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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!

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