Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hey dude, where's my towel?

Today's photo was taken on a popular Galician beach at the weekend, although 'popular' might be something of an understatement! This is truly my idea of hell.....

Galicia has more than 1,000 km of coastline, with four absolutely beautiful Rias (estuaries). These dramatic 'Upper' and 'Lower' Rias are dotted with literally hundreds of tiny beaches, and even at the height of summer it is not too difficult to find a small, relatively desserted stretch of sand. If you are lucky enough to own a boat you might even have an entire beach to yourself.

The resort of Sanxenxo shown above, has been described by some as the 'St Tropez of Galicia', although I rather suspect that the people who suggested this may have never actually visited the Côte d'Azur. For me, the only significant similarity is that they both have sand, although from seeing the photo, you may just have to take my word that Sanxenxo really does have sand.

The conclusion is that, yes, Galicia is a great place for a holiday, with fantastic seafood, and let us not forget, a pretty good white wine to go with it. It is still a largely undiscovered corner of Spain, and does not as yet, attract hordes of foreign visitors (numbers are, however, gradually increasing).

One small footnote: English speakers beware - there are not large numbers of local people who will understand you, and shouting will not help!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A 'model' daughter?

Click on image to enlarge

The other day I was casually thumbing through some old wine magazines, when the above picture of the Swiss family Herzog caught my eye.

They now reside in New Zealand and run a successful winery there, but it was something far more basic than that which troubled me..... is the young girl in the picture their beautiful waif-like daughter (or possibly estate worker), or is this 'person' really a shop mannequin dressed up and placed in the vineyard for a joke?

It's one of those annoying little conundrums for which I would like to have an answer. Each time I look at the picture myself I come to a different conclusion!

Is there anybody out there who knows these people, and who can put me out of my misery (I think I have at least three regular readers in New Zealand and many more in Australia)?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A pollo festival (no, not the moon landing!)

Almost every small village in Galicia (and possibly every village in Spain) has an 'adopted' item of local produce. For many in our local area it is related to the sea, whether it be prawns, scallops, octopus or a particular species of fish, it gives them cause to have a day of celebration for their chosen dish or beverage.

Last summer I wrote about one such fiesta in our local village of Barrantes, where they celebrate the local wine - no, not Albarino, but the infamous local brew known as Tinto de Barrantes. A month or so after this first fiesta the local municipality of Ribadumia (which incorporates the village of Barrantes) holds yet another one, this time dedicated to food, or to be more specific, chicken!

Now to the best of my knowledge, neither Barrantes, nor Ribadumia is reknowned for it's poultry, and so I was rather puzzled as to why they would single out the humble chicken for special attention. A casual conversation in the village revealed the answer, and of course I should have guessed without even asking.

In Barrantes, one of the local businesses is a chicken abattoir, and the owner was formerly a member of the local council. I don't think I need to explain any more, except to say that a small boost in business is always welcome.

This reminds me a little of the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes (for luck), on each toll of the bell at midnight on New Year's Eve. Perhaps I am just an old sceptic, but rumour has it that this custom was created as recently as the early 20th century when the grape producers of Alicante had a bumper harvest of eating grapes, and therefore had to devise some way of getting rid of them. Claiming that it was lucky to eat them on New Year's Eve proved to be a stroke of marketing genius, and the rest, as they say, is history, or perhaps to be more accurate - tradition.

In a smilar vein, super cynics of the wine trade might easily argue the same of Beaujolais Nouveau in France..... a true tradition or just a clever piece of marketing to move wine quickly?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Let's talk weather......again!

I often have to remind myself that we are just simple fruit farmers, albeit that we eventually transform our grapes into something far more interesting and enjoyable. As with any type of farming we find ourselves at the mercy of the weather gods, and in many ways it is they who will ultimately determine the quality of the resultant wine. Of course, this is quite simply down to the fact that real quality is dictated by development in the vineyard, and despite our best efforts, weather plays a major part in this equation. This year, once again, the gods are not being too kind to us....

We have often debated the effects of global warming, and how our climate will evolve over the coming decades, but as one who keeps a regular eye on the weather, I have to say that I am still none the wiser. In Galicia we have already experienced some unseasonably warm weather earlier in the year (the latter half of February and whole of March), but then the remainder of spring and early summer has reverted back to conditions more typical of this verdant part of Spain - largely cool and wet, with far too much humidity than we would like for a truly healthy growing season.

In the vineyard we have to take every available step that we can to prevent disease - thinning the canopy allowing moisture to escape (which also improves exposure), and as a last resort, we spray our vines with the most ecologically friendly treatments that we can find. The rest is down to nature.

Oops, I have just discovered a rather disturbing fact. Apparently the characteristic that is considered to define us Brits the most is....... our obsession with the weather!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Only in Spain

A bull with four wheels is safer than one with two horns....

It's that time of year again, when a young man's thoughts turn to dashing down the streets of Pamplona ahead of twelve rampaging bulls. For some this will represent the ultimate macho adrenalin rush, whilst for many others, it is just plain stupid.

Only yesterday a Spaniard, and American and an Irishman (no, this is not the opening line of a joke) were admitted to hospital with minor injuries, only one day after a man was tragically gored to death. He was the 15th person to die in the annual bull run, and the first since 1995 when a 22-year-old American was killed. For some reason the Americans have faired rather badly in this festival, as it was only a couple of years ago one poor fellow from New York was paralyzed from the neck downwards.

Here in Galicia we have our own, marginally less dangerous, 'festival' that takes place at the beginning of July - the Rapa das Bestas - horse wrestling to you and me! As ever, I have no doubt there will be some tenuously humane justification for the event........

Of course, dangerous sports have been around for centuries, and have not only included the likes of bull fighting and bull running, but also wild adventures such as the infamous Cresta Run, where participants hurtle at high speed down a track of solid ice on not much more than a converted tea-tray!

The modern era of extreme sports was probably brought to the fore by the invention of bungee jumping in the late 70's, and now includes an endless list, such as base jumping, hang gliding, extreme ski-ing and golf (did you realise that 5% of all lightning related deaths take place on the golf course?)

So what's next on the list? Happy-slapping crocodiles?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Warning labels

One of the campaigns that we support most vigorously is that of responsible drinking. This doesn't necessarily mean that we stick warning labels all over our bottles, as to be honest, I am not really sure that our Albariño would necessarily be the first choice of those who drink more than they should. However, in an ever increasing number of markets these days, it is actually becoming obligatory to include certain warnings on the label of the bottles that we sell.

Take France as an example. Now, whilst we don't sell huge volumes of our wine to the French market (albeit I am very proud of the fact that we at least sell some), we are now obliged to add the silhouette of an expectant mother encompassed by a warning circle (see above) to each bottle - a recommendation not to drink during pregnancy. The same sentiment has actually been expressed in words on the back label of our U.S. exports for many years now, along with a reminder of the hazards of drinking, driving and operating machinery.

My own opinion is that we now need to agree a new 'International Standard' of all the various warnings, in order that they can be encompassed in one single format. If not, then there is a very real danger that we will simply be overwhelmed by the number of individual labels that we will have to print for different customers around the world.

Is there anybody out there (in a position of some influence) listening?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Añada tasting 2008

Barcelona's beautiful Casa Fuster Hotel

Once a year the Rias Baixas circus moves to different locations around Spain. The object, to introduce the new vintage (añada) to both the press and selected trade customers. To be honest I am not sure exactly how many Bodegas from our denomination show off their wine at the tasting, but it is certainly the vast majority, making for a fairly sizeable selection.

This year we re-located to Barcelona, which of course, is a great place to visit for whatever reason, so we need no excuse. The precise location was the Casa Fuster, a small, five-star luxury
hotel situated in the very heart of the city. Not only is this hotel honoured by the presence of our denomination tasting, but it also boasts a jazz bar that producer Woody Allen visits every year to show off his talent on the clarinet and/or saxophone (but not necessarily at the same time!)

At the tasting itself we are not actually allowed to pour our own wine for visitors, or even to stand behind the table (please don't ask me why), we simply mingle with the crowd and take the opportunity to taste as many other Albariños as possible (which for me at least is my main motivation for attending). It is always interesting to find out exactly where we stand in the hierarchy of quality, and I do my very best to revive my old 'buyers hat' and be as objective as possible in my judgement. With hand on heart I can tell you that in 2008 my opinion is that we rate amongst the very best - and certainly within the top five or six......

Since returning I have started to save up so that I may visit the Casa Fuster again - not saving in order to stay the night, but merely saving enough to pay for a beer in their bar!