Sunday, February 28, 2010

A storm in a tea cup

Strong winds, driving rain, a little flooding, a few fallen trees and some very minor structural damage - that's about the extent of the problem caused by yesterday's storm.

Having said that, 3 people did lose their lives across Europe - two killed by falling trees, and one woman, here in Galicia, killed when a wall collapsed. During the height of the storm some gusts were recorded at up to 150kph (just over 90mph).

So the alerts and warnings were mainly precautionary, and to be honest you can not blame the Spanish government for being over cautious. Much better to be prepared, and 'batten down the hatches' than to be taken completely by surprise, as famously happened in the UK at the end of the 1980's.

On that occasion a BBC weather forecaster publicly dismissed a severe weather warning that had been isssued by his counterparts in France. That night a mini-hurricane swept across the southeast of England (including London) leaving some fairly major destruction in it's path.

What is it they say? Better to be safe than sorry.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Red Alert!

Close all your doors and windows, don't venture outside, leave the car at home, lock up your daughters...... well, maybe not the last one. These are some of the warnings that we have received over the last 12 hours, as a rather powerful storm heads towards the northwest of Spain and the Bay of Biscay.

Barely a week ago Funchal, the capital city of Madeira, was ravaged by storms, killing just over 40 people (and possibly more as they still search for the missing). In this case the heavy rain was compounded by mud slides and flash floods that destroyed houses and swept victims away, leaving the area without water, power and communication.

A second weather system, carried by the same jet-stream, is following a similar path across the north Atlantic, and is now gaining strength as it heads towards mainland Portugal and the northwest of Spain. Forecasters are predicting winds of up to 150/160 kph (100 mph), which is obviously a cause for concern. The storm is also rain-wrapped, so there is also a strong possibility of flooding in low lying areas.

Over the last few months we have already experienced more than our average total rainfall for the year, and this was before last Wednesday when we had heavy, torrential rain pretty much non-stop for the whole day and into the night.

Now let's see what mother nature holds in store for the next 12 hours!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Belated Christmas Cheer

At least winter is still upon us, with fresh snow falling everywhere (except at the Olympics in Vancouver). With this in mind it therefore does not seem quite so odd to still make mention of Christmas.

A friend of mine in New Zealand has just faxed me a copy of an article published in the January issue of Decanter magazine, which included their Christmas holiday wine recommendations! Yes, I am puzzled too, and I can only assume that the January issue would probably be released in December, as is often the way with magazines. Anyway, he has only just received his copy down in NZ....

In the Decanter article they recommended one wine for each of the twelve days of Christmas, and I am delighted to say that one of the selected wines was our very own Albariño - receiving four stars and 17.5 out of 20 (one of the highest of their Christmas choices). Their tasting note reads as follows:

"Delightful, fresh and vibrant, but invitingly smooth as well. There's lot's of interest here with fragrant apple blossom, green fruit, peel, juicy acidity, minerality and a great tangy finish".

Perhaps this was their recommendation for Christmas 2010? Remember, only 260 shopping days left, so grab your Albariño now before the last minute rush!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A bit of a pig's ear

Missed it! In the land where every type of food is commemorated in local fiestas, I am ashamed to admit that I sadly missed the annual celebration of our Galician national dish..... Cocido Gallega.

Cocido is a type of local stew or casserole made by cooking various types of meat and vegetables in stock - in many ways similar to the French 'Pot au Feu' (except using different meats). Usually a traditional Galician cocido would be made from a selection of salt pork cuts, including the head, ears or tail, together with pieces of cock or chicken. Chorizo and pork belly or bacon, are also added. The selection of vegetables includes potato (a food staple of the Galician diet), grelos, which are actually the leaves of turnips (although cabbage can be used as an alternative to this), and finally garbanzos, or chickpeas to you and me.

Cocido is served in nearly every local Galician restaurant, but not necessarily every day of the week - on the days that it is however, you can guarantee that the place will be packed. To be very honest I believe that there are some people who would eat it every day of the week, given the opportunity!

By complete co-incidence we will be preparing a cocido next week to serve to some Spanish guests here in the Bodega. Whilst we have a large 'salon' with dining tables, which can also serve as a meeting room, we do not actually have a kitchen, so the cocido will be prepared outside, and then 'shipped in' using one very large cooking pot. The stock, or broth that the cocido is cooked in is often served as a starter, perhaps with a few chickpeas thrown in - the pork, chicken and veg will then make up the main dish.

Cocido Gallega - yum, yum! (well, actually, not for me)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More than just a pretty face!

The other day Angela's beloved desktop laser printer started chewing up the pages she was trying to print. To be very honest I was not surprised for one moment, as she does insist on shoving re-cycled paper into the poor thing. Of course using re-cycled paper should only be applauded, but not when the second-hand sheets are creased, folded or occasionally included the odd staple! So, the obvious solution was to look for some sort of paper jam, but regrettably, this revealed nothing....

Now, I am a great believer in internet forums, and wasted no time in visiting the site for this particular brand of printer - the prognosis was not good - it looked like the fuser film sleeve needed replacing, simply through old age (don't worry, I had no idea what this was either). I had no doubt that the cost of sending the machine away for repair would be more than it's replacement value, which left me with only two options. Either scrap the machine, or try to repair it myself, assuming I could find the part - more websites.

I eventually stumbled across a site not surprisingly called '' in the United States, that could send me the repair kit for only $46 + postage. Believe it or not only 3-4 days later, I had the replacement fuser film sleeve in my hand..... but that was the easy part!

Fortunately the kit included a blow-by-blow DVD, like an idiots guide of how to attempt something really difficult (actually 7.5 out of 10 on their difficulty scale), but as I had absolutely nothing to lose, I thought I would give it a go.

After about an hour or so, I had the printer in pieces, screws and brackets everywhere, covering a fairly large table, and I was filled with trepidation as I realised that I had to put them all back together again!

I shouldn't have worried, after another hour and a half, I plugged it back in, and presto, one restored printer. Of course my repair comes with a 20/20 guarantee - 20 minutes or 20 printed pages, whichever comes first - but it did fill me with a certain satisfaction, even if it does break down again next week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How quickly it changes

Living on the Atlantic coast as we do, has it's benefits, and I'm not just talking about the beaches. It helps to moderate our climate, and means that in summer we do not suffer the extremes of temperature that they do a little further inland. The downside of this, as I am sure I have mentioned many times before, is that we have quite a lot of rain..... although in some ways this is no bad thing, as we do need the water to help vegetation. The real problem lies with the unpredictability of our weather. Martime climates are rarely settled, and can change in a heartbeat.

It was only Saturday afternoon when I made the post about my famous 'fried eggs' (sunshine with a little light cloud) - a weather forecast for our area taken from the web. By Monday night, just over 48 hours later, this forecast had changed to what you see above - normal pruning weather had been restored.

A sudden change in the weather at this time of year is not however, too much of a disaster, and simply means that the guys that are pruning have to pack their waterproofs. It becomes much more of an issue in summer and autumn.

In summer, on the occassions that we do have to treat our vines, we not only need a bit of dry weather, but for the treatment to be properly distributed, we also need a period that is not too windy. If the treatment that we give does not have time to dry and at least a short contact with the vines, then we might as well pour it down the drain. The real issue being that the best and most eco-friendly applications are always the most expensive, and we simply cannot afford to waste the time and money.

In autumn we have our harvest, when quite naturally, we pray for good weather to gather our crop.

Monday, February 15, 2010

One for the romantics?

It has always puzzled me as to why people think that running a small hotel, or a restaurant, is a romantic idea. I can honestly tell you, from my previous life in hotel management (many, many years ago), that it is not. It is tough, physically demanding work - long hours on your feet, working evenings and weekends, quite logically, when all around you are relaxing....

So often I hear stories of people coming into money, either through inheritance, or perhaps a redundancy package, who immediately have the idea of speculating in the hospitality industry. Of course there are those who make a success of it, but for others, perhaps with no prior experience, well, they often fall by the wayside and lose their investment. Who is it once said - "The best way to make a small fortune in the restaurant business, is to start off with a very large fortune"!

I guess the same could be said of the wine industry, in that owning your own vineyard and making a bottle with your own name on it, is a very attractive idea - but please be warned, to do it on a commercial scale is much more than just a hobby, and to do it well takes both a lot of care and experience.

Over the weekend I saw a rather unusual story in the Daily Telegraph that caught my eye. A vineyard for sale near the city of Bath, in the south west of England. They did not state the exact size of the vineyard itself, but mentioned that for an investment of a mere £20,000 the new owner could, in a good year, produce up to 1,000 bottles of Riesling.

The estate agents handling the deal went on to say "we have been surprised by the amount of interest generated by wine enthusiasts who want to grow their own grapes and make their own wine". Knowing the vagaries of the English climate, allow me to be the first to wish them good luck in their new venture, whoever they may be.

Post Script: Since I first made this post a new article has appeared in a similar vein.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A week of fried eggs

I exchanged e-mails with a friend down in Melbourne the other day, who reminded me that it was the first anniversary of 'Black Saturday', when more than 100 people died in raging wild fires across the state of Victoria. Angela and I remember it well, as it was the very day that we arrived in Melbourne.... high winds and temperatures of around 50°C (122°F), a surreal experience.

My point is that they were suffering from severe drought conditions, and this latest conversation revealed that they still are. Water is in very short supply.

I joked that they could have some water from Galicia if only we could constuct a pipeline long enough - we have had a very wet winter. It has rained almost continuously since November, and during that whole period we have not enjoyed more than a few dry days back-to-back (and certainly very little in the way of sunshine).

For the last few days however, we have been blessed with some beautiful winter weather - clear skies and cold temperatures, hovering just above freezing at night. As you will see from the forecast, this is set to continue for the next few days, with sunshine and a little cloud (fried eggs), making much more pleasurable conditions for pruning the vineyards.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Responsible drink warnings

Despite living in Spain I still have access to UK television channels (thanks to an enormous satellite dish nailed to our roof!). Last night I was quite shocked to see the latest, and quite dramatic, anti-alcohol campaign launched by the UK's National Health Service.

On many occassions, and on this very blog, I have mentioned that we support responsible drinking- everything in moderation, as they say. However, the claims made in this publicity are bordering on scandalous, and I believe, deliberately designed to engender fear.

Of course I have a vested interest in the drinks business, and perhaps I am not quite as objective as I might be, but I am also remembering that the claims made in this campaign come from a health department that projected there would be more than 60,000 deaths (in the UK alone), from the recent outbreak of swine flu. In reality swine flu officially resulted in 411 deaths, the vast majority of which were ast the result of complications from other, underlying illnesses. In addition to this, the UK government ordered 90 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine, but to date only 4.63 million have been used, (rumour has it that they are now using the surplus to treat broken bones!). It is no wonder that the World Health Organisation has accused European politicians of exaggeration and over-reaction, and is now reviewing response to the pandemic....... anyway, I digress.

The television advertising campaign claims that if a woman consumes just two glasses of white wine per day her blood pressure may increase, and this may significantly increase the likelihood of a stroke. In addition a female drinker could also develop mouth or throat cancer, liver damage and will perhaps suffer from depression.

Even trying to wear my 'objective hat' for a moment, this looks a little like deliberate scaremongering to me, and all this from just two glasses of wine a day? I am not quite sure which is worse, irresponsible drinking or irresponsible government propaganda......

Yes, there is no doubt that over indulgence in alcohol can, and does, cause health problems, but then again, so can eating too many doughnuts!

You may gather that I am more than a little angered by this seemingly exaggerated campaign.

(I thought little this 'rant' was worthy of my soap box logo that I have not used for a while)

Monday, February 08, 2010

Can man and fish co-exist peacefully?

It was our old-friend George W. Bush who once curiously declared, and I quote, "I know the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully."

Wrong George!..... Why not ask the poor fish that are having problems with the grape producers of Sonoma County, California?

Growers in this part of the world use a method called ‘ice encasement’ to protect their vines from late winter, or spring frosts. More specifically they are protecting the new buds and young shoots at the beginning of their growing cycle, as they will simply die when the weather dips much below freezing. For those who may not know, this is how the system works:

Well before the vines reach freezing temperature, water sprinklers or ‘misters’ are activated in the vineyard, coating the vegetation with a film of water. As the temperature drops below freezing, the water starts turning into ice, and given a little time, quite a thick coat builds up. This coating of ice actually keeps the vegetation at, or just below freezing, thereby preventing tissue damage in the young shoots.

So how does this affect the fish I hear you ask?

2008 and 2009 were both drought years in Sonoma, and as water was pumped from local streams and rivers to use as frost protection, so the water levels dropped. The unfortunate consequence of this was the death of hundreds of coho salmon and steelhead trout as the lack of water stranded the poor fish. Whilst the coho have a habitat that stretches from Alaska to central California, and still thrive in Alaska, their once plentiful stocks in California and Oregon are now under threat, and therefore new regulations are being proposed to restrict the amount of water that can be used. Quite naturally the growers of this cooler part of Northern California are not happy.

So here we witness a conflict between man and fish – the livelihood of the grape grower, against the survival of a species, and I have absolutely no doubt that in this case, the fish will win.

And no George, we didn’t misunderestimate you!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bottles and the environment

Every bottle that we sell carries a 'green point' (the logo shown in the centre of the picture above), which you may have noticed on many of the products that you buy. This Green Point is an indication that we have paid, effectively in advance, for the bottle to be collected and re-cycled (assuming of course that it is deposited in the correct re-cycling container). I am informed that around 99% of all glass in Spain carries this mark, so it's nice to know that everyone is doing their part to help the environment.

Directly related to awareness in re-cycling is the recent push in the bottling market towards greater use of lightweight bottles. Personally I am in two minds about this....

The cheaper lightweight bottle is traditionally associated with less expensive wines, and therefore does not necessarily project the right image for your product. Now, I am not for one second supporting the use of the super-heavyweight receptacle (that nearly breaks your wrist when you pick it up from the table to pour a glass), but nor do I want something that will be blown over in a light breeze, or even worse, arrive broken at it's destination. There has to be some compromise.

Our bottle supplier is now offering a 'Prestige' bottle with new Eco-friendly credentials, or so they claim. It uses less glass, uses less energy to produce (and boy, does glass production use a lot of energy), and because it weighs less, reduces the carbon footprint of moving it around the world! To be very honest I quite liked the sample that they showed me, it actually looked and felt very much the same as the bottle we use now, until I put in on a scale in our laboratory.... et voila.... 103g lighter.

Without the aid of a calculator I was easily able to work out that a 12 bottle case would be more than 1kg lighter, and our average pallet could weigh between 60-70 kg less than it does now.

I think that we will certainly have to give this a try, and at least see how this new 'eco-bottle' performs on our bottling line.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The not so super-markets

Bodegas Castro Martin is in a very fortunate situation, working almost exclusively with the HoReCa (Hotel, Restaurant, Catering) sector of the market, and not dealing with any major supermarket chain in any country. I say fortunate because all too often the practices of the high street 'big boys' can be considered just a little unscrupulous, sometimes leaving their suppliers more than a little unhappy.

For example, 'multibuy'deals (3 for 2, 7 for 6 etc.) will always be funded by the supplier and never the supermarket. The unfortunate part of this arrangement is that these offers are not always negociated with the supplier beforehand, and can come as a very unwelcome surprise. Slightly more doubtful are the 'listing fees', when a producer will more or less pay to appear on the shelf, or perhaps even contribute a fixed amount to the opening of each new branch of the chain in question. Even more dubious demands include retrospective discount (outside the negociated contract) when a supermarket chain will simply enforce a lower price to improve their own profit margins.

The most unreasonable requirement however, has to be compensation for theft. When goods that are stolen from stores have to be reimbursed by the supplier...... I truly fail to see how this could be considered to be fair and equitable in any objective business environment.

Of course a supermarket supplier always has the option to walk away at any time, but in a harsh economic climate the opportunities to sell elsewhere can be few and far between, and some very large producers have little option but to comply, no matter how unreasonable the demand.

Perhaps the most unsettling part of this story is that many of the biggest operators annually announce profits running into the hundreds of millions, whilst in stark contrast the poor farmer or manufacturer can be left struggling simply to stay in business.

Today the UK government introduced a new code of practice to help protect farmers and food companies by enforcing supermarkets to keep written records of all negociations with suppliers. The new code will be regulated by an ombudsman who will be appointed to deal with complaints, and act as a go-between, thus protecting suppliers from potential 'bully-boy' tactics.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I'm no techno-fool!

Computers, don't you just love 'em?

Well, to be very honest I don't think that I could function without one - just another technological marvel that we now take for granted. Luckily they still need a bit of human input, albeit I am sure that sooner or later, they will actually think for themselves (if this is not happening already).

The reason I write is that I was trying to book a new restaurant in Pontevedra which has just joined my favourite restaurant group - Nove Grupo Gastronómico Galicia For a moment I could not work out why a restaurant in Pontevedra would be called Eirado da Firewood, and also, I had never heard of the square where it was supposedly located, the Praça da Wood - and then I suddenly realised.....

Lazy person that I am, I have 'Google translate' set up on my computer, which looks at each web page and automatically decides if it needs translation. It is a great piece of software and usually makes pretty accurate translations. Unfortunately in this case it was a bit over eager, and changed the name of the restaurant from it's original Eirado da Leña.

So, as you have no doubt deduced the word 'leña' (pronounced len-ya) comes to mean wood, or firewood, although it does have another commonly used meaning that might help you the next time you visit Galicia. If you find yourself in a bread shop looking for a nice crusty loaf, you can simply ask for 'pan de leña', which as we now know means literally 'bread of the wood'. Of course the meaning in this context is bread from a wood-fired oven (although I rather suspect that very few bread shops actually use wood-fired ovens these days)...... Another gem of useless information.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Big Brother is watching you!

Nothing to do with wine, or the bodega, more just an observation from my recent travels around the UK.

Now, I often moan about the traffic and bad driving here in Spain, not to mention the latest toy of the local traffic police.... the dreaded speed camera, but the UK is now in a different league altogether!

Having driven the length and breadth of the UK over the last week I was truly shocked by the number of cameras that you see along the way. Not just fixed cameras that snap your photo as you drive past, but also the new-fangled 'average speed cameras' that calculate your average speed over long sections of the motorway.

I did not actually witness it myself, but I am also given to understand that the majority of UK town and city centres are now filled with surveillance cameras, whereby you can hardly take a step outside without being monitored. Talk about Orwell's 1984, it really has become very intrusive.

But wait just a moment - perhaps I can actually top this story! The Kent police, in the south east of England, are now considering using unmanned drones that will fly at 20,000ft to record all your misdemeanors without you even knowing it (assuming that the weather is good, and it's not too cloudy!)

I really wish that I was joking, but this is all very sadly true.