Sunday, April 25, 2010

Out of Office

This week Angela and I fly to the US to visit our importer, and thanks to my faithful Blackberry I will not need to haul my laptop over with me - once again I have to ask myself, where would we be without this amazing technology?

It seems quite funny now when I recall my very first 'mobile' telephone. You actually carried it using a shoulder strap because the battery was so huge, and it had an old fashioned handset attached to the base station with a cord - I think it might have been a Panasonic. Of course you could only use it for making phone calls, nothing else, and even then the coverage was fairly patchy despite living in central London, as I did at the time.

These days a phone is not just a phone, it's a mini-computer, mp3 player, camera, and even a rather small television - unfortunately however, it does not make toast...... yet! Anyway, as always, I digress.

Perhaps the only limitation of a Blackberry is the screen size, which is a bit small for reading attachments etc., and does not really work for making blog entries either. To be honest I do not anticipate spending my precious few days in New York in internet cafes, so please forgive me if my blog falls silent over the coming days.

As Arnie the Governator would say - I'll be back.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My favourite far

Some of you may already know that I really enjoy discovering the many and varied festivals that we celebrate, not only here in Galicia, but all around Spain. I think I have perhaps already written about the Chicken Festival of Barrantes, the Cocido (pork stew) Festival of Lalin, and others such as the famous 'Tomatina' (tomato throwing festival) in Valencia. Now I think I have a new favourite, most probably influenced by their wonderful brochure..........
The Kiwi Festival of Tomiño!

I'm not quite sure which part I like the best. The fact that the Kiwi fruit on the cover is clearly not a Kiwi fruit at all, and appears to be made out of papier mache, or the hair and legs made from strands of wool.

Then of course there is the festival programme itself, two days of celebration centering around the humble Kiwi fruit.... who would have thought it possible? I certainly didn't.

There is however, a very relevant footnote to this tale - the relationship between the Kiwi fruit and the Albariño grape itself..... Back in the 1980's, when Kiwi was a comparatively recent discovery, it quickly became fashionable and as a result, quite expensive. It was also found to be well suited to the Galician climate, and was therefore planted extensively around our region. As these new, abundant, local supplies arrived to market, so the price plunged, and the proverbial 'golden goose' had been buried almost as quickly as it had emerged.

The Galician small holders started to seek an alternative and possibly more lucrative crop - consequently many opted to plant Albariño, just at the moment that it started to gain in popularity. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Onwards and upwards

Forgive me for being a little cynical, but they've just held the annual 'Primeur' tastings in Bordeaux, and guess what?...... Yes, 2009 is yet another vintage of the century! (I just hope someone is keeping count - of both the vintages and the centuries!)

I used to attend this tasting every year myself, but unfortunately I don't get much opportunity to sample many non-Galician or even non-Spanish wines these days. Of course this makes it impossible for me to judge exactly what is happening in Bordeaux, but suffice to say that I think that the expression "vintage of the century" has become a bit over-used, bordering on predictable. For example, I think this term has already been applied to both the 2000 and 2005 vintages in this decade, never mind this century.

The other thing that occured to me is how incredibly lucky the Bordelais actually are - or at least the ones who own properties at the top end of the classified growths. Even during a crisis (and this is certainly not the first) there often appears to be a new market that opens just in time to rescue sales, thereby preserving the astronomically high prices. This year it is the turn of China....

China now boasts more dollar millionaires than any other country on the planet, which hardly seems surprising for a country of 1.3 billion people you might think.... until you remember that it is still purported to be a Communist country - on paper at least. (Perhaps this is merely a good example of what they sometimes refer to as 'Champagne socialism').

Anyway, the Chinese have apparently developed a taste for very expensive red wine, and are single handedly doing their best to keep Bordeaux prices inflated - I just hope that they don't use their Petrus to make Coca Cola spritzers as was once rumoured!

To finish on a slightly more positive note, top Bordeaux wines have always proved to be a very good investment, and as a tangeable asset they have been almost 'recession proof' over the last few decades. They regularly outperform the stock market, and as someone once reminded me, even if the market collapses, you can still have one hell of a party to drown your sorrows!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One cycle ends, another begins

One of the other wine blogs that I follow is that of my friend Kirk at Sandihurst Wines in New Zealand (see my list of Links). A day or two ago they picked their first grapes of the new harvest; admittedly these were Pinot Noir and not a white varietal, but they were still grapes to be used for making wine.

Anyway, my point is that just as their vines are coming to the end of their cycle, ours are just starting to spring to life. I can assure you that the above photo was taken this morning - having compared it to photos from previous years, the new shoots all look pretty much the same. The really interesting part is comparing the date on which the photos were taken each year.

In this new digital age our cameras record all the metadata that we could possibly wish for, including (if you have the attachment), the exact GPS location of where the picture was taken. Hardly useful when you're only standing outside the back of your own bodega, but I guess that if you were on a photoshoot in the Namib desert then it might be worth the extra investment. In fact, just about the only information that it doesn't give is what the photographer had for breakfast!

So, studying the dates of photos taken in recent vintages it would appear that in 2010 we are just a little behind schedule - perhaps a week later than recent vintages, and almost two weeks later than in 2007. This could result in a harvest towards the end of September, but we will probably have a more accurate forecast once the flowering takes place.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I have to start by telling you that this photo was not taken in our vineyard. Indeed, I rather suspect that the young man in the shot is not Galician either! This picture does however represent, perhaps, a glimpse into the future of fruit gathering....

It shows a postgraduate student from Tokyo university wearing a motorised exoskeleton that has been developed to help ageing workers endure the strain of their labours. Apparently nearly two thirds of Japan's farmers are aged 65 and over, so in order to help those aching joints the department of Agricultural Technology has created this special robotic suit designed to boost the wearers strength by more than 60%.

Using movement sensors, voice recognition and eight electric motors, the machine is designed to ease pressure on the joints and assist muscular activity when bending, crouching or lifting. After 15 years of development it is expected to go into production within the next 12 months, and further enhancements are also planned - augmented reality goggles may inform farmers about the ripeness of their crop, their heart rate and calorie consumption etc.

Industrial robots have long been common in Japan, and these robo-suits are already making inroads into hospitals and nursing homes where they can assist not only in moving and lifting patients, but also in aiding rehabilitation exercises.

Whilst we already use battery operated shears for pruning, at a cost of around $11,000 each, we have no plans to buy any skeletons in the near future - motorised or otherwise!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Is winter finally behind us?

Well, Easter has come and gone, the clocks have been put forward, and winter has officially ended - on paper at least. From comments I have been making over the last few months you would be forgiven for thinking that we have had a seriously wet winter, but according to official figures rainfall has been only slightly above average. Temperatures too have been only one degree below the norm, but by far the most significant feature of this past winter has been instability - the most volatile and changeable for more than 10 years. In the last three months Galicia has witnessed two hurricanes, three small tornadoes, heavy snow and flooding.

Without getting over complicated and discussing Arctic oscillations etc., suffice to say that our usual winter airflows were sometimes replaced by much more unsettled and variable southern circulations, bringing with them rain, high winds and storm conditions. When air masses did arrive from the north, almost directly from the pole, the mercury plummeted, and parts of Galicia experienced record temperatures of -12C. So, yes, it would be fair to say that we had an unsettled winter.

Since the beginning of April we have seen a change to more favourable conditions - dry and sunny. The pruning and tying of vineyards is all but finished, just as the first shoots of the new season really start to push forward.

Whilst speaking of April, I should perhaps explain that my post on the first day of the month was indeed an April Fool's joke.... we are NOT making a rosado wine, and never will (not that orders were exactly flooding in)!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Maybe they follow my blog?

It was October of last year when I wrote about a new local roadsign that was troubling me, simply because the colour of the background made the sign impossible to read until you were virtually on top of it. Well, perhaps the local council read my blog, because they have finally done something about it!

At the time I think I described the background colour as a "sickly, fluorescent mustard-yellow colour" which on reflection was probably quite accurate. Prior to the sickly yellow, the background colour used for all historic monuments was brown, and guess what?..... The old colour has now been restored (see above).

How does the expression go? If it ain't broken, don't fix it (especially if it's going to cost the local taxpayer)!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The other French paradox

Now you would think that one of the most important wine producing countries in the world would have it's own wine TV channel, wouldn't you? Well, apparently not - the French government is blocking plans to set one up!

The French, quite incredibly, have probably the most draconian laws prohibiting the advertising and promotion of wine outside of the Muslim world. The law states quite simply that “all direct or indirect propaganda in favour of alcoholic drinks” on television, is completely forbidden. Apparently the controlling body will only give permission to the proposed channel if it drops its' plans for programmes featuring wine-tastings and expert discussions on wine - but then what would be the point?

Reluctantly, the production company is now looking at alternatives - for example, basing themselves in Luxembourg and broadcasting to France via satellite, or possibly setting up in the UK. Whatever the solution, the founder of the channel has said “It’s not just surprising, it’s a scandal,” and to be very honest I tend to agree with him!

He went on to explain, "We want to have interactive wine-tastings where viewers give us their opinions . . . and have experts offering advice on what you should drink with such and such a dish. But that is banned in France’s prohibitionist environment. You can only talk about wine in the most abstract way.”

I guess one could argue that these new, stricter rules are working, as the French now consume an average of around 25% less alcohol than they did 20 years ago.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Think pink...... Think Albariño!

Two new products in one week is probably too much for some, but I guess it's just that time of year in our bodega - when we finally start to 'roll out' the wines of the new vintage.

This latest addition is however, quite a revelation..... an Albariño Rosada (rosé). Earlier this year, when we were studying the demonination rules for making our 'sobre lias' wine, we stumbled across some old documents relating to the production of rosé. As you may or may not be aware, there are already a couple of red wines made here in the Rias Baixas area, using grape varieties such as Caiño Tinto and Mencìa. On their own, not always very exciting, and often a little expensive, but they do have much greater potential when it comes to blending - the word 'blending' being very significant here.

Nearly every rosé wine is made by taking red grapes, crushing them, and then leaving the skins in contact with the juice for a short time, to macerate and extract a little colour. (I love the expression that the Americans use for this when they make their Zinfandel, calling it a 'blush' wine). There is however, another method, formerly used in Champagne making I think - simply blending a little red into their white wine to make it pink. This blending is the method that we have adopted for our exciting new Albariño, giving us greater opportunity to control both the exact flavour and hue of the finished wine.

By taking a little Caiño (up to 15%) and blending it with our Albariño wine, we emerge with a rather pleasing rosé wine. The marriage of red and white grapes yields an elegant, yet intensely fruity wine that finishes with just a hint of spice and the flavour of crushed strawberry - a super refreshing summer wine.

For the packaging we have named our new baby Casita Martin, and used a bright, clean, fresh image, in keeping with the wine. As it contains less than 15% of Caiño, we are still allowed to mention Albariño Rosado on the label.

We antcipate that this new product will be a big hit this summer, and will be especially popular for weddings. With my own personal interest in Photoshop I am actually contemplating personalised labels, incorporating a photo of the happy couple..... this might be a bit over ambitious, but we shall see!