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 AlbariƱo 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.