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).