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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Processing the Malvar Grapes 2011 (Part 2)

Last Sunday (2nd October) we continued processing the white Malvar grapes that we had destemmed and hermetically sealed inside stainless steel tanks two weeks ago (see this post).

Over the last 2 weeks the grapes underwent carbonic maceration, reached a level of about 1 or 2% alcohol, and released a lot of interesting aromas and flavours that wouldn’t have otherwise been released with a conventional fermentation.

We opened up all 3 tanks (700 l, 700 l and 300 l), and this is what we saw:

Destemmed grapes, after 14 days of carbonic maceration

The aromas were beautiful, though the sight wasn’t that pretty! Compare to the day we sealed the tank (here). The white stuff at the bottom left of the photo is not a trick of the light – it looked like (and tasted like) yeast! And a lot of stems had found their way up to the top; we thought that we had eliminated all of them.

Anyway, we now divided the production process into three halves: (yes three! “Innovate or die!”)

1. Crushing, pressing and pouring into a stainless steel tank to finish fermentation

To do this we set up a manual crusher, right on top of the door of a pneumatic press:

Manual Crusher on top of Automatic Press

Juan and Juan setting up the manual crusher

It was a bit precarious, and we had to use some blocks of wood to raise it a little and so it wouldn’t scratch the stainless steel. Also, one person had to hold it steady, while another person worked the crusher.

We also taped some plastic ‘curtains’ around the opening at the bottom of the crusher, so that all the grapes would fall into the press, and not skite out onto the floor.

The press is completely automatic, and we programmed the cycle to be as long and gentle as possible, ie very low pressure so as not to break the pips or stems that were mixed in with the grapes.

Juice coming out the bottom of the press

2.A. Crushing only (no pressing) and pouring into a stainless steel tank for fermentation with skin contact

Next we crushed (only crushed, no pressing) another lot of 700 kg. We moved the manual crusher off the press, onto to top of an empty stainless steel tank:

Production line

In the photo above, two people (Juan and Raquel) are scooping grapes out of the tank in the foreground; passing a bucket to Jacobo (holding a bucket) who pours it into the manual crushed (blue machine in the background, sitting on top of an open tank), while Sonia is working the crusher. The women on the right are stomping grapes with their feet (equivalent to crushing):

Photo of Juan taking a photo of Cristina, Adriana and Jenny’s feet!

Cristina, Adriana and Jenny stomping grapes

We’re going to leave this juice in contact with the skins for at least 1 week, which is what we did last year; but depending on tastings during this week, we may leave it for 2 weeks. Then we’ll press the wine off the skins and leave it to settle over the winter (the cold dark harsh Castillian winter).

2.B. Crushing only (again no pressing) and pouring into a clay amphora for fermentation with skin contact

This was more or less the same as above, but instead of using stainless steel, we used a clay amphora, which we found in a corner of the patio of the bodega. It was a lot of extra work to do this, but I think it will be well worth the effort. First we had to wash it thoroughly:

      Insert Washing amphora photo here

The owner of the amphora was a bit worried about us using it, as it has nostalgic sentimental value for him. He remembers it being used in this parent’s house when he was little. We reckon that it’s about 60-80 years old at least. It was made in Colmenar de Oreja (by a company called ‘González’ (photo pending). Back in the post-war period Colmenar de Oreja was famous for its clay amphorae, because it was close to a major clay deposit; and not just for little ones, like the one we’re using. They used to actually make the big ones ‘in situ’ in the bodegas with capacities of up to 20,000 liters. All the ‘tinajeros’ (amphora-makers) went out of business in the 60’s; which is how we know that it’s at least 60 years old.

Amphora base

The base consists of a concrete ring, which is what the amphora actually rests on. This is inside a plastic ‘capazo’ with the top few inches, including the handles, sawn off. There are two bricks in there too (only one visible) just in case.

Moving into position

More positioning

In position, at last

Still in position

Note the corks (above): there are actually three openings: one at the top (what for?), one at the bottom and another one (not visible) even lower. It was quite a task to find corks for those openings and Juan had to spend all Saturday morning traipsing round Madrid looking for some. He had thought to go to Castellana de Corchos, a traditional old cork product shop in the centre of the old part of town, but it seems that it’s gone out of business.

Filling up

We taped a piece of plastic around the edge (above) to protect the amphora from spills of juice, but to no avail, as it was too short; we should have covered it all. But no matter, we washed it down when we finished filling it.

We intend to leave this lot of wine in contact with the skins for a lot longer than 2 weeks – maybe even over the whole winter! This is an experiment. I can’t let a year go by without doing at least one experiment! So we’ll just keep checking on it and see how it goes. Any suggestions most welcome!

Nice, but is it art?

In the photo above are the grapes and the must at the bottom of the tank, tipped over at an angle – so we could reach in to scoop them out. I thought it was a nice combination/contrast between the natural organic world (grapes and must) and the geometrical, mathematical, technological, manmade world (stainless steel, perfect circles, straight lines).

And lastly, this is what was left over after the pressing:

Skins and pips


We usually throw all these skins and pips (and stems) back into the vineyard. There, they decompose and break down into little pieces over time, and improve the structure of the soil.

But this year we’ve kept some back, because we’re going to make some ‘orujo’ (grappa or marc, or 'pomace brandy' even). A neighbor has a still (alambique, alambicco, alambic), and we have the raw materials, so one day in the not too distant future we’re going to join forces and distill some liquor. I don’t know how to do this (but the neighbor does!) so I intend to just sit around, watch the still, and do some quality control work!

And even more lastly, thanks to Cristina (@GazpachoGirl) and friends Adriana and Jenny, and to Richard (@voorschot) and family for coming out to visit and help.

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