Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The last laugh

I thought that I had probably already made my last blog entry of 2009...... until I opened my e-mail this morning. OK, so it might be just a bit of 'schoolboy' humour, but it did make me smile for a moment.

The e-mail was from an agency offering pretty girls and/or models to 'pose' on our stand at the Alimentaria trade fair next spring.

And the name of the individual who sent this mail? The very aptly named Gloria Bosom.......Ho, ho, ho!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Traditions at Christmas

I guess it would be fair to say that some traditions become distorted or at least mis-interpreted over time, and others perhaps completely lost. I have noticed that some younger people actually struggle to explain why we 'religiously' follow certain traditions, but that simply makes it all the more interesting to re-discover their origins.

This being the case, I thought that I would look back at a couple of Christmas traditions myself and share my findings with you now.....

Let's start with a big one - Father Christmas, Père Noël or Santa Claus (to mention but a few of his pseudonyms). Did you know for example, that the current rotund, red-suited Santa we have all come to know and love was actually created in 1935 for a Coca-Cola advertising campaign? In his previous incarnation, he was a much thinner, paler character based on the 4th century Greek bishop, St Nicholas, who was the patron saint of children. It was in Holland, where he’s known as Sinterklaas, that he earned his reputation for giving away Christmas gifts (although legend has it that it was possibly St Nicolas himself who started the tradition by distributing gold to the poor).

Now here's another interesting one - have you ever stopped to wonder why you put a pine tree in your living room at Christmas (albeit these days it is may well be plastic)? One theory at least is that it has pagan origins, when an evergreen tree was decorated with fruits to celebrate the winter solstice on 21st December. Later in history the Germans hung crackers on the tree to represent the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the English eventually replacing the fruit with the glass balls and candles that are more familiar today. The tradition was apparently popularised in the UK by Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Albert, who started the decorating of trees for Christmas in the mid-19th century. (Artificial trees were first created in the 1930s by the Addis Company, who allegedly manufactured them using spare capacity in their toilet-brush factory!)

And finally, the Christmas cracker (completely unknown here in Spain), was invented by Tom Smith, a London sweet shop owner. After spotting French bonbons wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, he sold similar sweets with a “love motto” inside, and later added a trinket and a bang. His 'Bangs of Expectation' included gifts such as jewellery and miniature dolls, and by 1900, was apparently selling around 13 million a year!

Of course there are many more traditions associated with this holiday, but I will save a few for the coming years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas message

Click on image to enlarge

I'm not sure if it's politically correct to use the word Christmas these days, for fear of offending our friends of different faiths.... but hey, it IS Christmas (for me at least), and so I apologise to any of our readers who may find this upsetting.

Anyway, whatever your faith, Angela and I would like to send our best wishes to you all. Have a happy holiday time, and more importantly a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

We thank you for your support.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The first frosts of winter

For the whole of November and the first half of December the sun never appeared in Ribadumia, instead only grey sky and a lot of rain.

Apparently this had something to do with the wind direction. Blowing from just off the coast of West Africa, these extra mild winds were able to carry a lot more moisture than the more customary, cooler winds from the north. True, the temperatures have been mild, rarely dipping below 9 or 10°C (even at night), but boy has it been wet, even by Galician standards.

It was actually the 14th December before we witnessed the first clear skies and touch of frost, but only in very sheltered, low-lying areas. This of course provides the ideal weather for pruning which is now under way in our vineyards. As I know I have written many times before, far better to be pruning in a bit of mild winter sunshine, than with rain beating down in your face!

It would appear that many other parts of Europe have also been affected by this cold snap, with many countries suffering heavy snow and freezing temperatures. I guess we should at least be thankful that we have not been stranded on a train in the Channel tunnel for hours on end, like some other poor souls over the weekend...... What a nightmare!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movida Rustica

We have a friend in Melbourne who runs one of Australia's best restaurants, that just happens to be Spanish. His name is Frank Camorra, and his restaurant is MoVida (also MoVida Next Door, which not surprisingly is located immediately adjacent to the main restaurant)

Over the last few years he has made several trips to Spain, touring the countryside, gathering information and recipes etc., compiling books about Spanish food. I hesitate to call them recipe books, because in reality they are much more than that - Frank delves into the background and traditions behind the food that he includes, meeting the local people who cook the dishes as part of their daily lives. Not professional chefs, but ordinary people who prepare local fare using methods handed down over generations.

The latest of his three books, just released, is called Movida Rustica, and is co-authored by Australian food writer and critic, Richard Cornish.

Whilst we are not mentioned by name, we are actually pictured picnicking in our 'El Pazo' vineyard, tucking into some great local dishes such as 'empanada de vieiras' (a corn pie made with fresh scallops). I know that I say it every time, but I will say it again - a perfect dish to eat accompanied by a glass of Castro Martin albariño.

In the picture taken from the book, you can just make out Angela on the left, and see the back of my head (which many say is my best side!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Flat-pack' wine for Scandinavia!

We are delighted, in the last few hours, to have picked up a new customer in Scandinavia, and at exactly the same moment our transporter has given me an inspired idea for the packaging....

Scandinavia is of course, the home of 'flat-pack' furniture, so why not 'flat-pack' wine as illustrated in the photograph above? Compacted into it's new, re-shaped, designer plastic wrapping is (believe it or not) a six bottle carton of wine, reduced to only a few centimetres thick!

Imagine how this new idea could revolutionise the home delivery of wine - if you are not at home the delivery driver will simply be able to slip it through your letter box. It might make a bit of a mess of your floor, but at least you won't have to wait for it to be re-delivered.

It's amazing how some great ideas are often discovered completely by accident.... quite literally.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dope on a rope!

Now, I really like Gordon Ramsey, albeit that times have been pretty tough for him in the last year or so. I always think it's a bit of a mistake when a really talented chef leaves his kitchen and starts empire building - effectively risking his good name and reputation. It rarely seems to work, and usually the only thing that appears to suffer is quality. Almost an inevitability when you stop and think about it.

You can therefore imagine my surprise to see him on TV, dangling from the end of a rope at the bottom of a 300ft cliff in search of a Galician seafood delicacy - Percebes, otherwise known as Goose Barnicles (or maybe dinosaur feet as one of my friends calls them). In fact, swinging at the end of a rope he looked more like the bait than the fisherman.... it was quite dramatic.

Filming for his Channel 4 series 'The F Word', I think it's fair to say that he used more than his fair share of expletives as the crashing waves smashed him against the rocks. In the circumstances I can hardly blame him. Ironically, after a small degree of success he was finally submerged by one huge wave that swept away his precious harvest. I doubt if he will be doing that again in a hurry!

And so back to the Perecebes themselves. An expensive delicacy on any dinner table, and when you see how they are harvested you may begin to understand why. Apparently the Galician coast is especially suited to this type of barnacle, as the fast flowing waters of the Atlantic ocean against the rocky outcrops make the necks of the percebes stronger, fatter and therefore tastier to eat. I have been lucky enough to savour them on a couple of occassions, and when they are really fresh, the flavour of the sea literally burst from the necks as you bite into them..... delicious!

Of course, as always, I can't close without reminding you that they are alsolutely perfect to eat accompanied by a refreshing glass of Castro Martin albariño.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wish you were here....

I thought that I would try to lift your spirits a little on these short, dark winter days (unless of course you are reading this blog somewhere in the southern hemisphere).

This week I stumbled across an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper (travel section) listing the top ten beaches of the world. So where in the world would you find their number one beach? The Maldives? Fiji? Goa? Queensland? Nope.... according to the Guardian, it's about 20km down the coast from our bodega, here in Galicia.

Las Islas Cies are located in the mouth of the Ria de Vigo and form a part of the rather splendidly named Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. The wild Atlantic coastline of Galicia has some quite dramatic beaches, but none more so than the stunning Praia das Rodas. Open only during the summer months, the beach is a perfect crescent of soft, pale sand backed by small dunes, sheltering a calm lagoon of crystal-clear sea (their description, not mine). Galicians call this their very own "Caribbean beach", and the water is turquoise enough, the sand white enough to understand the comparison..... at least until you dip your toe in the water, and remember that it is actually located in the somewhat chilly Atlantic Ocean.

So, next summer, throw away your worldwide travel brochure, abandon your ideas of the Costa del Sol and book your ticket to the world's best beach, in the same region where you can find the world's best wine....Castro Martin albariño.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bird on a wire?

There was once a song by Led Zeppelin called 'communication breakdown', and that's precisely the problem that we have suffered in our bodega over the last week or so.....

Excluding my frustrations with post and courier services (which are, after all, forms of communication), we also lost our telephones for nearly 48 hours following a big storm last week. The cover of a junction box in our office was scorched and blown clean across the room, presumably at the height of the storm. Fortunately all this took place during the night, and resulted in our 'mini' telephone exchange being rendered useless.

As you may have read in my previous post, we only have one working day in the office this week, and so you can imagine my reaction when I arrived to find no ADSL connection in the bodega this morning. Naturally I assumed that it was an internal problem, until finally calling Telefonica only to discover that it was actually a problem with our local network - perhaps a pigeon sitting on a wire somewhere blocking the signal?

No, we don't have fibre optics, and yes, we do have some of the most expensive and slowest internet connections in Europe!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday time!

The winter holiday season really starts in the U.S. with Thanksgiving at the end of November. I must start by apologising to our American cousins for not posting a message last week - A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Next week we have a couple of National holidays in Spain, the Constitución Española and the Inmaculada. In Ribadumia (where the wine cellar is located) this is compounded by a third, local holiday falling on Thursday, effectively meaning that we have a very short week....

Following this we have Christmas Eve which is a most important day in Germany, as well as here in Spain. A day when friends and families gather together and celebrate by attending church, often followed by an evening meal, before finally exchanging and opening gifts.

Over the Christmas period it is probably the 25th December itself that is considered more important in the UK. As in many countries it is celebrated with a huge family meal, followed by watching the Queen's annual speech to the Commonwealth on TV, and then a siesta (strangely the latter often coincide). The Brits then also have an additional holiday on 26th, known as Boxing Day. The origin of Boxing Day derives from the time when wealthy people gave gifts to their servants, workers and tradesmen. This gift was known as the "Christmas Box".

On 6th January celebrations continue in some countries with Epiphany or the Reyes Magos (three kings) as it is otherwise known. Until recently this was the day that gifts were traditionally exchanged, albeit that an increasing number of Spanish people now do this at Christmas - a lucky few children get both....

The downside of all these holidays is that we still have to try and fit a bit of work in between!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Post Script (no pun intended)

OK, so only two minutes after I made the last blog entry I checked the tracking site of the aforementioned parcel from Hungary..... it re-appeared on the site (but with a gap of two days). At least I know that it's arrived in Spain, albeit I don't know exactly where.

(By the way, I do realise that these are International courier companies, and therefore you may think that Spain is not necessarily at fault. However, it is my belief is the problem may be caused by a failure of updates, or possibly scans at local depots).

Of course, if there is anyone out there who can shed any more light on how this courier system works, I am more than happy to be corrected.

Spanish post excels!

I am usually the first to criticise the Spanish postal service (joking that they must still be using donkeys to move the mail), but on this occassion I find myself obliged to compliment them on a small but significant event.

A couple of days ago I signed a batch of Christmas cards to send out to friends and family, anticipating that they might take a couple of weeks to reach their various destinations around the world. They were posted (using a standard service) on Monday, and so imagine my surprise when, only two days later, I was speaking to a contact in England and they thanked me for my card! My astonishment that they had arrived so quickly was however tinged with a small concern. That my friends might consider me a very 'sad' person for sending out my Christmas cards so early (I just call it being organised, and that's my excuse)!

To balance my story I still have one small complaint about the courier services in this country...... Yes, they do work, but then fail miserably when it comes to updating the tracking information on their websites. It's as if your package disappears into a black hole when it reaches the Spanish border, at least until the moment that it arrives on your doorstep. At this very moment I am tracking a parcel that started in Hungary (don't ask), moved on to Austria and then Germany, where it boarded a plane to Spain where it disappeared two days ago.

Maybe the European Community has developed it's own 'Bermuda triangle' - possibly the same place that they send all our taxes!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Square bottle, round hole

I commented the other day about the design of our carton, and confessed that whilst it was not the most beautiful in the world, it certainly was the most practical - doing the job that it was primarily designed to do, protecting our bottles.

Sometimes design forces us to make compromises, and we make decisions about our packaging for possibly the wrong reasons. The new, trendy bottles design that I have illustrated above is a case in point. For me, it simply doesn't work, and I mean that for the most practical of reasons.....

Yes, there is no doubt that it is eye-catching, and makes a change from the run-of-the-mill bottle shapes, but I ask you, have you ever tried to pour a drink from one of these bottles?

The mineral water on the left of the three bottles is Galician, and we use it at home. Possibly, when we first bought it, we were influenced by the unusual design, and it therefore ended up on our dining table. OK, so we were hooked, the marketing had worked - but then came the second stage of the process - trying to use it, or to be more accurate, pour it.

The square shoulder of the bottle is a design disaster, and was certainly not thought through when the shape was first conceived on the designers drawing board. Liquid from the bottle does not pour, or rather it does not flow, the square shoulder causes it to surge in an irregular sloshing motion (difficult to describe in words).

That's not too bad if a stray drop of mineral water ends up on your table cloth, but what happens when that spill is port or possibly red wine, and is caused by no fault of your own?

I rest my case.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Origami and a bit of D-I-Y

The cartons that we use to send out our wine are perhaps not the prettiest on the market, but they are certainly amongst the strongest - after all, what is the purpose of a carton? The answer quite simply is to protect our bottles during transit - nothing more, nothing less. Indeed, I think it would be true to say that the vast majority of our end consumers have probably never even seen our box, which simply reinforces my belief that strength is perhaps just a little more important than appearance (assuming of course, that it is not too ugly).

We are lucky to have a very good local carton supplier, slightly more expensive than I would like, but very quick and efficient. However, their solution to a recent hiccup made me smile.

We had a batch of cartons where the glued joint that forms the cube of the case had not been stuck down properly, rendering the cases unuseable. Naturally I complained to our contact at the case supplier, and anticipated that he would add a few free cases to our next order - not so...... A few days later he turned up with a bottle of glue!

So, what's the next step I ask myself - we order a few cases and they turn up with a roll of cardboard, a pair of scissors and an origami book?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

They say we'll have some fun when it stops raining!

Click to enlarge image

This morning we waved goodbye to a few pallets destined for the other side of the world, where hopefully the weather may be a little less depressing than here. As I look out of my office window I see the world through a sort of grey haze, caused by the persistent rain that has been falling pretty much all week here in Galicia. Apart from sending out a few pallets, and preparing a few Christmas orders the Bodega is pretty quiet at the moment - a bit of an anti-climax after all the action of the last couple of months.

So to lift the mood a little, here is a Spanish joke (please excuse me if the translation is not too good).

What do a designer, an electrician, and an aluminium specialist all have in common? Yes, you guessed the punch line, didn't you? Answer: None of them turn up for confirmed appointments at the bodega to discuss new business opportunities!!!

What? Me, frustrated? OK, well, yes......

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Courses for horses

I am sure that pretty much every business has been affected in some way by the recession, possibly some more than others. Inevitably, as companies scramble for whatever business they can muster, they often resort to e-mail - unfortunately a very cost-effective way of reaching the masses. I say unfortunately simply because we all know the problem...... you switch on your computer in the morning, and despite the best efforts of your spam filter, you are innundated with mail trying to sell you goods and services of every conceivable type.

To understand where I am going with this story, you have to be aware that in Spain it is actually possible to make a long-term career out of full-time education, and I don't just mean as a teacher. Many university students take several years more than the officially assigned timescale to complete their studies, often heavily subsidised by their parents, and many still living at home during their extended study period.

Now, it could be completely unrelated (and probably is), but it would appear that a very high percentage of the e-mails that I receive on a daily basis are invitations to enrol on courses - offering to further educate you in every subject imaginable. In the current climate I expect that a high percentage of these courses are actually aimed at the unemployed, with promises of enhanced CVs, and to that end they should probably be applauded - but it is simply the sheer volume..... Indeed, right on cue, yet another offer arrives in my inbox as I type this entry!

Meanwhile, on a much lighter (and visually more attractive) note, I have noticed that we get quite a few 'hits' on our blog from Brazil. Not that I'm complaining, as every visit is welcome, but we do not sell any wine to Brazil, and I really can't think of any connection, or reason why they might stumble upon our site. I have even looked at Wikipedia to see if there are any famous Brazilians called Castro Martin - maybe a member of their womens beach volleyball team, or perhaps that is just wishful thinking on my part?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Wine Gang

So, who or what is 'The Wine Gang'? Well, it's not a group of hit men who go around threatening people that don't drink Albariño, although this does give me an idea..... It's actually just a group of very well known and highly respected UK journalists who have got together to write about wine, organise tastings etc, etc.

The gang of five, comprised of Tim Atkin, Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon, Tom Cannavan and Olly Smith all have very impressive backgrounds, have written books, appeared on TV, and have their own wine columns (independent of one another). To get the full story I highly recommend visiting the Wine Gang website.

In the meantime, one of the 'gang', Olly Smith, has reviewed our Castro Martin Albariño, making the following comment and awarding us an impressive 90 points - not bad:

"It's a peachy style of Albariño that at first seems like it might be a jot too rich in style - but the finish is pristine with a spurt of freshness and mineral hints. A great style to match with food, especially richly textured shellfish such as scallops".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another time, another place

In many countries around the world time plays an important part in peoples lives - the Swiss with their clock industry, the Japanese with their bullet trains, and the UK with their clock watchers (only joking!) - Spain is not one of these countries.

Now, some would say that the Spanish attitude to time is to be admired, creating a relaxed, informal, stress-free environment, whilst the hard-nosed business type might just say that it is just plain annoying. I think I am somewhere between the two - I don't want the stress, but I do want people to turn up on time for their appointments!

On face value some might say that the random attitude to time is taught from a very early age. For example, in some local schools which are supposed to start at 09.30am, I regularly see their school buses still out on the road with children on board at 09.35am or 09.40am. Not only does this apply to the official school buses, but also to the parents who are still delivering their children 10 or 15 minutes late, every day - so what sort of 'educational' message does that send out? Timekeeping should be regarded as merely an approximation - más o menos, more or less? Indeed, there are actually official signs hanging in hospital waiting rooms which rather confirm this by saying - your appointment time is only indicative, and will almost certainly not be respected...... (OK, so I added the second part myself). However, it is more than a little disconcerting to see your doctor or specialist arriving for work 10 or 15 minutes after the time of his or her first appointment. I'm afraid to say that I have experienced this myself on a couple of occasions with both doctors and dentists, and must say that I find it more than a little disrespectful, not to mention quite annoying.

I sometimes think that Spain appears to live in a quite different time zone to the rest of Europe, and one of the most common complaints of first time visitors are the meal times - Lunch from about 2pm to 4pm, and dinner starting from around 10pm until more or less whatever time you care to turn up. Joking apart, on many occassions I have witnessed people walking into restaurants at around 3.45pm and still being offered a table for lunch. I must say that I doubt if this would happen in Germany!

This seemingly casual attitude to time manifests itself in many different ways, not just in people failing to show up on time for appointments, but also in sending out invitations for meetings and business seminars etc. We often receive invitations for functions giving us only two or three days notice, that makes any forward planning extremely difficult. It sometimes gives the impression that the organiser has suddenly had a last minute idea, and then quickly sent out a few invites. Whilst I am sure that this is not really the case, it certainly keeps us on our toes, and our diaries fluid.

Oh, and one last thing - hands up how many countries you know that show childrens' Disney films starting at 10pm at night..... I know one.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Money to burn

November 5th is Guy Fawkes night (or bonfire night) in the UK. It celebrates, or perhaps I should say, commemorates the failed 'gunpowder plot', when in 1605 Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were caught attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament - seat of the UK Government.

More than a century later it became a tradition for children to make a grotesque effigy of Guy, parade it in the streets, and then burn it at the end of the day. More recently fireworks were added to the festivities, and the date has been celebrated ever since.

Fawkes was born in York, famous for it's Roman walls and beautiful Minster, and like many large cities held it's own annual firework party on 5th November, or at least until 2005 (the 400th anniversary of the plot). Since then the local Council have considered that the £70,000 spent on fireworks far too expensive, and that the money would be better spent on other, more deserving schemes.

The point to my story is that it simply highlights the differing attitudes to this type of expenditure between Spain and the UK.

Despite the recession, fireworks still remain big business here in Spain, not only in main cities, but in every small town and village around the country. As I have touched on in the past, no excuse is required to organise a fiesta over here, and fireworks nearly always play an integral part. Seemingly, no expense is ever spared as the money goes up in smoke, and as each local town tries to out do their neighbour.

Different countries, different cultures, different priorities........

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Tasting and the lunar cycle

Now, I have been tasting wine for much longer than I care to remember, and at the peak of my wine buying career I would easily sample 100+ wines a day. Today the demand on my tastebuds is much more restrained, and often limited to tasting a couple of dozen tanks in our own cellar (which I do with Angela on a pretty regular basis).

Of course our tanks are all 100% Albariño and therefore the differences from one tank to the next can be fairly miniscule, and the evolution over time very subtle, but then there is something else that I notice from time to time....

There are days when I emerge from the cellar positively glowing about the quality of our wine, and then there are other days, when I am not quite so ecstatic. Now, this could be down to me - perhaps my own palate is not as sharp as it should be on certain days, although this is not a phenomenon that I have been aware of in the past. So what could be the reason for this apparent variation in quality? Could it be the moon?

Some UK supermarkets are now actually arranging wine tasting sessions around good and bad days as determined by the lunar calendar. According to a German grandmother called Maria Thun (back in the 1950's) the calendar should be divided into four categories according to the relative positions of moon and stars - “fruit”, “flower”, “leaf” and “root”. Wine is best on fruit days, followed by flower, leaf and root days (best avoided completely on a root day). Tesco and Marks & Spencer are the latest supporters of this philosophy, and the two supermarkets now have a policy of inviting press and wine critics to taste their wine only on days which the calendar says are favourable.

Of course sceptics say that there is no proof to support Ms Thun's theory, whilst on the other side believers argue that wine is, after all, a living organism and can therefore be affected by cycles of the moon. Finally, the more logical, scientifically minded amongst us might simply say that the apparent variations in taste are more likely to be caused by changes in atmospheric pressure, but who really knows for sure - it could be just in our imagination?

Perhaps it's appropriate, with Halloween just behind us, that it all sounds like a bit of witchcraft. Personally I quite like the moon theory, albeit that the logical part of my brain tells me that it all sounds just a little far-fetched!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Winter picnic time!

I must confess that I don't subscribe to many wine magazines these days, partially because it's quite expensive getting them sent by airmail, but mostly because I somehow never find the time to read them.

Unless someone lets me know, it's therefore quite possible that the odd article, review or recommendation of our wine slips under the radar. This happened to me back in August.....

Unbeknown to me we were recommended as Wine of the Month in the UK's Decanter magazine, as well as being listed as one of the Top Ten summer wines for picnics. A bit late to discover this in November!

They commented about our Castro Martin albarino:

"A great opportunity to try the cult white grape of Spain. This example shows apricot and peachy fruit with some sweet spice. The palate has a nice texture alongside a pure minerality and intense tropical fruit characters; good weight and length"

Time to dig out the pic-a-nic basket Boo Boo (if you're younger than about 40, you will probably have no idea what this phrase relates to).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's oh so quiet.

The phenomenon of noise during harvest time is not really something that I have considered too much before, or at least until today when we turned off some of our noisy equipment and peace was finally restored in the bodega.

It's fair to say that the grape picking itself is not a particularly noisy exercise (unless you include tractors buzzing around the vineyards), but then once the fruit enters the bodega, then that's a different story.....

By far the noisiest piece of kit is the pneumatic press, not quite on the same level as a pneumatic drill, but not too far behind at times. The constant drone and whirring of this huge machine reverberates around the bodega for the duration of the picking - a very familiar noise that is uniquely synonymous with the harvest, and yet at the same time, somehow strangely comforting (reminiscent of the hum of your mother's vacuum cleaner when you were a small child).

The refridgeration unit of our cooling system is also permanently buzzing away in the background, sometimes assaulting your ears as you step from your car first thing in the morning - the fans and extractors for this system are immediately adjacent to our car park.

Finally, there are the cellar extractors that generate quite a lot of noise, but without which we might all die (I exaggerate not). Don't forget that one of the main by-products of the alcoholic fermentation is gas, in the form of carbon dioxide. Without a system to remove this, the cellar would soon become a very dangerous place as a deadly blanket of this practically odourless killer would form at ground level. On the odd occassion when you momentarily forget this and put your face too near the top of a fermenting tank, you are very quickly reminded as the CO2 simply takes your breath away - not something you do too often!

I should also make mention that once the fermentation was under way, we then had to turn our attention to a bit of bottling - to catch up with our backlog of orders. Even when wearing a pair of ear defenders the constant clanking of bottles for hours on end still manages to rattle your brain. Not really a harvest related sound, but very noisy nonetheless.

The point of my story is really to say that the fermentations (and bottlings) are all now finished, and for the first time since the 2009 campaign started, the extractors have been turned off, and the bodega has fallen silent once again.

If only I could get Angela to fall silent for a day or two (those of you who know her will of course realise that this is just wishful thinking)!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are you colour blind?

Click on image to enlarge

So, it's been a few days since my last blog entry, but as I think I mentioned we have been really busy, bottling and generally catching up with post-harvest jobs. Alcoholic fermentations are almost finished, and everything is still looking pretty good..... we remain optimistic.

As a bit of light relief I just wanted to make another post about road signs, but this time nothing to do with directions to our own bodega.

The local council have recently updated many road signs in our area, including those highlighting recommended wine routes. Each type of sign has a colour coded background, so that you can instantly identify the category of attraction or monument being signposted. For example, the old wine route signs used to have a dark, bottle green background, and these have now been updated with a horrible, rancid, pale green colour - not the most attractive selection.

The most dramatic of these changes is, without doubt, the historical monuments - formerly a sober brown colour, the signs have now been changed to a rather sickly, fluorescent mustard-yellow colour. Of course you might imagine that such a bright colour would stand out, whereas in fact the exact opposite is true.

The picture above shows a fairly huge sign at the side of our local Autovia, directing would be visitors to a nearby monastery, or at least that is what I think it says! The problem is that the new sign is almost totally illegible until you are within about 10 or 15 metres of it, and in very bright sunlight you can barely read the lettering at all.

This has not gone unnoticed in the local press, and questions are being asked as to how this colour could have been selected in the first place....... either bad taste, or perhaps just poor judgement? Out here in the countryside is doesn't take much to make the local news!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The dark side of the moon

You can just about see the moon's horizon, but earth is not visible

Yesterday was probably one of our busiest days in the cellar - plenty of wine making action, not to mention a visit from our Australian importer, and an Australian journalist - travelling seperately, but both, totally by co-incidence, arriving with us on the same day..... Oh, and by the way, it was a public holiday in Spain just for good measure!

The only option, in order to accomodate everything, was a very early start, and doing as much as we could before they both arrived around lunch time. We had already made clear, very early on, that going out for lunch was not an option, and that they should either eat before, or bring a sandwich! I have to say that we are usually much more friendly and hospitable than this, but unfortunately at this time of year it is the rapidly emerging wine that dictates our timetable - time and good wine waits for no man.

One of our current jobs in the cellar is adding a fining agent to the fermentation in the shape of Wyoming bentonite. Bentonite is a special type of clay that was first named in Wyoming in the 19th century, and is distinct from other clays in that it is formed from volcanic ash. Without trying to get too technical, it is a negatively charged substance which when hydrated and added to wine, will attract the positively charged particulate in the wine. As bentonite hydrates and swells it becomes like a sponge, and after mixing it thoroughly into the wine, the positively charged matter in the wine attaches to the bentonite. The weight of the molecules then cause the matter to drop to the bottom of the tank and become what is known as 'finings'.

There you are, clear as mud, if you'll pardon the pun.

Anyway, my picture today is not from a moon landing as the title would imply, but is merely the surface of the bentonite solution after it had been hydrated. Pretty.....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

No.9 - a divine number?

'Perfect' merlot grapes in Bordeaux

No sooner had I declared that we were pretty happy with our Albariño harvest this year than the Bordeaux producers jumped on the bandwagon and claimed to have produced their best crop in 60 years. It seems like they have already forgotten 2005 which they described as the 'perfect' vintage, not to mention that it is probably far too early in the campaign to make such bold statements. Usually such comments are reserved for the annual tasting which is held in Bordeaux every spring following the vintage (when the wines are still very much in their infancy). The cynical side of me tends to ask if this might have something to do with the very poor Primeur sales that they have experienced in the region over the last two years.

Now, I am not saying that it won't be a good, or possibly even a great vintage (and certainly a bit of early hype never goes amiss), but it should be remembered that this comment was made by the director of the Bordeaux Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences, so you might say that he has a bit of a vested interest. I can also remember one French producer who claimed to have at least 4 or 5 'vintages of the century' during the 1980's alone - in the end such claims just start to lose any credibility.

An interesting footnote for numerologists or perhaps just for those who like to compile vintage charts - it would seem that 2009 has given us yet another good vintage ending with the year '9'. OK, so it's a sweeping generalisation, but if you look back there are far more good vintages than bad ones, not to mention one or two truly exceptional - 1949, 1959 for example (not that I have any of these in my private cellar).

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Did someone order pizza?

Apart from everything else that is happening in the bodega at the moment - cleaning, preparing orders, drinking tea, etc. we also have the small but not insignificant matter of making wine.

After the removal of some impurities by chilling the new grape must and allowing it to 'settle', we allow the temperature to recover and then begin the process of innoculation (in reality a task that was completed a few days ago). Now, some in our area might claim that they ferment their wine with the natural yeasts that live on the grape skins, but in our own experience this simply does not work. The 'wild' yeasts are just not strong enough to survive the rigours of a full alcoholic fermentation, which is why they have to be augmented each time with cultured yeasts.

It is quite amusing when the yeast salesman comes knocking these days - he virtually opens his catalogue, and asks "well, what flavour do you want?" In the case of our bodega the answer is always the same - we want a very neutral yeast that does not mask or alter the natural fruit of the albariño grape. In my former life as a wine buyer I always looked for wines that were the most typical of the area from which they originated, a 'textbook wine' if you will. Today nothing has changed - Angela and I still focus our efforts on making the most pure and typical albariño that we can...... a wine that does exactly what is says on the label.

The photo above shows the yeast just after it has been rehydrated, and before we add it to the tanks. At this moment the cellar is filled with a wonderful aroma (assuming that you like the smell of yeast), and Angela just can't resist getting her hands into the foaming mass to help start it working. In fact, if I didn't stop her she would probably start eating the stuff!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

♫Just in time...♪♫

Pretty much within a couple of days of picking the last fruit of 2009, the sun finally disappeared and the skies turned a more familiar autumnal grey. Then, a few days later the heavens opened, and the rain came down...... stair rods, to use an old-fashioned expression.

Of course this did not stop the work of cleaning the cases that we use for picking, for two reasons. Firstly, our guys have to be well water-proofed against the pressure washers anyway, and secondly, the rain actually helps to loosen the dirt a little. Indeed, if the cases sit outside waiting to be cleaned in hot sunshine, then the sticky grape juice simply bakes on and becomes even more difficult to clean. To be honest, the way the rain is coming down at the moment perhaps we don't even need the machines!

Inside the cellar we have a backlog of orders to prepare, but we really need to finish cleaning before we can even contemplate this. For example, our bottling and labelling hall is currently filled with stock that we usually keep in the area into which the presses are emptied. Emptying presses is probably the messiest part of the whole harvest, hence the fact that we have to keep the area completely clear.

We hope that within a week or so normal service will be resumed.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Counting the cost

With the picking over, and our tanks filled with fresh grape must, we switch into deep clean mode. The sticky juice just gets everywhere - floors, walls, stairs, door handles - you name it. Then of course, there is the equipment - tanks, presses, pumps, hoses, not to mention the odd couple of thousand baskets that we use to collect the fruit - all covered with a gluey, syrup-like coating. The pressure washers are working overtime.

Seeding the tanks is about to begin, but in the meantime we also have to spend time in the office analysing the cost of this year's operation. In addition to the overtime accrued by our own full-time staff we also examine in detail the costs of our casual staff (picking team), and consider how this may or may not affect our future tariffs. The final bottle price not only relates to the price of grapes, but also to every single cost associated with handling them. In Rias Baixas where only manual picking can be used, regrettably this is never cheap.

In recent years we have collected detailed information of all these incidental costs in order that we can compare the efficiency of each campaign, and make adjustments where necessary. In addition to this, Angela keeps records of every single grape, and it's path through the cellar, giving us complete traceability of every step in the winemaking process.

Thank heavens for Excel!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 7¼ - Hold the presses!

So, as we limp into what we now believe will be our last day (honest), the final few grapes are gathered in. Of course when we stopped last night we did have to make sure that we left enough fruit on the vine to fill at least one press, otherwise it would be a case of shoes and socks off, and start stomping!

The photo above shows me (quite rare as I am usually on the other side on the lens) measuring sulphur to add to the new grape must. Before anyone panics I should tell you that we use sulphur in solution for this operation, but it is still pretty agressive, hence the mask. If this was 100% pure sulphur, then I would probably kill everyone in the building by adding it like this! (By the way, Angela says I look much more attractive in this picture - I have no idea what she means).

Oh, and one final harvest note about temperature.... At the moment we still have an outside temperature of around 26°-28°C (80°F), whereas in the cellar, where the refridgeration is chilling tanks, it is a mere 14°C (57°F). Dressing for such a wide variation can be quite difficult, and I sometimes find myself sitting in a warm office, with the sun streaming in through the window, wearing a fleece!

So, this is really it for 2009! This photo shows Juan and David tipping the very last case of this year's harvest into the press. Down below, in the pressing room, Fran started the final cycle at 2pm, and so with all the grapes safely gathered under cloudless blue skies, we hand over to Angela to work her magic in the cellar.

With our thanks to everyone in the vineyards and the bodega who have worked so hard for the 7½ days. Now, let the cleaning begin!!!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 7 - The final bunches

Herminda's office - who needs an Apple laptop when you have a Grape notebook?
(photo by mobile phone)

Whilst it was very nice to have a break from picking, today seems like a bit of an anti-climax. Having been in full harvest mode for nearly a week, it just seems really hard to re-motivate everyone, including myself, for just one last push.

The good news is that in a quiet moment Angela and I did a systematic tasking of all the musts, and all I can say is "looking good" - yes, we are very happy with what we have harvested so far. If fermentations etc. go according to plan then 2009 should be a very useful vintage. Expensive, but useful. (If you read one of my pre-harvest posts about grape prices, then you might understand where I'm coming from). Now I am not saying for one second that we make bad wines, and perhaps I shouldn't say this, but for me at least, the 2009 will be better than last year.

Finally, as the day wears on, and the grapes keep coming, we realise to our horror that we might have miscalculated. By the afternoon we have every available person out in the Pazo vineyard helping to pick the 'final' grapes, until in the end, at around 8.30pm, the daylight defeats us and we retreat back to the Bodega. The end was obviously not as nigh as we thought!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday - a day of rest

In English we call it a praying mantis, in Spanish it is a mantis religiosa - rescued from a case of grapes on Saturday. I just thought that with such a name it might be appropriate to post this picture on a Sunday.

As I explained yesterday, we have perhaps only one day of picking left (in one or two sections of our vineyards), but in the warm sunshine, fruit left on the vine for one more day can only benefit.

Despite no picking, there is still racking to be done in the cellar, and so not a day of rest for everyone.

More news on the final day tomorrow.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day 6 - Watching the temperature

Slowly the emphasis of our work starts to shift from outdoors to indoors, as we have fewer grapes left on the vine, and more juice in our tanks. As with all wine making, temperature is the key, when we start to impose our own individual character on the fruit that we collect. In a way, it is like being a chef - yes, you need to start with the very best raw ingredients, but then the individuality of the final dish, or in our case wine, will very much depend on how we handle our fruit.

Obviously, there are many steps in the wine making process, but in each there is very little margin for error. If Gordon Ramsay does not like the piece of fish that his Chef de Partie offers up to him, he will simply chuck it in the bin and start again (and probably swear a lot in the process!). If we make a mistake in our cellar, we cannot start again, we only have one chance to get it right. At this moment, there are really two important factors that will influence the final outcome - heat and oxidation - these are our enemies, and have to be avoided at all costs. This is one of the reasons that I make such a big fuss about our cooling system - it's an important piece of kit for us!

In mentioning temperature, perhaps I should make a small comment about the weather. So far it has been really kind to us, as we still enjoy brilliant blue skies and warm sunshine. In fact, thinking back over the last few years, I don't think I can recall a vintage with absolutely 0% precipitation - perhaps I am wrong.

In view of this continued good weather we will stop picking a little early today, to give the final plots a chance to drop a bit of acidity. (We may not resume again until Monday, as the forecast for the next couple of days still looks very good). But even if we did produce an odd tank with a slightly higher acidity, we can always use small amounts for blending with other tanks in the future - like adjusting the pepper and salt in your final dish (to use my cooking analogy once again).

Oh, and by the way, the photo shows my little post-it notes stuck on the control panel - with so much movement of must around the cellar this simply gives me an at-a-glance reminder of where everything is - not very high-tech!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 5 - Over the hump

Some valves controlling our cooling system (obviously designed by Mr Heath Robinson himself!)

As we roll into day 5 I think it is safe to say that we are well past the mid-point of this years harvest. With around 40 pickers in our vineyards our presses are well supplied, and have no break at all between unloading and re-filling (well, they do only work once a year).

The racking of the clean 'must' is well under way, and so far the cooling system is behaving itself. Indeed, it is proving so effective that it can apparently chill the odd can of Coke! The zig-zag arrangement of pipes in the photo are known as a heat exchanger - this is a length of pipe surrounded by an outer cooling jacket through which the grape juice passes immediately after pressing. Obviously, because the exchanger is icy cold this has the effect of cooling the must very rapidly even before it reaches the temperature controlled tanks - it is just a slightly more effective way to drop the temperature quickly.

I think that's what they call product placement (using our heat exchanger)

As I mentioned a little earlier, I am the one who treads the 39 steps more than most, often rushing samples from the grape reception down to the laboratory two floors below (I lost 2kg in the first 3 days!). From what Angela has seen so far, she is pretty happy with her analysis, and it looks like it will not be necessary to make any adjustments to the acidity this year - we shall see.....

Day 4½ - The 39 steps

Erm, not really a harvest story, but more one of my stupid anecdotes - perhaps I'm just getting tired and delirious.

I may have mentioned at some point that our cellar is built on three levels. Grape reception at the top, presses in the middle and tank room (and laboratory) at the bottom.

Somehow my planning must have gone wrong, but I think that during the harvest my own job entails rushing up and down the stairs probably more than anyone else in the building (which I suppose is quite natural when you want to keep an eye on everything).

Yesterday evening, in a moment of mental and physical exhaustion, I actually counted the steps between the top and bottom levels......

Now I don't know if Angela's father was an Alfred Hitchcock fan, or if it arrived completely by accident, but we quite literally have
The 39 Steps!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 4 - Old 'El Pazo'

No, I'm not refering to crispy chicken fajitas or enchiladas, but to our largest vineyard which is affectionately known as 'El Pazo'. It's real title is the Pazo de Barrantes, but we usually do not refer to it as such because Marques de Caceres (the Rioja producer) actually owns a bodega in the Rias Baixas denomination which sells a wine by that name. Indeed, to cut a very long story short, the 5 hectare 'El Pazo' vineyard was orignally owned by them, but was sold to Angela's father many years ago.

So, back to the story - the Pazo vineyard includes some of our oldest vines, many around 70/80 years old. Of course these are picked seperately, pressed seperately, vinified seperately and the resultant wine is reserved for our Family Estate and Barrica labels. Unfortunately, with each year that passes the yield of these 'old vines' decreases until eventually we have to pull them up and replace them with new cuttings taken from these old, original plants. On the positive side, this is a continuous cycle, so there are always more 'old vines' evolving (if that makes any sense).

Meanwhile down in the cellar, we have started to 'rack' the clean grape must after settling. The juice which is drawn off is perfectly clean and clear, and actually makes quite an attractive drink as it is. It has the typical intense, slightly floral fruit of albariño, but then of course, it also has quite a high acidity, some of which will be lost during fermentation, and later during cold stabilisation.

The picture below is not a dirty cathedral window, but is actually the sludge which is left at the bottom of the tank after settling (photo taken from above, looking down into the tank). Very pretty, but you wouldn't want to drink it!

Back up in 'grape central' (reception), the fruit is still piling in, but somehow without too much fuss and excitement - all appears very calm and controlled. To put this into context, our sixth pressing on day four finished two hours earlier than our sixth pressing on day one - it would seem that all the first day cobwebs in our performance have been swept away, and we are now operating like a well oiled machine!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 3 - The numbers game

There is a fair bit of arithmetic that goes on at harvest time, not only on the winemaking side (where we calculate the sulphur etc. that we have to add to the tanks), but also on the logistics side, making sure that everything and everybody functions in the most efficient way possible.

Indeed, the reason that I picked on this as todays subject was simply because I was sitting at my desk looking at the pressing figures for yesterday. As I think I may have mentioned, months or even years ago, we have two presses, one slightly larger than the other. They both have a fixed 'operating range' - in other words, the minimum and maximum amount of grapes that we can load. This is actually a very serious consideration, as attempting to operate outside this range will probably result in extensive (and expensive) damage to our equipment.

So, as each new batch of grapes arrive in reception, not only do we have to examine the origin (seperating certain vineyard plots), but we also have to calculate the optimum loads, and allocate the grapes accordingly.

The real problem occurs when the last grapes arrive - we quite literally have to sit down with calculators and work out how best we can distribute the weights (not an easy task at the end of a long working day when you brain has already been working overtime).

Anyway, returning to my pressing figures for yesterday, I was actually quite surprised to see the volume that we had actually crushed - almost as much as our busiest day last year. The main difference was that yesterday we did not really notice it, which might be testament to the fact that we have now a well-drilled team who know exactly what they have to do.

Oh dear, I must have been tempting fate writing about the presses.... During the evening session the larger of our two presses just stopped working. Fortunately, we pay for 24 hours emergency cover during the harvest and within half an hour we had an engineer working on the problem. Luckily it turned out to be one small piece of circuit wire, a mere 3cm long, that needed replacing, and only one hour of precious pressing time was lost.

Harvest would not be harvest without at least one small hiccup, but having just said that I now have my fingers crossed that it will be the only one!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 2 - The sun still shines on the righteous.....

OK, so I like sunsets..... this was the view from our grape reception at the back of the Bodega yesterday evening, looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean (only a few km from us).

It's really difficult not to comment about the weather, but suffice to say that on visting several different weather websites this morning, the forecast had changed yet again. The good news is that it's sun, sun, sun all the way! I suppose that with hindsight this could, in some odd way, be considered bad news - if it wasn't for the threat of rain looming on the horizon, then perhaps we could have waited a day or two longer to tease out that last bit of sugar from the grapes. Well, I don't have a crystal ball, and weather forecasts can still be wrong (he said, trying to convince himself).

Our second day was quite unusual in that it was punctuated by foreign visitors. Normally we have a strict 'closed door' policy during the harvest and do not receive anyone, but as these customers had travelled a very long way to get here, and were making a whistlestop tour of Spain, we decided to make an exception. To be very honest it is really difficult to get your head into a guided tour when you have organised chaos unfolding around you. And so, following todays new experience, I think that we will probably retain our 'no visit' rule in the future, with the possible exception of minor royals and/or players of Liverpool FC (but not necessarily in that order).

Meanwhile, back at the harvest the throughput is accelerating as we receive more grapes than yesterday - quality still looking pretty good. The newly restored cooling system seems to be working well as we use it to chill the grape must for 'settling'. Settling is quite simply when we allow all the unwanted debris (skins, stalks, pips etc. that escape the press) to sink to the bottom of the tank over a period of about 48 hours. This process works much better when the grape juice is very cold, and if Angela had her way, we might even freeze it..... just joking.

Apart from all that, nothing much else to report, so hasta mañana!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The harvest begins (with apologies to the press)

I start this year's harvest story with an apology.... to our local press. A month ago they proclaimed that our harvest would start on 20th September, and I mocked them openly for being so presumptous. How could they possibly know so far in advance, I joked.

Well, the egg is on my face now - we have started on Monday 21st September, as I now realise that our local journalists must have much better connections than I thought, perhaps even divine!

Anyway, the first grapes were collected under a milky blue sky - at 8am when I took the photo above, we had 13°C (55°F) with 67% humidity, and a little later at midday, 26°C and 38%.
Now I don't wish to be a weather bore, but it's really interesting when you compare several different weather websites for the same location (as is my current mission in life - sad, but true). For example, three sites say tomorrow will be sunny, one says complete cloud cover. Two or three say sun for the rest of the week, another says rain at the weekend. Should it be majority rule, or do I take a mean average, that is the question? Of course we watch the barometric pressure too, but being so close to the Ocean, that can, and often does, change rather quickly.

So, enough about that, what about the grape 'must'? Well, as the first grapes entered the press, and the first 'free run' juice trickled out, the smell of fresh fruit in the press room was much more prevalent than last year, with a slight floral touch - this impression was confirmed in our tasting - delicate, floral Albariño fruit.

End of day one - early days, but so far, so good......

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tree fellers or three fellas?

A bit of light relief before the serious business starts next week.....

Well, there's nothing funny about cutting down a dead tree I hear you say, but let me tell you that this is not the first attempt.

I am not sure if this work was being carried out by contractors or by the local council, but the men who turned up last Saturday to do the job were certainly not adequately equipped. There were probably five or six men, two chainsaws and just one, very short pair of ladders (that proved to be their downfall). The ladder was barely long enough to reach even the lowest branch - they just about managed to cut it off, trim it into small pieces and load it onto their truck.

The second branch was simply too high for their woefully short ladder, and so they spent the next half-hour chatting, looking up at the tree, probably reluctantly deciding that it was impossible for them to continue any further. Very much a wasted morning!

Today the real workmen turned up - two large trucks and lots of chainsaws. Road closed, job done, as simple as that.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Counting the hours

This is the tidiest and most peaceful that you will see our grape reception for the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow we will start to distribute the grey baskets that you see neatly stacked here, in anticipation of the picking which is now iminent.

Our lab is full of grape samples and the results are looking fairly promising, so the next step is to consider the weather.

After about six weeks of dry weather we actually have a little rain today, and it is possible that we will have more tomorrow (and possibly on Saturday too). Thankfully this is mostly light rain and should not really have any adverse effect on the fruit, indeed it might almost be welcome. Following such a long, dry period the grapes have become a little dusty, and can also still have small traces of Bordeaux mixture (an innocuous treatment that was last used more than a month ago). A light shower of rain now will hopefully yield slightly cleaner fruit!

The plan is to watch what happens in the next 48 hours, and then to allow one completely dry day before the 'off'. So if the forecast is correct, this could mean that we start on Monday 21st...... or maybe not - the weather Gods will decide.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's sample time

This week is like the proverbial 'lull before the storm'. We think we have everything in the bodega prepared, even the arrangements for an emergency generator have been made. Only a bit of last minute cleaning remains.

Meanwhile Angela is out and about, gathering grape samples, not only from our own vineyards, but also from those of our suppliers. These samples will be carefully analysed as we wait for the optimum moment to start picking. Each of our vineyards will then be sub-divided into plots, and we will gather grapes plot-by-plot in strict order of ripeness.

As usual at this time of year, I am glued to my computer screen watching the weather (well, I am British after all!) However, it goes without saying that this also plays a hugely important part in our harvest planning too.

I have also taken the oportunity to nip out with my camera to take a few vineyard shots before the serious work begins.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Almost exactly one year.

Almost exactly a year?.......That's the answer, now what was the question?

Well, that's how long it has taken to repair the tanks in our cellar following last years accident - and not a moment too soon. We have about a week to run before we start the 2009 harvest, and having just completed the full and final testing of the temperature control system, it looks like we are now up and running, and ready to receive the new grape must.

Despite the deadline creeping ever closer we have still had to do an enormous amount of chasing to get this critical job finished on time, which I suppose could be considered fairly normal for this part of the world!

The other good news is that the sun is still shining, and so, after a poor start to the year, it looks like we might have a half-decent harvest in terms of quality. However, as I mentioned only last week, the size of the crop will be small, and grape prices completely over-the-top, but then that is another story.

Returning (for the last time I hope), to the saga of the tanks, I made a final symbolic gesture to the work myself - adding the denomination 'sticker' that shows the official capacity, which in the case of this 2008 catastrophe amounted to 15 damaged tanks, each of 9,000 litres.

Thankfully, we can now put this extraordinary experience behind us.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More new signs

Our latest new sign outside the bodega

The previous, old sign - photo taken on a misty morning, facing in the opposite direction (looking away from the Bodega)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I just can't believe what I am seeing!

The picture as it appears on the website

After yesterday's little rant about a Californian journalist, today I am almost at a loss for words!

Like every denomination or appellation on earth our production is strictly controlled. We face tough rules and regulations that we are obliged to follow, some good, others not so good, but all designed to protect the end consumer.

In our own area, not only do we have the local D.O. office who control the vineyards, and every step of our production, through quality control to final bottling, but then we also have the local fraud office, who will ensure that your stock is correct, and that every bottle is labelled correctly etc., etc. In the case of the latter, the fraud office will even penalise you if the lettering on your label is just 1mm too big, or 1mm too small, or if your bodega address is not correct.

Now, as I have already stated, this is not exclusive to our region, and these regulations apply in pretty much every wine producing area in the world. So what's my point?

Well, yesterday evening Angela stumbled across a new website relating to the wines of our D.O. which even carries the name 'vino albariño' in it's web address. On face value the site looks innocuous enough, giving good detail about our region and it's sub zones. It also includes details of local hotels and restaurants, with many links to some useful websites around Galicia.

BUT THEN..... The part I could not believe.

They have a page that offers wine by mail order - they call it 'Artesan Wine', and they are selling it over the internet completely WITHOUT LABEL! (See photo above)

How can this be? Surely this must be illegal? Is there anyone out there who has ever seen this before, or who thinks that this is an acceptable practise? Your comments please!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Each to his own opinion....

Usually when I mention journalists, it is because they have written something flattering about one of our wines, but not on this occasion. For the very first time I am making a post because I feel moved to disagree with a comment about a particular wine..... and it is not one of ours!

The journalist in question is a guy called W. Blake Gray, who used to write for the San Francisco Chronicle, but then a year or two ago moved to the L.A. Times.

Following a visit to Rias Baixas he recently wrote an informative piece about our denomination, except that one or two of his tasting observations left me a little puzzled.

I have always agreed with the old adage that one man's meat is another man's poison, which is part of what makes the wine world so interesting - we don't all like the same wines. However, in this case I do find the closing paragraph of his article at the very least a little misleading, if not a bit of an exaggeration. I quote:

"I don't think I've tasted a better 2008 Albariño than Martin Códax, with green apple and peach flavors and excellent balance. And at $14.99, it's the cheapest of all the major exports. Gallo's efficient distribution has a huge benefit. Don't you love it when the least expensive wine is best?"

Now, I have the upmost respect for our local co-operative Martin Codax and the job that they do for our region - indeed they do make some very good wine, but to say they are the best, does a great disservice to many other top wine cellars in our region (including our own). Great quality/price possibly, excellent value for money perhaps, but to state clearly that it's the best?

But it is not just this judgement that puzzles me, he goes on to remark about another wine from our other co-operative:

"I really liked a non-exported Albariño fermented in Galician oak, which combines the understated toastiness of French oak with the dill and coconut notes of American oak. In fact, I liked most oak-fermented Albariños I encountered in Rías Baixas. Yet, the fashion for un-oaked wines is so strong that more than one winery said their American importers refuse to handle their oak-fermented bottlings. I hope that changes."

Dill and coconut? - My own understanding of why our regions oaked wines are not extensively exported is just a little different..... As Angela will attest, I have never been wholly convinced that Albariño marries well with oak, despite the fact that we actually make a little ourselves. I simply feel that the delicate Albariño grape does not have enough weight and body to support the use of oak (except perhaps in a very ripe vintage, when the alcohol, glycerol and therefore mouthfeel, is a little elevated). In a 'typical' vintage, Albariño could potentially be a little lightweight, and just leave leave the consumer with a sensation of oak and acidity. For my own palate oak fermented Albariño is little like oak fermented Chablis..... no thank you!

Oh, and by the way, one last observation that he made, once again about Martin Codax:

"That's thanks to a stubborn ninth-generation winemaker at Martin Codax, he does what he wants. That includes rejecting more than 30% of the grapes the co-op's members brought him last year."

Impossible! Martin Codax is by far the biggest producer in our denomination, and each year presses at least a couple of million kilos of Albariño grapes. If they rejected 30% of their grapes as claimed in this article, then the repercussions for our entire area would be disastrous - not to mention that it would leave them desperately short of wine. Sorry, Mr Blake Gray but this sounds like a bit of a tall story to me, or at the very least, is a bit exaggerated.

A. J. Charles McCarthy

Controversial footnote for conspiracy theorists:
L.A. Times = California
California = E&J Gallo
E&J Gallo = Martin Codax
Any connection? (Gallo does get a significant mention in the text)