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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Winding down for the summer

Well, its late mid-June-ish, and all is well. More or less. The vineyards are beautiful (touch wood); the bodega is semi-prepared for the coming harvest; (touch wood); and the marketing and sales is going really well too (touch wood!).


I’m really happy with my vineyards. I've let all the grasses, flowers, thistles, etc grow all year, and now all I'm doing is cutting them all back around the vines, so that they will be easier to access during the harvest. The reason I do this, instead of ploughing, is of course to create a living soil and a living ecosystem, full of micro-life (bacteria and other invisible organisms) and visible life itself (insects and other small animals).

Flowery grassy vineyard, Garnacha, El Tiemblo, Sierra de Gredos

If the soil is rich and complex and alive, then the vines can take all the nutrients they from it. No more and no less, but just exactly what they need. The way I create this rich and complex and living soil is just to let everything grow, reproduce, die and decompose; and help the process along a little by cutting the grass and plants back with my sickle. I also keep the canes from the pruning and chop them up into tiny pieces.

At this time of year, dry grass and thistles!
Every few years I add some manure, which I bury near the vines. It's better to bury it because if you leave it on the surface all its nutrients are used by the surface grasses and it doesn't get down to where the vine's roots are.

By letting all the different species of grasses and plants grow, you create diverse and interesting habitats for many different species of insects; whereas if you plough up and keep the vineyard naked, then only one or two species can live there – precisely the ones that eat vine leaves and grapes! Obviously, because there's nothing else left to eat! So now you have to use chemicals to kill them because otherwise they'll destroy your vines and grapes!

This natural system, IMO, produces grapes of a much higher quality than industrially-chemically farmed grapes. The must of naturally farmed grapes is much more complex and interesting and contains a much wider range of components and micro-components; the bunches of industrially-chemically farmed grapes may be bigger and more impressive looking, but the must is diluted, unbalanced and poorer in diversity of flavours and aromas.

more grass
Each to their own. To produce millions of liters of 'affordable' supermarket wine at nice price points, it may well be necessary to pollute the environment and use lots of dodgy chemicals, but to produce small amounts of quality, terroir-expressing, comment-worthy fine wines, it's essential to practice sustainable, environmentally respectful and safe agriculture. IMO.

Next year I'm going to give my vines a fortifying booster, in the form of a horsetail infusion (Latin: Equisetum; Spanish: Cola de Caballo). It's been a few years since I last did this.
The other day I watered the 200 new Tempranillo vines that I planted back in April.


The bodega is more or less under control too; it's just that there are lots and lots of minor loose ends to be tied up, but for which I never find the time.

For example:
- The patio outside
- Shopping for ‘stuff’: Hermetic lids, Boxes for harvesting, Crown cap machine, small bits n bobs
- Cleaning everything: steel tanks, tinajas, presses, crushers, floors, etc
- Bottling up some barricas
- Stick insulating panels back on doors
- Line a new tinaja with beeswax

Not much shade here - maybe next year!
I have to do all the above and more, but I have no time to do it all! So I have to prioritize and decide which tasks are more important, and which can be left till ‘later’. The main things are in fact done, ie most of the wines are sold, most of the bodega and equipment is clean and ready for the final pre-harvest thorough cleaning. I will just have to be philosophical and come to terms with the fact that there’s no way I can do everything and have everything ‘just so’ to my entire satisfaction. :)

Marketing and Sales (the unglamourous part)

No real complaints in this department either. One of my goals last year was to diversify my exports, instead of selling exclusively to JPS in the USA, and I’ve managed to achieve that. I now also export to Denmark, Belgium, France and the UK (see this page for details).

a nice big pallet of wine, almost ready to go
I also decided to try to sell in Spain too, but that is proving more difficult. I do sell regularly to three places in Madrid (Enoteca Barolo, SoloDeUva and Montia) and also sporadically to another few places. But I see two problems here: firstly there is a lot less demand for natural wines in Spain, it’s still very much a novelty, like it was back in the 80’s or 90’s in other parts of the world. And I have no desire to ‘evangelize’ or try to persuade to drink natural wines. My approach is “if anyone wants to buy my wines they are more than welcome to do so, but I’m not going to argue or justify.” That’s a completely different thing from providing information or answering questions, of course! Which I do, a lot!

The other difficulty with selling wines in Spain is that I don’t have the time, resources or skills required to be a distributor! I can only just manage those three places I mentioned above, and even then it takes me weeks to respond to orders! What I really need, I suspect, are some proper distributors! J

Winding Down

So, time to wind down and try to relax. The first thing I have to look forward to this summer is the H2O Natural Wine Festival, held in the village of Pinel de Brai (Tarragona).

Next up will be the Albillo harvest, at the beginning of August. (Albillo Real is a very early ripening variety!) Then there will be a respite of a few weeks, until the regular varieties become ready for harvesting all through September and October.

Before, during and after those two events I hope to hang out in Barga (Tuscany) my family’s home town, and apart from doing the usual odd-jobs about the house and garden, I hope to expand my knowledge of Italian wines at the local enoteca – Colordivino, set right in the centre of the old part of town :)

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

RAW Fair 2015, a cloudy two days in London

Yes, it was a cloudy two days in London on 17th and 18th May, but I’m not talking about the weather, I’m talking about my wines :). In fact I seem to remember that what I saw of the sky was clear, bright and transparent, just like the wine industry would have us believe that all our wines ought to be! Ha ha!

During my two days at RAW pouring wine and chatting with visitors, I was asked many times why my wines were so cloudy. Well, I've been thinking about the cloudiness of my wines for quite some time actually, since long before RAW. Every now and then someone inevitably comments on the fact that my wines are generally rather cloudy and full of 'bits', but so many comments in such a short space of time set off the old thought processes again!!!

The short and trivial answer is of course “Because I don’t filter, fine or clarify them”.

“To fine or not to fine”, that is the real question.

There are several points in favour of not fining, and some in favour of fining or clarifying, but before going into all that, here's a nice photo of me and Isabelle Legeron, with a signed copy of her book :)

Advantages of NOT fining:

- Saves time; and saves the expense of the fining agent. This is pretty trivial, but still, I suppose it can be considered an advantage.

- Natural protection. All those bits and pieces (yeasts - dead or just dormant?, particles of grape skins, who knows what else?) surely contribute to protecting the wine from spoilage. That's what I intuitively feel is happening. Perhaps there are studies out there that back this up? Probably! But then again there are probably studies out there that back up the opposite theory too, no doubt! As with many other questions, I just go with my intuition here.

- Looks good visually! There's no accounting for taste, as we all know, and some people (not many!) have actually told me that they like the cloudy, semi-transparent (or semi-opaque) look of my wines.

- Suitable for vegans. Vegans don't drink wine that has been fined with egg-whites or fish bladders (though bentonite would be OK).

- Extra taste. Again this is intuitive, but I believe, that if you fine or clarify or filter, you also remove lots of tasty aromatics too.

Advantages of fining:

- Looks good visually! According to the majority of consumers. The industry standard these days is to produce a clear, transparent wine that has been fined and filtered and otherwise 'stabilized'. But what's that got to do with me? I don't sell my wines to the mass market via supermarkets, ie to consumers who only care about pretty labels and price points. I don't think the people who buy and appreciate my wines care one way or another about the visual aspect of my or any other natural producer's wine. I like to think that the reason we buy and love these natural wines is primarily to enjoy the aromas and tastes and to comment on the expression of the terroir, if any, not to gaze at them as if they were paintings or statues.

- Stabilizes the wine. That's the industry dogma! They say that you 'have to' stabilize your wine otherwise it will turn into vinegar. But that's not my experience. I in fact have an on-going experiment running at my bodega, consisting of several bottles of my wines opened in January 2014 (during a visit from my US importer Jose Pastor) and which I have been tasting every month or so to see how they are evolving. So far (touch wood!) not one is showing any signs of turning to vinegar. But I believe that industrial large-volume producers do have to filter and fine and stabilize their wines because they are of such bad quality to start off with. It's probably perfectly true that if they didn't stabilize them, then they really would turn into vinegar pretty fast. But this is not applicable to small volume, high quality producers. IMO.

- In fact, I believe that we have all just made a virtue of a vice, ie because basically all industrial wines have to be filtered and fined and stabilized, we have all come to accept that that that’s the ‘best’ way to make wine and that that’s the way wines ‘ought’ to look. It’s not that this processing makes the wine tastier or expresses the terroir better, or anything even remotely connected to those kinds of issues; it’s because these industrial wines have to be transported over long distances for a long time, stored for a long time in hot warehouses, and stand for a long time on supermarket shelves!

So the really real question boils down to whether the terroir is best expressed by fining or by not fining. (This is a Natural Wine Phase 2 question - see this previous post here). I don't have the answer, but I've been thinking about it, as I said. I would really welcome any thoughts and suggestions; or pointers to some literature - I'm sure this has been thought about and written about before! Nothing new under the sun here! :)

Just to keep the record straight:

Please note that not all my wines are cloudy. Some are in fact perfectly clear and transparent! But of course those wines don’t draw any comments!

The reason for this is that I generally bottle up from the top of a tank or tinaja and work my way down; so the top and middle are generally clear and transparent, while the bottom quarter generally gets more and more cloudy.

Wines can of course be clarified naturally! All it takes is gravity and time; and the colder temperatures over winter help too.

But it’s not as simple as that. It also depends on the time of the year, and the ambient temperature. Sometimes a cold snap in the bodega will make a batch of wine precipitate out the tartrates (whatever they are!). If that happens in the bottle, like happened to some of my Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (but not all, go figure!) then the bottle will be perfectly clear and transparent, but have a shard of ‘crystal’ tartrate at the bottom. If it happens in the tank, like happened to the Airén 2014, then all the wine is clear and transparent, and the sides of the tank are encrusted with tartrates and a real bitch to clean off!

Also I bet that it has a lot to do with the atmospheric pressure on the day of bottling, and with the phase of the moon. I’ve never taken note of this before, because I’m so short of time generally that I have to bottle up when I have to bottle up, and can’t afford the luxury of waiting for the moon and/or atmospheric pressure to rise/drop. Though I would love to do be able to do so.

I would really appreciate some feedback here; I’ve been havering for months, if not years, on this matter and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere on my own!

Another thing

Another thing that was mentioned more than once during the Fair was the heat inside the main hall where the winemakers had our stands. Well, true enough, it got pretty hot in there! But to tell truth I wasn’t too bothered by it. I was able to get away from my table quite often (to answer calls of nature and to grab a quick taste of my neighbours’ wines!) as I had the help of not one but two wine bitches this year (their term not mine!)

Winebitch#1 - You're fired! (drinking on duty)
Winebitch#2 - Good work!

And lastly

I also heard a few complaints that the white wines were difficult to keep properly chilled, but again I wasn’t too bothered about that either. I took the view that RAW was primarily a wine ‘tasting’ event and not purely a social event, where it is of course more enjoyable to drink your white wine chilled. At a ‘tasting’ I think it’s OK, better even, to serve your white wine slightly warmer than chilled, because that way you can appreciate all its qualities better, and of course detect any flaws easier too.

And really lastly

A nice happy anecdote, I was surprised and pleased to see the tenacious sceptic and stern critic of natural wines, Robert Joseph at the fair, who not only kindly came to my table to taste my wines but also posed for a photo of us together. I find this interesting because we have had our disagreements in the past, and quite vocal ones too, both at his own blog and at mine. But it was all boring Phase 1 natural wine issues! It seems that we’ve both moved on. I’m assuming that he didn’t come across too many “faulty” wines at the fair because he hasn’t published a post on his findings :)

Me 'n' RJ

And really, really finally and ultimately

I did a quick search of the internet and came up with a few posts that covered RAW Fair:

- Decanter Magazine: Natural wine movement has legs, shows RAW Fair in UK

- Jamie Goode: RAW and the London Wine Fair

- On the Lees: RAW Fair London

- The Holborn: Tea and a Chat with Isabelle Legeron

- Street Eats: RAW Wine Fair: What is Natural Wine?

- Chomping Ground: 5 Things We Learned at the RAW Fair

- The Wine Butler: The RAW Fair

- Our Man on the Ground: Hear us RAW at the Truman Brewery's Artisan Wine Fair

And I just have to mention also

that after all these years I may have finally and at last found myself a UK importer! Hooray! Touch wood! And hoping that all works out well! I’m actually in the process of labelling, boxing and building a pallet for the UK right now, but like any football match, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, or in my case until I see the back of a lorry driving away from the bodega with a pallet of wine safely on board! And here’s also hoping that Otros Vinos will do a wonderful job of distributing my wines all over the UK – eventually, that is, let’s just start with London this year :)

happening at RAW

Monday, 1 June 2015

Madrid Natural Wine Fair, 10th May 2015

Madrid Natural Wine Fair, 10th May 2015

This is the third of three related posts that I’m uploading in a row. The first was up the day before yesterday, the second was up yesterday and this is the third.

Just a few personal thoughts and a bit of feedback on this natural wine event, which I hope will be the first of many, as it was a great success.

Here's a view of the main room where the fair was held (at Impact Hub in Madrid), and which was extremely well organized by the PVN (the Spanish natural wine producers association "Productores de Vinos Naturales"):

I was in that room at the back with the red cupboard

My table, with my wares
A view from the street

First I have to confess that I was actually very sceptical in the run-up to this event and that I thought that it would be a waste of my time to go. In fact, when I was invited to participate as a producer, I seriously considered whether I should go or not. I was weighing up my options, as it were, as I had (have!) so many things to do in the vineyards/winery that whether to "waste" a day at a fair was a major decision for me. In the end, what decided me was that as I actually live and work in Madrid, it would be inexcusable/ unforgivable/ shameful if I didn't go, even if it were to turn out to be a waste of time. Sorry, but that's the truth!!!

Some wine, anyone?
(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
I have to further confess to being very surprised at the number of visitors throughout the day. After 11 straight hours on the go (from 9:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening) I ended up with sore feet, a sore mouth and a sore throat!  From standing up attending to visitors and from talking about my wines! I think that's a pretty good indicator of the success/failure of an event, no?

A view of the main room from upstairs(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
I received a curious mixture of visitors: on the one hand there were lots of 'trade' people, like bloggers, shop/restaurant people, and other wine-related people, and I even made a contact for a possible importer in Japan! Which I've been seeking for quite some time, but with the inscrutability on the one side and the laziness on the other, ... things have been uneventful on that front :)

Yet more wine, anyone?
(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
And on the other hand, there were lots of 'normal' general–public visitors too who didn't know much about wine technically-geekily speaking, but who had come to see what this was all about. Which was great, as these are the most important link in the supply chain that runs from the earth under the vines to our stomachs!

The lovely food at the Fair was provided by Carlos, of the ex Petit Bistrot (Madrid's only natural wine bar and restaurant), which has recently rebranded itself as SoloDeUva (“OnlyFromGrapes”). I was pleased to see that he also brutally exploits his wife and children - in the kitchen, in his case; as opposed to in the vineyard and winery in my case. Traditions must be maintained!

Many thanks to Carlos Scholderle, and Gabriel Blocona for looking after my stand while I went to answer the call of nature several times during the course of the day. Also thanks to Jorge Sibaritastur for fetching me assorted glasses of neighbouring producers' wines for me to taste, including two from Frank Cornelison, who was the most famous name at the fair (tho he wasn't there in person!). Thanks also to Hugo, son of Carlos, for bringing me things to eat from his father's popup, during the course of the day.

I presume that all the other producers (see final list here) were equally busy. So I guess that means the event was a great success :)

Packup up
(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
The major stress factor that day (or with hindsight it could now be called 'amusing anecdote') was that at 12:30, I was already running out of wine! I had only taken three bottles of each wine, thinking that it would be more than enough. But of course it was nowhere near enough. So I phoned a friend (who had a car) and asked her to do me a favour and go to my house in Madrid and bring me every bottle of wine available! She duly turned up within the hour, with about 20 assorted bottles which saved the day :)

At 8 o'clock we started clearing up and moving out, heading towards Le Petit Bistrot itself for the after-event drinking session dinner. :)

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Running Around, 9th May 2015

Running Around, 9th May 2015

This is the second of three related posts that I’m uploading. The first went up yesterday and the third will be up tomorrow.

So, on the Saturday 9th May, I had another early start.

I picked up Carlos Scholderle (#winelover ambassador to Spain) at 9:00 in Madrid and we headed straight for El Escorial, to Restaurante Montia. I met Carlos back in March in Zaragoza, when I was at a Slow Food event, pouring my Slow Wines.

The reason for going to Montía was

a) to drop off some Garnacha, Sauvignon Blanc and Malvar, and

b) to taste all my other wines with chef Dani with a view to future orders.

This was very happily convenient, as I just took along all the opened bottled that I had tasted the night before in the bodega with Ariana Rolich (see this post). Here’s the line-up:

Some of my white wines
This restaurant is one of the few places in Spain where I distribute my wines, along with Enoteca Barolo, and Le Petit Bistrot (now called Solodeuva) in Madrid, and Monvinic in Barcelona. I would really like to expand to more places, but again, I have so little time available for the sales and distribution task! It’s a full-time job really, so what can I do?

By happy chance we bumped into producer Charlotte Allan (Bodega Almaroja), from Arribes de Duero, who was also doing a tasting at Montia. She makes a really nice white wine called Pirita which I like a lot, from a field blend of lots of strange local varieties that I can’t remember the names of right now. After the tasting we went to a bar next door for some beers – to recalibrate our palates after all that wine! :)

Next stop - my bodega in El Tiemblo, but as we were running late and it was way past lunchtime, we went for lunch! After lunch we went straight to the vineyards, as that was the reason Carlos had come, ie to take photos and ask me questions for a publication he's working on.

The high altitude Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo:

Lying on my back looking downhill
Standing up looking downhill
The low altitude Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo:

Carlos taking photos
Does the neighbour use herbicide in his vineyard?

Close-up of herbicide use and non-herbicide use
Nice olive tree in the vineyard
Then, back to Madrid for an early night. Because the next day would be tough – see next post tomorrow (the third of three).

So ended another interesting and productive day. If only they were all like that :)

Pottering Around, 8th May 2015

This is the first of three related posts that I’m going to upload today, tomorrow and the next day.

I know it’s a bit late to be publishing posts that refer to events so long ago in the distant past (3 weeks ago! Gasp! Horror!), but unfortunately I’ve been really busy lately. Or fortunately! Depending on which way you look at it!

I think I may start to do some quick-n-dirty posts from now on, with nice photos, and some longer more thought-out posts interspersed every now and then. Otherwise it just takes me too long.

Pottering Around, 8th May 2015

Anyway. On this day, I was up bright and early and I went straight to the bodega; in the morning I sort of pottered around doing bits and pieces and tying up loose ends, as it were (bottling up samples, preparing some small orders for in Madrid, and tidying up a bit outside in the patio.

The patio is still looking like a mess! I’ve been trying to find the time to beautify it, but alas... progress is grindingly slow.

Here’s a few pics of the future arbour pergola chill-out area:

And here’s a few pics of the vegetable garden that I’m sharing with Daniel Ramos in the patio of our winery. Tomatoes, onions, peppers, courgettes, aubergines, lettuce, mostly.

And best of all, some proper wide-leaf Italian-style basil! With which to make jars of pesto sauce for the coming winter :)

Basil on the left, tatties on the right
The bodega itself is a bit of a mess too, and one of my main goals for this summer is clean everything thoroughly, including floors and walls, all tanks, vats, containers (steel, wood, clay, plastic), equipment (presses, crushers) and all other bits and pieces of stuff that I use.

After lunch, and very conveniently (for I had arranged it to be so!), I took delivery of an old barrica (600 litres, not the usual 225 litres) which I managed to find second hand and quite cheap too. It's been used for three wines so it shouldn't give too much oakiness to the wine any more. And being 600 litres, the ratios of volume to surface area are different from usual, which results in even less oakiness being transmitted. I'll probably use it for a Garnacha from El Tiemblo this year.

Here it is:

600 liter barrel, 2nd hand, from a winery in La Rioja
Then in the evening I met with Ariana Rolich, the store manager of CSW, who had come to see my vineyards and to taste my wines. So we did! After visiting a few of my vineyards near El Tiemblo, we tasted everything I had! Everything was showing well that evening/night. It must have been fruit day, with the moon and planets all lined up favourably! Even that horrible disgusting Chelva Early 2013 which I hate, was tasting not so bad to me. This is a wine that I was about to throw out because I thought that there was something wrong with it, but many people have assured me that it's perfectly fine! It's just that it has some aroma/taste that I don't personally like! As they say, there's no accounting for taste!

And here's the whites that we tasted through:

So ended an interesting and productive day. If only they were all like that J

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Natural Wine fair in Madrid (and other ramblings)

Yes, incredible but true!  There's going to be a mini-natural wine fair held in Madrid this coming Sunday 10th May 2015. I say 'incredible' because it's been many years, if not decades, that natural wines have been produced, sold and drunk around the world, but the phenomenon seems to have passed Spain by. But mustn't complain! It's going to be a great event, and great fun shall be had by all :)

Save the date and the place, which is very conveniently very central and right next to Atocha train station:

Here's the list of the producers:
– Alexandre Coulange – Domaine Thuronis – Languedoc
– Jacques Broustet – Chateau Lamery – Burdeos
– Nacho González – La Perdida – Valdeorras
– Bárbara Magugliani y Joan Carles Torres – Can Torres – Ampurdán
– Manel Rodríguez – Wiss – Montsant
– Marcel Carrera y Ramón Viña – Vinya Ferrer – Terra Alta
– Miguel J. Márquez – Dagón – Valencia
– Rafa López – Sexto Elemento – Valencia
– Fabio Bartolomei – Ambiz – Madrid
– Julián Ruiz – Esencia Rural – Toledo
– Samuel Cano – Patio – Cuenca
– Juan Pascual López – Viña Enebro – Murcia
– Jose Miguel Márquez – Marenas – Montilla
– Ramón Saavedra – Cauzón – Granada
– Torcuato Huertas – Purulio – Granada
– Manuel y Lorenzo Valenzuela – Barranco Oscuro – Granada
And you'll be able to taste the wines of:
– Domaine Meyer – Alsacia
– Patrick Bouju – Auvernia
– Costadilá – Veneto
– Frank Cornelissen – Sicilia
Only €5 to get in, and you get to keep the glass! A bargain at twice the price :)

Other Ramblings

Well, I've been incredibly busy lately and amongst other things I managed to plant about 200 new Tempranillo vines in the Carabaña vineyard in the empty spaces where the vines were missing for some reason or other.

Here's a panoramic view of the vineyard from a few days ago. Note the grass just starting to grow, and the tubes protecting the newly planted vines:
Panoramic view of Carabaña vineyard
 And here's a view from the top! See the cane for the young vine to grasp onto, and you can just see the tiny vine at the bottom:
Bird's eye view!
I also managed to hoe up around about 30 vines or so, before my back said 'enough'!

Hi hoe, hi hoe, it's off to work I go!
Meanwhile, back at the bodega, I finally got round to bringing a barrica of Tempranillo 2010 from the previous bodega I was working out of, in Morata de Tajuña, two years ago(!) to my current bodega in El Tiemblo.

Due to the fact that a full barrica weighs about 275 kg, and in a not very accessible position, what I had to do was: pump the wine out of the barrica into a steel tank in the back of a van, load the empty barrica, drive to El Tiemblo, and then pump the wine back into the unloaded and palletized barrica:

Pumping Tempranillo back into its barrica

I also finally got round to tidying up the patio of the bodega a little bit. Here you can see the space next to the wall that used to be covered with brambles, which I had left alone on purpose last year, in the hope of harvesting some brambles! But there were hardly any to be had, so I uprooted the lot. Pending for May is the planting of some roses or other climbing plants that will help prettify that enormous blank wall!

Here below you can just make out the tiny plants of lettuce, tomato, onions, etc:

 And the latest addition to the garden is some basil. The large-leaved Italian variety. I actually have lots more plants to plant, in fact I intend to cover that whole row, in order to make jars and jars of pesto :)

The main thing that I managed to do though was to bottle up all my 2014 vintage wines (Airén, Doré, Albillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha, Tempranillo), and free up all my fermentation vessels, and so I can relax over the summer knowing that all I need to do is wash them before use!

Here's where I store all my wines these days - in niches under the concrete fermentation tanks:

The Albillo niche
And lastly, yet another pending item on my "to do" list - this is the future lovely pergola, that will be covered in vines and hanging fruit, providing a shady decadent luxurious space for slothing around in easy-chairs and/or hammocks while sipping wine and nibbling on aperitivos! Alas, it won't be ready for at least another year:

The future decadent wine-tasting area
And really lastly, I was in a place in Madrid the other day where they had an interesting selection of extraterrestrial wines:

"Importados de otros mundos" = "Imported from other worlds"

Monday, 27 April 2015

Natural Wine Movement Entering Phase 2

I had a nice "Aha" moment a few days ago when I read Alice Feiring's article in Punch Magazine (here), in which she casually mentions that the Natural Wine Movement has moved on into "Phase 2"!  And then proceeds to discuss a whole batch of "Phase 2" concepts!

On the one hand I felt a sort of relief and I uttered a silent "At last! About time too!", because it was starting to get really tiresome reading the same old unfounded criticisms, attempted humour, and fantasy misconceptions coming from wine-writers and bloggers who either do it on purpose or who don't bother to inform themselves or do any due diligence on the realities of natural wine. Over the last year or so I've managed to restrain myself from actually replying to these posts in writing, but I haven't been able to stop myself from thinking up replies in my mind, which I find really annoying because I could be puting all that brain power to better use! Ha!

And on the other hand I thought "What? Phase 2 has started without me!!!? And here's me still miserably thrashing around with outdated and demodé Phase 1 stuff!!  This cannot be!"

So how to drag myself into Phase 2? I think I will actually have to write down all these mental replies to Phase 1 concepts that have been in my head recently. But not publically. I won't bore the people who read my blog with that sort of thing (again!). I will just pour it all forth onto paper in private, and it will be a sort of catharsis, a cleasing, an expurging from my mind of useless concepts, that have become boring, and that have served their purpose. I hope.

For me, these Phase 1 concepts include things like:

1. The semantic meaning of the word "natural" (Actually I dealt with that particular issue to my entire satisfaction here)

2. The existence or not of a "Natural Wine Movement", which has "champions", "dogmas", evil marketing ploys, etc  (I can sense a Hosemaster-style parody deep within me - if only I had the writing skills to materialize it!)

3. Blanket statements (humorous or not) about natural wines in general, ie "The champions of the natural wine movement believe that...."; "natural wines taste of ....."   Ach, these are just so stupid and annoying

4. Assorted nonsense, ie "It is essential to use SO2, otherwise....",  consipracy theories, ie "marketing to hoodwink the unsuspecting public", fantasy genre creative writing, eg "I raised my eyes heavenwards as yet another putrid brew was proffered to me by a bearded, tree-hugging ...", etc

Yes, enough of all that. Even though I find some of it interesting in its own right (like the semantics), I really ought to focus my mental energy on serious and interesting Phase 2 issues, and just totally forget about the denigrators.

And what are these Phase 2 issues anyway?  Well, Alice Feiring covers a good number of them in her Punch article, but basically, I believe that they all boil down to the question of whether a substance or a technique helps the wine express its terroir or not.

By focusing ALL my grape-growing and wine-making decisions through that lens (ie, whether it helps express the terroir better or not), all that Phase 1 nonsense above will automatically disappear from the agenda.

Example 1: Should I spray herbicides in my vineyard(s) to kill off the weeds or not?

Phase 1 answer: Herbicides are bad for the environment, kill micro-life, insects, pollute the ground-water, pose risk to larger animals and human vineyard workers and possibly neighbours and end consumers of the wine. Therefore no herbicides, irrespective of whether the wine will express the terroir better or not. Decision taken from a (higher) moral, philosophical (dogmatic) level, not from a (lower) mere wine-making terroir-driven level.

Phase 2 answer: By killing off the weeds, and microbes and insects, etc I am reducing biodiversity and placing the vines at risk of attack by disease, insects, etc because I have killed off the preditors, and I will be obliged to use more chemicals to combat this possible attack, which will affect the quality and taste of the grapes. Also the herbicides have empoverished the nutrient quality and quantity of the soil, and it may be necessary to use additional chemical fertilizers. The vines will be unbalanced, will lack certain elements and have an overabundance of others, and will not be able to produce balanced complex healthy must. Therefore, no herbicides, and seek other solutions. Decision based on soil-vine-grape-must-wine quality, which happily coincides with the environmental aspect of the question.

Example 2: Should I add any SO2 to my wines?

Phase 1 answer (by a sans-soufriste): No, never. I believe that SO2 is a barrier between the expression of the terroir and the taster. Any level of SO2 means that the terroir has not been expressed as well as it could have been expressed.

Phase 1 answer (by me): By default, No. If my grapes are healthy and my equipment is clean, there is no reason for me to use any SO2. But if I need to use some small amount for whatever reason then I will.

Phase 2 answer: hmmm, this one is more tricky! Lets see. If I'm making a young wine to be drunk within the year, then my Phase 1 answer above is valid. ie, assuming that my grapes are healthy and my equipment is clean, there is virtually no risk of the wine spoiling. It will certainly evolve, but not spoil. So my choice is one of taste: do I want to 'stabilize' my wine, in terms of colour and possible aromas and taste? or do I want to let it evolve naturally, ie becoming darker, losing its fruitiness, becoming more sherry-like? Which is the most faithful expression of the terroir?  Is the expression of the terroir better in say January when the aromas and tastes are fruity and intense? or the year after, when there is less fruit, the wine is more Sherry-like, and has other different non-fruit complexities?  If I add SO2, the wine will never evolve (or will it evolve much more slowly?)

But what if I want to make a 'crianza' or vin-de-guarde type wine which will have a long elevage both in barrel/amphora and in the bottle? Well, I have to plead ignorance here. The oldest wine I have is a Tempranillo 2010, which was bottled in 2011, and was made without any SO2, and it's still showing perfectly well! I don't know. I will have to think, and read, and ask about this.

Example 3: What containers should I use? Stainless steel, clay amphorae, concrete, plastic, wood?

Phase 1 answer: is based on the pros and cons of the characteristics of each material. Eg, stainless steel is easy to clean, and poses a very low risk of contamination, but it's expensive, completely non-porous to the atmosphere, and there are possible electro-magnetic issues.

Phase 2 answer: hmmmm, tricky again!  In the Sierra de Gredos or in the SE of Madrid I don't have hundreds of years of experience and opinions and consensus of what the terroir ought to be like, to draw on, like in say in Burgundy or Chianti. How do I even know what to aim for? La Mancha has historically only ever produced vast quantities of table wines (with a few isolated exceptions) and Sierra de Gredos is in a similar situation, ie no critical mass of producers/tasters/commentators/consumers of quality wines. Any suggestions welcome!

Cheers! Give me more juice!

Monday, 6 April 2015

Achieving Things While Pottering About the Bodega and Vineyard

It's amazing. Back in January I started writing down a list of all the things I manage to achieve over time. Before that I just had my usual "to do" lists, which never seemed to get any shorter - the items changed but they stayed the same length, which was kind of depressing as it seemed that I wasn't getting anywhere or achieving anything.

But now I feel great! I can look at my "Achieved in March" list, for example, and I can remember (and feel great about) all those things which I did, but which I would have forgotten about! Easy!

I've even broken the list down into categories, because otherwise I get all confused and overwhelmed! It just goes to show that there really is a lot more to winemaking than just pottering around in the bodega and in the vineyards!

- Bodega
- Vineyards
- Orders delivered
- Samples sent
- Visits attended to
- Tastings gone to
- Paperwork done
- Contacts made
- Other

Well, I won't bore you all any more with this nonsense!  Instead here are some nice photos for you to enjoy, one photo for each of the above categories:

Hundreds of liters of wines bottles up and stored

Four vineyards pruned: Carabaña, Villarejo, and two in El Tiemblo
Orders delivered:
Un petit pallet pour Paris
Samples sent:

Some samples prepared and ready to be sent
Visits attended to:
Attending to a visitor
Tastings gone to:
Explaining something at Enoteca Barolo
Bodega books that have to be filled in with numbers
Contacts made:

I have a list of about 25 contacts, just from the Vitis Vinifera tasting in Barcelona the other week (from biz cards and memory jogging) that I ought to follow up. It's on my to-do list, but quite far down on the scale of priorities!

- I managed to get myself interviewed on Radio Aragon; blah-blah-blah natural wines blah-blah-blah
- I'm working on new labels (again) for next year
- I wrote three posts in March for this blog
- ... and some more trivial stuff.

Any questions, just post it here below, and I'll answer you asap.

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