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!