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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Wrap-up Post for the Year 2013

(This is going to be my last post of the year - unless something really interesting happens between now and the 31st, that is)

Well, what can I say that is not too boring? I think maybe a quick summary of all the different wines I've made this year would be acceptable, followed by some humour :)

Or maybe I should subject you all to my Great Thoughts on the "State of the Wine World" or some such enlightened topic. Nah, maybe I'll spare you for the time being and do that next year! In the meantime you can just browse though my assorted comments and thoughts and ramblings on the 11 different whites and 5 different reds that I managed to make this year: That should be quite bearable :)

New wines of 2013:

Panoramic view of all my wines


1. Airén 2013. From Carabaña, fermented in clay amphora

This is the wine I've been making for the longest time. Since 2003 in fact, though no bottles exist from that time as far as I know. The oldest bottle I have is from 2006. I really regret not keeping a few cases back from those days. But who could have known then that it would have been an interesting thing to do at that time? Such is life!

Anyway, at the time of writing this post (mid-December 2013), this wine is coming along really, really well, I'm glad to say (as I touch wood). It's got body, it's got complexity, and it's got its terroir. Sí, señor! This is normal and par for the course for this wine, but it's really quite extraordinary for an Airén from central Spain. Those of you who know me and who read my posts know that I'm not one to blow my own trumpet (or beat my own drum, as they say in Spain!), but after 10 years of positive feedback, I really have no qualms about saying how good this wine is! Even if I say so myself!  All the other 100% varietal Airén wines I've tasted are all wishy-washy insipid affairs that don't have anything to say. (Except for Samuel Cano's 'Patio' Airén, that is. From La Mancha.)

This year's Airén (2013) is slightly different from all my previous vintages, in that the harvest was really late. About 20-25 days late in general. In particular, I harvested this Airén from Carabaña on the 19th October. And that meant that it didn't have time to finish fermenting before the temperatures dropped too low for the yeast to work. I think!  When I taste it, I'm pretty sure there's some residual sugar in there, so I think the wine will continue to ferment in spring (2014) when the temperature rises again. This is a bit of a bore in one way, because I usually release this wine before Christmas. Apart from being good for my cash-flow (!) it's also a really fun and enjoyable experience to drink this year's wine in the depths of deepest darkest winter. It sort of brings light to life.

So, this year, I'm not releasing it 'officially' or promoting it or actively selling it yet, as it were, but if anyone asks or orders it from me on their own initiative, then I'll ship it.

2. Airén 2013. From Morata de Tajuña. Amphora

This is from a vineyard only about 10 km down the road from my own vineyard in Carabaña. I bought the grapes from a young grape-grower who cultivates them organically.

I made this wine in exactly the same way as I made the one above, from Carabaña, ie:

Grapes crushed manually (using a manual crusher), then pressed manually (using a basket press), and then I pumped the juice into these two large clay amphoras. And that's it! Nothing else! I didn't add anything, I didn't take anything out, and I didn't subject the grapes or must to any other processing whatsoever. C'est fini!  All I have to do now is wait for gravity and the cold of winter to do what they have to do, and then bottle up in January or February or March. Maybe it'll be slightly, naturally sparkling? Who knows? I hope so.

3. Albillo 2013. from El Tiemblo. Stainless Steel

The Albillo grapes came from a vineyard a few kilometers from the bodega in El Tiemblo, overlooking the reservoir known as El Charco del Cura. See this post. They were picked by the owner, Vicente (86) and his family, while I drove the van between the vineyard and bodega with the boxes.

This was my first time making Albillo, but it's not going to be the last! I'm really impressed with this grape, though I shouldn't have been surprise because I'd tasted a few Albillos from the area before (by Daniel Ramos, Alfredo Maestro, and others). This is an awesome grape variety that should be way up there with all the other famous and well-known grape varieties. I reckon this is yet another case of Spain (or Spaniards) not knowing how to market and sell their products. Which are of course just as good as the French and Italian equivalents. But hey, what can I do? I'm not an NGO, nor am I independently wealthy, so I can't go promoting Spanish quality products in general! What I CAN do is promote my OWN quality products, which is what I'm doing. It's a bit of a bore having to work with this negative perception that the world has of Spain and of Spanish products, but... this is where I live and work, so let's just get on with it, no?

4. Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Amphora

This is another first for me. I've never made a wine with Sauvignon Blanc before, but there's always a first time for everything, no?  So, just up the road from El Tiemblo, in Cebreros there's a 'finca' (an estate) that produces very good quality olives, honey, vegetables, and ... grapes. I had the opportunity to buy some of those grapes, and I did.

Two days soaking on the skins, then crushed, pressed and pumped into a clay amphora, and into a stainless steel tank. Just like the Airén, nothing added, nothing taken out, no unnecessary processing.

At the time of witing this post (mid-December) it's tasting very nicely. No cat-piss at all, though I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing! For tasting notes and considered opinions on these wines see Nacho Bueno's blog here (in Spanish) and also Mar Galvan's tasting notes here (pending).

5. Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Stainless Steel

Same as above.

6. Chelva 2013 (A). Stainless Steel

Now, this is by far the most interesting experiment I did this year. And I'm definitely going to be doing more of it next year. I did three experiments, but two of them were failures in the sense that the wines were not very pleaseant or interesting to drink or enjoy. But they were of course extremely useful to me, as a winemaker. The third experiment is quite drinkable and interesting, though I'm not going to 'release' it for sale. I will of course sell it and ship it to anyone who orders it. See here for some tasting notes and opinions that are not mine!

Personally, I quite like it, and if no-one else wants it I'll just use it as my own personal table-wine for the year!

7. Chelva 2013 (B). Stainless Steel

Horrible. Crap. Don't even try it it, unless you're a wine geek. It has lots of academic, vinous interest, but it's not the type of wine that you can sip and enjoy while flirting or just having a normal conversation, or while having lunch! It's even more extreme that the above Chelva (A). But don't get me wrong, it has no faults or defects, and is perfectly drinkable, it's just that it's rather ... unusual, or maybe 'green' is the word, I'm not sure what the descriptors are. Basically, IMO, this is because the grapes were picked earlier than the Chelva (B). See about half-way down this post.

Chelva (C). Stainless Steel. This third Chelva experiment, I'm not even going to dignify with an experiment number!

8. Malvar 2013 (A). Amphora

9. Malvar 2013 (B). Amphora

10. Malvar 2013 (C). Amphora

Malvar, Malvar and Malvar

These three white, skin-contact ('orange') wines should have been all the same, because they're made with the same grapes, from the same vineyard (Malvar from Villarejo), harvested on the same day, and processed in exactly the same way - grapes destemmed and crushed manually and everything (must, skins, pips) poured into three different clay amphorae. The only difference is in the size and shape of the amphorae. And maybe the composition of the clay? Or the linings?  Whatever. The fact is that the three wines taste slightly different. I don't know yet whether to keep them and sell them separately, or to blend them all together. Time and tastings will tell.

In any case, I'm not going to release them for at least a year. I believe that 'orange' wines improve over time and age well (at least mine do!). I still have a few hundred bottles from 2012, and they are tasting really well. The complexity and intensity of the aromas and tastes are amazing.

Now the reds:

I think I'll write about the reds some other time, because at this rate I won't have this post finished till next year! Just to say that I have these 4 reds this year:

11. Tempranillo (Carabaña). 
12. Tempranillo (El Tiemblo). 
13. Garnacha (Sotillo)
14. Garnacha (El Tiemblo)

So Merry Christmas, everybody.  For the holidays in general I recommend you drink the wine you like, and will enjoy, and try not to pay too much attention to all these recommendations that ar in our faces everywhere :)

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Wee Anecdote En Primeur

I was at the Le Petit Bistrot the other week for the Beaujolais Nouveau night:

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé
By the way, as I've mentioned several times in the past already, Le Petit Bistrot is the ONLY bar in all of Madrid that sells exclusively natural wines (ie, wines that do not contain added ingredients, like colourants, thickening agents, sulfites, additives, preservatives, etc), a fact that never ceases to amaze and embarrass me as Madrid is the capital city of one of the biggest wine-producing countries in the world. But my primary reason for going, apart from quaffing some nice Beaujolais, was to meet a distributor who was interested in carrying my wines. So what better place to meet than Madrid's only natural winebar!

By the other way, apart from the 2013, there were also some wines by the same producer from previous years. Not carbonic maceration, but 'normal' fermentation:

More Beaujolais, but not nouveau
 And here's a pic of Carlos, the owner of the bistrot, who is French, despite the Spanish name:

Le Owneur de le Petit Bistrot
I thought that the name producer of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine in question was "Justine Titegoutte", (because that's what it says on the front label!) but it turns out that this is just French humour. Check out the Wikipedia article (here) or other sites of your choice. The idea is to fit a name before the surname 'Titegoutte' and make a play on words, or double-entendre. For example, the case in point: Justine Titegoutte doubles as "Juste un 'tite goute" (ie  'Just a wee drop") geddit?  I thought we British were the only ones to do that kind of terrible punning :)  

So, I didn't take a photo of the back-label cos I thought at the time that Justine Titegoutte really was the name of the producer! You'll have to contact Carlos at the 'titebistrot if you want to know!

Anyway, here's the lineup of my whites of 2013 that I brought along for this distributor to taste:

Airén 2013       Chelva 2013       Malvar 2013       Albillo 2013       Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Each one a slightly different shade of yellow-orange. The only one that really is an 'orange' wine, ie white-grape extended skin contact, is the Malvar; the others are normal whites with no skin contact, believe it or not!

They are all of course extremely young, the grapes having been harvested and processed in August (for the Albillo) and at different dates during September for the rest. So they haven't really settled and clarified themselves yet.

As you can see, I don't have proper labels yet, but I should have some soon. An artist, Jane Frere, from Inverness (Scotland) is working on them, and the artwork should be finished by new year.

Those are not all the white wines that I made this year, but I thought it would be excessive if I brought too many!  I really went over the top this year I think, because I actually have all these:  (11 different white wines from 2013)

Two (2) Airén (one from Carabaña, one from Morata de Tajuña)
Three (3) Chelva (all from El Tiemblo, but two different vineyards)
Three (3) Malvar (all from the same vineyard in Villarejo, but in three different amphorae, and so they all taste different! Go figure!)
Only one (1) Albillo (from El Tiemblo)
Two (2) Sauvignon Blanc (from the same vineyard in Cebreros, but one lot in clay amphora and one in stainless steel)

Assorted containers full of 17 different wines!

Well, I won't bore you all with the tasting notes, and I'll just say that the distributor liked them a lot and actually placed an order for some of them! So, I was very pleased indeed!  This is the time of year when we small artisan producers have to start promoting and selling our wines, as the harvesting and fermenting is finished, and there are no urgent tasks to do till after new year, when one can start thinking about pruning! So, good news! 

The interesting  (weird, even) thing about this meeting/tasting was that "this distributor" insisted on total discretion and confidentiality!!! ie, I'm not allowed to tell anyone his name or what wines he bought or how many of them. I'm still kind of puzzled at this. Also, he offered to buy "en primeur", ie he's going to pay me now and take the wines whenever I decide to release them, the only condition being that the price he pays now has to be less than the price I set when I release them. I don't know what to think any more!  The only occasions  when I've heard of this 'en primeur' business has been in relation to scandals and marketing media-circuses in Bordeaux and in Burgundy etc. And now it turns out that I'm doing it too! On a much much smaller scale obviously :)  But, dammit, now I'm going to have to start thinking seriously about all this!!!

PS. The reds that I made this year are another story, which I'll save for another post!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Two Days of Pouring Wine in the Italian Consulate (Madrid)

Well, that's not how I usually spend my weekends, but a change is as good as a rest they say, and I needed a rest! I haven't actually had time to stop and rest or think, since June: for three months - June, July and August - I was cleaning, scraping, painting and generally preparing my new winery in El Tiemblo (see several previous posts staring from this one) and then in September and October, it was non-stop harvesting and processing of grapes (see all these previous posts starting from this one)

So now that the harvesting and the intense part of the grape/must/wine/processing is done, we small artisan winemakers have to turn our minds to actually promoting and selling the wines that we've produced!

So, enter the 'Mercatino di Natale'. This is an annual market organized by the S.I.B. (Società Italiana di Beneficienza), a non-profit organization that does charity work here in Spain. Italian producers living and working in Madrid are invited to sell their products and to donate 30% of the takings to the SIB.

The event was held in the Italian Consulate, a beautiful 19th century palace in the centre of Madrid:

Italian Consulate in Madrid(photo from
It's right next to the Italian Primary and Secondary Public School, also quite an impressive building, which it used to be a pharmaceuticals factory (Instituto Farmacologico Latino, S.A.) that manufactured condoms, among other things, until it went bankrupt back in the 1970's.

Check out these 2 photos (then and now!):

Then. This must be from the 70's or 80's, judging from the cars and the sign over the gates
(Photo from

Now. Not much has changed
(Photo from

Anyway, I thought this would be a great opportunity to sell lots of wine, so I signed up.

Here I am at my table with my wines and leaflets:

Here's a view from my table towards the grand staircase:

This is the ground floor where all the producers of food products were located. Including Negrini, an importer (into Spain) of quality Italian products, Fior d'Italia, a producer of fresh pastas, sauces and ready-to-eat dishes, based here in Madrid, and Quadra Panis, a producer of fresh bread, among others.

And here's the view from the grand staircase - my table is hidden away at the very back on the left.

And here's my tri-lingual "I´ll be back" sign, specially had-crafted for this event :)

I'll Be Back
I'll Be Back

This is the first floor, where all the fashion producers were (clothes and jewellery and accessories, etc):

The 'fashion' floor
So, did I sell a lot of wine? Nope! Only 22 bottles over three days!!! (2 on Friday evening, 8 on Saturday, and 12 on Sunday)  Why? Well here's some theories:

1. My basic, minimalist, natural, homely style of presentation (of the table, leaflets, biz cards, labels, bottles, etc) doesn't make a good impression on Italians, who perhaps pay more attention and give greater importance to 'presentation' than other nationalities. Instead of conveying positive things (like 'artisan', 'homemade', 'quality', 'not mass-produced or industrial') it conveys negative qualities (like 'shoddy', 'unprofessional', 'lacking in resources', etc)  I dunno, just ruminating here.

2. Maybe wine was not a good product to sell at this event.

3. Location, location, location! Maybe being stuck in a corner didn't help!

But on the other hand, I did meet a lot of interesting people and made some interesting contacts. The highlight of the weekend for me was when the Italian Ambassador in Spain and his wife came to taste my wines! No kidding!  It was like this. I was wandering around upstairs (having placed my "I'll be back" sign on my table), when I spotted my friend Fernanda, who works for the SIB and who was one of the main organizers of the event. I know her quite well as we have coffee every morning in Non Solo Caffé, so I just walked up and butted into her conversation with a "Hi, how's it going?" at which point she introduced me to the Italian Ambassador. I managed to keep calm and not stutter or dribble in the presence of such an important personage and we had a brief chat during which I invited him to come down and taste some wine, if he had time, and then I made my excuses and left them to carry on with their conversation. Well, I wasn't expecting him to really come - you know what these diplomats are like - very diplomatic among other things! - but he did!!! Later that afternoon he appeared all of a sudden with his wife and they tasted through all three of the wines I had brought, all the while chatting about wine, and where we were from in Italy, and being foreigners in Spain, etc, and he said he'd come out to my bodega in El Tiemblo one day. Then he was spotted by one of his staff who came up, whispered in his ear and took him off somewhere else.

So that's the second ambassador I've met in my life. The other one was the Spanish ambassador to Lithuania. Don't ask!

And lastly, here's a pic of my daughter (8) and her pals at her table, hawking their wares (necklaces, bracelets, etc). They spent all day Saturday there (from 10:00 till 21:00), and not only did they have a great time, but they managed to raise over €50 all of which they donated to charity (about the same amount that I raised over three days!).

Friday, 15 November 2013

With my Favourite Importer Again

A few weeks ago my favourite importer came to visit and to taste my wines. I'm of course talking about José Pastor, of JosePastorSelections, who is in fact my only importer! And he imports my wines to the USA. It was him who 'discovered' me back in 2010, see this post! Until then I'd been making wine for about 7 years in splendid isolation, as it were. I had no contact with anyone and didn't even know that there was such a thing as 'the wine world', let alone such a thing as 'natural wine' and I cared even less. I'd started writing this blog about a year before in 2009, but I don't think many people read it. Not many people read it now either, about 50 pageviews/day. Well, at least José read it, as that was how he found me. From that moment on I was doomed! Because I then started thinking about wine and getting aspirations! For 7 years I'd been making wine as a sort of hobby, mostly for my own consumption and also selling some to friends and contacts in the organic vegetable co-op that I was a member of (and still am). About 2000 bottles max. I suppose I was happy and innocent - I had my day job (I still do!), I grew grapes and made wine at weekends, and I didn't worry about a thing. :)

But then I got hooked. Via the internet, via blogs, via Twitter and FaceBook and all the other social media stuff. Then I started going to wine fairs, and to winebars, and to wine shops, and hanging out with wine people, both physically and virtually. No looking back! Now I'm poised to start a viable wine business. Poised. Not actually starting a viable wine biz yet, but at least poised and with some chance of success if I take the plunge!

Life is short, we all know that. Apart from being too short to drink bad wine, it's also too short to spend all of it in an office doing useless, meaningless tasks all day every day, which is a great incentive to give up the day job and go for it. But then again, on the other hand, I like to think that I'm not a complete idiot, and I have to remind myself that I have two small children that I have to educate and feed, and that I'm not a carefree student anymore, but instead have great responsibilities to avoid deal with. Yes. So basically, that's why it's taken my 10 years to get where I am today in the wine world, ie not a very meteoric or impressive trajectory. But, I'm happy with it, and happy with the direction I'm going in, and happy with the speed I'm going at. Wine, like food, should be slow, I say.

What's all this got to do with my importer? Well, nothing really. It's just that spending a whole day with him set me thinking about the past and about the future. The thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction I think, is the fact that I'm making/producing a quality product that is really appreciated by a lot of people, some of them very knowledgeable. And making a product that is not only delicious and tasty and enjoyable, etc, but made in a natural, organic, ecological way that doesn't impact on the environment and on people's health. All the rest is icing on the cake. So if I could make more wine, and more types of wines, not only could I give up the day job, but I could be contributing more to making the world healthier and less polluted. And so go my thoughts, .. round and round and round!

In the morning we visited some high altitude vineyards in the Sierra de Gredos mountains. We saw 7 tiny plots planted to Garnacha, tended by fellow winemaker Alfredo Maestro, from which he makes a beautiful wine called El Marciano. I was so happy to be there with Alfredo and Richard and José, I don't know why. I was so happy that it made me sad and want to cry! I was just existing in the present and enjoying the moment. I had no worries or pressures or expectations or anything that morning.

Then we went for a beer in a bar in Navarredondilla, which is a tiny village high up in the Gredos mountains. All the houses were made of stone, and were integrated with the boulders and outcrops of rock that stuck out all over. I think it's the only village in Spain that I've seen that didn't have a housing development next to it, created during the construction boom bubble. We were sitting outside at a table in the street, and must have been lunchtime because the owner of the bar came out with a second tray of beers, said they were on the house, locked the door of the bar, and left us to it!

Then we went for lunch to El Rondón restaurant, in Cebreros, a village a bit lower down in the Gredos mountains, and there we met Daniel Ramos and Rubén Diaz, also winemakers. So four winemakers, times about 3 or 4 wines each, equals 15 wines which we tasted before and during lunch. Too many wines for me! I obviously haven't been practicing enough, because after about 8 or 10 wines, they all start to taste the same to me :(

Then it was time to head back to Madrid, and another reality!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Harvest Report 2013 (Part 2): Yay, Everything is Falling into Place

Following on from my previous (rather pessimistic) harvest report, here is my second more optimistic one:

Well, in the end, everything seems to be working out just fine, though not exactly according to plan, and it's been chaotic, hard work, and extremely satisfying and fun.

But before I start on the nitty-gritty of the harvest itself, I would really like to comment on the following. I've just read a post on Tony Coturri's blog (here) in which he reflects on

" ...the the mindlessness of monoculture. Grapes in trucks, day and night, running here and there. Where’s the rest of the crops? ...   ...  Where’s the organics and biodynamics in all this? Where’s the thoughtfulness in all this? Should there not be trucks of apples, walnuts, pears, peaches, tomatoes, grains, corn and vegetables flying along the roads? ..."

Well, where I am, in central Spain (Sierra de Gredos), it's similar, but different from California, where he's based. In fact, it may well be worse here!  What I've been seeing here is disaster, poverty, generalized depression and economic recession. Vineyards being abandoned or uprooted. I think rural Spain in general, and rural Spain based on grape-growing and wine-making in particular is suffering from a double economic whammy; one is the generalized economic and political crisis here in Spain, which is not showing any signs of ending, and the other is of the specific wine sector which apart from the above is also suffering from its lack of ability to adapt to changing markets and social wine-buying habits. The co-ops and large volume producers are in a hole but they're still digging! They don't seem to realize that the days of producing millions of liters of cheap table wine are gone, in the past, never to return again. Once, a few decades ago, it was a good thriving business to be in, but not any more. This is why so many co-ops have gone bankrupt (and why I've been able to rent such a magnificent building to make my own wine in!). So the result is that these co-ops and volume producers are no longer able to absorb all the grapes produced in the region, because they can't sell so much cheap table wine, especially competing with new world table wines, which are often cheaper and of better quality!! And so they pay less and less, and later and later, for the grapes, forcing many grape-growers to abandon or uproot their vineyards; often ancient vines over 100 years old. A tragedy, imho.

But it seems to be even worse than that. I say that because it's not a mono-culture in Gredos, like Tony Coturri says it's like in California. I see all sorts of orchards and fields and other crops, like olives, tomatoes, figs, prickly pears, even pine-nut bearing pinetrees. But it all seems to be under-utilized or even abandoned altogether. Many vineyards that I've visited actually have olive and fig trees growing in amongst the vines, but the fruit is left to fall and rot. One owner told me that he gives the figs to a neighbour for his pigs! The opportunity do something here is huge, not only with the grapes and wine (which I fully intend to do) but also with other products. The terroir (or potential terroir, I should say) is just tremendous.

Back to the nitty-gritty of my harvest report

This was my favourite day so far, from last Saturday 12th October.

On the day before, I was up before the crack of dawn, and by 8:00 in the morning (dawn) I was in the Malvar vineyard (in Villarejo) with two pickers, a van and 100 small, stackable crates. We picked all day, with a short break for lunch, and by sunset we were done, though we didn't have time to finish; 6 rows of 40 vines were left, as I miscalculated the quantity of grapes, and really needed another picker. So, on the Saturday 12th, again I was up at the crack of dawn to start processing the Malvar. I decided to make 'orange' style with all of it, so I destemmed and crushed it all, and poured it into three amphorae ('tinajas') and one open-top barrel. This also sounds quite straight-forward and easy, but it really is quite hard work - you have to manually lift, move, and tip over a hundred cases of grapes (15-20 kg each) for hours on end...!
Anyway, at last the end was in sight, and the last case of grapes was processed just in time for lunch (it was about 15:30). We all went round to Casa Mariano, which is in fact right next to the bodega, and our patios are separated by a wall! I'd just downed a beer and some aperitivos/taps, and the 1st course had just arrived when my phone rang, and it was a lorry driver who was parked just outside the bodega! My amphoras had arrived!  Great timing!  So I took a final quaff of beer and one more steamed mussel, threw my napkin on the chair and said "I'll be back!".

And there was in fact a lorry loaded with four amphorae waiting there. This was a bit of a surprise for me, and is quite typical of the way things work here in Spain I've found. For a few weeks ago, the possibility of buying these amphorae came up and I said that I 'would' be interested in general, if the price were right, if they were in good condition, and if the transport were included, etc, and that was the last I heard about it.

Lorry loaded with 'tinajas' (amphorae)

Unloading one of the big amphorae

Me, posing and pretending to hold up an extremely heavy amphora!!!

I don't know if buying these amphorae was a wise decision or not. Due to their size, they are going to be difficult to work with and to clean. We shall see.

Two big and two little tinajas
In the photo above you can see the two big ones alongside the little ones to the right, which are already full of crushed Malvar destined to become 'orange' wine if all goes well.

Anyway I did get back to the restaurant after about three hours. Everyone was already on the coffee and post-prandial liqueurs (orujo), but the staff had kindly kept my 'merluza con patatas', and they reheated it for me, so at least I got to eat something!

'Fixing' the bung-hole
The photo above is actually from more recently but I think it fits in nicely here. After pumping in some water to check the leaktightness of the cork which I inserted and banged in hard with a piece of wood, I could see that in fact it leaked! Over the years, the edges of the bung-hole had eroded or chipped away and the cork didn't make a perfect seal, and there was a slight but steady drip, drip drip clearly visible. What to do? I had no idea how to repair a degraded seal on an old amphora!!!

The following anecdote is amazing! The man you see in the photo (setting fire to my amphora!) is Antonio, and he's a local grape-grower. That day he was delivering some Tempranillo, and I mentioned my problem to him. He thought for a few seconds and said "Let me just call my Dad  - he'll know what to do".  It turns out that his Dad, now over 80 years old and retired, used to work as the 'bodeguero' (cellar manager) for the very bodega that I'm now renting!!!!

After chatting to his Dad for a few minutes he said "OK, no problem, I'll just nip home to pick up some 'tea'". What?  Well it turns out that 'tea' (pronounced Tay-Ah) is a special piece of resinous wood that gives off loads of smoke when burnt. I still don't understand how it worked, but after burning a piece of 'tea' under the cork, it stopped leaking! Anyone know anything about this?

Apart from all that ...

Not all days are so interesting, obviously, and in fact most of them were just getting up early, harvesting or processing grapes all day, and going to bed late;  with nothing interesting whatsoever to write about!!!

This is what I've managed to process so far (either dry, or still fermenting, or awaiting further processing):

- Albillo, from El Tiemblo
- Tempranillo, from Carabaña
- Chelva (A and B), from El Tiemblo
- Garnacha, from Sotillo
- Sauvignon Blanc, from Cebreros
- Malvar, from Villarejo
- Garnacha, from El Tiemblo

Still pending are two harvests: my own Airén from Carabaña, and a plot of some quite organic Tempranillo from El Tiemblo.

In the end, I'm happy with the results of the year so far. Even though all the grapes are not yet harvested, I think I'll have made about 10,000 bottles of wine by the time it's all over. I hope.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Harvest Report 2013: Dammit, Everything is Going Wrong this Year!

Well, not everything, but it's hard to be objective when all sorts of sh** happens every day!

I really shouldn't complain, because, despite everything, I've managed to find an awesomely beautiful and spacious bodega (winery) which has infinite possibilities, and which only requires a bit of time, thinking, and planning to make a go of. In the meantime, though, short term, many things are going pear-shaped, and my wine plans (such as they are) seem to be changing every other day. I've made a big effort this year to be rigorous and systematic, and to actually write things down on paper, but I wonder why I bother, as every day brings an new 'event', phone call, circumstance or whatever, that radically changes all my previous plans.

My awesomely beautiful and spacious bodega!
 Anyway, whatever. Here's my latest status, as of today:

Grapes in, wines made, wines being made:

1. Albillo. This year, I made my first ever lot of Albillo. Seeing I've just moved into my new bodega in El Tiemblo, in the Gredos mountain range, I just had to make some Albillo. It seems that this is a variety that is in danger of extinction, as only a few winemakers use it. The problem is that it's also used as a table grape, and is very expensive and difficult to find. I was only able to find a small lot of about 400 kg at the last minute (see this previous post of mine). The wine I made is now practically dry, or perhaps still fermenting very slowly, as I can get a slight whiff of CO2 when I stick my nose into the tank. I don't know what it's going to be like, but I think it will be OK and will only get better after the cold of winter. The fermentation was fast and hot, as I wasn't able to keep it cool, due to 'circumstances'. Next year I will definitely do at least two different experiments. Live and learn. And enjoy!

2. Tempranillo from Carabaña. I harvested it a few weeks ago, last Sunday 22 September. Lovely bunches, totally healthy, not a single symptom of mildew or anything else. I was well pleased. I destemmed and crushed the bunches by hand, and the wine is still fermenting slowly on its skins. The last reading I took a few days ago showed a density of 1020, so almost finished. I've been punching the cap down once a day (and sometimes no times at all). That's not a lot by present day standards, but I don't really want to extract it to death. Nice and easy does it :)  I think I'll press it off over the next few days, before the weekend, maybe. There's only enough to make one barrica (225 liters, or 300 bottles) of Crianza.

3. Chelva. This is a local white variety that grows mostly in Extremadura, but which is found around El Tiemblo too. It's a variety that is looked down upon and frowned upon. It's used for table grapes and has a very negative cultural and vinous reputation. But hey, so does Airén, and I've managed to make a pretty mean and interesting Airén over the past 10 years, which sells very well and generates positive feedback for me, so who's to say I can't do the same with Chelva? There's only one way to find out, isn't there? So I'm doing several different experimental lots this year:

- Chelva Experiment #1. Carbonic Maceration. On Wed 18th September I sealed up a 300 liter tank with selected whole bunches of Chelva. It's still sealed as I write today. Soon, I'll check it out and decide what to do.

- Chelva Experiment #2. Frutteto style. Acting on the good advice of fellow winemaker Daniel Ramos (with whom I'm sharing the new bodega), I laid out about 500 kg of bunches upstairs on the 1st floor of the bodega, in order to dry them out a bit and increase the sugar concentration. They lay there for about two weeks and the other day I also crushed and pressed them, and they had indeed increased in sugar concentration. The reading I got showed 12.5% of probable alcohol; which seems rather a big increase, so I'm suspecting that one of the two reading may have been a bit off.

- Chelva Experiment #3. Crushed and left soaking on the skins, 'orange wine' style. That's about two weeks skin-contact time. This could well be one of the experiments that go wrong. The sugar content was very low and hence the probable alcohol level - only about 10.5%. This could well be lost to acetic acid. I did in fact have a close shave, as the other day when I opened the lid to check the cap, I got a huge whiff of vinegar. To be expected I suppose, with no added SO2, and such low level of alcohol. But all was not lost, it was only in the cap, as the wine I tasted from the tap at the bottom of the tank was OK. So I separated the cap, threw it out, and pressed the rest of rest of the skins.

After all that, I decided to blend the 'frutteto' and the 'carbonic maceration'). The regular vinegary lot, I doused with metabisulfite (about 40 mg/l), and sealed the tank hermetically. I don't know what will happen, maybe it'll turn to vinegar after all, or maybe it will survive. I'll check it every couple of days. Maybe I`ll blend it in turn with the other already blended lot of Chelva.

I was going to do more experiments with Chelva but I won't be able to now. This is because the grapegrower I bought the grapes from is completely unreliable and I couldn't get him to harvest on the dates I wanted.  For some reason or another he unilaterally decided to harvest one day (19th September) and appeared at the door of the winery with almost 1000 kg of grapes. Now if I had been a hard-nosed business-first type of person I would have told him to get lost and sell his grapes to someone else, and that I didn't want grapes with a probable alcohol level of 10.5%; but I don't know why, I took his grapes!

Actually, I'm even more pissed off with that grower because there was another 1000 kg left in the vineyard, which I intended to harvest this weekend, but which now I can't, because he's gone back on his word and he's decided to use it to make some wine himself!  What a disaster! Basically I end up with 1000 kg of grapes that I didn't want, and I don't get the 1000 kg of the grapes I did want!

All I can say is that I won't be buying any grapes off him next year. In fact, I'm even more pissed off, if possible, because I turned down another local Chelva grower who offered to sell me his grapes! Grrrrrrr.

4. Garnacha from Sotillo de la Adrada. Last week, Sat 28th and Sun 29th September, I harvested three different plots of Garnacha. It was hairy. The weather here in Spain that weekend was weird. They were calling for rain, but not too much. To harvest or not to harvest? In the end I decided to harvest, because 2 of the plots were ripe and had to be harvested, and if we got wet, well, we got wet! In the end we were very lucky, because we only got rained on a little on Saturday morning, and not at all after that. So I took in about 2000 kg, all of which I've decided to ferment whole-bunch carbonic maceration. And there they lie, fermenting carbonically, as I write.

Harvests Pending

1. My own Airén, in Carabaña. I checked it out the other day and it's showing just over 11% probable alcohol, which is not a lot really, cansidering the time of year. I'm going to leave it for another week to see how it goes. It was lloking really good, totally healthy, no signs of any rot or mildew or anything. Touch wood!

2. My own Malvar, in Villarejo. It was showing 12% probable le alcohol, so I'm going to leave it for another 10 days / two weeks too. In contrast to the Airén, the Malvar was rather uneven. There were lots of vines that had ripe or ripening bunches and at the same time bunches with tiny immature berries. Very irregular.

3. Tempranillo, El Tiemblo. A nice plot of organic Tempranillo (officially uncertified but grown by a trustworthy grower), which was at a probable 13% last week, but still unripe.

4. Garnacha, from El Tiemblo. Also uncertified organic. Only showing 12% last week, so probably another 2 weeks to go.

5. Maybe an extra surprise that I'm not expecting? I wouldn't be surprised :)

Apart from all that

Now apart from all the above unknowns, I also have other complications or "challenges" to deal with over the next few days or weeks.

Firstly, adding up all the kilos of grapes that will be coming in, I don't currently have enough storage capacity to process them all! This is incredible and/or ironic, but true, as I'm installed in bodega with a theoretical capcity of 1.2 million liters of wine, in the form of concrete tanks (of 16,000 liters each). The problem is that I can't really use them, as I don't have enough grapes/wine to fill even one of them, and it's very risky to only partially use a tank (especially a concrete one). Because of the oxygen contact and possible contamination from the walls of the unused part. So basically I have to buy a few thousand liters of capacity in the form of bins, containers, tanks, whatever. And my only practical option is plastic, because of the price. I would prefer stainless steel, or clay pots, but the cost would be prohibitive for me. I'm almost tempted to do a crowd-sourcing thing, to finance the purchase of say, 4 or 5 1000 liter stainless steel tanks or clay amphorae, but I just couldn't deal with that now. Maybe next year.

Secondly, I don't own a van, so I either have to borrow one from a friend, or rent one. Or not, depending on whether the grapes are ripe or not!

Thirdly, I don't own any cases for harvesting the grapes! I've always borrowed them. This is ridiculous really, and I ought to just go and buy some; there're not even that expensive! So it depends on whether my friends/acquainances are using their cases or not.

- Fourthly, labour!  Whether to hire a few professionals for the day, or to invite friends and family? That is the question.

So, all things considered...

Writing a post like this is very therapeutic for me, because it actually really does put things into perspective. It's very easy, in the middle of the harvesting season, to lose sight of the bigger picture, and small insignificant details can take on utterly ridiculous proportions and make you lose the plot and/or obsess about trivialities! I think it's important to maintain your grace under pressure. It doesn't matter if it all doesn't go 100% according to plan. Like someone once said "No plan ever survives contact with the enemy". And anyway, it's not like this is making war, it's just making wine! Though it is a bit like being a general, or a film director at times, because you are the person who's ultimately responsible for everything, and you're surrounded by people (be they friends/family, be thsy hired help) who are constantly looking to you for decisions, orders and answers to their questions. If you happen to be a general or a film director and you do this kind of thing every day, then I suppose it's easy, but if you only do it once a year, then it's hard to keep on the straight and narrow, to keep that grace under pressure.

Also, I think wine is a slow business, and I don't want to over-expand too fast. I'd rather go slowly and keep the same level of quality that I've been keeping over the years, than throw it all overboard in a year. I think this will be a good year for me, no matter what happens with the rest of the harvests. I have an awesome bodega in the middle of an undiscovered, traditional, wine-producing, terroir-rich, mountain range! It's all up to me to make the most of it now. Who cares if if I got a hair in my soup, or got 1000 kg of Chelva that I didn't really need?

Monday, 9 September 2013

Surprise Harvest and Other Vinous Anecdotes

Albillo Harvest

In the end I am going to make some wine with Albillo. I had given up hope of finding any Albillo grapes this year, as there's not much of it planted, and what there is, is already allocated. I was biding my time, as it were, and hoping that during the course of the year, I'd make some contacts and so be able to buy some next year. But by happy chance I was able to buy about 600 kg.

Here are some pics of the vineyard where it's from, about less than a mile from El Tiemblo, where my new bodega is located. (BTW, I've just updated the Wikipedia article!)

The reservoir known as El Charco del Cura

Looking south from the vineyard to El Tiemblo
Nice vineyard. And rocky!

My intention is to make a simple wine to be drunk young, and I'm not going to put it in oak, which is what my fellow winemakers from the Gredos region tend to do with their Albillo wines. Maybe I'll try that next year, assuming I can get hold of more Albillo!

Albillo grapes harvested in the vineyard; in small stackable crates

The same Albillo grapes in the bodega...

...being weighed on an ancient weighing machine

After crushing the grapes with a small motorized crusher, borrowed from fellow winemaker Rubén Diaz Alonso, who makes wine up the road in Cebreros, I let them macerate for 48 hours in the big tub directly under the crusher. I kept the grapes cool, by inserting 6 or 7 bottles of ice.

Rubén's motorized crusher
Then I pressed the grapes off and put the must into a 500 liter stainless steel tank.

Using two manual basket presses at once
Close-up of the must running out

Albillo must

But I filled it up too much. What on earth was I thinking about?  I've been making wine for 11 years now and I 'know' that you only fill tanks up to a certain level for fermentation. This was the result two days later:

Overflowing tank of fermenting must

So after cleaning up the mess, I took some of the must out, about 50 liters or so to reduce the level of the liquid in the tank, but the next day it overflowed again!!! Only a little this time, and no actual liquid came out - just a bit of foam.

Nice and clean, but still too much liquid and foam!

This is what happens with short, hot fermentations. I didn't want to keep it cool. Maybe next year. We shall see.

Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard, Visit to Ruben, Forest Fires

The other day I went with Daniel Ramos to see a man about buying some Sauvignon Blanc grapes from a lovely vineyard about 15 minutes drive from El Tiemblo.

Sauvignon Blanc vineyard

Unripe Sauvignon Blanc grapes

More unripe Sauvignon Blanc grapes - about 2 or 3 weeks to go!

On the way there we drove past an area that had been burnt in a forest fire a few weeks ago. Not a pretty sight. I think this summer has been quite bad for fires in Spain in general, because it was a long wet winter and spring and so a lot of grass grew, which subsequently dried out.

Scorched earth, blackened stones, damp ash: there was a fire here once. Our testament (An appropriate haiku by Andrew Jefford)

We also popped in to see Rubén and give him back his crusher.

A basket press, ... with some extra bits!!!

Interlude in Italy

Before all of the above, I was in Italy, relaxing before the storm!  I usually just hang out in the old part of Barga, especially at the Enoteca Colordivino, where have a glass of wine or two and post the pics on FB or Twitter, and I don't generally go any further afield. But this year I managed a trip 10 km down the road to visit Macea, an organic winery in Borgo a Mozzano.  They also make olive oil and have holiday apartments for rent.

They have lots of old vines of tradtional local varieties like Ciliegiolo, Malvasia Nera, Montanina, Bracciola, Tannet, Barghigiana, Malvasia Bianca, Colombana, Trebbiano; and also some newer vines that they planted themselves in 1999: Sangiovese, Sirah, Pinot Nero and Pinot Grigio.

Macea's vines. Trellised, as the climate is very rainy

Is that a slatey soil?

The winery and house, some bits from the XV century!

The barrel room

In the fermentation room

Now I'm back in Spain, and I'm waiting for the storm to break. The grape harvest is about 20 days late here in Spain; I expect to start harvesting and buying in grapes in about 10 days or so, ie around the 20th September. But who knows? :)

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