, I don't know if this figure is completely accurate, but I have heard that the average spend on tickets is actually 72 euros per capita - the only thing that I can tell you with any real accuracy is that I have won nothing, and so will have to continue working tomorrow. Bah, humbug!

And so finally, on behalf of Angela and myself we wish all our friends and customers around the world a very merry Christmas, and a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Pants down politicians

Holy sh**, it's Christmas!

I hope that you are not too offended by the caption to this picture - indeed, if you are easily offended then probably best to stop reading now!

On a recent visit to Cataluña we were reminded of a very strange Catalan Christmas custom. Added to every nativity scene is the little defecator, or 'caganer' as they are known locally. Traditionally this character would be dressed in a Catalan costume with traditional red stocking hat, and hidden away in the corner to be discovered by the children as a sort of game. The part that I have never really understood is the explanation of what this figure supposedly represents, which is fertility and equality. (Answers on a postcard please)

Anyway, strange custom aside, the idea of the little pooping Catalan has now been expanded to include world leaders, politicians and celebrities - so if you're visiting Barcelona this Christmas and you spy Barack Obama with his pants around his ankles, please don't be upset - it's just a tradition!

Friday, November 28, 2008

So what do paper and oil have in common?

Good question, I hear you ask - well, here's a clue..... it's to do with recession!

Now, I don't claim to be an expert in commodities (otherwise I would be making millions as a trader), but the thing that I do know, or have read, is that the price of certain products has collapsed in recent months. Of course we are all familiar with the story of oil - touching nearly $150 a barrel in the Spring of 2008, and losing two thirds of it's value since then, now trading for around $50. Quite rightly, the thing that always puzzles (and annoys) most consumers is the delay in any price drop reaching the pumps - needless to say the petroleum companies always have their excuses, sorry, explanations, to justify this.

So why would I mention this on a wine website? Allow me to explain:

In the last twelve months the prices of many of our dry goods (corks, capsule, bottles etc) have increased by much more than the rate of inflation, but none more so than our cardboard cartons. The reason is apparently down to supply, demand, and the price of re-cycled paper. As long ago as 2003 the price of paper started to rise sharply, brought about by the shortage of re-cycled material and the increasing demand from the booming Far Eastern markets. The Asians were quite simply willing to pay more for their paper.

However, this growth in demand has now beeen stopped in it's tracks by global recession - some parts of Europe that were exporting as much as 70% of their re-cycled paper to the Far East, now find themselves sitting on huge stockpiles, and the price has virtually collapsed.

Now, not many consumers will have noticed this as they are not directly affected in the same way as they are with fuel. I, on the other hand, took the first opportunity to confront my carton supplier....

Whilst he was obviously aware of the drop in paper prices, he was only able to offer a very feeble excuse as to why he was not reducing his tariff, and whilst he may feel that he was able to fob me off, rest assured he will not get off quite so lightly!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Doing business in Spain

Now I don't often do this, and I may even get into trouble for doing it, but I am going to reproduce the text of an article written the other day in one of the UK's more serious newspapers. It simply highlights some of the idiosyncrasies and frustrations of doing business here in Spain, and could easily have been written by me (albeit that this version is much more succinct!) Unfortunately there are many painful truths.....

Spain is one of Europe’s great economic success stories; from low-wage backwater in the 1980s to modern global force today. However, do not be fooled by the shiny new wrapper: custom and tradition die hard in what is still an essentially conservative business society.

“Doing business in Spain is still more like negotiating in northern Africa than agreeing a deal in northern Europe,” says a British financier living in Madrid. “Si, Si often means no, no, and nothing gets done in a hurry.”

This lack or urgency may irritate those on a tight schedule. Spanish businessmen, particularly in multinational companies, are aware of this and will endeavour to adapt. However, government departments are indiscriminately bureaucratic and obstructive, despite regular promises by politicians to reduce red tape. In any case, it often pays to go with the flow.

Business meetings that may take 20 minutes in, say, Amsterdam, could drag on for an hour or more in Madrid. They can also seem a lot less structured, with participants appearing and disappearing with little explanation. Listening attentively, while a virtue in many societies, is optional in Spain.

“Be prepared for chaotic business negotiations,” advises the International Business Centre, a not-for-profit on-line advisory service. “Often numerous people will be speaking simultaneously.” Meetings are usually called or scheduled for late in the day, and run well into the evening.

Despite this relative chaos, business protocol and custom, though slowly dissolving in some sectors, is rigid. Attire is almost invariably sober and understated: dark suits, light shirts and conservative ties are the norm. One’s superior is always right and not to be contradicted, especially in front of others. Subordinates will often refer to a male chief executive as “Don” so-and-so, bestowing upon him a title best translated as “sir”.

Though foreigners are not expected to show the same deference, this treatment, on being introduced to the boss, will be appreciated. Use “Don” as part of a formal greeting, in Spanish, and your efforts will be noted. Simply effusing “Es un placer conocerle, Don Jaime”, or “Mucho gusto, Don Jaime” on shaking hands will unfailingly elicit compliments about the level of your Spanish. After that, first names are generally fine, though the occasional “Señor” followed by the surname will help maintain a basic level of formality. Get the surname right: Spaniards generally have two and, although customarily go by the first – which is the paternal one – they sometimes use the second. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the prime minister, is a case in point.

Learning how to order a few favourite dishes in Spanish will also be a point-scorer. When there is business at hand, your host will generally insist on a three-course meal with wine, often prefaced with a beer and tapas and topped off with a post-prandial whisky or other spirit. These feasts rarely start before 2pm and can run to beyond 4pm, serving as a sort of long intermission in a commensurately long working day. Do not expect to find people in their offices during this time – Spaniards view with some disdain the idea of a quick sandwich at the desk.

Business is not necessarily the focus of what many would term a “working lunch”, but rather a way to get properly acquainted. “Ideally, you should talk shop at the table only if your Spanish companions initiate it,” advises ExecutivePlanet.com. “In any case, protocol requires that you wait until coffee is served at the end of the meal to bring up the subject of business.”

Avoid talk of politics until allegiances are established, and take note that Spaniards are sensitive to overt criticism of their country. “People in Spain – and other Latin societies – tend to confuse criticism of institutions with personal attacks,” says the head of an influential business lobby. This said, observations with a negative tinge are fine, although they are best offset with an equally unfavourable remark about one’s own country.

They also value family life above all else, so questions about your host’s family normally go down well. Football is another great leveller. Spaniards are also fiercely regional. The former chairman of one electricity group delighted in presenting to visitors a tome of photographs from his province. A few anecdotes about your own home will keep conversation flowing until talk finally gets around to business.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Avian vs Evian

Deciding to create a new brand is something that you do not take lightly, as quite naturally it comes to represent the image of your business. So back in 2002 when we decided to bottle different qualities of wine, we studied the market carefully to try to find something original, but above all else, easy to remember. (How many times have you tried to find a wine that you once enjoyed, but then couldn't remember the unpronounceable foreign name?) At the same time we also wanted to create a brand that was modern, vibrant, and perhaps more suited to wine bars and the off-trade.

After much deliberation we finally came up with Avian - short, simple and as far as we know, did not mean anything rude in another language (I still can't bring myself to buy the brand of sausage called 'Homo'!)

The next step was to register the name, assuming of course, that it was not already being used. In the product category of wines we discovered that it was indeed available, so we pushed ahead with the registration and started to sell the new wine.

After a little while we were astonished to hear that our registration was being contested..... by the French mineral water brand Evian. Now forgive me for saying, but I really fail to see how a Spanish white wine (named after birds) could possibly be confused with a French mineral water (named after a town).... but suffice to say, they put their lawyers on the case.

A couple of years down the road, and following appeal, they continued to fight, and as they had probably anticipated, we decided (reluctantly) that we did not have the time, energy or resources to carry on.

We will therefore now discontinue the Avian brand, and replace it with the new (and uncontested) label known as A2O - already a top selling wine in the UK market.

Now that's what I call a serious rip-off!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Soap box time!

It's been a little while since I posted anything on our blog, I guess that this is probably because I am going through my annual post-harvest depression, or perhaps it's simply that there's not much going on at the moment. So, as we await the first tasting of our 2008 wines, I thought I would fill the time by having a moan!

Now, anyone and everyone who lives in Spain will have his or her own horror story about working/dealing with Telefonica (Spain's largest telecom provider) , so my own recent experience will probably ring true with many - every pun intended.

Each summer we add a new ADSL connection to one of our existing telephone lines, and disconnect it in the autumn (no need for details). A simple exercise one would think, and indeed it used to be, but now the rules have been changed, surprisingly enough to the benefit of Telefonica. To connect is easy - a simple telephone call 'et voila' you have your new ADSL line within a matter of hours. Disconnection is however, another story, and this is where the rules have changed.

On previous occasions a simple fax confirming your desire to disconnect was enough, and subsequently your connection would be cut within a couple of days, but now..... The first step is a call to Telefonica who in turn send you the official disconnection form, by post! This, they remind you, can take up to 14 days - and guess what - it always does! Infact, after two weeks, when you have almost certainly not received anything, you are obliged to call them back so that they have to send you a second letter.

The first year when our letter 'went missing', we simply put this down to bad luck, but then, when it happened again a second time, we realised that it was simply a scam. Of course, by delaying the disconnection as long as possible the company benefits from the additional line rental. (By the way, I forgot to mention that Telefonica already has possibly the most expensive ISP charges in Europe, and whilst many European providers are reducing their fees in the face of stiff competition, Telefonica have just increased theirs!)

So why not move to another ISP? Well, to be honest Telefonica is simply the best of a bad bunch, and doesn't face too much serious competition.

In truth this small scam is simply the tip of the iceberg. Almost every month there is some small but mysterious charge that will appear on your phone bill - it may only be a few cents or an odd euro, but then imagine that this small 'mistake' appears on every customer's bill, multiply by a couple of million, and presto, how many cents will that add up to? Of course Telefonica make the assumption that only a handful of customers will take the time and trouble to complain - and the result of few people complaining?...... more profit in their end of year accounts!

One recent example of this - Telefonica suddenly started to bill for their 'caller ID' service, which had been offered without charge since it's inception a few years earlier. Fair enough, you may say - well, maybe not, as they will now simply charge you an additional fee should you decide to opt out of the service. I think this is known as a win, win situation, or perhaps put more simply, yet another creative way to fleece your customers.

Telefonica - Spain's favourite telecom supplier...... not!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy All Hallows' Even!

Today I simply wanted to make a post that nothing to do with damaged tanks, so I thought that I would make a quick mention of Halloween, and how Albariño is perfect with pumpkin pie! (Not true really, or it might be, I've just never tried it).

It's really interesting that in the last few years (more or less the amount of time that I have been living in Spain) that there are a couple of festivals, or fiestas that have grown considerably in popularity - Halloween being one of them.

Whilst All Saints Day is a national holiday here in Spain, it would seem that very few people actually make the connection between All Hallows Eve and 1st November, All Hallows Day. I have actually asked a few young people if they knew the origin or significance of Halloween, and it would seem that this is understood even less than the significance of Christmas (don't forget that the tradition in Spain was originally to celebrate the Reyes Magos (three kings) in January, rather than Christmas Day).

Halloween in Spain is most likely to have been adopted owing to the influence of American television, with all it's associated costumes, lanterns and trick-or-treating etc. Few people realising that it is in fact an Ancient Gaelic Pagan holiday (Samhain), now celebrated irrespective of it's religious origin.

The other fiesta that puzzles me slightly is the Feria Franca, or Medieval Fair, held in the City of Pontevedra each September. Inaugurated as recently as the year 2000, I have yet to find anyone who can actually explain the significance of this most impressive event - not that the Spanish have ever needed an excuse to party!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Worse than we thought....

When I wrote the other day about the damage to our tanks you will remember that we were cutting 'man holes' to allow improved access for repair. Once inside however, it soon became apparent that the damage was worse than we thought, and the repair much more difficult.

It was immediately established that at least two, if not three tanks, were completely beyond repair, and that sections would have to be completely replaced. As these tanks were disassembled, the engineers started by removing the top 'cone', rather like opening a huge tin can..... the view inside was quite shocking, as you can see from the photograph above.

It is really sad to see these original tanks, installed by Angela's father, and that have served so well over the last 25 years, being cut up in this way, especially when we consider that they were in pristine condition, and probably would have served for the next 25 years without any problem.

At this point it would be unwise for me to comment further about how exactly the damage was caused, or who was responsible - this issue will no doubt be battled out between insurance companies over the coming months.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cutting open the tanks

As if we didn't have enough going on in the cellar at the moment, we now have workmen trying to repair our damaged tanks. If you have been following our blog, you will already know of the problem that we had just before the harvest when some of our tanks imploded on themselves.

So now it would appear that the only way to make a reasonable repair is from the inside each tank, and thereby lies the first problem. Our smaller tanks of 9,000 litres have only one small opening on top, so unless you employ very tall, slim engineers they're not going to fit through the hole, and if they do, they will have to be climbing down a rope at the same time (as a ladder will not fit either)! The likelihood is that anyone with these acrobatic skills is probably already working in a circus.

The only option therefore, is to add 'man holes' or 'boca de hombre' as they are known in Spanish, before the real repair work can even begin.

I know I shouldn't say this, but in a very perverse way, it's lucky that we didn't have a very big harvest. It's always difficult enough juggling the musts and wines around the cellar during this period (making use of every spare litre of capacity), even before taking into account the tanks that either cannot or should not be used owing to the damage. Suffice to say that we will very soon need to use the repaired tanks for racking the new wines after fermentation. Fingers crossed that they will be ready......

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's all a bit topsy-turvy

I am not sure of the origin of the expression 'topsy-turvy', perhaps it is typically English and not used in other parts of the world? Anyway, for me it comes to mean upside-down or standing on it's head.

Now, this is not some ridiculous reference to our recent visit from Australia, but actually relates to the state of the weather here in Galicia. Having endured a long, cool, damp summer and the inherent problems for grape cultivation, the sun is now shining and our daytime temperatures have been touching 28°C (82°F). Not only this, but evenings and nights have also been unseasonably warm.

There is no doubt that world weather patterns are changing and in some cases, becoming more extreme, but the great debate remains over whether this is caused by man, or whether it is simply a natural phenomena. Of course any expert will tell you that historically weather does shift in cycles, and so I have no doubt that speculation on this subject will continue long into the future.

I have to say though (and I am sure any farmer would agree), it would be nice if the seasons were at least slightly more predictable, and that we could simply revert back to long, hot summers and cold winters..... just a bit of wishful thinking I'm afraid.

Meanwhile, back at the wine cellar, the fermentation is now under way using strict temperature control as always. Obviously fermentation is not a good moment for tasting, and so we eagerly await the first opportunity to taste a 'finished' wine, rather than simply a grape 'must'.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Herminda's famous empanada

Lights.... Camera.... Action!

A few months ago we had a visit from some Australian restaurateurs who were in the process of compiling a book about Spanish food - MoVida2 - not just a recipe book, but more a book about the actual origin of the recipes and the local people who prepare them.

On this first visit we introduced them to Herminda (la 'jefa' of our picking team), who had prepared a delicious corn empanada, and tortilla made using only the freshest of eggs. They were so taken with Herminda's character and her food that they wanted to feature her recipes in the book, so they made a second trip half way around the world in order to try to recreate the entire experience.

On the morning of the scheduled visit it was pouring with rain, and the chances of taking photos in the vineyard looked fairly remote, but by the time they arrived, by some miracle, the sun was shining. (Who ever knew that Australians were so righteous!)

Angela looks on anxiously as the famous empanda is divided

Just a few days ago our Pazo vineyard was the scene of frantic activity as the grapes were gathered in, today it formed the backdrop for a photoshoot. In some fine sunshine we enjoyed Herminda's great cooking once again, together with a very nice drop of Albarino, whilst at the same time photos for the new book were collected.

So now we just have to wait until next year when the book is published and Herminda's recipes are immortalised in print.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The morning after the night before

I must confess that when I arrived first thing this morning and saw the scaffold that Fran had erected, I wasn't sure if it was intended for him to access the presses, or for him to hang himself when he saw all the cleaning that needed to be done (especially when I saw the rope)!

I guess that today you feel a bit like the host of an important party the morning after the event. You're pleased and relieved that it all went off well, but daunted at the sight of all the cleaning up. If only they hadn't stolen our best pressure washer.......

For Angela and myself, the job is probably not even half done, as we embark on the wine-making process. 2008 may prove to be less straight forward then the last couple of years, as we will have to factor malolactic fermentation into this years equation. With the acidities being a little higher than we would like, we need to use this natural process to correct them - but that will come later.

It would appear that the harvest in our region is now largely over, as the number of tractors scurrying around delivering grapes seems to have diminished. There are one or two Bodegas still gathering fruit, but only one, to my knowledge, that has not yet started. Now they are either very brave or completely foolish, and only time will tell - all I can say is that I don't like the look of next weeks weather forecast, and I wish them luck!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Racing towards the finish line

Angela and I start to look a bit jaded at the end of another campaign
(as does our new tractor!)

2008 Harvest - Day 6 - Thursday 2nd October

With fewer grapes coming in this year, it would appear that today could be our last day, but on a positive note the weather for picking has been extremely kind to us. Without a single drop of rain (or even a cloud) this must possibly be the longest period of continuous sunshine that we have enjoyed since July.

As always, the trick of the last day is to end up with all the grapes inside, in quantities that will conveniently fit into our presses. For example, it's no good arriving at the end of the day with 1000 kilos left hanging on the vine, as this is simply not enough to fill one press. Our two presses have minimum and maximum loads, and so we have to juggle with the numbers to make sure that the day's crop can be divided effectively.

By about 9.30 pm the final grapes of 2008 arrive at the cellar door, and by 10.30pm they are all loaded into our presses. With a slow, gentle pressing cycle of about two and a half hours, this means that the last drop of juice is squeezed at 01.00am. Time to lock the door, turn off the light and go home to grab some sleep (before coming back early to check on the temperature control - or had you forgottten that story?)

In a quiet moment Angela scours the Bodega vineyard to check for any missed bunches (and judging by her bucket she has found some!)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The 2008 technical hitch

A picture of the offending wotsit

2008 Harvest - Day 5 - Wednesday 1st October

There is no vintage that passes without some sort of technical hitch, and of course, 2008 is no exception. Our problem this year is with the temperature control, which as you may have read, started a couple of weeks ago. So for those of you who are technically minded here is a brief explanation of what went wrong....

The long springy thing attached to the top of the wotsit started to freeze up - naturally this part controls the flow to the thingamybob, which in turn supplies the oojimaflip, and therefore the compressor starts to overheat. OK, so that just about covers that!

Seriously though, this fault gives us a bit of a headache, as it means that we have to check the cold machine every few hours (day and night) to make sure that it is working properly. Regrettably, we are told, that a full repair cannot be carried out until after the winemaking is over as it will necessitate possibly two or three days work whilst the technicians drain the refridgerant.

It now begins to look like we have broken the back of the picking, as the volume of grapes arriving at our door starts to slow. As I mentioned at the offset there are some growers, including ourselves, that have produced more or less the same as last year, but then there are others who have produced less. Overall this will mean that we have a slightly smaller harvest than 2007, and the local news is that this trend appears to be the norm for the large majority of bodegas in our denomination.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Albariño 'Spumante'

Our new brand - shame about the packaging

2008 Harvest - Day 4 - Tuesday 30th September

Not only is my wife Angela a champion re-cycler (as you may know from previous posts), but she is also a great collector of things - some useful, and some not so useful. However, yesterday's little discovery was a gem.

We have quite a large refridgerator in our laboratory, which is where we store yeasts and enzymes etc. during our harvest period. Angela also keeps and extensive collection of unfermented 'must' samples, really just for reference once they have been analysed. Yesterday, at the bottom of the fridge we discovered two samples left over from last year, and quite naturally, we were going to throw them out. However, when we opened the two small plastic screw-top bottles, there was a rush of CO2, and a steady stream of bubbles rose to the top of the bottle. The puzzle was that these 'musts' had not been seeded with yeast, so any slow fermentation that had taken place (12 months at 5°C) was completely natural. We tasted the fizzy liquid......

It was amazingly clean and fresh, with no hint of oxidation (bear in mind that no sulphur had been added to the bottle), with a zesty acidity. I should also say that the 'wine' was very sweet rather like Lambrusco, or a sweet Spumante from Asti. Amazing, a real discovery to give a little lift to our exhausting day.

Meanwhile back at the harvest, whilst we have been pleasantly surprised by the quality, it would appear that the quantity could perhaps be even less than in 2007. Despite the recession that looms on the horizon (or that is perhaps already on our doorstep), Bodegas are still, it would seem, keen to fill their tanks and therefore the competition to buy grapes is fierce. Indeed, hanging on to your existing suppliers can be a challenge, as competitors try to lure them away with the promise of higher prices.

Whilst our own vineyards have flourished in terms of yield, and emerged relatively unscathed, others have not been quite so lucky and have lost production either through disease, or through hail damage in recent storms.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to work on Monday

Our tanks wait open-mouthed to be fed

2008 Harvest - Day 3 - Monday 29th September

After a day of rest and relaxation we restart the harvest once again under perfect blue skies and bathed in warm sunshine (around 26°C or 79°F if you prefer).

Today we kicked-off in our most recently planted vineyard, a one hectare site that surrounds the Bodega, very originally known as the 'Bodega' vineyard, or sometimes referred to as the 'Caeiro' vineyard (which is the name of the site). Planted some six years ago, Caeiro is only now starting to yield viable quantities of quality grapes - indeed, the sugar levels are very good, and the grapes are extremely healthy, especially when we consider the poor summer that we have endured this year.

After a very civilised lunch break on picnic tables and chairs, always taken in the shade of the pergolas, we moved on to our biggest and best vineyard - 'El Pazo', or 'El Pazo de Barrantes' to give it it's full title. We do not however, call it by it's full title as this could possibly confuse us with the another Bodega that uses the same name (to explain briefly, the other Bodega did originally own the Pazo vineyard before they sold it to Angela's father many years ago - but that's another story).

So, Herminda and her gang of pickers swarm over the Pazo like a plague of locusts (I hope she doesn't mind the analogy, she's bigger than me!), and within a short space of time the grapes start to flood into the cellar and then very quickly into the presses. I am sure that I have mentioned before that we pride ourselves on the speed with which we process our grapes, and it is never usually more than a couple of hours from vine to press - most important in white wine making.

After another busy evening, day 3 draws to a close and we leave the night shift, led by Fran, to load the last press of the day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Our day of rest

2008 Harvest - Sunday 28th September

After studying the long-range weather forecast we have decided to gamble a little......

The weather looks good for the coming week, and whilst we are still enjoying warm sunshine we have decided to stop picking for the day. Not, I hasten to add, so that we can pack our picnic hampers and run off to the beach, but actually because we want to give the fruit an extra day on the vine in order to reduce the acidity by just a fraction more.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Harvest update

Our insurance policy arrives on a truck!

2008 Harvest - Day 2 - Saturday 27th September

If there is anybody reading this who has followed our harvests over the last few years they will know that many of the problems that we have faced have not been down to mother nature, but more often due to the technical vagaries of our equipment.

In our office for example, our computers are protected by UPS (no, not the parcel company, but back-up batteries that cut in when our power supply fails). Now, try to imagine what happens in the middle of your harvest, when you have both your presses and your refridgeration system working at full tilt, and the power goes.....

There can be no doubt that the power supply in our village is stretched when Castro Martin and other neighbouring bodegas are working at full potential, but we have managed to avoid this problem over the last two years by picking earlier than other cellars. This year however, it would seem that everyone is taking advantage of the 'window' in the weather that we are enjoying, and so the local grid must now be under some strain.

In these circumstances, we have decided to pay a small 'insurance premium' by hiring a large generator to cover our needs should the system fail. I have no doubt that having done this everything will function perfectly, but at least we have bought a little peace of mind.

So, apart from a slight hiccup with the new cooling system that stopped working for an hour or two, a puncture in one our trailers, and the usual hectic period of activity in the early evening (when the majority of grapes arrive), our Saturday was more or less uneventful.

Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention my own person disaster of yesterday, when I realised that I had run out of tea bags. Now, anyone who knows me will know how serious this is, so bad infact, that I nearly had to go on strike!

Friday, September 26, 2008

We're off!

David rushes off to distribute the first load of baskets

2008 Harvest - Day 1 - Friday 26th September

All the waiting is now over as we launch ourselves into a new campaign, and I should tell you that in many ways the build up to 2008 has been just a little more stressful than usual.

Firstly, we have had quite a difficult growing season and the quality of this years harvest has been more or less hanging in the balance until the eleventh hour. Fortunately in the last week we have enjoyed some warm sunshine and whilst the risk of rot has subsided, so the sugar/acidity balance has finally come good. So, we start picking in a healthy state and with the weather forecast set fair for the next few days....

The second minor irritation this year was the theft that we suffered a few days ago - fortunately none of the equipment stolen was critical to the harvest, and hopefully this will all be recovered through insurance (we hope!)

The third and by far the most stressful event was the disaster of our temperature control equipment - I wrote a few days about the damage to our tanks, but what I neglected to mention was that, until yesterday, the whole system was not actually functioning! For some reason the new pumps and pipework would only chill parts of the tank room, but not all at once. Indeed, it was only this morning that the problem was finally resolved, and we now have our fingers crossed that it will work efficiently at least for the next few weeks, and more especially during fermentation.

OK, so the first grapes arrived through our doors at around mid-day, and our first impression was that they were much healthier than we could have hoped for a month or so ago. The bunches showed no sign whatsoever of the rot that had threatened over recent weeks - of course some of this, at least, was down to careful picking and selection in the vineyards - any sign of disease and the grapes were simply left hanging on the vine......

The first presses yielded an intensely sweet fruit, but with a slightly higher acidity than last year, in a way more typical of an Albariño harvest. Potential alcohol levels are also nearer to the 'norm' for our region - early indications show an average of around 12%, rather than the 12.5% that we have experienced in the last couple of vintages.

And so, the story continues.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daylight robbery!

At this time of year we are more than a little pre-occupied with our harvest, and in these circumstances I guess that it's easy to 'take your eye off the ball' and let your guard down a little. Directly related to this, the other slight distraction that we have is the constant queue of people knocking on our door looking for casual grape picking jobs.

With all this added activity in and around the bodega, the thing that regrettably we did not notice were the thieves breaking into one of our storage sheds at the back of the building! I should explain that in order to arrive at our back door you have to use a private access road that is probably around 100 metres long, and so, judging by the volume and type of equipment stolen, the theives must have used quite a large vehicle to get in and out. Unfortunately the rear access cannot easily be seen from our offices, so we have no way of knowing exactly when the break-in took place, and it wasn't until we discovered the broken metal door, that we realised something was amiss.

It's likely that if any would-be intruder had been confronted at our back door, then they simply would have claimed that they were looking for work - or at least this is my idea.

Amongst the missing items of equipment were a couple of trimmer/brushcutters, a pressure washer and a couple of heavy-duty drills........ So, if you find yourself at a local car-boot sale in Pontevedra, and you are offered pieces of light agricultural equipment on the cheap, then please at least ask about their origin!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Playing the waiting game....

It's just a game of patience!

We are now more or less as ready as we're going to be for the 2008 harvest, the only thing that we're waiting for now are the grapes, or should I say the optimum moment to pick them.

The 2008 growing season has been tricky to say the least, with plenty of unsettled weather right from the very start. A late flowering this year was of course an early indicator that the harvest would be a late one too - viticultors usually calculate a period of 100 days from flowering to harvest - a formula that is nearly always very accurate.

In the period just before last year's harvest we were blessed with hot sunshine, but this year is a little different. Whilst we are currently enjoying a few days of sunshine, the daytime temperatures are cooler than in 2007, reaching only the low to mid 20's (68-77°F). The other difference is the presence of rain, which regrettably seems to re-appear every few days. Naturally, the result of this changeable weather is that the final maturation is slower than we would like, and so we simply have to sit back and wait for the sugar, pH and acidity levels to reach the correct balance.

Related to this 'grape-watch' is my other favourite past-time at this time of year - weather forecasts (unfortunately not an exact science even in this day and age). I follow about four or five different websites on an hour-by-hour basis, and unbelievably, it is actually quite rare that they agree with one another! Perhaps my best option is just to look out of the window.....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Castro Martin in the 'Gran Manzana'

OK, so the photo is a bit cheesy, and I'm sure that it has been done before, but I do like to keep myself amused.....

I am just back (and recovering) from a few days in New York, where I attended the annual tasting of our US importer. It was a bit of a rushed trip owing to the fact that the date of the tasting was so close to the harvest - indeed, if it had been either 2006 or 2007 we would have already started picking.

Of course New York is a shoppers paradise, especially with the Euro being so strong against the Dollar (unfortunately not that great for exporting wine) and so, as you can imagine, Angela was devastated at not being able to fly with me - as winemaker she had to stay behind and 'hold the fort'. She did however compensate by sending me with a long shopping list, and so my sightseeing on this year's trip was mainly confined to Fifth Avenue!

Anyway, I am now back in the real world of grapes, pH and acidity, as we wind up towards the start of this year's campaign. As expected, owing to the late flowering, this years picking will start a little later than the last couple of years, and actually much nearer to the normal start-date for this part of the world.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pre-Harvest trauma

As you may know if you read our blog regularly we are constantly improving and updating our wine-making facilities here at the Bodega. A short while ago we spent a considerable amount of money on improvements to our temperature control machinery, but unfortunately we later discovered that it still did not work quite as efficiently as it should. The required solution? To upgrade all the pipework, tubing and pumps supplying the refridgerated solution to the cooling jackets of the tanks.

After waiting months for the specialist refridgeration company to come and complete the job, they finally turned up a week or two ago (only a few weeks before the start of the harvest, where temperature control of the tanks plays a critical role in the wine-making).

Finally, the moment came to test the upgraded system........ Bang! Bang! Bang! Disaster!

The loud banging noise that reverberated around the cellar was caused by the empty tanks imploding on themselves. I cannot beginning to explain what actually caused the problem, but suffice to say that a vacuum that built up in the cooling system was sufficiently strong to collapse the stainless steel walls of the tanks!

The above photograph is taken looking upwards at a tank that was formerly a perfect cylinder shape, and it is very easy to see the damage. We are told that these distortions can be repaired, albeit that not every tank will be perfect - unfortunately, time to involve lawyers and insurance companies.

In the meantime we have been assured that the system will be up and running before we start picking (probably next week), and that there will be no detremental effect to the quality our wine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lost in translation


I thought it would be impossible for someone to love our wine more than we do, but it would seem that the Chinese are putting in a serious challenge.....

In a recent mailshot from a Chinese marketing company they ask: "Do you want to make your wines more charmly?"

Apparently their wine-cooler boasts: "A wine-loving interior : cool, dark, and quiet"

They also claim: "Every family must be need a wine-coolers to storage their loving wines"

In summary: "The wine-cooler will store your wine under the most proper temperature and humidity and provide splendid flavour to your clients! If you print your logo on it, it is no doubt that you will get an unbelievable effect"

I know that I shouldn't make fun - after all, their English is much better than my Chinese!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Underwater pyrotechnics?

The week of 4th September is a 'Festivo' in our local beach resort of Sanxenxo, and this is normally celebrated, amongst other things, by a funfair, a series of concerts, culminating in a reasonably spectacular firework display. These are launced from two platforms - a large boat and a pontoon moored in the centre of the bay, and usually make a wonderful spectacle as the vivid colours are reflected against the water.

This year, instead of going up in smoke, I regret to say that owing to bad weather, the display sank more or less without trace! On the night of the festival itself the wind started to gust in the Ria of Pontevedra, and at the last moment the display was called off for safety reasons. Whilst the boat was able to scurry for shelter in a local port, the pontoon (carrying the bulk of the display) was left at the mercy of the elements.

The following morning the pontoon was found beached, partially broken up, with at least some of it's explosive cargo scattered in the sea. Suffice to say the dramatic end to this years celebration did not really go according to plan.

After yet another week of extreme weather we can only hope for a dramatic improvement, and that we are able to gather our harvest in better conditions.....

Monday, September 01, 2008

Cut off by storms.....

In the last few days we have had some rather spectacular storms in Galicia, which I guess is quite normal for the time of year. Last Friday for example, I was sitting at my desk in the Bodega listening to a storm that was getting closer and closer by the second. As a safety measure I decided to switch off all the computers, despite the fact that they are fitted with surge protection and back up batteries. Within two or three minutes there was a very load bang and simultaneous flash as the storm passed directly overhead - at the same time there was also a strange cracking noise in the aluminium window frame of the office. That must have been close!

I did not realise at the time, but this lightning strike had actually wiped out our telephone lines (we still have old fashioned overhead cables - none of that new fangled fibre optic cable here you know!) So, as I sit writing this post, three days later, on a computer at home, we still do not have any telephone, fax or DSL line in the wine cellar, and once again we find ourselves cut off from the outside world. Fingers crossed that we don't miss any important pre-harvest orders......

Another footnote about the photography: The first photo was taken on Friday evening from a terrace in the local seaside resort of Sanxenxo as yet another storm approached. The second photo was taken a few moments later. The unusual light trails in the second photo were created when I picked up my tripod and ran (with the shutter still open). I had decided that a guy on an open terrace with an aluminium tripod would probably make a good lightning conductor, so I just picked up my kit and made a quick exit. I still consider myself too young to die for my art!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mail us your comments....

I would like to pretend that I'm really a whiz with computers, when in reality my teenage daughter would probably categorise me as a 'technofool'. To be honest it's just taken me 4 days to re-format my computer here in the bodega, and I've been struggling to retrieve all the data - I think/hope that I may have succeeded.....

In the meantime you may have noticed that our blog, until now, did not allow you the opportunity to comment. Now you may think that this was simply because I was too aloof, and did not care about your opinion, when in reality is was simply a question of HTML.

The template that I use from the Blogger website had a glitch in the hard coding, and it has taken an expert to sort it out. Not me, I would hasten to add, but by my new acquaintance Ryan from the Catavino blogsite. (Also see our links)

So, the good news is that you can now comment on my stories, or possibly rubbish my opinion if you feel so inclined. The only request that I would make is - be gentle with me (and please keep it clean)!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Big Bottle (Botellón)

The reason that I write about the Botellón with such frequency, is of course, because it relates to drinking. Whilst many countries around Europe make attempts to tackle the unsociable behaviour of young people that surrounds heavy drinking, it seems that once again, Spain is proving the exception.

For those of you who have missed my previous posts on the subject, I will explain quickly that Botellón are basically organised street drinking parties that take place in nearly every village, town and city around Spain, every single weekend of the year. Young people stock up in supermarkets, usually with hard spirits and mixers, and drink them from large bottles (hence the name) in the street.

The old town centre of Pontevedra is a popular weekend target, and residents not only have to tolerate large crowds and the related noise problems, but also the fact that their doorsteps might easily be used as public urinals!

Rather than trying to tackle the problem head on, and persuading young people that heavy drinking is both unsociable and unhealthy, the mayor of Pontevedra (a doctor by profession) has now taken a different, slightly incredible tack..... Broadcasts on local radio, appealing to parents telling them that their children should not use the city centre of Pontevedra for public drinking, but that they should now use the official, local government approved drinking site instead. In other words, don't stop your heavy drinking, just do it in a different place! From now on fines will supposedly be imposed for those who persist in drinking in the city centre, but in reality such threats are rarely followed through. We shall see.....

It is no secret that this new regulation is timed to come into effect just a few days after Pontevedra's two week 'fiesta of the Peligrina' comes to an end.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that I made no mention of this year's Albarino festival, held recently in Cambados. Despite being an event organised by our own D.O. we once again opted not to participate - and the reason? Well, if you bear in mind that the majority of 'business' is done between the hours of midnight and 06.00hrs, I will leave you to draw your own conclusion.

Parents - are you proud of your children?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vineyard update

After a poor start to the year, with a cold, wet spring and slightly uneven flowering, the weather finally picked up in July with three weeks of warm sunshine. Our vines responded accordingly with rapid growth of vegetation, or 'vine vigour' as it is known in some parts of the world. Of course to counteract this, and concentrate the energy of the plant into the production of ripe fruit we have to work hard thinning the canopy, thus ensuring that the developing bunches receive the correct exposure.

In the final week of July the fine weather came to an end, and it would be fair to say that since then the weather has been what can only be described as changeable - some days good, and others not so good. As often happens in Galicia we have to keep a close eye on the vineyards for any evidence of disease, and when needs must, we have no alternative but to administer the appropriate treatment. Never ideal, but this is the reality of our climate.

At this moment we are probably about a month away from the start of the 2008 vintage, and (touch wood), it is looking like we might have a similar sized harvest to 2007, albeit that it is much to early to predict how the quality might compare.

As a footnote to any aspiring photographers amongst our readers, the above shot of our 'El Pazo' vineyard is actually an HDR image. If you click on the photo to reveal it's full size you will notice that the colours are very vivid, giving the picture a slightly surreal, almost exaggerated feel. This is achieved by marrying together five images taken from a fixed point, all with slightly different exposures, the overall result not only intensifying the colour, but also the shadow and highlights. More of this technique will no doubt appear in future postings.....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our new secret grape source

The months of August & September see the climax of grape hunting season here in Galicia. Following a very modest 2007 harvest (actually 40% less than 2006), and with 2008 shaping up to be similar in size, the precious Albaiño grape is proving to be quite scarce and difficult to procure.

Every year rumours abound of unscrupulous cellars buying Alvarinho grapes from just across the border in northern Portugal, with lorries running the gauntlet in the dead of night - well, this year we have our own plan.....

In April 2005 we sent some Albariño vines to a new, secret location, and, as witnessed by the photograph above, the fruit is almost there for the picking.

And the exact location of this new supply?.... Cobh, County Cork in the Republic of Ireland!!!

A few years ago I was invited to take part in a small experiment, to see how the Albariño vine would survive (or not) in the deep south of Ireland. An enthusiastic Irishman, who had just returned from a stroll down the Camino de Santiago, decided that he would try planting a few vines in his garden to see what would happen.

Well, clearly the vines have survived, and all we have to do now is to work out how to pick the grapes and get them back to our presses before they oxidise!

A setting not quite as romantic as our own 'El Pazo' vineyard

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A bridge too far (or perhaps, too near?)

So here is the last in the trilogy of new motorway anecdotes, for now at least - my next post with be an update on progress in the vineyards, I promise.

When they originally erected this new bridge it was literally pointing straight at the roof of this house, albeit that it stopped about 15-20 metres short. Of course I just assumed that the house was awaiting demolition, and that perhaps the residents were quite naturally, putting up a fight. Not true.....

To my complete astonishment they continued to extend the road from the end of the bridge, and although it is a little difficult to make out from this photo, it turns at a sharp 90° angle. The new road now passes within probably 2 or 3 metres of the roof of the house, and any drunk motorist who does not manage to negotiate the sharp turn will certainly end up in bed with it's occupants - and I don't necessarily mean a hospital bed!

Wouldn't it just have been a little easier to relocate the bridge?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cross at your peril

In my previous post about the new motorway link to our bodega I mentioned that there were one or two odd features in its design and layout. Perhaps it is just my failing memory but I don't actually recall seeing a pedestrian crossing at the end of a motorway on/off ramp before. Crossing the road in Spain is hazardous enough without stepping out into speeding traffic, even if (on paper), you supposedly have the right of way.

In addition, the crossings themselves do not actually connect to anything, as there is no pavement or walkway anywhere near this busy road intersection. Whilst in other places a pedestrian would actually have to hurdle the Armco to reach the crossings, as believe it or not, the planners have failed to leave any openings. So much for thoughtful design......

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Full Metal Roundabout

More Armco than the Monaco Grand Prix!

So, after two years, plus an odd couple of months, the new Salnes motorway has finally opened - built specifically to link Bodegas Castro Martin to the main motorway system at an approximate cost of €40,276,438.45. Now, I say approximate because Spanish government offices have a habit of being very precise with their statistics, and this 'estimated' figure was painted on all the billboards at the very start of the project. Now I can't help but imagine some poor accountant weeping into his coffee as he tots up the final bill and realises that his estimate was 10 cents over budget (or perhaps I should say 9.9887 cents)!

The new motorway (formerly a Via Rapida) is known as the AG-41, and links both the Cambados area and the well-known seaside resort of Sanxenxo to the main AP-9 motorway. (Watch out for an update on your SatNav). If you are ever visting our Bodega, leave the AG-41 at exit 7, and this will deliver you to within a couple of kilometres of our front door. I should also quickly mention that this new road forms a part of my daily route to work, and will come as a welcome relief after the years of disruption.

Finally, there are actually a couple of odd features incorporated in the design of this road, or more specifically it's junctions, so over the next couple of weeks I will nip out with my camera, and see if I can snap them for future inclusion in our blog.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

El Corte Inglés - Journadas Gastronómícas

It seems to me like I'm always shouting about what we do with our wines around the world, paying little attention to our impact on the local market. Well, as if further references were needed, here's quite a good one - El Corte Ingles.

For those of you who don't know, the Corte Ingles is a chain of upmarket department stores located throughout Spain - every city in Spain has at least one, Madrid boasts several, as does Barcelona. Many stores include high quality 'supermarkets' and nearly all have cafeterias and restaurants.

It is a proud boast of ours that we have been featured in the restaurants and supermarkets of the Corte Ingles here in Galicia for around 20 years now - many Albariños on their list come and go, but we are happy to say that our Casal Caeiro albariño has been a permanent feature.

Every summer the local restaurants of the Corte Ingles celebrate Galician Gastronomy with special menus comprising, as you might imagine, mostly fish and seafood dishes (albeit there are a few meat dishes thrown in for the carnivors among us).

Naturally the featured wines are Galician too, and we proudly list our Casal Caeiro brand amongst the handful of Albariños on offer. So, if you find yourself in Galicia over the next few weeks why not take a break from your shopping, put your feet up, and enjoy a refreshing glass of albariño!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

My little wine oasis

There is no doubt that Spain produces some great wines, and is probably one of the most exciting countries in the world when it comes to the development and discovery of new wines and wine regions.
However, local restaurants here in Galicia do not always have an extensive choice on their wine lists, and usually restrict their selection to Galician wines, plus a selection of 'safe bet' wines from the better known denominations of Spain. Certainly this limited range will suffice for the palate of many a local wine consumer, but for the more adventurous among us, it is, well, just a little bit predictable and boring!

Apart from the odd bottle of Champagne here and there, it is very rare to find any overseas wine at all, from either the new world or even adjacent countries in the old world. (I do of course have a few bottles of my own secreted away in my private cellar, but this does not help me very much when I'm sitting in a local restaurant).

Pepe Vieira to the rescue! My favourite local restaurant not only boasts the great cooking of chef Xose Cannas, but in his brother Xoan, they also have one of the best sommeliers, not only in Galicia, but possibly the whole of Spain. On top of that Xoan speaks perfect English which makes it considerably easier for us to discuss our favourite wine selections.

Their wine list includes an extensive choice from every part of Spain, as you would expect, but then continue turning the pages and you will find a hand-picked collection of wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire, the Rhone and Champagne. In addition there is also a small selection of fine New World wines.

Like I said - my own personal food and wine oasis......

Friday, July 04, 2008

Packaging

Like it or not we now live in the age of carbon footprints, global warming and all sorts of different (and sometimes contradictory) ecological issues. One topic that I have covered very recently is that of re-cycling, and more especially, packaging.....

Short of selling our Albariño in tetrabricks, I am not quite sure how we could reduce the amount of packaging that we use - the bottle, some form of closure, and a label are fundamental, and therefore impossible to replace. I guess that the only valid argument could be made against the capsule, which in truth is probably more aesthetic than anything else. Our cardboard cartons (which are made from re-cycled materials anyway) are designed to protect our bottles in transit, and using an alternative, more flimsy material, would no doubt result in increased breakages.

And the real point of my story? - Living in a remote part of Spain as I do, I am a very big Internet shopper, and probably qualify as a UPS 'frequent user'. Parcels arrive from around the world in all shapes and sizes, but without doubt the most over-packaged of them all...... computer software. Have you ever stopped to wonder, why does the solitary disc of your programme upgrade need to rattle around in such a big box? Software manufacturers should simply use slimline jewel cases or CD sleeves, and include instruction manuals in a CD sized booklet. Your programme or upgrade would then fit neatly into a Jiffy bag. My guess is that it comes down to perception - value for money - if you're paying a couple of hundred pounds, dollars or euros for a computer programme, then you deserve a bigger, glossy box!

Witness two packages that I received very recently - see if you can work out which is the single music CD, and which is the single software disc?

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Reign of Spain!

My Hero - Fernando Torres

After 44 years of famine Spain's national football team, that has so often promised so much, finally delivered..... Champions of Euro 2008 (second only to the World Cup here in Europe).

During the game streets were completely deserted, and it appeared that even the dogs had stopped barking as the entire nation sat glued to their TV screens. After 90 minutes of drama, anxiety, expectation (and some breathtaking football on the part of the Spanish), the celebration finally exploded on to the streets - and I mean exploded. Every small town and village witnessed dancing, fireworks and a cacophony of car horns as the country went completely wild. If there was ever an excuse for fiesta - then this was the fiesta to end all fiestas!

Despite being English, and the England team failing to qualify for the finals of this competition, I still feel at least slightly justified in sharing the Spanish excitement. I am a fervent supporter of Liverpool FC, who not only have a Spanish manager, but also supplied 4 of the 22 players to the winning Spanish squad. In addition, dare I mention that the scorer of the winning goal in last nights final was Fernando Torres - of Liverpool FC!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Living the MoVida

It is always nice to know that your wine is sold, and appreciated around the world, and as a wine producer being listed in top restaurants is actually one of the best accolades that you can receive. At this point I could drop a few names, but I will resist the temptation on this occasion....

As I think I have mentioned before our wine is quite widely sold 'down under', in Australia, and thankfully Castro Martin has found it's way onto the list of many a top restaurant. Included amongst this group is the highly acclaimed MoVida tapas bar in Melbourne. Owned and run by Frank Camorra who was born in Barcelona and raised in Cordoba before his family emigrated to Australia when he was a small boy.

Frank's passion for Spanish food (and wine) never left him, and after working in many top Australian restaurants, he travelled back to Spain to top up his knowledge of classic Spanish cuisine, before opening his MoVida tapas bar in 2002.

He has never looked back, not only receiving numerous awards for his cooking, but also somehow finding the time to co-write a book entitled 'MoVida - Spanish culinary adventures'. And that is exactly what it is - much more than just another cookery book, it is also an insight into the origins of the food that he so lovingly prepares.

Inspired by the success of the first book, Frank and his co-author Richard Cornish, are on the road again, collecting material for MoVida2.

Frank chats with Angela under the pergolas

We were of course delighted that they found the time to swing by our Bodega, and on a perfect day we decided to entertain them to a few tapas of our own, under the pergolas of our El Pazo vineyard. Of course, in such illustrious company, we obviously had to find a top tapas chef, so we were joined by Herminda (who you may remember heads up our harvest team) to enjoy some great tapas, great wine and great company, all al fresco.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The power of the press....

A fresh meat counter in Madrid this week

I've had a few digs at the press over recent years, but almost exclusively to do with their assessment of wines. Having said that I believe that they are also guilty of using more than just a bit of journalistic licence when it comes to reporting our daily news.

Perhaps it is just my imagination, but these days there seems to be a tendency not only to exaggerate, but also to sensationalise and distort the truth. There is of course no doubt that an attention grabbing headline will sell more newspapers, even if it is not quite truthful.

In view of recent events, more specifically the fuel strike here in Spain, I wanted to highlight some pretty unbelievable reporting of a similar event back in the UK.

The drivers of Shell fuel tankers are planning a four day strike - Shell supplies only 10% of the UK market, and the public have been told that their petrol stations will probably have enough stock to cover this break in supply - but only IF they do not panic buy.

I scratch my head therefore, when I see headlines like these in the week leading up to the strike:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Haulage strike update

Two days into the strike and the casualty list is starting to grow, and I am not refering to business casualties - very regretably I am talking about human life. One picket in Spain, and another in Portugal have been killed as they tried to prevent trucks from running the gauntlet. In another incident a driver has been badly burned as he slept in his cab, when his vehicle was set alight. Of course this is not only a tragic waste, but also begs the question, what if anything, can actually be done to supress the spiralling price of oil? Perhaps the drivers should be picketing OPEC instead.....

It would appear that the effect on consumers varies enormously according to the area of Spain in which you live. From Madrid for example, we hear reports of shops running out of fresh food, and garages running out of fuel, whilst here in Galicia, it would appear that there has been little or no effect - so far. On Monday morning our local garage here in Barrantes had a queue for fuel, but on subsequent days I have seen at least two tankers actually delivering fuel to other forecourts in the area. Heaven only knows where these trucks came from, or how they got there, but the most important thing is that they were able to replenish stocks.

As far as I am aware there have been no reports of local food shortages, and the only real problem that we have experienced is that we are not able to deliver wine!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tinto de Barrantes - an acquired taste!

Every year our local village of Barrantes holds a 'Fiesta do Vino Tinto' in celebration of the red wines of the Rias Baixas region. Now, to be honest, the Rias Baixas region does not actually produce too many red wines, and within the D.O. there are actually very few Bodegas that make it. There are however a couple of grape varieties, such as Mencia and Caiño, that can produce a half-decent glass, but in reality the red grape struggles in our climate, to reach full maturity.

The truth of the matter is that the village of Barrantes produces it's own red wine, made from hybrid grapes, which is not actually legal within our D.O. regulations. It is very possible therefore, that the real motivation behind this fiesta is simply to quoff this local libation in copious amounts under the guise of an 'official' red wine celebration.

'Tinto de Barrantes' as it is known, is bright purple (similar to an unfermented Beaujolais) and is served in white ceramic cups that tend to exaggerate it's colour. It has very low alcohol (below 10%) and is quite fruity, but, in my opinion, it suffers from an unacceptably high level of volatile acidity. It tastes rather like an unfinished wine that has not yet completed it's alcoholic fermentation (as it's vivid colour would suggest), and it is definitely an acquired taste.


In the end I guess that it what makes the world of wine so interesting - we all enjoy different things - I regret to say, that for me at least, Tinto de Barrantes is not one of them.......