Monday, November 29, 2010

Our new "up to" 75cl bottle

Always trying to remain at the forefront of fashion and innovation Castro Martin have now decided to follow the example set by our Spanish broadband provider - in future all bottles will be "up to" 75cl in capacity.

Working at the 'current acceptable averages' this will mean that in future your bottle will probably contain somewhere between 25cl and 50cl of albariño, whilst the price you pay will remain completely unaltered!

Imagine what might happen if other industries were able to escape by giving such vague assurances to their customers..... For example, you might pay €120,000 for a new Aston Martin car which the manufacturer claims has a top speed of "up to" 240 km per hour, whereas in reality its best speed might only be around 100 km per hour. What they have failed to tell you is that the maximum speed can only be achieved in exceptional circumstances, going down a steep hill with a hurricane blowing directly behind you - in other words, in conditions that you are hardly ever likely to encounter.

I am sure that no Aston Martin driver would ever accept this, so why do we accept it with our broadband? I pay for 6MB, so why do I only get an average of around 1.6MB?

I understand that this worldwide phenomena now appears to be the accepted standard, and so I have to ask myself why other industries don't simply follow suit (apart from the fact that they would never get away with it)!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Caught by the Paparazzi

Angela recently attended a tasting in La Coruña showcasing the wines of Galicia. It was just as well she told me that she was going because the following day her picture appeared in a local newspaper.

There is no escaping 'big brother' these days - if it's not getting caught at a tasting, it could be walking in your local town centre, or perhaps even on a traffic speed camera......

I will make no comment about Angela's police record!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Unfortunately Thanksgiving is not a holiday that is shared around the world, but only within the borders of the USA (for obvious reasons).

Here in Europe there is no Thanksgiving turkey, nor pumpkin pie, and life carries on pretty much as normal. Perhaps the only noticeable difference is to be found in the TV schedule where we can enjoy the traditional NFL games played on this holiday (assuming that you follow American football).

And so, all that remains is to wish all our American friends and customers a very Happy Thanksgiving 2010!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Normal service is resumed

Ironically the sun is shining today..... I say ironically because for the last few days it hasn't been shining at all, and on the day that I chose to write about all the rain we've had, the sun has come out!

You may recall that we had a very dry summer, from the month of June until well after the harvest we hardly saw a cloud, and you could count the number of rainy days that we had on one hand. Finally it would appear that normality has been restored, the rainfall simply demonstrating why Galicia is the most verdant corner of Spain.

I really just wanted to write so that I could post this picture of our new pool at the front of the Bodega - for a few moments it seemed like a monsoon was sweeping over our area leaving our roads momentarily more like rivers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New uniforms

As you may have seen over the summer the uniforms of our guys have taken a bit of a pounding, not only with all the vineyard and bodega work that they do, but also with the building work that we have completed this year. Poor old David started the year with his improvised ¾ length trousers, which by mid-summer had shrunk to a pair of Bermuda shorts. Our fear was that by the autumn he would be working in a tanga!

Joking aside, we are in the process of buying some new uniforms, and believe it or not the big discussion has been about the colour. There are of course some traditional colours here in Spain, whereby specific professions can be identified by the colour of the uniform that they wear. For example, professions such as electricians and plumbers tend to wear blue, people who work on the land (including Bodegas) tend to prefer green, and so on.

The most practical colour for our guys might, for example, be black (which I think would also look quite smart), but then again this would not be very practical. Imagine working out in the vineyards in the heat of summer wearing a nice black, heat absorbing uniform - I doubt if they would thank me for this, no matter how smart it may or may not look.

In the meantime I have been browsing a couple of old catalogues from the 60's, 70's and 80's to get some ideas, and as you can see the possibilities are endless....

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our Bodega Stegosaurus

Are your sitting comfortably? Today I have a rather convoluted tale to tell.....

OK, so all of our wines are now classified as 'sobre lias', which means that we usually allow them between 5 and 6 months ageing on the lees. Under normal circumstances this would mean that they are not racked (clean wine drawn off ), until around April or May. That is of course, except for the tanks that we have to rack now - a contradiction perhaps, but please allow me to explain.

During the alcoholic fermentation the tanks are never filled to the top, simply because we need to allow space in each tank with which to work. When making additions to the fermenting wine, such as the bentonite that we use for fining, they have to be 'pumped over' in order to mix the product thoroughly with the juice. I can tell you from experience that when some of these additions combine with the carbon dioxide suspended in the new wine, the reaction can be quite violent and generate a huge amount of foam. If we do not allow the extra 'head space' at the top of the tank then a lot of new wine will quite simply end up on the floor!

When the fermentation finally finishes we seal the tanks and allow them to settle, but at this point they are still not filled to capacity. They do not oxidise because of the trapped carbon dioxide, and indeed we have to release the trapped gas every couple of days to more or less stop the tanks from exploding under the additional pressure.

Eventually the partially filled tanks have to be topped up - hence the reason that we have to rack some of the tanks now.

My picture today (apologies for the poor quality) shows the racking pipe at the bottom of one of the tanks, where the lees have come to settle. As you can see it looks like a row of mini stalagmites, or perhaps on the extreme left of the picture, the spine of a stegosaurus.....

Clearly I have been watching to many Jurassic Park movies!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let's do business

Forget the phishing e-mails from Nigerian philanthropists anxious to share their millions, there is one e-mail that I enjoy receiving above all others..... from the anonymous wine buyer.

All too often we are approached by individuals posing as prospective buyers, claiming impressive international customer base, extensive sales team and all the trappings of an established business. Of course they are looking for exclusive representation of our wine, no doubt in return for a healthy commission.

Closer examination however reveals something a little closer to the truth - no fixed contact address, no website, a mobile phone number and a hotmail address - in complete contradiction to their claimed business credentials.

Suffice to say that I do not send samples!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal wine for a Royal wedding

Less than 24 hours after the anouncement the UK is already being swept by Royal Wedding fever! Within hours the television channels were filled with royal engagement specials, and this morning every newspaper is crammed with details (not to mention a good deal of speculation), about the wedding itself - the date, the venue, what the dress will be like, what they will eat etc., etc. In addition, there is also the complete story of the latest branch to be added to the royal family tree, which to be honest, sounds rather like a TV mini-series in the making...."Meet the Middletons".

I could go on, but suffice to say that the coverage is already breathtaking, so heaven only know what it will be like by next year when the wedding actually takes place.

Of course, the announcement of the engagement came as no real surprise, and had been expected for some time, so much so that a few commemorative plates and tea towels are already on the market - but this did get me thinking.....

Who will be the official supplier of wine to the wedding banquet, and will they select an albariño to go with their food? There are already labels on the market such as "Great with Meat" and "Great with Fish", but what about "Great with Swan" - my guess is that it has never been done before!

We also know that the Queen is partial to a glass of German riesling (no mention of the Saxe-Coburg connection please), and let's be honest, albariño is quite a similar wine style. I have to admit that being awarded a Royal Warrant would make a nice addition to our label.

Just as a quick footnote, I did a bit of research this morning, and you would be astonished to note how many albariño producers have claimed to be suppliers to the last Spanish Royal Wedding back in 2004. Apart from the fact that all the official suppliers were sworn to secrecy (they produced a special wedding label), if the number of bodegas making claims were true then it must have been one hell of a party - perhaps even a Royal Botellon!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wonder Wall

The front of our Bodega is south facing, and during the peak summer months is not only one of the hottest places on earth, but is also one of the brightest. I think that to call it a 'sun trap' would be something of an understatement, and I'm surprised that my car tyres have not melted before now..... you get the general idea - it's hot and very sunny.

One of the downsides of this used to be that the minute you stepped in through our front door, you were immediately faced with a very stark contrast (and not only in temperature). I think it would be fair to say that our entrance hall was a little bit dull, with not too much much natural light, and also a style of decor was just a little bit dated and on the drab side. Entering from the very bright sunlight it did not exactly lift your spirits!

Of course, all that has changed. A lick of fresh white paint, some drastically improved lighting, and a huge montage of brightly coloured photos on our wall, now add a bit of sunshine to our interior too.

This new selection of photos actually serves two purposes; not only does it add to the colour, but it also includes various pictures of the cellar and vineyards at work. So if you happen to be visting on a dark day in the middle of November, you can still get an impression of how Castro Martin looks at brighter and busier times of year.

Just as a footnote for any budding photographers amongst our readers - my pictures were actually printed and mounted in Germany, using a company called Whitewall. They offer a very wide selection of frames and mountings using only top quality materials. For example, we opted for original photo prints with aluminium backing (Lambda print on Fujicolor crystal archive paper with UV foil protection). Whitewall also provide their customers with a very efficient professional colour management service, and all at a very reasonable cost.

And no, before you ask, they are not paying me any commission!

Monday, November 08, 2010

From shed to warehouse

We live a very dull and sheltered life here in Galicia, where simple things (such as renovating an old outbuilding),  become just a little more exciting and important than they probably should. To give you an example, the highlight of our weekend could be a visit the town centre of Barrantes to watch the traffic lights change or perhaps a visit to the local supermarket...... as you may surmise, not much happens here in this quiet corner of Spain, and more especially in winter!

What I guess I am trying to say is that you're probably all quite bored with my story of rebuilding our 'garden shed', but I did at least felt compelled to bring this tale to some sort of logical conclusion.

Above, you can see the rather dramatic transformation - from a pretty run down, delapidated storage area, with old wooden beams, exposed brick walls and a leaky roof, into something altogether a bit more modern, weatherproof and presentable.

It all goes to show that our work here is not always as glamourous as you might think!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Castro Martin - the mother of all bodegas

A few years ago Bodegas Castro Martin celebrated 25 years in it's current location (built in 1981, first vintage in 1982), although Angela's family had been vinifying albariño for generations before that.

In 2010 Galicia's largest and best known co-operative Martin Codax also celebrated 25 years since their foundation, back in the year 1985. To celebrate this special anniversary they published a magazine which included a lengthy article written by the co-op's first President - Manuel Noya Figueroa.

Imagine our delight to read in this article an acknowledgement of the help given by Castro Martin in the birth of Martin Codax, and therefore in the development of the denomination as a whole.

We have always been very proud of the foresight shown by Angela's father Domingo Martin Morales in building one of the first 'industrial' sized bodegas in the area - also the first to incorporate stainless steel tanks for wine storage in Rias Baixas. Very few people will realise however, that these futuristic facilities were also utilized by what was to become, the regions biggest co-operative.

Before the building of Martin Codax was completed, their first vintage was bottled by hand and then transported to Castro Martin in cars and small trucks to be corked (obviously the prevention of oxidation was less of a priority at that time)!

I should also mention that in 1985 Castro Martin was already an established name in the area, and Angela believes that it was not a co-incidence that this new co-operative decided to incorporate the name Martin in their brand......

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Construcciones Castro Martin S.L.

Yet more building work..... if it isn't laying concrete or adding a new roof, then it might be putting up a new cattle shed - you can't say that our work is not varied!

Yes, this week our guys are busy building yet another shed, but this time in the corner of our Pazo vineyard. It's not for keeping our tractor, but it is for housing our new grass cutting equipment - a small flock of sheep.

I often make mention of the fact that we do not use herbicides, preferring instead to let the grass grow between the vines and cutting it manually (keeping our practices as eco-friendly as possible). Now we are taking this a step further, by introducing a handful of sheep to graze under the pergolas during the winter months. Not only will this help to keep the grass down, but it may also add a little natural fertilizer to the soil!

There are other bodegas that already do this, but then one of the fundamental pre-requisites is that you need a fully enclosed vineyard. Naturally our 'Pazo' vineyard qualifies admirably and is completely 'walled' as its name implies (similar to 'Clos' in French), making a perfect pasture. There is another bodega, local to us, that uses geese instead of sheep, and this seems to work pretty well, so we shall see....

No doubt I will keep you informed as to how this experiment works out.