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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Natural Wine, Natural Women, and Natural Men

I was thinking the other day…about natural wines! Again! Actually I was sitting on the bench in the courtyard of the bodega tasting a sample of one of my wines, and daydreaming and fantasizing!!!

It was a lovely sunny day, and nice ‘n’ cold too. The whole courtyard is a suntrap, as the wind can’t get in there, so it’s really pleasant to just sit there in the sun, and let my mind wander.

I can’t remember now how I got to thinking about women on that occasion – there must have been some Freudian connection to natural wine, because that's what I was thinking of first. Anyway, I was thinking that there are some interesting connections between natural wines, natural women and natural men!!!

[BTW, if you’re thinking that I have too much time on my hands, or that I should be doing something more productive, instead of sitting around fantasizing, ... well, you’re wrong! Because this is the season for actively not intervening in the winery! All my wines have either finished fermenting, or are still fermenting away very slowly, or are just sitting there, dormant and evolving over the cold of winter. So there’s not really much to do in the bodega. In theory, I could have them analyzed and then “correct” them, with unnecessary interventions, substances and aggressive processing. But why do that? I taste them regularly, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them (touch wood!), and I don’t think they need to be “corrected”. Like all artisans, I don’t make my wines according to a formula, and every year my wines are slightly different and they turn out the way they turn out. So, sitting in the sun and fantasizing is OK!]

Back to the point!

Thinking about it, the majority of women are quite non-natural these days - because they intervene a lot on their bodies: firstly, (starting from the top) they intervene on their hair in every possible way, both by adding chemicals and substances, and also with aggressive processing. For example, using hydrogen peroxide to make themselves blonde; and tints, dyes, hennas, etc to make themselves dark. Using curling devices to curl straight hair, and special ironing devices to straighten curly hair! Then (moving downwards) they shave off all their body hair, or most of it, especially their underarms, and legs and ‘tidying up’ the pubic bits!

The majority of men are more natural, or rather, less non-natural, because we don’t intervene so much. Just a touch of SO2 at bottling, oops, I mean just shaving our facial hair in the morning and nothing else.

Now why is that? Well, as usual, it’s probably a sexual attraction thing! ie hairiness is a masculine trait, and hairlessness is a feminine trait; but even though we both have hair, men are not naturally as hairy as bears and women are not naturally as hairless as pigs! Less hair = more feminine = more attractive, so off they go and shave off everything they can! But by the same token, more hair = more masculine = more attractive, so why don’t we all have full beards, and use all sorts of tricks and interventions to make our beards bigger and bushier? Or even try to make the rest of our bodies even hairier? In theory, we’re actually making ourselves less attractive by shaving off our facial hair. Go figure!

There seems to be an interesting parallel in consumer preferences here. It would seem that the vast majority of humans prefer both non-natural mates and non-natural wines, while only a tiny minority prefers natural wines, natural women with all their body hair, and natural men with all of theirs!

That was Part One.

Then, another day, after having had those thoughts and before actually writing up this post, I did a bit of research on the internet, to try and find out why we men shave off our beards, and why women shave off all their body hair (and why natural wine shouldn’t contain any hair at all!).

Let’s start with the men. It turns out that men have a long, long history of shaving their facial and even head hair. Ancient Egyptians and ancient Greek soldiers did it, to reduce the risk of being grabbed and beheaded during combat. The Romans carried on this tradition which became widespread over the whole male population, and being clean-shaven was equated with freedom and civilization, while beards were the mark of slaves and barbarians. Things took a turn for the worse with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and facial hair has been in and out of fashion here in Europe ever since, thanks to the ‘barbarian’ Germanic and Slavic influence! I couldn’t find any historic references to men shaving other parts of their bodies, and in modern times only for minorities, like some cyclists, swimmers, models, etc, who do it for professional reasons, and some individuals who do it for personal reasons.

Now for the women. In this case, it turns out that women for all of history had never intervened on their bodies and never ever shaved anything. Except maybe queens, aristocrats and prostitutes. For several reasons. A practical reason was that that the razors historically available and used by men were rather inconvenient and even dangerous to use on awkwardly located body parts, and in fact could even be used as weapons. Hence the existence of professional barbers. Another reason was cultural, ie women’s clothing (and men’s) throughout history always covered the entire body except hands and face, which may have been due to the climate in colder regions of Europe, and also due to the Judeo-Christian tradition of ‘modesty’ and repression of sexuality. Whatever. The fact is that women basically didn’t shave anything on a daily basis until relatively recently.

It seems that the reason the majority of women shave so much in modern times is the fault of one man, back at the beginning of the 20th century! King C. Gilette was a man with an obsession, and he devoted his entire life to inventing, designing, manufacturing and selling ... the safety razor! Incredibly, there had been no advances in razor manufacturing technology since the Bronze Age! Anyway, Gilette eventually got his big break in 1918, when he managed to get a safety razor included in each infantryman’s kitbag during the First World War, and so made his fortune. But not content with that, he decided to target women too. The ‘Underarm Campaign’ started in 1915, ran through the 20’s and was highly successful, helped perhaps by the clothing fashion of the times which saw the first ever introduction of sleeveless dresses and tops, and by the popularity of ‘women’s magazines’ for the advertising. Then came the ‘Leg Campaign’ starting in 1918, which was also successful, but not so much, perhaps due to the invention and popularity of cheap rayon stockings.

And the rest is history, up to modern times: at one end of the intervention spectrum, we have aggressive processes like full Brazilian waxing, laser hair removal, creative topiary, etc, and at the other extreme we have a minority of Naturalistas questioning the need for all these bodily interventions in the first place. Just like natural wine! Hey, maybe there’s a Natural Woman Movement out there too!?

Well, all of the above sort of explains the 'when' and the 'how', but not really the 'why'. I would love to delve further into this question.

I suppose, ultimately, despite all the arguments and reasons for and against shaving body hair, and for and against interventions in wine-making, there's just no accounting for taste - neither in women, in men nor in wine!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Vineyard Work - Natural Wine Starts Here!

Yesterday was my first day back in the vineyard, after the harvesting and winemaking work of the last few months.

I started with a bit of composting.

This is what the vines look like at the moment:

Ploughed vineyard
The soil has just been lightly ploughed so there are no grass or flowers visible. We only plough up once a year to aerate the soil and to let the rain soak in. The rest of the year we let all the grasses, plants, flowers, thistles grow to create biodiversity. That way all the different species of insects and animals predate on each other and all is in balance. We never get a plague of insect that affects the vines.

And this is what a vine looks like close up:

Uncomposted Vine
The first step is to dig up a little bit all around the vine, so as to make a hole:

Dig a hole
Then load up a wheelbarrow of compost:

Load up compost
This is organic compost from a sheep and goat farm in the Sierra just north of Madrid.

Then tip the compost into the hole:

Tip in compost
Then cover the compost up. It's important to make the hole quite deep and to cover it well, otherwise the surface grasses and flowers with their short roots get the benefit of the compost instead of the vine!

Compost well covered
Lastly, prune the vine. That way I'll be able to tell if the vine's been composted or not over the coming weeks!

Vine, composted and pruned

When I finished that little pile of compost (about 10 vines worth), I did some pruning in another part of the vineyard. But after about an hour, I decided to call it a day, as my back started hurting, from bending over! And my fingers too, from gripping the pruning shears! The first day is always like that. Now I have to start exercising and stretching every day.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Drinking with the Winemaker Boys - Now it's called "Networking"!

I had a great day out last Thursday. I was invited to a Sierra de Gredos winemaker lunch! I don't actually live or work in Gredos, but I do have agreements with local grapegrowers and I buy in their grapes, so I guess that counts! Lunch was at 13:30 and I didn't get home till the wee small hours of the morning!

At 13:15 I arrived in San Martin de Valdeiglesias, parked the car, went into the restaurant, and of course nobody had arrived! So I went for a little wander around the village and went back at 13:45, and still nobody had arrived! This punctuality thing I've got is a bit of a problem me; I just cannot arrive fashionably late or even unfashionably late, like everyone does here in Spain! I've been living in Spain for many years so I KNOW that when lunch is at 13:30, there's absolutely no point in turning up before 14:00. Over the years, I've done many Foreigner Integration Courses (funded by the EU) and even a few therapy sessions (which I had to pay for myself) but to no avail! I guess I'm just going to have to live with it. Anyway, it's not so bad as it was in the old days, as now I can fiddle with my mobile, check emails, send tweets, etc, while I wait :)

Anyway, the first person to arrive (at 13:45) was Daniel Ramos, who was born in Australia. He's obviously managed to integrate into Spanish society better than me, but even so he still arrived 15 minutes too early! He brought two of his wines, which he makes in Cebreros. The one in the middle is an oak-aged Albillo and the one on the right a Garnacha:

Middle - Albillo; right - Garnacha

Then came Guillermo and Carlos from Maldivinas, also in Cebreros, and they brought a bottle of their La Movida 2010. They decanted it before I could take a photo of the label!

Decanted bottle od La Movida
Rubén Díaz, who's involved in several different projects, in and around Gredos, also brought wine, but I don't have any photos! Sorry!

Rafael Mancebo, from Bodega Garnacha Alto Albertche, in Navaluenga, brought wine, and again, no photos.

Belarmino and Alberto, from Bodegas Canopy, brought this wine:

Garnacha, by Bodegas Canopy

Alfredo Maestro, who has TWO bodegas: one in Peñafiel (Ribera de Duero) and one in Nalvalcarnero (Madrid), AND a day-job (like myself!), brought this wine:

A Tempranillo from Ribera de Duero
(at a Sierra de Gredos Garnacha producer's lunch!)

And I brought three of my 2012's which I bottled straight from the fermentation tanks that morning!

Airén, Malvar and Garnacha
A white (Airén), a skin-contact 'orange' (Malvar) and a red (Garnacha from Gredos).

I was a bit nervous - a little case of winemaker angst - at the thought of all these 'proper' (established, recognized) winemakers about to taste my wines. The last time I got the jitters like that was at REAL Fair back in May in London, when Arianna Occhipinti came to my table to taste my wines, and my hand was shaking as I poured, and didn't know what language to gibber incoherently in!!! (in English or in Italian or in Spanish). But anyway, I think I passed the test. There were no pregnant silences, or polite euphemisms. I think maybe there were even some genuine congratulations for the Garnacha and for the 'orange' Malvar. In fact, the owner of the restaurant, who was tasting with us, was taken with them and he ordered a case of each from me there and then! To be delivered next time I'm in the area :) At that point I relaxed and started enjoying!

So, what was the reason for this occasion? Well, I'm not sure, but I think the idea was just for for us small (and not so small) quality-wine producers from the Sierra de Gredos area to get together and ... well, talk about grape-growing and winemaking in Gredos, and maybe just get to know each other.

Did we actually agree to do anything? No, I don't think so, except perhaps to meet up again for lunch another time! And there was a proposal for each of us to bring some of our wines and to make a random coupage (1 barrel) of all our Garnachas from Gredos!

The Garnacha Boys

Towards the end of lunch, when we were having dessert, the local radio station operator popped in. He must have heard that a bunch of winemakers were in town, and he asked us if anyone wanted to nip over to the radio station and talk about wine. Surprisingly (I thought) no-one wanted to, so I volunteered and Rafael Mancebo came too. I dread to think what I said! At least it wasn't on the air live, so maybe the most incoherent bits will get edited out. Actually, it wasn't so bad, as I'd recently written a post (here) about my impressions of the state of the vineyards and wines in Gredos, so I talked about that mainly.

Basically, I said that Gredos was like a hidden treasure, with its unique micro-climate, its auctoctonous grape varieties (most famously Garnacha and Albillo, but also other uncommon, unknown ones). That it was under-valued, and not appreciated, not even by the people from there, and that its wines were not being marketed and sold as well as they could be. I said that this was not the fault of the grape-growers, because they are all old men, at or past retirement age, and all they've done all their lives is to grow grapes and sell them to the local co-op, so they can't be expected to know how to make wine, market it and sell it! I also said that that the local co-ops need to change their strategy! I said that the co-ops strategy, that used to work perfectly well back in the 40's, 50', 60's and maybe even in the 70's, was no longer working, ie paying for grapes by quantity and alcohol level, in order to make millions of liters of cheap table wine. There are thousands of similar co-ops all over Spain, all competing with each other AND with cheap wine from the new world, for a shrinking market, and chasing ever smaller profit margins.

I said it would be better to produce quality wines that express the unique terroir of Gredos, and everyone would benefit: the grape-growers who could be paid a decent price for their grapes, the co-ops themselves who could sell these wines at a good price, and consumers who would have another interesting quality wine available to them as a choice.

I hope I didn't cause offense, especially being an outsider and a bloody foreigner to boot! :)

Anyway, after that sobering experience, I had another coffee, and had another wander around San
Martín. It was pretty cold, especially after sunset. Then I set off for Madrid, and arrived just in time for another tasting at the Viñeta de Carmelo of Bodegas Demencia, natural wine producers from El Bierzo. I really could have done without it, as I was tired and would quite liked to have just to have gone to bed early with good sci-fi book! But no, it never rains but pours! And I didn't want to miss the chance to taste this natural wine, because 1) it's difficult to find and 2) it's expenssive! over €30/bottle!

Btw, the name of the bodega is a play on words: 'demencia' on the one hand means 'dementia', as in
the mental illness, and on the othe hand 'de mencia' means 'made from Mencia [grape variety]' Get it?

So, the tasting went ahead. Nacho talked about his grape-growing, his wine-making, his rejection of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc in the vineyard, his minimal intervention in the winery, his attempt to express the terroir, etc. And he presented his new line of wine, called "Pyjama" which is his 'entry-level' wine, also made form 100% Mencia. So after the tasting finished, at about 10:30, four or five of us hard-line wine geeks, who don't know what's good for us and when to call it a day and go to bed, remained behind. And of course more wine got drunk and the world was put to rights, and before I knew it, it was 1:00 in the morning.

But that's not all! One of the winelovers who remained behind made me a proposition! (A decent one!) He has a vineyard, near Madrid, and he said he'd like me to look after it and make the wine from its grapes! And I think I said yes, I'd love to do that! All the technical details to be sorted out at a later date :)

I live really near La Viñeta, so I left, walked home and was asleep by 1:10.

PS. Next morning I felt perfectly fine next morning, even though I had to get up at 7:00! I think I must be turning into some kind of wine professional or something! I put this lack of a hangover down to three things: one, I've finally learnt to remember to spit at occasions when there's a lot of different wines being poured; two, I didn't mix my drinks and stuck to wine! (except for a few beers before lunch) and three, they were all quality wines, so they didn't contain (many) additives!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My Back-Label Dilemma Revisited – and Resolved!

Back in April this year (2012) I wrote a post about my back-label dilemma (here)

Before anything else, I’d like to thank Ryan Opaz, Hank Beckmeyer, Laura Gray and Arnold Waldstein, who all commented on that post and helped me with their input.

Basically, I was wondering exactly what (and how much) information to put on my next batch of back-labels, both from a practical and also from a legal point of view. And whether I should include what the wine does NOT contain and what was NOT done to it.

So, after much thinking over the last 7 months, here’s what I came up with for the back-label:

Well, as you can see, it’s a sort of compromise. I think the label itself provides quite a lot of general information, and it has a QR Code which leads to this page (here) where much, much more info is available for any potential customer who is thinking of buying the bottle.

Here’s a copy of it below, for your convenience, so you don’t even need to lift a finger to click through!
Mind you, I can't get the formatting to show correctly here, so maybe it's better if you do click through and see the page properly!!!


QR Code Page

Thank you for scanning my QR Code and coming here. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for on this very page, it will probably be on another page of this same website.

Failing that, you can contact me directly anytime, by email ( or even by cell-phone (+34-687-050-010); but bear in mind that I live in Europe – so if you call me, please try not to wake me up in the middle of the night!

Below is the information that I would have liked to put on the back-label directly, but didn’t do so for several reasons: too much information to fit, probably not legal and maybe confusing or counter-productive to some people. But if you’re reading this, then you’re a wine-geek and so you won’t be confused!

I hope you enjoy my wine. That’s basically why I made it! I hope you liked the aromas and tastes, and I hope you found it interesting and complex and expressive of its terroir, and worth talking about.

The following information refers to the six (6) different wines imported into the USA in 2012 by José Pastor Selections:

1. Vinos Ambiz Airén 2011
2. Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 (Maceración Carbónica)
3. Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 (Orange)
4. Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 (Tinaja)
5. Vinos Ambiz Tempranillo Crianza 2010
6. Vinos Ambiz Titulciano 2010 (Temp, Graciano, Sirah)

These wines contain the following INGREDIENTS:

· Fermented grape juice

And they don’t contain the following additives:

· Industrial yeasts to give false and artificial tastes and aromas
· Industrial bacteria
· Industrial enzymes
· Colorants (like Mega Purple)
· Preservatives
· Flavour enhancers
· Added acids
· Added sugar, added fruit juice, added fruit extract
· Added water
· Wood chips
· Artificial tannins

These wines underwent the following PROCESSING:

I did these things:

· Crushed the grapes
· Pressed the grapes
· Racked the wine from one tank to another
· Clarified the wine using gravity, time and the cold of winter

And I didn’t do these things to them:

· Spray pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc onto the grapes
· Heat the wine up
· Cool the wine down
· Filter it
· Add any substances for clarifying or fining the wine
· Use reverse osmosis
· Use spinning cones
· Use cryo-extraction
· Use sterile filtration
· Use any other unnecessary terroir-masking intervention


So what do you think?

Is there anything objectionable here? Illegal? False? Misleading? Is it helpful to consumers? Is it a good idea or a bad idea in general to do this?

I would really appreciate any sort of feedback.

And I haven’t actually sent the files to the printer’s yet, but they are ready to go, so I’m still in time to modify, if necessary!

And of course I can modify the QR landing page anytime.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Natural Wine Debates – Critics Barking Up the Wrong Trees?

There’s so much to be said and debated about natural wines, so many topics and issues related to natural wine that are not only interesting in their own right, but which could be of benefit to the whole wine world, especially to consumers, but also to the trade. Like the following:

- Can/do natural wines express their terroirs better?

- Is there a point at which too little intervention destroys terroir, just like too much intervention?

- Transparency and honest labelling of ingredients and processes?

- Environmental impact of natural wines?

- Health implications of natural wines?

- When is a wine fault not a wine fault?

- Are natural wines more delicious and alive?

- What could be learned from natural winemaking, that could lead to improvement of ALL wines?

-   ... and many other interesting questions ...

But are these topics being discussed and talked about? No, they’re not, as far as I can tell. I suspect that many producers, distributors, traders and consumers of natural wines know the answers to these questions already, and are just quietly getting on with it, ie growing grapes, making wine, distributing it and drinking it! And even though we’re a tiny insignificant percentage of wine production (the last figure I read was < 0.05 percent) we're happy and growing.

So what are the angry critics so angry about? Beats me, but this is what they’re focusing on:

- The word ‘natural’

- The words uttered by certain individual natural wine marketers

- The existence of a “Natural Wine Movement”

- Funky wines

Go figure! I STILL don’t understand what makes them some of them so angry and vitriolic, and others just obsessed with these topics to the detriment of other more interesting ones. And I’ve been thinking about it and trying to engage with them for about two years now.

I’ve changed my opinion several times over those last two years as to what their problem is. I used to think, at one point, that they were worried about losing market share, but I realize now that that’s just ridiculous. Even if there are 100’s of natural winebars in Paris, New York, London, Tokyo, etc, and 100’s of natural winemakers, and 1000’s of natural winelovers, the numbers are just too tiny to be taken seriously!

So why are they focussing on those four boring and unfruitful topics? Are these topics interesting to winelovers? to the general wineloving public who might want to learn a bit about natural wine?  Well, I suppose a little bit in a superficial gossipy sort of way, but I really don’t think that they’re worth taking all that seriously. Basically, they’re not central or core topics of interest or of use to someone wanting to find out about natural wines. Like I said, they’re very soundbite generating, they may help to sell more newspapers or drive readers to websites, but really they don’t address any of the important, interesting or useful issues raised by natural wine. Are they useful, productive, beneficial, constructive topics to invest ones time on? Not really, but let's have a look at them anyway:

The word ‘natural’

So, what is the critics’ problem with the word ‘natural’? A number of separate things, as I’ve discovered over the years:

1. The fact that wine is not actually natural, in the primary dictionary-defined meaning, ie natural in the sense of occurring naturally, like a mountain, a tree or an ocean, without any human intervention. They point out in excruciating detail, that wine is not actually natural because it has to be made by humans. Hmmm! And then the critics go on to provide umpteen examples of how wine isn’t natural: vines have to be planted in rows, trained on wires, pruned with man-made scissors, the grapes then have to be harvested either in man-made boxes or by man-made tractors, taken to a man-made building full of industrial machinery and equipment, subjected to processes like crushing, pressing, racking, filtering, etc, bottled in man-made bottles, etc, etc, zzzzzzz, snore, yawn, ad infinitum. There is sometimes an attempt at humour at this point, like: for a wine to be natural it would have to drip out of the grapes all by itself into a hole in the ground to ferment there all by itself and be drunk before it turns into vinegar, ho, ho ho!

Well, what can one say to that? Well, apart from just ignoring it (probably the most sensible course, and in fact the one that many natural wine people have chosen), I say this:

To me it's a fascinating linguistic and semantic topic in its own right, and there are many serious and reliable sites on the internet where such topics are discussed, ie how the meanings of words in the English language evolve over time, how new meanings are created and acquired, how old meanings fall into disuse, etc.

I would recommend anyone interested in the semantics and etymology of the word ‘natural’ to look out one of these sites. My favourite one is Anatoly Lieberman’s blog on the Oxford University Press. I’ve actually consulted this very question with him and he even posted a reply, which you can read here. Interestingly, he also pointed me to a secondary meaning of the word ‘natural’ in the Oxford Dictionary, 1991 Edition, which is “manufactured using only simple or minimal processes;”. Interesting!

2. The fact that calling a style of wine ‘natural’ implies that all other styles are un-natural? Well, is that really a fact? Does everyone automatically think that? Always? Well, I myself used to think so a couple of years ago, but not anymore. The English language is full of words whose opposites could have connotations and implications. Perhaps it may be true the first time you hear the phrase ‘natural wine’ when you tend to take the meaning literally, but after a period of exposure and use, I think the secondary meaning is the one used by all language-using humans.

Think about “organic” agriculture and “organic” fruit and veg. Who in their right minds, when they buy some organic potatoes thinks that non-organic potatoes are in any way inorganic? After all, the primary dictionary definition of ‘organic’ is in fact ‘made up of carbon atoms’!!! Same thing applies to ‘natural’. maybe this same debate raged in the 70's when organic agriculture started becoming popular?

Anyway, that's another fascinating semantic-linguistic issue best discussed in the non-wine forum of your choice!

3. Certain critics have written or implied that the “Leaders” of the “Natural Wine Movement” actually took an active decision to deliberately call their wines ‘natural’. This is an extraordinary assumption to make, especially as these critics are well-educated intelligent writers. Another piece of evidence that makes me think that they don’t do any research before posting.

If they had done some research, before typing up their posts, they would have discovered that the term ‘natural wine’ has been around for a long time, since 1907 at least, and that it wasn’t invented a few years ago by the evil scheming leaders of a shadowy movement!!! Again, there are some good linguistic history forums out there in the internet. See the French Wikipedia entry for natural wine here, if you're interested.

The words uttered by certain individual natural wine marketing persons

This always makes for a good headline or sound-bite, because it’s so easy to take words or whole sentences out of context and base a whole ranting natural-wine-bashing post around them.

It’s ridiculous to generalize what an individual says or writes, to a whole group of individuals who may or may not agree with them, is it not? Seems like common sense to me.

And anyway, I don’t believe that the comments, opinions, viewpoints and soundbites you can find online about natural wine are a true reflection of the reality on the ground. I am sure that many people are bored to tears by the semantics debate and by the utterances of individual naturalistas that don’t represent the rest of us.

The existence of a “Natural Wine Movement”

Certain critics seem to know nothing about natural wine and the people involved in it, and give every impression that they haven’t even bothered doing any research before posting or commenting. They have this imaginary fantasy in their heads of what they think natural wine is about and they just run with it despite any evidence to the contrary.

For example they believe that there’s a “natural wine movement” out there, with a dogma, beliefs, leaders, etc. They constantly write things like “The Natural Wine Movements believes that ...”, “The Naturalistas say that...”, “The champions of the Natural Wine Movement...”, and the like. You’d think that after so many years they’d know that there is no movement, organization or body. It’s just a motley collection of winemakers, distributors, winebars, restaurants and above all consumers, who share a liking for a particular style of wine.

Obviously, there’s a sort of movement, or affinity, in the loose, vague sense that all these people share certain interests; for example, they are all are concerned about the environment, and/or their health and/or have an interest in drinking and talking about complex terroir-expressing wines. But there’s certainly no official, formal movement with leaders and articles of association, etc. There are no official spokespersons who can speak for anyone apart from themeselves.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve posted a comment on various blog-posts saying just that, but has it had any effect? Nope! They go right on posting about how “The Natural Wine Movement believes this, that or the other”!

Another thing I’ve noticed is that they hardly ever give names, surnames or links, when they make some sweeping generalization. The few times they do provide a link, and if you follow it, you can see that the person in question is actually quite reasonable and that the quote has been taken out of context and its meaning distorted.

Faulty wines

Another case of generalization. The classic sentence is “I’ve tasted natural wines before, and they’re oxidised, cloudy, Bretty, stinky, taste of cider, etc, insert your adjective here”. I've come across a few attempts at humour and/or creative writing at this point too!

The obvious reply to that is so obvious that it seems like a waste of time actually writing it! But obviously the reply is that of course there are some bad natural wines out there – just like there are bad examples of ANY category of wine you care to mention. DUH!


My learning curve has been long and slow!

At first (a few years ago) I used to get very angry and upset when I read about any of those four boring side-issues I’ve just discussed above. And I even wrote stuff (posts on my own blog and comments on other blogs) that I now regret.

Then, more recently I went through a “constructive engagement” phase, where I was reasonable and polite, and took a lot of time to do research and attempt to explain things. But to no avail!

Now, I think I’m entering the “Just ignore this” phase. I have plenty to be getting on with! Apart from growing grapes, making wine, promoting it and selling it, I would also actually quite like to write about it, and about natural wines in general.

I have in fact been guilty of complaining about a lack of debate about the issues that “I” believe are interesting and useful, but haven’t actually done anything about it! Hopefully that will change soon, and I hope to participate in some 'interesting' discussions in the future!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Malvar Harvest 2012

(Sunday 13th October 2012)

I had arranged to meet two experienced grape-pickers at the Villarejo vineyard at 8:00 sharp but I almost didn’t make it, as I couldn’t get the van to start!

The night before I had hosed down about 100 plastic fruit cases and loaded them carefully in the correct configuration; and I had remembered to bring extra scissors – just in case. And I had remembered to bring water, and a hat, and even to put some petrol into the van. All systems go! But then at 7:15 outside my house, the van wouldn’t start! What to do?

Well, I got out the van, rolled up a cigarette, and smoked it while frowning at the van, and thinking of options. But I couldn’t think of any feasible options, apart from to call the pickers and arrange another day! So I got back in, turned the key, and the engine started! Go figure! And it went perfectly for the whole day!

Anyway, I arrived at 8:00 as planned, and we started picking at about 8:15, as it took us 15 mins to unload the crates and stack them next to the van. Then we picked till about 13:00 without stopping. We would make piles of full crates wherever it was convenient and then we would take turns to carry them to the van. It made a change from just picking. Each crate could hold about 8 or 9 kg of grapes, so we could carry two at a time.

Picker posing with the biggest bunches we could find!

We didn’t overfill the crates, so that they could be stacked without the crates above pressing down and crushing the grapes in the crate below.

At about 13:00 I made a trip to the bodega in Morata de Tajuña as the van was full. I unloaded all the crates and stacked them on pallets and took them inside.

Unloading and stacking onto a pallet

Then I loaded up more empty crates. Next stop was a bar where I bought a ‘bocadillo de tortilla francés con tomate’ (half a baguette with plain omelette and tomato) which I ate while driving back to the vineyard.

The pickers had brought their own lunch and were already back at work when I arrived. We finished at about 17:00. We drove back to the bodega, where they helped me unload and stack the crates on pallets, and we were done. I decided to leave the grapes inside the bodega where the night-time temperature would drop to about 10ºC, and then next morning I would start to process them.

Malvar grapes ready for processing

One of the pickers asked me if I needed any more help in the vineyard, and I said that maybe yes, from January onwards to help me dig up and cut off the wild shoots that I didn’t have time to do last year (see this post).

2000 kg of grapes picked in 8 hrs by three pickers, which equals 83.3 kgs/person/hour. Is that a lot or a little? I’ve no idea as it was the first time that I’ve harvested that way. If you’ve read any of my previous harvest posts, you’ll know that my usual procedure is much more laid back!

Usually, it’s a motley crew of friends, family, guests and strangers who turn up to help! And we only pick in the morning and then stop for lunch – a long lunch! Then we crush and/or press whatever quantity of grapes we just picked.

This method has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is of course that everybody has a great time and has a really enjoyable day out. This is perfectly doable if your production is small and are have flexibility about when exactly to pick. But as your production increases, your windows of flexibility become smaller, and you really have to harvest a certain quantity of grapes on a specific day, and you can’t rely on friends and family ‘maybe’ coming out to help! I think I’m reaching the tipping point, but I can still go both ways, ie I really do have to harvest some grapes on specific day, but for the time being I can still afford to have a few unproductive, inefficient, romantic days of harvesting with friends and family and guests and long lunches :)

Monday, 22 October 2012

Double Harvest over the Weekend

Last Saturday 6th October, cruel ogre that I am, I brutally and ruthlessly exploited about 20 children, in the name of free labour. It’s so difficult to get free labour these days, that I had to resort to inviting my own children’s wee friends from school and their parents too!

Stomping grapes in the bodega
 No, jesting apart, the little dears had a great time. And, surprisingly, they actually did pick a few grapes, and not a single child cut themselves with the scissors! However, they soon got bored, and after about 30 mins, they were off exploring, running over the hillsides, etc. I also managed to make them fill a few rabbit burrows with stones and rocks!

Bringing in the grapes

Seriously, the rabbits this year have seriously affected production in Carabaña! In the small plot at the top, for example, where I usually get about 600 kg or so, I harvested 3 cases! That’s three (3) 10-kg plastic fruit cases! That’s about 95% of the grapes eaten by rabbits (and maybe some birds too). The main plot in the middle was only slightly less affected, and where I usually get about 2000 kg, this year I got just over 1000 kg. The third small plot was unaffected, and I got the usual 500 kg from there. Ay, the life of a grape-grower is hard! If it’s not one thing it’s another! :)

Anyway, we (the adults) picked all morning till lunchtime. It was a leisurely affair, and I wasn’t expecting efficiency or any given quota of grapes to be picked. The whole idea was to invite the parents and children for a day out in the country, so we could get to know each other a little better. Which is nice, as we will be seeing a lot of each other over the next 10 years or so as our children go through school together.

Working hard!

Working hard!

Working hard?

 So back to the bodega for lunch. Everyone brought something to eat and to share, and we also lit a barbecue.

The after lunch, there was more exploitation of child labour as we stomped the grapes that we’d picked in the morning. A few of the adults allowed themselves to be exploited too! And I didn’t charge them anything for the experience!

Production line

Little feeties

The parents too

Hey, is that must or wine she's drinking?

After the crushing and stomping, came the pressing:

Crushing and pressing

Free run must pouring out

Posing after the first pressing!
 And a good time was had by all! All in all we manages to obtain about 300 litres of must - no bad considering :)
The next day, Sunday, I went back to finish off. It took me about 20 minutes to pick the 3 cases worth of grapes from the top plot 8which normally gives about 500 kg); the main plot was all picked on the Saturday, but I did find two cases of picked grapes hidden under the vines which we’d missed when we were loading up. I was working on the third plot, when, two friends turned up at about 12 o’clock and we finished it off just in time for lunch!

This post was all about a lovely, romantic, idyllic, bucolic day out in the vineyard and bodega. My next post will be about the harvest I did the weekend after this one (Sunday 13th October) and it’s going to be completely different. Both posts are true, but the second one reflects a completely different aspect of the same reality.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

An Experiment with Rojilla

Has anyone ever heard of a grape variety called "Rojilla"? or know where I could find out? I've asked on Twitter and FB but no joy. And it's not mentioned at all in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue.

I doubt that's the 'real' name of the variety, as "Rojilla" sounds very local or dialectal. In Spanish, "rojo" = red, so "rojilla" (a diminutive of rojo) means something like reddish, or a little bit red, or something like that.

And the colour of these grapes was in fact 'a little bit red', ie not deep dark red/purple/blue like in all the usual Tempranillo/Garnacha/Sirah photos that are so common, but really just red! Can you believe that I forgot to actually take a photo of them!

When I was out in Gredos last week, the grape-grower I was buying Garnacha off of, kindly gave me a few cases of this Rojilla grape, for me to make wine from, on the condition I gave him a bottle or two when it was done!

Well, on Saturday I duly stomped them and put them in a container to ferment. Actually, Madalena stomped them for me:

Madalena stomping Rojillo grapes
Rojillo grapes being stomped
Interesting! But I don't really know if there's any more Rojilla to be found in viable quantities.

Fermentation tub

There's about 20-30 litres of must + skins + pips + stems in there.

I decided to include the stems because they were well lignified and not at all green, so I thought that they might provide something positive. As the skins are not very dark, maybe they won't provide as much colour or taste or aromas as more normal darker skins do? Who knows?

Fermentation hasn’t started yet (as at Sunday 23 Sept) but I reckon it should kick off pretty swiftly, what with all the different lots of wine in the bodega at different stages of fermentation; the air must be teeming with saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast by now.


I shall play it by nose
And I shall see, how it goes;

I’ll punch it down, once a day,
And hope it tastes, like Cabernet!

Then when fermentation begins
I’ll press the juice, off the skins

I’ll maybe rack it, once or twice
To make it clean and nice

Then over winter, I’ll let it be;
Peace and quiet is the key

Will it do its malolactic?
That depends, on my vinous tactic!

Will I add the acid tartaric?
No, that’s just too barbaric!

Will I add some extra sugar?
No, I’m reaching for my Luger!

Will I add powdered tannin?
No, I’m not a wine assassin!

Will I add that mega-purple colour,
No, it makes the wine, false and duller!

Will I add cultured yeast?
No, I’m a pure, uncultured beast!

Will I add germs and bacteria?
No, that goes against, my criteria!

Will I add, a flavour enhancer?
No, it may well, give you cancer!

Will I add wooden chips of oak?
No, I wouldn’t want, to make you choke!

Will I spin my wine in cones?
No, my wine’s for people, not for drones!

Will I osmote it in reverse?
No, I’d never be so perverse!

Will I do some cryo-extraction?
No, I always get, a cry-reaction!

Will I add bags of enzymes?
No, I’m running out of en-rhymes!

So how will I intervene?
Well that remains, to be seen!

I really won’t do much
Just keep a nice light touch

Enough to ensure the wine is flawless,
But not so much, as to make it aweless!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Red grapes all in, White not ready yet

Here’s another harvest post or update of the state of my harvesting this year. This is a good time for me to write this because I’m between harvests, as it were :)

I’ve brought in all the red grapes that I’ll be bringing in this year, and the white grapes are not ready to be picked yet.

So, what have I got this year?

1. The usual Tempranillo from Carabaña that I’ve been harvesting for the last 9 years! The quantity this year was ridiculously tiny – even more ridiculously tiny than usual! On the one hand, because of the drought (it hasn’t rained properly for about a year) and on the other hand because of the rabbits, who have again eaten more than their fair share of grapes this year, just like they did last year.

So, basically there’s less than 300 litres of juice + skins fermenting at this very moment as I write, which means that there will hopefully just be enough to make 1 barrel (225 l) of Tempranillo Crianza including a few litres for top-ups during the year. I harvested early this year, because I was fed up with making the usual +14% alcohol tinto Crianza! Although there’s never been anything actually wrong with my previous Crianzas, they’ve never been anything exceptional either, imho, and in that of others! Hence the risk of experimenting this year. Maybe it’ll turn out better at 13% or 13.5%. Who knows? But I’ll never know if I don’t try it at least once!

2. Some Garnacha from Gredos. I’m going to be a bit secretive here and save the details for later :) Ha ha! I’ll just say that I’ve got four (4) separate lots of old vine Garnacha that is already fermenting separately. Some in open top old wooden barrels, and some in stainless steel. Two lots are from separate plots in Sotillo de la Adrada (see this previous post) and two lots are from ... somewhere else in the Gredos region! Ha ha!

That’s all there is tinto-wise. This is what there will be, blanco-wise:

1- The usual Airén from Carabaña that I’ve been harvesting for the last 10 years. The grapes are not ripe yet – they were at 11% a few days ago, and there are still quite a lot of green bunches visible. I’d like to harvest this at between 12% and 13%, and make the usual young white that I usually make every year. I’m really happy with the way it’s been turning out, and I think my clients are too. I’m on a little, personal Airén crusade here, I think, because I believe that really good wines can be made with Airén, especially if a better winemaker than me were to put his/her mind and hand to it!

Airén has such a negative cultural and vinous baggage to carry! Sigh! Oh woe, is life not hard enough already without having to shoulder all this negative baggage? :) Ha ha, only jesting! Deep down, I’m really a masochistic cynical bastard who thrives on hardship and albatrosses! Ha ha, jesting again! But seriously, I really do like Airén and really do believe that great wines can be made from it. So I shall make more of the same this year, plus of course I shall do a few experiments. Firstly, as I have all these old barrels available, I’ll do a bit of fermenting in them, in addition to the usual stainless steel. Secondly, I hope to come up with some other experiment to do when the time comes! Suggestions welcome! Here’s an interesting article about Airén by FringeWines

2. Malvar from Villarejo. Again I’m going to do the same as last year with these grapes. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I was really pleased with last years’ wines and experiments. There were three lots of wines last year: Carbonic Maceration, Skin Contact (15 days) (‘orange’), and a straight 5-month skin contact ‘orange’ from an old amphora (tinaja in Spanish), all from the same Malvar from Villarejo. And I think my clients were happy with them too. So this year, I bought another amphora (see photo) so as to make another 300 bottles, in addition to the original 300!

And that’s it, I’m afraid (apart from the older wines from previous years that are still aging). Only about 4,000 bottles in total, I think. I had originally intended to make quite a lot more wine this year, but my best laid plans were rudely scattered to the winds by the great plough of life and circumstances, and will have to be rebuilt next year. C’est la vie!

So now, it’s the calm before the storm, ie just checking the white grapes in the vineyards, and checking on the red fermentations in the bodega.

Lastly, quite a few people have contacted me over the last few months with a view to visiting the vineyards and winery, but I haven’t been able to arrange these visits properly – due to my own inability to deal with emails and to arranging visits, etc. But I really do like receiving visits, so if you’re reading this, please just contact me again and insist harder! I’m not being exclusive or playing hard to get here, it’s just that I can’t cope with everything that I have to do all at once! So the ‘de facto’ or ‘fait accompli’ solution or whatever it’s called, is to tell me that you ‘have to’ visit on such-and-such a day, and then I’ll work all my other tasks and activities and urgent urgencies around the visit! Et violà! Problem solved!

And really lastly, I read somewhere that all posts should have at least one photo, so here it is:
Ambite vineyard under snow in January 2009!

A Little Post on Enzymes

I‘ve just read a really interesting guest post on Fiona Beckett’s blog on enzymes, and it made me think a bit about ‘natural wines’. Yet again!

But before I set off on why I don’t add enzymes to my wines, I’d just like to say what a great initiative the people at Birds & Bats Wine Productions are undertaking. This is just the sort of thing, imho, that the wine-world needs. Some new life, a breath of fresh air, and more good and interesting wines!

I’m actually quite depressed at the moment, after my recent experience of the state of rural viticulture and winemaking in the Sierra de Gredos. I don’t actually have the time to wallow in my depression at the moment because I’m right in the middle of harvesting and fermenting, but it’s there under the surface as it were. I happen to have the time to write about this at the moment, because I’m between harvests – ie, the reds (Tempranillo and Garnacha) are all in and fermenting, but the whites (Airén and Malvar) are not quite ripe yet.

Anyway, you can read my previous post (here) about the tragic and sad state of the local viticulture and winemaking that made me depressed! But not to exaggerate! I have of course been enjoying tremendously, living life to the full and keeping myself off the streets :)

So...back to enzymes...

I had no idea what enzymes were or did, but now I’m a little wiser, after reading the article and comments! Thanks again Fiona and Birds & Bats. Well, no disrespect intended to anyone in the enzyme-adding business, but it seems like a total irrelevance to me if the winemaker’s intention is to make a low intervention wine, ‘natural’ wine. If enzymes are already present in the grapes, as the article says, then there is no valid reason (from a natural winemaker’s point of view) for adding any during the winemaking. If your vineyard soil is living and healthy, and if your vines are vigorous and healthy, then your grapes will be balanced and healthy and will contain all the enzymes required, thank you very much!

The list of practical advantages in the guest post have not convinced me:

Makes life easier for the producer”: also called taking short-cuts?

Reduces cost to the consumer”: and reduces the quality of the wine too? Why not use ‘cost plus’ pricing?

Speed up the winemaking process”: Why do that? You in hurry to go somewhere else? Let the wine take the time it needs without rushing it!

Protect customer’s health”: Yes, we’ve all heard that one before! Everyone and their auntie says that about their products, even the likes of Monsanto, McDonalds and ACME Toxins!!!

Release more potential from the grapes”: the grapes will release all the potential they need to release all by themselves, if they’re healthy and balanced and harvested at the right time

Ensure wine does not spoil”: the wine will not spoil if the grapes are healthy and balanced and harvested at the right time and if the winemaker doesn’t do anything silly during winemaking!

Protect customers and deliver a quality wine”: Nice truism! Show me a winemaker that does not want to protect his customers and doesn’t want to deliver a quality wine!!!

We cannot afford to spoil thousands of good grapes”: Relax! Don’t be so fearful! If your grapes are healthy and balanced and harvested at the right time and if you don’t do anything silly during winemaking, your grapes won’t spoil

“...sinister chemical additions such as the dreaded sulphites”: there are a lot worse things than dreaded sulphites!

But, I'm sorry for harping on so much about this! This enzyme business really is quite trivial, and there are many things that are a lot, lot worse that one can do to one’s wine. The important thing here is that someone is doing something interesting in the wine world!

I hope I haven’t come across a some sort of extremist natural wine Taliban here! I like to think of myself as quite flexible and middle-of-the-road and sensible, as far as natural winemaking goes! For example, I’m quite happy to use a bit of sulphites if necessary. But only if necessary. By default I don’t use it. My main goal is to produce lovely, delicious, drinkable, terroir-expressing wines – but not at any price! I don’t use pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, or chemical fertilizers in the vineyard or any chemicals in the winery, for reasons of pollution, health and quality of the wine! It’s easy to make a delicious wine if you use chemicals and aggressive processing. But delicious at any price is not for me! There are more important things in life that being gratified by a delicious wine – like the state of the environment that we’re going to hand on to our children and future generations!

I wonder if this whole post is counter-productive? I mean, I’d hardly even heard of enzymes before reading Fiona’s post, let alone considered adding them to my wines! And I’ve actually had to think up all those reasons above, for not adding them, when before it didn’t even cross my mind to add them!!! I think that just goes to prove that there’s no real reason to manipulate the wine unnecessarily. By adding enzymes in this case, or by adding or doing anything else either, in general.

So enzymes have been added to wine since the 1970’s, as the guest post says. So for about 8,000 years, no enzymes were added! Was the quality of the wines produced over 8,000 years so bad, that people have been waiting for 8,000 years for enzymes to be discovered? And reverse osmosis? And spinning cones? And MegaPurple? And oak chips? And commercial yeasts? And tannin powder? etc, etc, and all the other technological products and processes that have been invented over the last 50 years?

I think this goes beyond a mere question of quality, or definition of quality! Basically, what is happening is that wine has been ‘commoditized’ just like any other product in today’s industrialized, profit-driven marketplace. Certain wine brands move millions of bottles every year, so they are obliged to churn out the same standardized product/brand every year, no matter what the climate or state of the grapes. It’s a brand. It’s an industrial product. It’s made in a liquid engineering processing factory, not in a winery. So anything goes, any technology, any product, any addition, as long as it’s legal (and sometimes not even that) in order to make that product according to the specifications.

The whole concept and meaning of the word of ‘quality’ I believe has been co-opted by industry and their marketeers. For them it means mere compliance with commercial and legal and organoleptic specifications, and has absolutely nothing to do with the real, basic, intrinsic, clean, ecological quality of the soil, grapes or wine.

Enough! This is turning into a terrible rant!

Thanks again Fiona for a great thought-provoking post, and all the best to Birds & Bats.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Another day in the life…

The other day (Wed 12 Sept 2012) I went out to Gredos to check out an old-vine Garnacha vineyard in a little village called Sotillo de la Adrada. A few months ago I reached an agreement with the owner of the vineyard to buy the grapes, and I’ve been going out there once a week or so over the last month to check the grapes as to ripeness and to set the date for harvesting. Quite banal and boring really, but it set me off thinking of ‘greater things’ or the ‘wider context’ as it were.

It takes me about 90 minutes to get there from Madrid, and I don’t like listening to the radio or even music in the car, so I prefer to use the time to just think and fantasize!!!

Well, first the actual visit, and then I’ll move on to what I think is going on.

Beautiful vineyard! I’ve seen quite a few around Sotillo recently and this one is fairly typical: sandy soil, at an altitude of between 600 m and 700 m, on the fairly flat foothills of the Gredos mountain range; not actually ‘mountainous’ like the vineyards in the more famous Cebreros just down the road, but more ‘valley-like’ I’d say.

All the vineyards I’ve seen there are quite small (max 1 or 2 ha) and a lot are interspersed with olive trees, and fig-trees.

Prickly pears in the vineyard

Fig tree in the vineyard

Olive tree in the vineyard

So I took samples of grapes, picking berries at random from every 3rd or 4th vine more or less during a random walk from one end of the vineyard to the other. And I tasted some berries, chewed the skins, and the pips, and looking though the spectrometer I got a probable alcohol level of 13.6%. So I decided to harvest this weekend! And the owner thought I was absolutely crazy! Because no-one else has harvested in the village, and they won’t be harvesting till October!

But hey, what can I say? I’m doing some experimenting here! I don’t think the wine world needs any more 15% or 16% or 17% alcohol Garnachas, does it? There’s some good ones out there already, and some not so good ones too! So, I’m going to try something a bit different, ie attempt to make a ‘lighter’ Garnacha alcohol-wise, while at the same time not losing any of the Garnachosity :)  We shall just have to wait and see! Anyway, I have a wine-making plan, but no doubt it will change every other day and the ultimate results are of course unpredictable!!!

There are also some vines in the vineyard

And now for the profound and sad thoughts!

Tragic and sad. Those are the main feelings I’ve been getting. Sotillo de la Adrada, like many, many other small towns in Spain (and no doubt in other countries in Europe too) with some agricultural heritage in general, and with a history of grape-growing and wine-making in particular, is dying!

Well, let’s not get too dramatic here! Let me rephrase: let’s just say that Sotillo is dying in terms of its agricultural and viticultural and vinous heritage. I’m sure it will live on for many years somehow or other!

Firstly, all the vineyard owners I’ve met were old men, well past retirement age!

Secondly, I saw many vineyards around Sotillo that have been abandoned, and many that look like they’re going to be abandoned any year now.

The reasons for this state of affairs are no doubt complex (and worthy of a socio-economic analysis!) but here are a few basic reasons which I believe may be relevant:

1. The sons and daughters of these vineyard owners have absolutely no interest in running them. They’ve probably gone to school and university and have a job in an office in the nearest city. Which is fair enough, as their parents made a huge effort to give them an education so that they wouldn’t have to slave in the fields from dawn to dark, from the age of 7 to 70, like they themselves have done!

2.The only outlet for the grapes produced by these grape-growers is the local co-op, which for decades has been faithfully buying up all the local grapes and faithfully making local table wine. And this is now a big problem for everybody concerned! Maybe a few decades ago, when Spain was a quasi-third-world country, there was a big demand for local table wine, and it all got sold, and everyone was happy. Back then, local table wine was a basic commodity like eggs, bread, fruit and veg, etc. But it’s not like that anymore. Spain, even in small rural villages, has supermarkets, and people just don’t buy as much table wine as they used to. And if they do, then it won’t necessarily be local, but it could be from anywhere, and based on price and transport logistics, etc. There must be thousands of wine-making co-ops in Spain, all making cheap table wine and all desperately competing on price points. It’s a no-no! It’s certain death, eventually, for both the co-op itself and for the many local grape-growers. Just a question of time.

The vineyard owner that I’ve reached an agreement with was complaining: last year he sold his grapes to the co-op. Firstly, they paid him a totally ridiculous price (per kilo and per degree of probable alcohol), and secondly, they haven’t paid him yet for last year’s harvest. That’s 12 months!

This is basically why so many vineyard owners are abandoning their vineyards. The running costs during the year (ploughing, pruning, composting, harvesting, etc) are not even covered by the price of grapes that the co-op is paying. And they don’t even pay that in a reasonable time frame.

It’s a vicious circle too. The co-op pays by kilo of grapes AND by degree of possible alcohol. So of course, the grapegrowers harvest as late as possible, because that way they earn more money. And the co-op proceeds to make wine that has 15%, 16%, 17% and more alcohol, and no doubt mixes and homogenizes and manipulates in all sorts of ways to produce millions of litres of cheap table wine. Competing with thousands of other co-ops who are doing exactly the same thing, all chasing a shrinking market for that type of product.

Small wonder that it’s so easy to find vineyards, either to rent directly or to buy the grapes from!!!

And here’s an anecdote, which illustrates how desperate the situation is. Like I said above, I’ve been visiting Sotillo quite regularly this summer, and word must have got around that I was buying grapes (and at a better price than the co-op and with immediate payment at harvest!), because I was invited to a local wine tasting event, organized by the Town Council. And not just invited to attend, but I was actually invited to give a talk and to sit on a tasting panel to judge the local wines that would be participating! This is totally ridiculous! Firstly, I’m not an experience or qualified taster, and in fact, I probably couldn’t even taste my way out of a paper bag! The only experience I have of tasting is of my own wines, and the occasional tastings I participate in informally! Secondly, it’s not like I’m Mr Delmonte about to decide whether to buy up the whole village’s grape production!!! I’m only buying a couple of thousand kilos from one grower, FCS!!!

So I gave a short little talk to an audience of about 40 old grapegrowers! I told them briefly about what I do with Vinos Ambiz, ie that I grow my own grapes organically with no chemicals, that I buy grapes that have been grown organically from third parties, that I make wine without chemicals, and that I sell it all, either locally in Madrid or abroad. Well, I must have said something right, because after the talk and the tastings, when we were all mingling and chatting and having aperitivos and canapés, two of the grapesgrowers come up to me to ask if I’d be interested in seeing their vineyards and buying their grapes next year!!!

That tasting itself was quite traumatic for me, as I’d never done an ‘official’ tasting before, with scores and notes, etc! I think that I was so nervous that I couldn’t really taste anything properly, and all 14 wines tasted exactly the same to me. They were all local Garnachas, they all had at least 17% or 18% alcohol, and they all had loads of residual sugar, as the fermentations had all stuck!!! They were more like ports or fortified wine rather than ‘regular’ wine. Actually, chatting later with the other tasters on the panel, I discovered that they also thought that all 14 wines were pretty similar!!!

I suspect that what was happening here was that these grapegrowers were selling their grapes to the co-op (harvesting as late as possible, so as to get paid more) but keeping a few hundred kilos back to make wine for themselves and their family and friends!

So there you have it. Sad and tragic. A potential treasure - hundreds of hectares of old-vine Garnacha, and other interesting unknown varieties - all being abandoned and lost.

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