Friday, March 26, 2010

The dawn of a new era

Today is the first day of a new era in our bodega! As we made the first bottling of our 2009 wine for the Spanish market, so we introduced a new label for our Casal Caeiro brand - but not only that.....

You will notice that we have added the term 'Sobre Lias' to the label (or 'Sur Lie' as the French would call it). In recent years this expression has started to pop up on a few premium wines in our area - and I say premium simply because they are always a limited production, sold at a higher price. In our case, not so.

The main reason that we are always slower than others to release our new vintage is because of this process. Every wine that we make is aged on it's lees for an extended period of between 5 and 6 months, and is therefore never available before April/May at the earliest.

Now, for those of you who don't know, the 'lees' or 'lias' are the exhausted yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the tank during fermentation. This does not mean however, that they are rendered completely useless, as even at this point they still contain certain nutrients that feed the wine, adding depth of flavour and greater complexity. Angela will happily explain all the technical stuff, telling you about the manoproteins and how they can help to protect against oxidation and reduce astringency etc., but the long and short of it is that it makes our wine taste better - and that's all you really need to understand!

Of course the process does have to be controlled, and to start off with the 'lees' have to be clean and healthy, otherwise they will simply taint the wine with reductive 'off' flavours. Even more importantly, when the wine is on it's lees it has to be tasted at very regular intervals (as we always do anyway), in order to chose the optimum moment to rack it off. No, I am not being rude, racking is simply the term for drawing the clean wine from the top of the tank, leaving the lees behind at the bottom, once they have finally completed their work.

To summarise, our philosophy, is, was and always will be, to make the best wines that we can - wines that have longevity, and do not fall apart after a couple of months in bottle. Ageing our wines on the lees has played an important part in this process for years now, the only difference being that we have now chosen to advertise it on our labels, not only as a point of difference, but also giving you and your customers a bit of 'added value' for the same money.

As always, selling you a premium product at a very modest price!

Monday, March 22, 2010

You thieving baboon!

No, I'm not being rude, the baboons really are stealing - not that this is anything new. Tourist offices around the world often issue warnings to visitors about the aggressive behaviour of these primates. They advise people not to stand around with food in their hands or leave the car with open boot (trunk), windows or doors. They also tell you that baboons will steal food and bags from inside the car, and of course, that you should take extra care when planning a picnic - these animals will simply run up to you and grab your food! The more you feed them, the more bold and aggressive they become.

Unfortunately the problem has now spread to wine country - Chachma Baboons in South Africa's Western Cape wine region have recently developed a taste for Chardonnay grapes and are terrorising farmers, munching their way through tonnes of grapes that are ready for harvesting. Farms in the Franschhoek Valley have been devastated by rampaging baboons, who sneak into secured plots and help themselves to top grade grapes. In some cases up to 40 percent of the harvest has been lost!

I have read that there are apparently only 360 baboons remaining on the Cape Peninsula. They have been there for hundreds, if not thousands of years but are now threatened due to conflict with humans. It goes without saying that the conservationists are keen to protect the last baboons on the tip of Africa, but at what cost to the wine producers?

Similar to my Coho Salmon story of only a few weeks ago - yet another conflict between man and beast......

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's in a name?

Our very own 'vine beauticians' at work

I will name no names, but suffice to say that I received an e-mail recently from one of my contacts and couldn't help but notice that his job title had changed - I cannot tell you what the new job title was (as that would give the game away), but the new description did at least grab my attention.

I have since read that this could possibly be part of a new phenomenon borne out of the recession that goes under the rather dubious banner of 'job title inflation'. As employers find themselves unable to increase the remuneration of their staff, they are instead playing a word game by upgrading job titles in an attempt to make their employees feel more valued.

For example, a shelf-stacker in a supermarket becomes an ambient replenishment controller, and a school caretaker is now head of services, infrastructure and procurement....... What ever happened to the campaign for plain English I ask myself?

Anyway, it can all be rather amusing, and so just to make you smile for a few moments, here are some of my favourites:

Beverage Dissemination Officer = Barman
Colour Distribution Technician = Painter & Decorator
Customer Experience Enhancement Consultant = Shop Assistant
Domestic Technician = Housewife
Education Centre Nourishment Consultant = Dinner Lady
Highway Environmental Hygienist = Road Sweeper
Field Nourishment Consultant = Waitress
Five a Day Collection Operative = Fruit Picker
Front Line Customer Support Facilitator = Call Centre Worker
Gastronomical Hygiene Technician = Dish Washer
Mass Production Engineer = Factory Worker
Media Distribution Officer = Paper Boy
Mobile Sustenance Facilitator = Burger Van Worker
Mortar Logistics Engineer = Bricklayer
Petroleum Transfer Engineer = Petrol Station Assistant
Recycling Operative = Bin Man
Sanitation Consultant = Toilet Cleaner
Coin Facilitation Engineer = Toll Booth Collector
Transparency Enhancement Facilitator = Window Cleaner
Vehicle Restoration Engineer = Panel Beater

Not to be out done by this, I have come up with a new title for Angela, in charge of making our wine. In future she will be known as our Senior Grape Conversion Technician.

And me? Well, I'll just keep my original title - Life Explorer and Experience Architect!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day Patriotism

First of all I would like to wish all our Irish readers (assuming that there are a few) a very Happy St Patrick's Day. Of course, with a surname like McCarthy I should be celebrating myself, but I have to admit that my Irish roots go back very many generations, probably originating in or around Cork, where every second person shares that name.

I was actually planning to write something witty and interesting about the history of St Patrick, but then, thinking about it, I decided to take a slightly different approach, using patriotism as my theme for the day......

The reason for this is quite simple, and in a way relates to my own personal situation here in Spain. St Patrick's Day is widely celebrated around the world, and probably no more so than in the United States (with the exception of Ireland of course). Naturally this can be attributed to the large Irish communities - direct descendants of original Irish immigrant families. Indeed, the cities of New York and Chicago are made up of such a patchwork of various cultural communities that the different districts now form an integral part of the city maps (as they do all over the U.S.)

Now, I do not pretend to understand why, but there is something about being an ex-pat, living in a foreign country, that has a very strange effect on your mentality. Yes, when I lived in England I supported the national football team in the World Cup, and was happy when the country did well in some event or competition - but now? Well, I have to say that I am more fiercely patriotic than ever before. OK, I have not quite resorted to wearing Union Jack shorts on the beach, or having a tatoo of the Queen on my breast, but I am never slow in telling people that I am English, and proud of it. The only thing that I can't really figure out is the reason why I should suddenly feel more passionate about my origins. Answers on a postcard please!

Anyway, just to finish, here's todays St Patrick's Google doodle.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A new approach to binge drinking

A sentiment somewhat lost in translation

The scourge of many a European country these days is that of teenage binge drinking, or "le binge drinking" as the French call it. In Spain it is known as the "Botellon", and those of you who follow my blog will know that I have written about this many times in the past.

The reason that I have resurrected the tale of this troubling phenomenon is largely because of a story that I read about a new French initiative..... education. No, not teaching the kids how to drink more, but an attempt to teach them a little more about wine, and wine appreciation. A government report is recommending that university canteens hold wine-tasting sessions to educate the young in the virtues of moderate consumption!

With typical Gallic flair and imagination a well-known French gastronaut explained in a radio interview, "Why is there sexual education and not viticultural education? You can learn wine too. Drinking is not drinking a bottle. Wine is pleasure. It's like love. It's the same."

OK, we all know that the French are a very passionate lot, but perhaps this type of reasoning could be stretching the point just a little too far...... It's like love???

A former director of the Sorbonne added "In order to avoid the total freak-out that happens every Friday night and Saturday night … we want to try to teach students a sense of responsibility, to allow them to taste wine in very moderate quantities, and to show them that it is both a pleasure, good for their health … and a part of their national heritage."

Unfortunately not everyone is in agreement with the idea of serving wine to students in their lunch break, saying that it is simply naive to think that this approach will reduce binge drinking, and adding that it is more likely to serve as a form of marketing for the wine industry.

On final, rather sobering, statistic is that, according to the Paris authorities, a fifth of 17-year-olds now drink at least five glasses of wine in a single sitting at least three times a month.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fire in the vineyard!

Despite all the rain than we have endured this winter it does seem a bit odd that we still have to apply for a licence to burn vine cuttings, especially whilst the ground is still completely sodden.

However, it is still quite pleasant to drive around in the bright winter sunshine and notice the hillsides dotted with small plumes of smoke from the numerous bonfires - a very typical winter scene here in wine country.

As I arrived in the vineyard today, even before I had the chance to open my mouth and make the usual quip, one of our guys asked “Did you remember to bring the salchichas (sausages)?”. Joking apart, there are actually many people that save their vine cuttings to burn on summer barbeques, believing that it imparts a bit of extra flavour to their chicken wings. Whilst this is very probably true, the amount of addition effort it would take to gather all the cuttings together, for us would simply be a waste of valuable man hours.

Besides, who needs a barbeque? Having just returned from the vineyard, I smell rather like a smoked chicken wing myself!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Local boy done good (No, not me)!

An old, but original photo by Gavin Bond

Several years ago (when I still had some hair) I got a friend of mine to do some ‘mug shots’ for me just in case I needed them for publicity. The friend who took the shots was a professional photographer and spent a lot of time in the States - I knew that over the years he had been pretty sucessful and done one or two magazine covers. His mum, with whom I often played golf, was quite rightly very proud of him, and naturally had a lot of his work framed on the walls of their home.

Now I am a keen amateur photographer myself, and often browse websites such as (big picture), National Geographic and NASA etc., who all have some stunning images.

The other day, purely by accident, I was browsing a fabulous portfolio of ‘A-list’ stars, when I happened to notice the credit.... my old mate Gavin Bond! I was absolutely stunned, not only by the quality of his work, but also by the list of celebrities that he had been commissioned to shoot.

If you are even remotely interested in photography, then his site is well worth a visit, and not just because he is an old friend, but because he is an old friend with considerable talent. And by the way, I should mention that Gavin Bond is his real name, and not just his Hollywood celebrity persona.

Now, how do I get on that celebrity A-list?

P.S. Gavin currently has an exhibition in London at the Idea Generation Gallery running until 21st March - so hurry along now!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Consistency is the key

Is this what they mean by uniform?

When you buy a tin of baked beans, the first thing that you usually do is seek out the brand that you like (assuming that the price is right). Of course when you open the tin you also assume, or should I say, take for granted, that the taste will be exactly the same as the last time you bought them. Establishing this level of consistency is without doubt the most important factor in building any brand and creating the vital element of brand loyalty.

Well, the same rule applies to wine, the only difference being that the quality of our end product can sometimes be influenced by the vagaries of the weather. Despite this slight handicap a good wine cellar, using a bit of meticulous wine making, can usually ensure that their quality is consistently high no matter how nature decides to do intervene.

Although much of our quality is already established in the vineyard, a grape is still a grape and the final nuances are only determined by what you do to them, in the same way that a bean is just a bean until you cook it using your own recipe.

It's all about attention to detail, and knowing how to handle the fruit in order to ensure that not only do you get the best out of it, but that you end up with the quality and style that your customers will recognise. As I have already mentioned, the difficulty sometimes lies in the vintage, in that not every year is the same, and this is where the real skill of the winemaker comes into its own. You still have to produce a wine at a level of quality that your customers will enjoy no matter what the harvest throws at you - when they follow your brand, they are putting their faith in that skill.

It goes without saying that there is another type of consistency that plays an important part in the equation, especially these days...... that of price!

The 'Holy Grail' of any wine buyer is to discover a fantastic wine that represents really great value for money. It doesn't matter what the language, buyers and sellers will always talk of the price/quality ratio. Being able to maintain that ratio is another story and makes for a lot of hard work, bordering on a degree of obsession.

In the end this is probably the the real recipe for success..... a really good, consistent wine, at a really fair and consistent price.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Traffic calming, or just traffic enraging?

Click on image to enlarge

A week or so ago we had some visitors from Australia - on the itinerary was a trip to see our El Pazo vineyard on the other side of Barrantes (our local village).

The distance involved is probably less than 2km, which should, in theory, take a couple of minutes. Well, that's the theory, but the problem is that Barrantes is traffic light hell!

Now, there are many traffic calming systems that could be employed to slow cars passing through the village, but unfortunately the method selected by our mayor is not only completely over-the-top, but is also just plain annoying. Several sets of traffic lights within the space of a few hundred metres.

As we waited at the first red light our vistors remarked that there was absolutely no traffic crossing the junction - we had been stopped just for the sake of stopping. To make matters worse there is no 'green wave' - the lights are not properly synchronised, so the likelihood is that you will be stopped more than once, to allow absolutely no traffic to pass. Of course, we were.

There is no real point to this story, except that it does give me the opportunity to use a rather nice photograph to illustrate my point - not that our mayor will take any notice.

As a footnote to this story, in the days since my original post, I have been taking a little more notice of the way that these lights work, or should I say the sequence. It would seem that the programme is designed specifically to stop you at least once during your journey through the village - on one occasion however, I was stopped three times in only 200 or 300 metres!

Friday, March 05, 2010

The consumer strikes back!

By way of an update to my recent post about Pinot Noirgate, it has just been announced that US wine drinkers have filed a class action lawsuit against the French producers and American importer of the millions of bottles of fake pinot!

The complaint accuses the defendants of "false advertising, unfair business practices, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, (and)... unjust enrichment."

The lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages being sought.

The filing comes after a French court handed down suspended jail terms and hefty fines to 12 people for selling 18 million bottles of wine presented as Pinot Noir that was in fact made from far cheaper grape varieties.

Those convicted included executives from wine estates, cooperatives, a broker, wine merchant Ducasse and the conglomerate Sieur d'Arques.

Let's all hear it for People Power!!!!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Q2). What grape is Pinot Noir made from?

Stupid question? Hmm, well, you might not believe the answer, depending on which brand you have been buying! For example, in the case of Red Bicyclette your pinot noir has, until now, been made of a blend of pinot, syrah and merlot! Produced for the wine giant E&J Gallo in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, the authorities became suspicious when they discovered that the volume of pinot noir being sold to Gallo actually exceeded the total production for the region.

The actual numbers were fairly spectacular - Between 2006-08, Sieur d’Arques apparently sold 135,000 hectolitres of the vin de Pays d’Oc labelled pinot noir to E&J Gallo at a value of 4 million Euros. Yet the total actual Pinot Noir production from the winemakers supplying the distributors was just 15,000 hectolitres a year, so even if the region’s entire Pinot Noir acreage was devoted to making Red Bicyclette for E & J in the States, it would still be impossible.

To make matters worse, this was the defence offered in the ensuing court case: The pinot 'manufacturers' claimed that "Pinot Noir could be considered as a brand, expressing a taste and given qualities and not a particular variety"! Imagine the possible consequences if this wisdom was to be widely adopted...... Chateau Cheval Blanc made from a blend of cinsault and gamay, Batard Montrachet from reichensteiner and muscadelle? The entire wine world would be turned on it's head.

The other defence argument was that “personne n’a été trompé, puisque tous savaient.” No one was conned, they say, because everybody along the chain knew about it, and nobody was harmed - except of course the poor end consumer who was paying for his pinot noir in good faith.

Apart from being totally unscrupulous and beyond belief, it does actually raise some fairly serious questions about the origins of wine, and it's authenticity. Even in our own region rumours abound as cheap wines appear on shop shelves despite the rising price of grapes, but of course this might be just petty jealousy or hearsay - you just never know.

The only thing that I can guarantee our own customers is that every bottle that leaves our cellar is 100% Albariño (our regulations dictate that it has to be 100% to mention the Albariño variety on the label). I therefore challenge anyone to carry out whatever tests, or tastings that they wish to prove otherwise.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Q1). Where does Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc come from?

If your answer was Marlborough, Hawkes Bay or indeed any part of New Zealand, then I'm afraid you'd be wrong. This particular Kiwi Cuvee, as you may imagine, is made from sauvignon blanc, but actually originates from the Loire Valley in France!

The battle of wine origin and name protection has been played out in court on many occassions over recent years, but more often than not with the French as plaintiffs. They have fought long and hard to protect famous names such as Champagne, Chablis et al, pointing to the laws of appellation d'origine as their justification.

Now, with delicious irony, an Australian tribunal has just prevented this French 'Kiwi' brand name from being registered down under, citing the obvious reason - that the name is quite simply misleading to consumers (which it clearly is). In their defence, the French argued that the word Kiwi is actually colloquial, and does not relate to a specific geographical place, which I guess is also true.

However, from my own point of view this story has it's own special significance....

Back in the 80's and 90's when I was a wine buyer I used to travel extensively in France. This was the time when 'new world' wines were still very much in their infancy, and whilst London was considered to be the 'shop window of the world' for these new discoveries, they were (and perhaps still are) largely unknown in France. By way of education, and partly out of mischief, I would sometimes travel to Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire with bottles of new world sauvignon blanc in the boot of my car (trunk to my American readers). As I poured the Chilean, New Zealand or perhaps South African sauvignon for my French suppliers, the reaction was unequivocal and unanimous, the wine was "rubbish" - and that is the polite translation!

It would appear therefore, that in a few short years, the story has gone full circle. The French market share has shrunk so dramatically, that in an attempt to regain lost ground, they have actually started to imitate their new world competitors.

How times change!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Storm Update

It would seem that my report of the weekend storm which swept across the north of Europe was more than a little premature. Of course much of my initial blog entry was based on our own personal experience here in Galicia, where with hindsight, we escaped rather lightly.

Almost inevitably with this type of natural disaster, it takes time for the reporting of fatalities and destruction to be collated, especially over such a wide area, and very regrettably, it now emerges that the number of deaths is much higher than I first reported.

Nearly 50 people have lost their lives, the worst hit being the west coast of France, around the Vendee and Charente-Maritime (an area just north of Bordeaux, and the centre of production for Cognac and Pineau des Charentes). Many of the victims were drowned in the rapidly rising waters, whilst others were killed either by falling trees or parts of buildings.

The aftermath of this powerful Atlantic storm, named Xynthia, has been declared a National Disaster in France, where the priority now is to help those with flooded or damaged homes, and to restore electricity to the large areas that have been cut off.

Our thoughts are with them, and also with the people of Chile and Haiti.....