Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Harvest?

I mentioned a week or two ago that our flowering had been extraordinarily early this year, and the recent weather has only served to perpetuate the problem - daytime temperatures of mid to upper 20's (75° - 85°F). Using the traditional calculation often used by growers, 100 days between the time of flowering and the harvest, this would, in theory at least, give us a date for picking of week commencing 23rd August.... Looks like there might be less sunbathing time this summer!

Althought we 'enjoyed' a wet winter here in Galicia, and the water tables were well replenished, we have not had any rain at all for some weeks now and certainly surface soils are getting pretty dehydrated. We will therefore have to take this into account when we start our work on the canopies. Certainly 'green harvesting' will not cause any problems, and indeed, should only serve to enhance the quality of the fruit left on the vines, but leaf thinning is a different matter.

Leaves, as we know, are the powerhouse of any plant and provide all the sugar and nutrients required for growth. During the summer we actively remove a percentage of the leaves, not only to provide the fruit with better exposure to the sun, but also to ensure that not all the energy is consumed by thick foliage. The trick is to find the correct density of leaves, and the exact amount that we eventually remove will therefore be determined by how our weather evolves over the next couple of months.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Trucks of convenience?

In the early part of the 20th century American ship owners, frustrated with increased regulation and high labour costs, initiated the practice of registering their vessels in Panama. The practice later became known as 'flags of convenience', and these days nearly half the world's merchant fleet are registered in lands foreign to their country of ownership.

Now, I could be completely wrong, but I rather have the impression that a similar practice has been adopted by the international road haulage industry. With increasing regularity collections made at our bodega are made by trucks, very often registered in Ireland, and nearly always with an eastern European driver.

I often rush outside hoping to enjoy a bit of conversation in English, only to realise that the driver's English is even worse than my Spanish (which I'm ashamed to admit is still not that good).

So, what's the story behind this I wonder? Almost certainly a method for cutting costs?

Footnote: This post was based on a collection made at the bodega yesterday, and we have since had another collection this morning. Today's odd combination is as follows:

Tractor unit: Dutch
Trailer unit: Belgium
Driver: Ukrainian
Wine: Spanish
English speakers: None

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another month, another city

Let's get one thing clear - Angela and I both love travelling (not that we can always afford it). For the last couple of years we have managed to include one or two customer tastings during our annual holiday, which might seem above and beyond the call of duty, but there is also a plus side....

Often, when we are obliged to travel to tastings, we try to include a spare day in our itinerary to take in the local sights, and perhaps a bit of shoe shopping for Angela - the Imelda Marcos of the wine industry.

Our recent trip to Northern Ireland was actually an exception to this rule, as just getting there and back was so complicated that we restricted ourselves to just a short hop, in and out, with precious little time for sightseeing. We did however learn one valuable piece of information for our next visit - in future we will try to fly to Belfast City airport rather than Belfast International - the latter is a long, long way from the city centre.

The tasting itself was a huge success for us as the customers of our importer could not have been more appreciative of our wine. Castro Martin was one of the stars of the show, yet again, and totally justified the time and effort in getting there. It's just so great to meet our end consumers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

O.T.R. not O.T.T.

Angela measures oxygen in the head space

The care and attention that we take in making the best wine that we can does not stop at the cellar door when pallets are shipped out to our customers, we obviously try to guarantee (as far as we can) that our customers will enjoy our albariƱo once they pull the cork.

You may have heard me comment on previous occasions that one of the biggest enemies of the winemaker (and possibly more especially white wine makers) is that of oxidation. Now, oxidation can and does occur at every stage of the wine making process, and so we make it our goal in life to ensure that it is kept to the absolute minimum, thereby ensuring the freshest possible wine that we can.

Fruit oxidation starts from the first moment that the skin of the grape is broken, and quite obviously is exacerbated every time the grape must or finished wine is exposed to the air. It is also made worse by the use of pumps that serve to agitate the wine as they force our precious liquid through the pipework. In the case of Castro Martin the need for pumping is largely offset by the very design of the building itself. Our vinification takes place over three different levels and we can therefore simply move our wine around by gravity.

Once the wine is actually made there are three further opportunities for oxidation to take place. The first is during the tank storage period, which is why we ensure that our wine is kept under a 'blanket' of nitrogen, and also explains why we store in tank, and only bottle as and when floor stock is required.

The second is at the time of bottling, where we do our very best to ensure that all possible oxygen is removed from the empty bottle and that nitrogen is added once again, a split second before the cork is put in. The small gap in your bottle between the cork and liquid (known as the head space) can perhaps unbelieveably account for up to 80% of the total oxygen contained within the bottle - the rest being present in the wine itself.

The third opportunity for oxidation is after bottling, when the cork finally seals the package. Over the years we have spent a lot of time studying this, and run many tests on different types of wine closure. The best and most expensive natural corks are of course very good, but will always be subject to a small percentage of spoilage caused by TCA (cork taint). The secret therefore is to find something that behaves like a cork, but does not allow a wine to become tainted. Our own solution is Nomacorc, a synthetic closure that provides a very good (and consistent) seal, whilst at the same time allowing an almost microscopic transfer of oxygen, measured by OTR - the oxygen transfer rate. Believe it or not a closure that provides a completely hermetic seal can also cause problems. The sulphur that is added to protect wine needs to escape slowly over time, and if it becomes trapped it will eventually be absorbed back into the wine. This can actually cause a different type of 'off' flavour (sometimes similar to burnt rubber).

Oxygen readings taken in tank

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wine as a weapon?

We have just travelled back from a very successful tasting in Ireland, carrying a few gifts in our bags as we passed through the airport. Amongst our hand luggage we had some pieces of glassware, and this action served to rekindled a thought that I had a long time ago concerning airport security.

No doubt we have all heard many a tale of wine producers (and others) losing their corkscrews to over-zealous security guards. Nail files, pen knives, nail scissors and the like, no matter how small, have also fallen victim to the ever tightening restrictions. On our flight today one poor Expat returning to the USA even had his precious Heinz salad cream and HP Sauce confiscated as it was somehow deemed a threat. I know from experience as I once lost two jars of peanut butter in exactly the same way!

I'm sure that you have already guessed where I'm going with this..... I find it incomprehensible that passengers can still shop for glass bottles in duty free and then happily carry them on to the aircraft. Surely a broken bottle would constitute more of a serious threat to the cabin crew than some poor winemaker's corkscrew?

First New Zealand, then Japan, and now Spain!

These days we are so used to watching big budget disaster movies, and news footage from distant shores on our TV screens , that it has become all to easy to detach ourselves from the reality of life. That is, until the disaster unfolds on your very own doorstep.

After earth quake disaster in New Zealand and the utter devastation of Japan's huge quake and tsunami, we now have death and destruction in Murcia, Southern Spain (only 120km from Alicante). Although the quake measured only 5,2 on the Richter scale it occured only 1km below the earth's surface, and was therefore more damaging. At the time of writing it is reported that  10 people have lost their lives, mostly crushed by falling buildings. It is more than 50 years since Spain experienced a quake of this magnitude, and it was neither predicted, nor expected.

Well, perhaps that is not completely true....

Very, very strangely an earthquake was predicted on 11th May 2011, but in Italy. Many Italians fled Rome amid fears of a pending earthquake! In 1915 the late Italian self-styled seismologist Raffaele Bendandi predicted that the "the big one" would strike Rome on this exact date. Panic developed as rumors spread across social media networks including Facebook, Twitter, and some Italians actually evacuated the city.

Unfortunately for all concerned, right date, but simply the wrong country.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(Very) early flowering

Angela surveying the flowering

Around this time last year I seem to recall posting a picture of some highly coloured blooms as a representation of the flowering in our vineyards, and this year is no exception. Nothing to do with our vines, but at least a bit more colourful to look at!

On a more serious note, we have an extremely early flowering just starting here in Galicia. The temperature as I write is about 27°C (just over 80°F) and the forecast for the rest of the week is set fair, so all looks quite rosey in our garden (if you'll pardon the pun). The number of bunches per vine appears to indicate a big harvest, albeit that this is no guarantee of real quality, and so I rather suspect that there will be a good deal of 'green harvesting' during the summer months.

Naturally this early flowering (probably at least two weeks earlier than normal), will mean that the 2011 harvest will be premature too. If the fine weather continues I would estimate picking at the very beginning of September, similar to our 2006 vintage. Only time will tell.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Black sheep of the Castro Martin family

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we have been keeping sheep in our Pazo vineyard, which is proving to be a much more efficient, not to mention ecologically friendly, method of keeping the grass under control. Absolutely no use of herbicides (as always), and also greatly reduced fuel use by our tractors - normally employed in summer to cut the grass.

About a week ago Angela's sister visited the sheep to give them a few treats (fresh oats and a little bread), and was horrified to discover that a couple of cats had invaded the sheep's small shelter..... until she looked more closely.

It turns out that they were not cats at all, but instead were a couple of completely black lambs. Clearly their mother had spent too much time in the sun!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Early warning system

Before you start thinking that the roof of our bodega is bristling with antennae and satellite dishes, that is not exactly what I mean. Yes, I do have a small Oregon Scientific weather station sitting on my desk, but I am actually talking about something much more low-tech, but nonetheless effective..... rose bushes.

I am convinced that the vast majority of people believe that roses are present in many a vineyard simply to add a splash of colour, but perhaps I should explain that this is not the only reason. Of course it's true they do add a touch of colour, but their function is actually much more important - they act as an early warning system to the vigneron.

Rose bushes are susceptible to many of the same diseases as grape vines, and in most cases are actually more sensitive. The indicators for oidium, mildew etc are more likely to appear on the roses before our vines become infected, and we can therefore leap into action with the appropriate preventative measures pretty much before the problem takes hold.

The picture above was taken a day or so ago in our El Pazo vineyard - not only do you notice the advanced years of our vines, but you can also clearly see the vigorous growth for the time of year. Could be another early harvest.