Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spot the wine writer!

The wine trade can sometimes be a rather drab place, with far too many people taking themselves far too seriously, so it's really good to have the opportunity to laugh a little from time to time.

I have not posted for a week or so, as Angela and I have been over in the UK where we attended the annual tasting of one of our customers. I think I have written about this particular tasting before; fantastically organised around an original central theme each year, and always hugely well attended. This year was no exception, and even the freezing conditions could not deter hoteliers and restaurateurs from travelling the length and breadth of the country to taste an outstanding selection of wines.

Amongst the many wine writers in attendance was an old friend of mine, who appears in the picture with me (I'm the one in trousers!). I was originally inclined to ask for suggestions as to his identity, but instead, as a clue, I can tell you that (in common with Oz Clarke), this man has a great singing voice and often appears on stage in Opera, both serious and light. On this occassion he is however, appearing in Pantomime, as hopefully you may have gathered from his make up.

It is in fact Charles Metcalfe, wine writer, broadcaster and co-founder of the London International Wine Challenge, now one of the biggest tasting competitions in the world. Charles seized the moment and changed into his Pantomime outfit to promote the charity event.

How is it the song goes?......... there is nothing like a dame (and Charles assures me, he really is nothing like one)!

Monday, January 18, 2010


Ever since we planted our 'Bodega' vineyard several years ago we have been in discussion, or perhaps even dispute, with our neighbour regarding their adjoining forest of eucalyptus. Apparently, by law (not that this means very much), there has to be a gap between the party fence and the first line of trees - in this case there is not.

The consequence is that we have a very sheltered corner of the vineyard, where not only is there little sun, but also, owing to the proximity of the root system, our vines are well and truly starved of any water. Hence very few grapes in this area.

As I think I mentioned before, we have had a huge amount of rain this winter and as a result the soil is saturated and the shallow roots of the eucalyptus have been undermined. The outcome? We now have a horizontal tree in our vineyard, breaking posts and bringing down the wires with it. Fortunately there was no one pruning in this area at the time!

Our neighbour has been very apologetic, and has now promised to repair the damaged fence and pergolas, and also to cut back the tree line. I will not hold my breath......

Friday, January 15, 2010

Our new Teflon® non-stick wine label

I mentioned the other day that we were desperate to bottle some wine as quickly as possible, simply as we had no floor stock left to sell. The bottles that we were waiting for finally arrived, and so yesterday morning our guys got to work on the bottling line. (Unfortunately I was absent owing to an emergency dental appointment for a broken tooth - certainly not a planned absence!)

Regrettably things did not go as smoothly as we would have hoped, and all because of the cold weather.

The problem was actually quite simple really - the wine in the tanks was cold, and the bottles that had recently arrived were possibly even colder, so when trying to apply self-adhesive labels at the rate of around 2,000 - 3,000 bottles an hour, they simply didn't want to stick!

We do try to keep the labels in a warm place to help the adhesive a little, but whilst we have cooling systems in the cellar, we do not really have any heating as such (not that we would ever want to start warming our wine anyway). The only possible solution might have been to warm the bottles just a little so they were not quite so icy, but even then we certainly wouldn't want them to be any more than our normal cellar temperature of around 12°C - perhaps we will give this theory a try when we bottle again next week.

Addendum: It's also worth mentioning that we sometimes have the same problem in summer - when labels don't want to stick. The warehouse where we keep the bottles can be difficult to keep cool during the summer (don't worry, there is no wine stored in this location). Consequently if the empty bottles do get a little too warm, and we add cool wine at cellar temperature, the result can be traces of condensation. When the machine is working at full speed this is usually not a problem, as there is not enough time for moisture to form, but any slower and then "we have a problem" - as they say in Houston.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The cupboard is bare

This picture shows a nice, cool corner of our warehouse that is normally stacked high with pallets of wine ready for sale, usually between 20 and 30. Today there is but one lonely pallet (hang on a minute, isn't that the name of a famous travel guide?)

Of course this is actually good news, as it means that we pretty much sold all the stock that we had prepared for the Christmas period, but on the downside, there is also a bit of bad news.....

Naturally we had planned to bottle more stock immediately upon our return from the holidays, but the full container of bottles that should have arrived during the first week of January did not make it - for a rather unusual reason. Believe it or not, it did not even start it's journey from Barcelona owing to widespread snow! Not snow in Barcelona, or even here on the coast of Galicia, but inland, across the centre of Spain. The same snow that brought Madrid to a grinding halt yesterday, causing chaos in yet another European airport. I hear that even the Germans, who are always frighteningly well organised, and well prepared, have been struggling with the recent inclement weather.

We have our fingers crossed that our precious cargo of bottles might arrive later today, or perhaps tomorrow, so that we can quickly bottle one or two tanks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In illustrious company

From time to time we are lucky enough to get direct feedback from our customers in different parts of the world, and I am pleased to say that the vast majority of it is very positive.

The most usual mail that we get is when someone has tried our wine in a restaurant and simply wants to know where they can buy it. Naturally we always reply quicky to this type of request to put them in touch with either our importer or a local distributor.

Today however, we have received a rather unusual story from Caracas, Venezuela where a supporter of our bodega bought a bottle of Casal Caeiro to accompany a dish of mussels that they enjoyed at home with their friends. They went on to tell us that they started the evening with Veuve Cliquot as an aperitif, followed by our albariƱo, moving on to a magnum of Chateau Cheval Blanc and rounded off with a bottle of Chateau Gilette (Sauternes) 1937!

I urgently need to find some friends like this - please send CV and details of your private cellar to the following address......

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Snowed under.... in paperwork!

Frozen Britain

As large swathes of Europe grind to a halt in blizzard conditions, the snow that was threatened around the city of Pontevedra came to nothing more than a very light 'dusting' - hardly enough to break out the snowboard....

Sure, it's been pretty chilly for the last week or so, with frost nearly every night, but nothing like the -21°C experienced in Scotland recently - colder than the average domestic deep freeze, and on a par with the South Pole. Indeed such extremes of temperature bring problems that are not encountered in normal everyday life, such as the diesel in the tank of your car turning to jelly!

So, where does paperwork enter into the story? Well, it's just another example of the incredible volume of admin and/or beaurocracy that is sometimes required to complete even a very trivial task in this country. To cut a very long story short, I went to our local hardware store to collect an electric drill that had been left for minor repair (annoyingly just out of warranty). On face value, a simple task.... or so I thought.

After one hour, involving two people, visiting two offices, necessitating eight sheets of paper (six A4 size), and then signing two of them, I was finally presented with the invoice....... 23 Euros + tax!!!! You have to ask yourself the obvious question - how on earth can this be cost effective?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy New Xacobeo 2010!

Just in case you thought we might be snowed in, I'm happy to tell you that we have not seen one single snowflake here in the Pontevedra area..... yet! They say that we might see a bit of snow tomorrow, so I wait with baited breath and camera poised, just in case.

No, the reason that I have not posted for a while is simply that we have been closed for a few days around the Reyes holiday that falls on the 6th January. I must confess that our brains are still in 'relaxation mode' and as always the first day back is a tough one.

So what is the Xacobeo I hear you ask? Well, to cut a very long story short it is a special religious year in Galicia, with festivities centred around Santiago de Compostela, and it's wonderful cathedral.

It has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, and occurs whenever the feast day of the Apostle Saint James (Santiago), 25th July, falls on a Sunday. Owing to leap years this does not happen at regular intervals, and can be every 5, 6 or 11 years..... I think (the maths are a little complicated). For example, the last three celebrations were in 1993, 1999 and 2004, and following 2010, the next will be in 2021.

If you feel the need to study the whole story then there is a website (Spanish, English and Galician), although it is perhaps not the easiest in the world to find what you are looking for.