Friday, July 30, 2010

Has drinking in Spain reached Phase 2 ?

I seem to have been on my soap box quite a lot recently about the effects of alcohol on a minority of consumer's behaviour, but as we approach mid-summer and the peak of the holiday season, the problem is probably a little more prevalent than usual.
I must start this post by holding my hands up and admitting that the UK, or to be more specific, Brits abroad, lead the world when it comes to alcohol-related bad behaviour, so in a sense I am speaking from the experiences that we have already witnessed with at least some of our own young people.

Phase 1 is what I call the happy phase, when a bit too much alcohol simply leads to over-exuberant, loud, but mostly non-aggressive behaviour - singing in the streets, as it were. From what I have witnessed so far, this is where Galicia seems to be at the moment....... but then, just occasionally, the first signs of Phase 2 start to appear.

Phase 2 is where a little mischief creeps in - seemingly innocent fun to the perpetrators, but actions that can have a lasting effect on the community. This morning for example, there were a couple of litter bins overturned in the street (not by the seagulls), and then I witnessed a group of you men in a local park damaging some children's swings. I am sure it was not their intention, but the swings were broken nonetheless. To the neutral observer this might simply look like an act of vandalism, even if there was no malice intended.

Phase 3 is the violent phase - where the drinking turns to fighting and general aggression. In all honesty I think that Spain is a very long way from reaching this phase, and hopefully, unlike the Brits, this type of behaviour is not in their general psyche anyway.

Whilst I am confident in saying that probably very few, if any, of the young people that I see in the streets are getting drunk on Albariño, I am still very conscious of the fact that we make and sell alcohol. Seeing it abused in any small way always gives me a very uneasy feeling. We simply do not want the actions of the irresponsible minority spoil it for all of us and damage our industry.

Please enjoy our wines in moderation.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holiday reminder...

There are still many businesses in Spain (and other hot, European countries) that either close entirely for the month of August, or at the very least, run a reduced service for their customers. Until now, we have not been one of them....

Of course we are not closing for a whole month, but instead will 'dip our toe in the water' by closing for just one week to see how it goes. Make a note in your diary - we will be closed from Monday 16th August for one week, re-opening the following Monday, 23rd.

As I have already mentioned quite recently, we are now busy bottling wine, and so if orders do arrive whilst we are away, using this additional stock, we will be able to prepare them very quickly upon our return. Personally, I will be carrying my Blackberry, so will be able to respond to urgent mails, so the only noticeable difference might be that we will not answer the phone, and you may have to leave a message.

We will try it this year and see what happens....

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wind power!

Did you know that Spain, along with Germany and Denmark, is one of the top wind power producers in the European Union? It is now claimed that up to 40% of the country's total demand is supplied by wind turbines, and as you might imagine, many of them are situated here in Galicia. Many of the rolling hills in the north of our province are dotted with some fairly impressive wind farms (or perhaps ugly wind farms, depending on your point of view). Which ever way you decide to look at them, it is a very green, and sustainable way to produce electricity. Even so, the Spanish Government is not resting on it's laurels - it is aiming to triple the amount of energy it derives from renewable sources by 2020. Certainly an ambitious target.

I write about this now simply because, for the last week or so, we have endured some fairly persistent, strong winds in our area (ideal for the turbines I would guess). I am not sure about the actual wind speeds, but suffice top say that we certainly had to hang on to our glasses and cutlery during an attempted barbeque lunch yesterday!

You may gather from this story that, despite the strong winds, temperatures have remained high, at around 30°C (86°F), but having said that, there is still something fairly odd happening..... these are warm winds blowing from the north.

I did check on a couple of weather websites before I made this post, just to make sure that it was not just my imagination, but indeed, it would appear that the winds are coming down from the south of Ireland, and across the Bay of Biscay. To date I have no explanation as to why they should be so warm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A combination of tales

                        Señor Benni                                     Señor Andi

In a vain attempt to retain my correct BMI (otherwise known as middle-age spread) I go walking by the sea every morning. The only thing that occasionally spoils this idyllic daily outing, are the young people returning from their nocturnal exertions, usually under the influence of alcohol. I should add that they are never aggressive, but nearly always very loud - even so, as you approach them, you quite naturally get a very uneasy feeling, especially if the group is large.

Now, I have talked about the drinking habits of young Spanish people on many previous occasions, so I will not comment any further on the subject, except to say that any collective drunken behaviour in the streets only serves to add fuel to the anti-alcohol lobby, that could eventually damage our beloved wine industry.

On a lighter note, this morning, for the very first time, I donned one of my numerous Liverpool football shirts to go out walking (it does not usually cause too much offense that early in the morning). And yes, you guessed it, I bumped into one of the above-mentioned groups of young men, who shall we say, were a little worse for wear. By the time we had exchanged a few pleasantries about football, the World Cup and Liverpool FC, I was reluctantly drawn into joining them in a dawn chorus - a Spanish version of Anfield's famous 'Torres Bounce'!

Finally, another quick tale vaguely related to football. Yesterday, when I collected my car from the local dealership I noticed that the quality control questionnaire was addressed to a Señor Benni. Closer examination of the invoice revealed the name Benni McCarthy, a footballer who spent a couple of years in our region playing for Celta Vigo. I assume that at some point he must have bought a car from the same garage.... Although McCarthy is not a very common name in these parts, I was most surprised to be confused with him, not just because of the age difference, but also because Señor Benni is a coloured South African gentleman!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wine vending? Whatever next?

The law in Pennsylvania does not allow wine to be sold on shop or supermarket shelves - so what is the answer? Yes, a wine vending machine! Well, you have to give them points for original thinking, even though the machine itself is just a bit complicated.

When I say complicated I don't just mean navigating your way around the selection of wine on offer, I actually mean the way in which you access a bottle. The first step is to enter your driving licence, which obviously satisfies the age requirement problem - oh, but then you have to prove that the licence is yours - so then the integrated surveillance camera kicks in and does a bit of face recognition to confirm your identity.

Finally the machine checks to see if you are already drunk by using its own breathalyzer system...... perhaps if you fail this test the machine deploys its own handcuffs!

Let's just hope that once you have gone through all this rigmarole that you remembered to bring your wallet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The harvest gets under way

I imagine that today's blog title might have grabbed your attention! Harvest? In July? What on earth is he talking about? Green harvest?

OK, so I confess, I don't actually mean the harvest itself, but rather the preparations for the 2010 picking, which are under way in the bodega. The last of the 2009 wines have just been racked from their lees, and over the next four weeks we will start a programme of bottling - not only to give us sufficient stock to see us through, but also to start freeing up a few tanks in anticipation of the new vintage.

To be honest there is actually quite a bit of planning that goes into this, as there are certain tanks that we favour for use during the harvest (usually those closest to the pressing room). The trick is that after all the current movements between tanks, we end up with the right amount of space..... in the right place.

Of course we also have to take into account that, because of the extended ageing period of our "sobre lias" wines, we still have quite a high percentage of  the 2009 vintage in the cellar, and so we can't possibly manage our wine movements without a good deal of forethought. Logistically, it is not quite as easy as you might assume, especially as we go out of our way to move our wines as little as possible. Moving wine = contact with the air = potential oxidation.

And there was you thinking that I spend my summer on the beach!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Still in the press

Before I moved to Spain (quite a few years ago now) my last boss in the UK wine trade did not really like journalists, and also had a very low opinion of wine competitions. For the sake of decency I can't repeat in my blog what he actually said about them, but suffice to say he thought that they were a waste of time....

My own personal view is mixed - of course journalists can help to form opinion, and steer consumers towards new discoveries, but on the other hand they can never tell people what they should or shouldn't drink. Very fortunately we all like different things and have different tastes, which in the end, helps to make the world of wine a much more interesting place.

At Castro Martin we have never stopped submitting samples to wine guides and the occassional magazine, but I have to say that we do not actively enter many wine competitions unless we feel that it will really make a difference...... and that is my point. To enter wine competitions is actually quite an expensive business - not only the cost of sending samples around the world, but then there are often some very steep entry fees to be paid as well. For the amount that we spend, we would, quite naturally, like to see some small return.

Over the years we have been lucky enough (or perhaps I should say good enough) to pick up our fair share of medals and awards, but if I am to be very honest, hand on heart, these 'gongs' have had very little or possibly no impact at all on our sales. I guess this might be the reason that my ex-boss was so sceptical - sometimes you do begin to ask yourself the question "is it actually worth it"?

I have always been a great advocate of the idea "let the wine speak for itself". Yes, a journalist can steer you towards your first experience of a new wine, but it's when you pull the cork that you ultimately decide whether you will buy the wine again. In this respect I am much more confident that once you taste our wine you will not hesitate to repeat your purchase, and that, in my book, is the true measure of success.

As I think I have said before, the quality of importers and customers that we have around the world is a much better reference than a hatful of gold medals.

Oh, and by the way, the Mi Vino magazine wrote some very nice comments about our Castro Martin Family Estate (served on British Airways First Class), but in this instance they were not actually awarding points or medals......

Monday, July 12, 2010

España - Champiñónes del Mundo!

In my blog of 23rd May, long before the first ball was ever kicked in anger, I predicted that Spain would win the World Cup. If you were one of the estimated 700 million people that watched the final last night, you will know that, in common with Paul the German Psychic Octopus, my judgement was correct.

For more than 600 miilion of that audience who watched the match as neutral observers, it probably came as a huge disappointment, as one team appeared to spend more time kicking the other than they did kicking the ball. Towards the end it deteriorated into a very bad-tempered and largely unsporting event, putting the poor English referee in a very invidious position. For the sake of diplomacy I should probably not make more comment about the game itself, and allow you to make up your own mind about the quality (or otherwise) of the football.

Suffice to say that the final whistle sparked huge celebrations around the country (as you probably will have witnessed on TV). Even more fireworks and car horns than when they beat Germany to actually reach the final last week. At 7.30 this morning a few distant vuvuzelas could still be heard, as the last stragglers extricated themselves from the local bars..... I doubt if they made it to work today - and who can blame them!

Just as a small footnote, did you realise that I have something in common with Fernando Torres (apart from just my good looks) and the rest of the Spanish World Cup winning team? We share the same sports doctor. The team doctor in South Africa hails from Galicia and recently treated me for a shoulder injury (probably caused by too much golf over the years). It's a small Mondiale!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Our unpredictable weather

Yesterday morning I was rudely awakened at about 6am by high winds whistling around our home, rattling the shutters on our windows. By 6.30am the wind had died almost completely as it was replaced by a huge thunderstorm which rolled over the hills from northern Portugal (perhaps sent by way of revenge for their World Cup defeat to Spain).

It transpires that over the next 24 hour period the number of lightning strikes in Galicia exceeded all previous records, with over 7,000 recorded flashes - 4,000 during the morning storm, and a further 3,000 later in the day. Since the formation of Galicia's local weather bureau back in 2001, it has apparently been rare to see days exceeding 4,000 strikes, and so this extraordinary number has set a new benchmark.

Suffice to say that this storm did not feature in any forecast, as many different weather sites predicted only a 25% possibility of any precipitation (some showed no rain at all). They certainly did not forecast the heavy rain that caused local flooding and traffic chaos in the Galician towns of Ferrol and Carballo.

My very favourite and most reliable weather predictor is shown in the photo above - I am planning on making one!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Spain's all night party

The crowd goes wild as Spain sweep into the World Cup final

I can't quite remember which American actor was recently ridiculed when he suggested that he was looking forward to seeing Manchester United and Milan in the World Cup, but perhaps he wasn't quite as stupid as you may think......

No less than 7 of Spain's starting 11 players in last night's semi-final hailed from FC Barcelona - so you might almost be forgiven for suggesting that Sunday's final will be between Holland and Barcelona!

Following the final whistle of the game Spain went completely wild - I have never seen so many Spanish flags..... ever. The sound of car horns and fireworks reverberated around our local town well into the early hours of the morning, so I can't even begin to imagine what might happen if they actually win the final on Sunday. It will be madness.

To finish on a slightly sad note, please spare a thought for Germany's psychic octopus Paul, who correctly predicted last night's result. The bad news is that he was apparently served up on a plate after last night's match - the good news is that he went down perfectly with the Albariño!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Challenging the rule

Back in November last year I wrote briefly about how tasting perceptions may or may not be altered by different factors - weather, barometric pressure, the cycles of the moon, etc., etc.

Perhaps back then I treated the subject with a bit of scepticism, or maybe it's just that I'm a grumpy old man who always knows best (as Angela will readily attest to). So, in the spirit of open-mindedness I decided to put it to the test.....

Now, I must be one of Amazon's best customers here in Galicia, so in my latest order of books and software I added the small pocket tasting guide based on Maria Thun's biodynamic calendar, simply entitled "When wine tastes best". I must confess that there were two things that struck me immediately - firstly, that the 'book' was much smaller than I imagined (when I opened the parcel I thought that they had forgotten to pack it), and secondly, how detailed it is. It does not simply give the days on which your wine might taste better, but then this is also broken down even further, indicating the actual hour!

As I write this entry Angela is travelling again, this time in Barcelona. I think that I will await her return so that we can taste together, and see if we can come to some sort of consensus over this alternative tasting theory.

This might be life changing!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Well, today is the 4th July when our American cousins celebrate the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain. The signing of the Declaration of Independence is often marked by parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and of course, lots of fireworks.

Unlike Spain, the U.S. do not enjoy many local or national (federal) holidays, but they do at least take an additional day when the holiday falls on a weekend (in Spain the day is usually lost). In the UK many bank holidays are taken on Mondays. For example, the May Day bank holiday is rarely celebrated on May 1st, except in years when the date happens to fall on a Monday.

Whilst we are on the subject of holidays, perhaps this is a good time to mention that for the very first time in our history, the Bodega will close for a very short summer break of one week - from Monday 16th to Friday 20th August. Apart from not being here to answer the telephone, this should actually have very little effect on the service that we offer our customers. We pride ourselves in turning orders around very quickly, and so even if orders arrive during this closure period, we should be able to prepare them very quickly upon our return.

So once again, a very Happy Independence Day to all our American friends and customers!