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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Final Harvest and Post-Harvest Report 2010

Well, basically our harvesting is over, though there's still a lot of work to do in the bodega, and some loose ends to tie up (of which more below). It's been an exhausting 3 weeks (and maybe we bit off more than we could chew) but it's also been very productive, creative and great fun, even if a bit stressful at times. But I'm not complaining! This is what I love to do; and it does keep me off the streets, and prevents me from watching TV, getting bored, etc :)

The reason we harvested so many grapes this year is that it's part of our yearly expansion plan. We want to move up from the level we've been at the last few years (ie, glorified home-winemakers running an expensive, time-consuming, family-destroying hobby!) to at least maybe 'garagiste' level this year; and after that to 'small, viable wine business' level ('world domination' can wait a bit longer!).

This year we're in a 'real' bodega; it's a proper building with a roof that doesn't leak and walls that insulate from the heat and cold, a barrel room with AC and humidity control, and equipment that can handle larger quantities of wine. Now, it's not a chateau, so don't get any ideas, and the views are not spectacular either; it is in fact located in the industrial zone of Morata de Tajuña; it's, shall we say, 'functional' :) I'll post photos in another post, though some have appeared already in previous posts.

Apart from our own grapes which we grow ourselves in our vineyard in Carabaña, this year we also bought in and harvested more grapes from some neighbouring grapegrowers who farm organically. This is what we have fermenting in the bodega at the moment: Tempranillo 1, Tempranillo 2, Garnacha, Shiraz and Airén for a total of about 6000 l. One of the loose ends to be tied up is another possible 1000 kg of Shiraz, which should be confirmed or not this week sometime.

With these 5 (or 6) lots of wine, we have to decide what types of wine to make. One day Juan and I will sit down and work it out; the result could be an interesting and complex flow-diagram! We already know that some will be for young wine, best drunk within a year, and some will be barrel aged, assuming our barrel-sponsoring scheme works out).

We already have a few experiments in the pipeline:

EXPERIMENT 1: Sparkling wine, in collaboration with fellow natural winemaker Alfredo Maestro. Some of the Airén will be set aside for this, and in Nov/Dec we'll take it to his bodega, where he has the space, equipment (and knowledge) required. We've left some Airén grapes in the vineyard to be picked in Oct/Nov when they're super-ripe and have a high sugar content; these grapes will be fermented separately and then added to the sparkling wine, as 'liquor de expedición' (what's that called in English?)

EXPERIMENT 2: We're going to ferment some of the Airén grapes by 'carbonic maceration' to see how it turns out. This is done by putting whole uncrushed clusters in a fermentation tank and sealing the lid hermetically. See this previous post. We did it this way last year with Garnacha and the year before with Tempranillo.

EXPERIMENT 3:We're also going to let a lot of Airén grapes macerate in their own skins for a day or two, as if they were red grapes, again just to se how it turns out.

That's enough experiments for one year I think! With the red wines, we'll do three 100% varietals (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Shiraz), and also try all the possible coupage combinations, and based on tastings and advice, decide what to actually bottle.

Marketing

Then there's the question of what do with all this wine! Well, obviously we have to sell it so that people far and wide can drink it and enjoy it, and so we can make more and better wines in the years to come! So in a week or so when things have calmed down in the bodega, I'll be putting our Marketing Plan down on paper. I remember reading a funny comment to a post about a year ago, on the definition of Spanish marketing: "Make wine; wait for phone to ring." Well, it's not really funny of course, more like sad, as I image a lot of winemakers really do do that. But we're not going down that route. Probably the ONLY thing that's been clear to me since I started 7 years ago and still is clear, is that there are, and always will be, three equally important, and inter-connected, parts to our Vinos Ambiz project:

1) Grow (or buy in) quality grapes

2) Make quality wine

3) Sell it!

Pretty simple and obvious really. 1) If you don't have quality grapes, you can't make quality wine; 2) To make quality wine you have to be really careful not to do anything wrong/stupid/hasty/etc in the bodega, and if you have quality grapes to work with and you keep your machinery/equipment/everything scrupulously clean and hygienic, over half the battle is won; 3) and the part that many winemakers forget about but which I believe is equally essential, is that you have to sell it, otherwise you can't carry on making wine: I mean, even Juan and I and all our friends put together can't drink that much wine!!!

Other Items of Interest

- New Vineyard. This year we've taken on another vineyard in addition to the one we've tended in Carabaña for the last 7 years. The new one is just up the road in the next village (Villarejo). It's 1 hectare in area (2.4 acres), white Malvar variety, 30-40 year old vines. The first year we'll be working with the man (now retired) who used to tend it, as we convert it to organic. Should be interesting!

- Grafting/Planting. We've been meaning to do this for the last 7 years, but finally this Spring, it looks like we might actually really do it! In our vineyard in Carabaña, there are about 200 empty spaces where a vine used to live (it died, dried up, got knocked over by a tractor over the years) and another 50 or so vines that have gone 'wild' (ie the varietal grafted on top didn't take, or died, and the rootstock is sprouting directly). So in the spaces, we have to dig a hole and plant a rootstock+varietal and on the wild vines we have to graft on a varietal. We've finally met a neighbouring grapegrower who both knows how to do this and is willing to do it for us (we'll provide the unskilled manual labour, and look and learn).

- Webpage. I really need to get a good webpage up and running. Yes, I've been saying that for about 7 years too, but now it's becoming embarrassing! Dare I say that I'll have one up for before Christmas?

- Another thing I'd like to do is follow up on the 65 cases of Vinos Ambiz Airén 2009 that shipped to the USA a few months ago. I haven't been able to do that so far, what with the Summer holidays, harvesting and crushing etc. I've heard through the grapevine and from a few posts/comments/tweets that it's going down well, which is really encouraging. I heard that it was presented during the JPS Wine Tour at events in S.F., L.A. and N.Y.

That's about it. Thanks for reading. Any comments, thoughts, questions most welcome. In fact it would make me really happy!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Non-harvest Report 2010

We had planned to harvest our Airén grapes in Carabaña on Saturday, and everything was ready to go (ie, crusher and presses clean and in position, van loaded up with crates, etc) but when we arrived at the vineyard at 8:00 am on Saturday morning we were afflicted by doubts. We hummed and hawed and walked the vineyard for about half an hour, and then decided not to harvest; for the following reasons:


1) It had rained quite heavily in Carabaña on Thurs and Fri, and it was a bit muddy underfoot. This means that inevitably the bottoms of cases get muddy and some of the mud will find its way into crusher, press, tank and lastly the must

2) The vines had sucked up a lot of water and the grapes were fat and bloated, and the must diluted. So if we harvested, the sugar content (as a %) would be lower and consequently the wine would have a lower alcohol content

3) A dark Cloud of Doom was hovering over Carabaña, while in the neighbouring villages (Tielmes, Perales, Morata) the skies were quite clear. We figured this was the universe sending us a message and we listened!!!

We then took a representative sample (not a quick-n-dirty one) and headed back to the bodega to crush, strain and analyze our sample. We were right, the probable alcohol content had dropped by 0.4% from the previous sample we'd taken before the rains.

Representative Sample of Airén Grapes

Dark Cloud of Doom over Carabaña

Skins, stems and manure

On Friday we were at the bodega pressing the Tempranillo skins that had been macerating with the must since the harvest ofer a week ago. Up to now we had always done this manually, using a press like this one:

Manual press (cage open after pressing)

We used it last week for the small lots of Tempranillo, Shiraz and Garnacha that we have this year. But we also have a 3500 kg lot of Tempranillo, so for that we used this hydraulic press:
 
Hydraulic Press
 
Basically, you fill it up with skins and must and close the lid. Then a bag inflates and crushes the skins against a filter around the inside of the shell. You can program the pressing cycle with your desired pressures, times and number of repititions.
 
Press full of skins, pips and must/wine
 
We set the press at one of its lowest possible pressure levels as we were a bit worried about crushing the pips, and releasing bitterness and other undesirable flavours and aromas.
 
Waiting for the press to finish

In the end, it all worked out well, and we didn't get any nasty tastes or smells from the last wine to dribble out. In theory we could have extracted quite a lot more wine, which would have been low-quality table wine, but we didn't. We think there's more than enough of that kind of wine in Spain, and in the rest of the world, as it is!
 
Dry skins and pips
 
Juan shovelling out the skins and pips
 
Ogre-size shovel!

Remains of our midnight snack

Above you can see the remains our our midnight snack, which consisted of jamón (ham), cheese, bread, wine and rolling tobacco!!!

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

Lunchtime

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:
video
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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