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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Grape Harvest 2010

Preparation for Harvest

Well, today is Thurs 9 Sept and I've just about recovered from the harvesting we did on Fri 3rd, Sat 4th and crushing on Sun 5th, and from the cleaning and preparation the week before, combined with the moving of all our equipment from our old bodega in Ambite to our new one in Morata de Tajuña!

First, we had to move out all our stuff from Ambite, which we did in a van. The heaviest things were the presses and the bulkiest the 700 l stainless steel tanks, and all the rest were bits and pieces. We also took along several hundred empty wine bottles for later use. The most complicated item was 300 l of wine which we hadn't got round to oaking. So what we did was load an empty 300 l tank onto the van and pump the wine into it. Then at the new bodega we pumped it straight into the oak cask.

This took about 2 or 3 trips per day over 3 days, as after each trip we had to thoroughly clean everything. At the same time as this was happening we were also negotiating with several neighbouring (organic) grape-growers with a view to buying around 3000 kg of grapes from them. This was because our own production is way down this year due to an overnight frost back in May, which killed off the tips of the new shoots. So we were visiting vineyards and negotiating all week too.

1st Harvest (Carabaña)

On Fri 3rd we harvested our own Tempranillo in Carabaña. This was pretty straight-forward and quick: we met at the vineyard at 7:30 in the morning (I took the van, which we'd loaded up with clean crates the night before). By about 14:00 we we done, as there was only about 400 kg. Then to the new bodega, where we unloaded, destemmed and crushed the grapes using a new machine (not by hand as usual). Then, cleaning up and loading the van again for the next day.

Harvesters harvesting Tempranillo in Carabaña

Crate of Tempranillo


2nd Harvest (Titulcia)

Sat 4th. This was the big one. We had finally agreed to buy about 3000 kg of grapes and we had 1 day to pick them. We figured (on the back of an envelope) that 7 people could do it, ie 500 kg/person over 10 hours (with 1 person driving, not picking) which equals 50 kg/person/hour, which is five 10 kg crates person/hour, which is 1 crate in 12 mins. So much for the theory.

Well, in fact, it worked out more or less OK and we ended up taking 3900 kg (3500 kg Tempranillo and 400 kg Shiraz). We worked out exactly how many grapes we took by using the municipal weighing machine in Morata. On the trip out to Titulcia I weighed the van empty and on the trip back to Morata I weighed it full. The difference is the weight in grapes!

Municipal weighing machine panel (with token thingy)

It was hard, hard work, and it was hot, hot, hot that day. Tempers and nerves were on edge! At one point we ran out of water and had to to into the village to buy more (we had calculated 2 liters each and it wasn't enough).

Long rows of Tempranillo (in Titulcia)

Note the stones between the rows - they retain moisture.

Clusters of Tempranillo

Almost all the vines were like this one, ie very abundant and healthy clusters.

Crates of grapes awaiting loading

Loading up

Video clip:
Loading up crates of grapes

Lunchtime under olive tree

While driving to Morata with the 3rd load of grapes, at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon (ie the hottest time of day) I started getting all mystical and philosophical (light-headed? dehydrated?). There was absolutely no-one to be seen, neither on the road nor the villages I drove through; just the landscape and tarmac shimmering in the heat. Everyone was either having lunch or sleeping off lunch. I was thinking "What am I doing in the middle of nowhere in the Castillian Plain, at 40ºC, driving a van full of grapes? 'Normal' people are are watching TV or sleeping!!!" It must have been some sort of existential angst attack or something. Anyway, I'm alright now :)

So we finished picking and loading just as the sun was setting and drove back to the bodega in Morata. The last task was to move all the grapes out into the patio so they could cool down overnight and be ready for processing the next day.

Processing the Grapes

The next day (Mon 6th Sept) we discovered the wonders of mechanization! The new bodega that we're sharing this year is a 'real' bodega with a capacity of about 30,000 kg and is full of machinery and equipment that's needed to handle that quantity of grapes. For example, before it took us hours and hours to destem and crush the grapes by hand using this machine:

Manual Destemmer-Crusher

It now takes no time at all to do it using this machine (which has an electric motor attached to it).

Motorized Destemmer-Crusher

The grapes are tipped into the top; the stems are ejected into the blue box on the right; the must, skins and pips are pumped through the yellow hosepipe into the 700 l fermentation tank in the corner. I think we've just jumped into the 20th century :)

Fermentation Tank

A 700 l stainless steel fermentation tank tastefully mounted on a stack of three pallets and covered by elegant plasticized tablecloth.

Another novelty is this machine:

Pallet mover

Now we can move approximately 300 kg of grapes around all at once!!! Before it took us hours and gave us a sore back!  Now it takes minutes and makes us grin like maniacs!!!

Here's another 20th century machine:

It's called "Pump"

As the name suggests, this machine pumps liquid from one tank to another, or from the bottom of a tank to the top of same. This latter task is in fact what we've been using it for recently. Whereas before we used to do "punching down" with a stick like this

Stick used for 'punching down'

we now do "pumping over" with the pump like this

Pumping over

The motorized pump (on the floor) sucks out wine/must through the thick hosepipe stuck into an outlet at the bottom of the tank, and pumps it through the thin hosepipe that snakes its way across the floor and up the side of the tank and which is hanging over the lip and over the cap of skins that floats on the wine/must.

Juan (left) and me (right) feeding the crusher

This is actually phase 2 of our quality control system. Phase 1 is in the vineyard where we ensure that we only pick ripe healthy grapes and don't include any leaves, twigs, pebbles, etc. During Phase 2 here, one of us holds the crate and the other drops the clusters into the crusher and removes any stray leaves, twigs, etc that managed to get into the crate.

The final task after cleaning up (at about midnight) was to load up the stems into the van and dump them in the vineyard in Carabaña, where one day we will spread them around and they'll decompose and improve the fertility of the soil. (More existential angst here, ie 'Why am I driving a van full of grape stems in the middle of nowhere at midnight, when I could be sleeping like a normal person!!!' but like I said, I'm alright now.

Grapes stems in vineyard at midnight

Well that's about it. Today was a day of rest, uploading photos to FaceBook, a bit of Tweeting, and writing this post. Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions, comments, criticism, etc, don't hesitate :)

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