Monday, May 31, 2010

Timber 2 - the sequel

So the koala's of Galicia will have to look for a new home as part of their habitat is removed......

You may recall that back in January, following a storm, a large Eucalyptus tree was felled, and unfortunately landed in our Bodega vineyard. At the time our neighbour promised that she would move the tree line further away from our fence, and I now happy to tell you that this work has just been completed. Indeed, it was completed much, much quicker than I imagined.

On Thursday morning Angela and I went to talk to the tree fellers (actually there were only two of them - old joke), as they had more or less just started their work. This morning I thought that I would bring my camera to work to capture an action shot of falling trees, and men in hard hats. Not to be - the work had already been completed, so now I just have a photo of a swathe of land without trees, which is not quite as exciting.

The good news is that this means that the vines in the lower section of the vineyard should now enjoy much better exposure to the sun, and also may have slightly less competition when it comes to finding water in the soil. We shall see.

Of course, the Eucalyptus tree is not a native of Galicia, but I think was planted extensively in the early 1980's to supply wood pulp to the local paper industry. On the plus side (for the paper people at least) it is a fast growing species, whilst on the down side it's dense plantations are prone to catch fire and burn very easily - our region has suffered from some fairly horrific forest fires as a result.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Madeira makes a comeback

I read somewhere quite recently, that the sales of Madeira have increased by up to 20% in the last 12 months and that it was making a come back..... for me at least, it has really never been away.

OK, so I have to confess that I am not really too much of a Madeira drinker, but always have a bottle in my kitchen cupboard that I use much more for cooking purposes than I do for quaffing. I guess that this gives my age away, in that Madeira is a pretty old-fashioned, or should I say, traditional cooking ingredient, which quite curiously is extensively used in the French Repertoire de la Cuisine. Anyway, I highly recommend using a less expensive bottle to splash into a tomato based or brown sauce for meat, whilst the good stuff can be reserved for more serious appreciation.

Madeira wine as we know it today actually evolved over centuries, and was developed by a series of 'happy accidents'. The story begins with the discovery of the island by João Gonçalves - the wonderfully nicknamed O Zarco "the cross-eyed", in 1418. It was a regular port of call on the busy shipping routes between Europe, the New World and the East Indies. Originally covered by forest (hence it's name - Madeira meaning 'wood' in Portuguese), it was eventually cleared and planted mostly with sugar cane, but also with wheat and a few vines imported by different European settlers.

As the sugar cane market declined, so the wine became more important, and by the middle of the 16th century it started to be exported to America, Brazil, the West Indies and England. This new Madeira wine became a great favourite in America, and its style was already starting to evolve, probably more by accident than by design. On its long sea journeys around the world the wine would be subjected to very high temperatures and start to oxidise within the wooden casks that were used for shipping. This baked, oxidised wine actually becoming such an acquired taste that it was a firm favourite of General Washington, and was drunk to celebrate his inauguration as President of the United States.

It was during the 18th century that alcohol was used to fortify the wine, but again this was not a planned development. As exports were halted by sea battles around the islands, so the stockpiles of wine grew, and in an attempt to preserve their longevity, so the alcohol was added. Yet again this proved to be a popular augmentation, so much so that Madeira was known as the 'Isle of wine'.

As with many other wine regions, Madeira was devastated by the arrival of both oidium and phylloxera between 1850 and 1870, but in this case, the industry on the island never really recovered, and this fortified wine never regained its previous level of popularity.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crisis? What crisis?

Politics are normally to be avoided in my blog, mostly because they have nothing to do with wine, but with Spain facing economic meltdown (or so we are led to believe), I thought that I should at least give it a mention.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (known as Zeta P. by his supporters, and Mr Bean by others), together with the rest of his government, appear to be in denial, or perhaps have simply been waiting for either EU or IMF intervention to give them the excuse that he they been looking for..... that the drastic budget cuts that they are now forced to make are not actually of their own design, but have been forced upon them by outside agencies.

Following this pressure from overseas, not to mention a call from Obama himself, Sr Z. has recently announced a 15bn Euro austerity plan, but the likelihood is that this will not be enough. The crisis now looming in Spain has two main problems at its epicentre – Banking and Employment.

The country now suffers from more than 20% unemployment, and has a further 20% working as government functionaries. Until very recently new public sector workers were still being employed; positions which are highly sought after simply because they are considered as ‘jobs for life’, carrying generous benefits and pensions etc. Meanwhile, back in the real employment world, Spanish law makes it virtually impossible, or at the very least, cripplingly expensive to lay staff off, which in a recession leaves employers in an impossible situation – the labour market is in desperate need of reform.

Much of this unemployment is down to construction, or rather the lack of it. Spain has been living off the back of generous EU subsidies and an artificial construction boom for the last 20 years or so, when literally thousands of homes were built that were actually not needed - consequently they now stand empty.

Moving away from construction, it is of course the banking industry that really lays at the core of the recession, so in that sense Spain is by no means unique. Perhaps it is just their way of dealing with it that differs from the rest......

In contrast to the apparent success of Santander, it is the local savings banks (Cajas or Caixas) that are now failing, CajaSur being the latest victim. Here in Galicia two local Caixas have announced a merger of sorts. Caixa Galicia and Caixa Nova will merge, but will retain their own Presidents, their own board of directors and two separate head offices.... not much of a merger then! These two Caixas will however, close a few branches, which is hardly surprising – during the boom new branches were still springing up on every street corner in every town and village. For example, I think that the small town of Barrantes must have at least 7 or 8 banks, even more than the number of coffee bars!

So fasten your seatbelts, it looks like we could be in for a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Alcohol free rosé wine..... in a can!

In some perverse way I applaud Iberia Airlines in their attempt to produce a 'healthy' menu for short haul passengers - the fact that you have to pay for your menu selection is another story.

I must confess that I haven't tried it yet, but I did notice that they offer an alcohol free rosé wine in a can. Of all the containers that can be used for packaging wine, bottles (both plastic and glass), tetra briks and wood (if you include very small barrels), I have to confess that I am not so sure about using cans.

As a beer drinker I do notice the difference in taste between particular brands that are sold in both bottles and cans. There is most definitely a taint that appears when the packaging is made from aluminium, so what effect this might this have on a wine? Well, I will simply have to try it and see.

Apart from the ready sliced apple served in a plastic bag, there was one other offering from the new Iberia menu which also quite surprised me. Their healthy soup.

UK television channels are awash with celebrity chefs, cookery programmes and cooking competitions, and as a frustrated chef myself, I confess that I am a great fan of many - they can be great entertainment and you can pick up many new cooking styles and techniques.

There is however, one 'celebrity' chef that I simply can't abide. His name is Ainsley Harriott. Apart from being relatively talentless, there is just something about his manner that gets up my nose - his website describes it as flamboyant, so perhaps that explains why he flails his arms around like a demented octopus when he cooks. I am convinced that one day he will actually shout "Ole" when he completes a dish!

His CV is also not that impressive when compared to most other TV chefs. After reaching the dizzy heights of commis chef, he gave up cooking to persue a music career with the Calypso Twins, before becoming a comedian. To quote him from his own website, he says "I think that it’s an enormous advantage to know how to make delicious beans on toast", which just about says it all.

Anyway, of all the famous chefs from around the world (including Spain) that Iberia could have picked..... yes, you guessed it - they now include the Ainsley Harriott collection of soups on their menu. I don't think for one second that the Spanish will have a clue of who he is, but for me at least, his name does not serve as an endorsement for quality food.

By the way, if you think that I am becoming a bit anti-Iberia, then you should see some of the passenger comments on this website!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Albariño 'Lite'

Albariño - gives you wings!

The other day we made an experimental bottling, for the first time using a new, slightly lighter bottle. Believe it or not, this was as the result of a number of requests from customers wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course the idea is that (depending on the configuration) a pallet of wine can now weigh as much as 100kg less than it did before, and subsequently the amount of fuel used to haul it from country to country is reduced in direct proportion.

The secret was to find a bottle that not only looked as good, but also felt like a quality bottle despite the reduction in weight...... we await the reaction of our customers - hence that reason that I classified this as an experimental bottling.

The funny part of the story is that whilst I was explaining this to one of our guys in the bottling line, he jokingly suggested that we should make an Albariño 'Lite' to go with the new bottle - but having said that, I believe Albariño can already be classified as a light wine. That's not to say that it has no flavour or body, but it's really more a question of the level of alcohol - our wine never really exceeds 12.5% alc. but more usually hovers around the 11.5% - 12.0% level.

For me this has always been one of the great selling points of our wine, the fact that two people can sit down over a meal, and happily share a full bottle without emerging staggering or even remotely hungover. Alternatively it can be enjoyed as an aperitif, sitting in front of the TV watching England win the World Cup (in my dreams)!

P.S. My tip for the Mondiale 2010 is actually Spain..... forever the diplomat.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oops, I forgot....... British Airways

Of all the things that I write about, some serious, others less so, I actually forgot to mention possibly the most important news item that has ever happened to our Bodega since it's creation!

We are very proud to tell you that since February of this year our Albariño is being served in First Class cabins of British Airways, as well as the First Class and Club lounges at Heathrow. Of course, we will have to take their word for this as we usually travel toward the back of their aircraft, rather than the pointy bit at the front. However, Angela and I have informed BA that we would be more than willing to conduct an in-flight tutoured tasting on any long-haul flight that they care to choose......

Joking aside, this is a great reference for us and a testament to the quality of wine that we strive to produce - dare I say, even better than any number of points that a certain Mr Parker might award us.

By the way, for those of you who can't afford to travel First Class please remember that our Albariño can be acquired back on terra firma at a much more reasonable price!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How long is the re-cycle cycle?

The subject of re-cycling has reared it's head again this week as our carton supplier subjects us to yet another round of huge price increases - between 20 and 30% (they have been a little vague about the last increment which is why my figure is not more precise).

Their justification is the strengthening price of re-cycled carton, which apparently has risen quite sharply in recent months - our cartons consisting of around 75% re-cycled material.

Now, I never take these 'excuses' on face value, and therefore did a little studying of the paper market myself, going back as far as 2006. Like any other commodity, the price of re-cycled paper and carton moves up and down according to market demand, and until the last year or two it has remained fairly stable. It was early 2008 when we witnessed the first spike in the market, and quite naturally our carton supplier took this as a signal to increase carton prices (albeit by a fairly substantial margin). However, by the end of the same year, the price of re-cycled paper had plummeted to an all time low, and needless to say, the tariff of our supplier did not!

By the spring of 2010 the market had climbed slowly back to the level of early 2008, and despite already having a tariff based on the previous 2008 peak, our supplier decided to increase yet again, by this considerable, and in my opinion, completely unjustified amount! Perhaps you can detect that I am a little unhappy - I really need to change my supplier rather than taking it out on my poor computer keyboard......

Actually, this whole issue of re-cycling started me thinking. When we put our waste paper, used bottles and cans etc. into the appropriate containers, how many times do they come back? In theory the re-cycling cycle could be never ending, or is there a limit to how many times certain materials can be resurrected?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Angela's lucky day

I mentioned a day or so ago that Angela was in Madrid, and also that there had been problems with flights around Spain caused by Eyjafjoj Eyjafjallajek Eyjafjallakull that volcano in Iceland.

Yesterday, I spent nearly the whole day following the Iberia website and relaying the latest updates to Angela by text. As she left for the airport in Madrid (allowing more time than usual) everything looked reasonably normal, with the exception of a few delays. However, when she arrived at the check-in she was informed that her 19.55h flight to Vigo had been cancelled, and that the best that the airline could offer was put her on a waiting list for the last flight of the day. They also casually mentioned that Iberia would not pay for a hotel, nor for meals if she had to stay overnight, as this was a weather related cancellation...... an erupting volcano, weather??

Anyway, just as Angela phoned me in a panic, the check-in lady noticed that there was an earlier flight to Vigo that had been delayed and not yet left Madrid. Within half an hour, Angela was boarded and airbourne on her way back - the only question was, would her bags make it to Vigo as well?

Miracle of miracles, amid all the chaos, Angela emerged at arrivals an hour and a half earlier than originally scheduled, complete with suitcases in hand. Talk about luck!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A bit of sun would be nice

The wind that is blowing from the North at the moment, is not only carrying the cloud of volcanic ash that I mentioned two days ago, but is also bringing some pretty chilly weather.

After a long, wet winter we did not really see the first sustained period of sunshine until the beginning of April, but unfortunately that didn't last too long. The first days of May have been cool and changeable - the maximum daytime temperatures this week are between 16°C and 18°C (only 60°/64°F), with the nights a good deal cooler.

The next few weeks will see the flowering in our vineyards, and for this to be healthy and even, we really need a week or two or warm sunshine. We have our fingers crossed.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Escape from Eyjafjallajokull

No, it's not the latest Harry Potter book, nor is it an Arnold Schwarzenegger film - it is of course the infamous, if not unpronouncable, Icelandic volcano that is still causing havoc across Europe.

Having escaped completely from the first round of airport closures, many of Spain's northern airports have now ground to a halt, under this invisible cloud of volcanic ash. Angela and I breathed a collective sigh of relief realising that we had arrived back from the States in the nick of time, just a few days prior to flights being grounded. Well, maybe it wasn't a complete escape.....

On Friday morning Angela took to the skies again, but this time only as far as Madrid. Although the distance is only around 600km and just under an hour flying time, it takes a good 5 or 6 hours by car, and the train still remains an overnight journey! (And who says that Galicia isn't a remote corner of Spain?)

Angela is due to fly back on Tuesday evening, but despite meteorologists using computer models to predict which direction the ash cloud will travel, there is no guarantee at this moment in time that our local airports will be re-opened by then. Perhaps it's just as well there isn't too much going on in the Bodega at the moment, apart from a bottling scheduled for later this week.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Another Michelin listing

The one thing that I tend to neglect on our blog are the references as to exactly where you can enjoy our wines. We are delighted to be the Albariño supplier to many top wine importers around the world, and in turn, many of them provide wines to some of the worlds most exclusive restaurants. Perhaps I should compile a list?

For example, we have just received news from Holland that we are now listed in the two star Michelin restaurant De Zwethheul, located near Rotterdam. Chef Mario Knight was voted Chef of the Year 2009 by Gault Millau and is a member of the Dutch Guild of Master Chefs. Mario's cuisine is renowned for its combination of classic simplicity and pure class, but like many of the best things in life, it does not come cheap.

I have to say that I love his philosophy, which is actually quite similar to our own - "Quality survives everything and everyone".

All I have to do now is plan a visit to Rotterdam.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Highlights and lowlights

Well, here we are, fresh off the flight from New York, currently trying to fight sleep and get our body clocks back in sync with Spanish time.

I thought I would try to keep myself awake by making a quick post of one or two of my impressions from our trip - some good, and others not so good.

I will start with the good.....meat! Please remember that we live in the land of fish and seafood here in Galicia, and when they do serve meat, it is nearly always 'ternera', which is a slightly anaemic type of beef, rather nearer to veal than I would like, and therefore lacking the real red meat flavour that I often crave.

Of course this means that the minute I step off the plane in places such as NYC, I immediately head for the nearest steakhouse or burger joint, and this trip was no exception. OK, so it's not good for my colesterol, but in the end this was only a short trip and so my meatfest just a bit of a rare treat. On the beverage side, I have to confess that my first NY burger was washed down with a well chilled American beer, and my delicious prime USDA steak was accompanied by one of my old favourites - Masi's double-fermented Campofiorin. Sorry, not a Spanish wine in sight (nor even a Californian for that matter).

So that's one of the highlights done with, and now for the flipside..... our flights with Iberia! Firstly, I have to say that I think they train their cabin crew by allowing them to suck on lemons - they have such sour faces all the time, and hardly ever break into a smile. And then, with their fixed, dour expressions, they tend to give the impression that they are doing you a favour whenever they serve you, and that they would much rather be somewhere else. I fly with Iberia quite a lot, on both domestic and international flights, and I'm afraid to say that this appears to be quite a common trait on the vast majority of my journeys with them.

Next comes their in-flight catering.... they boast a business class menu created by a two star Michelin chef, Sergi Arola, but what they don't tell you is that the economy class food is prepared by a youth who was trained over the period of one whole weekend in a mobile burger van. It's pretty grim stuff - the garnish of grey mashed potato really says it all!

By the way, let's not mention their in-flight "entertainment" - suffice to say they are a little behind the times - the only choice of movie is shown on the single take-it or leave-it channel, on a tiny overhead screen that can be as far as ten rows away from you.

I regret to say that I don't think that I am alone in my opinion of Iberia, they are generally not very highly rated on the various travellers websites that exist. Complaints seem to be quite frequent, especially when it comes to cabin service.

In future I think that the best option might be to 'vote with my feet' as they say, and seek out an alternative airline for my Atlantic crossings.