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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.

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