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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Hi-ho, hi-ho, to Fenavin I go

In a few weeks there's a big wine fair here in Spain, called Fenavin , which I believe is the biggest, most serious, and most commercial wine fair held in Spain, and it'll be full of men dressed in suits!

Fenavin Wine Fair
(photo by El Crisol de Ciudad Real)

"What's that got to do with me or with Vinos Ambiz?" I hear you ask, and in fact I'm asking myself the same thing!!!  Well it's too late to back out now (and I've already paid up!) so I'll be going - on Tue 7th, Wed 8th and Thurs 9th May, in Ciudad Real (La Mancha, Spain).

This is the result of a bright idea over lunch one day last year, when a bunch of winemakers decided what
a cool idea it would be to gatecrash a mainstream, commercial winefair!! So one thing led to another and
here we are!  The name of the group we've registered under is "Caballo de Troya" which means Trojan Horse.

There are now 14 of us and we've taken a big empty space where we will offer our wines, each on our own
barrel or table. We've decided to be minimalist, so we haven't hired a stand or anything. This has the advantage of keeping our costs down, and maybe the importers tasting our wines will be able to focus better on them, without being distracted by fancy decorations and hostesses in short skirts! We didn't even want to put down carpet and just use the raw concrete floor, but the organizers informed us that we weren't allowed to do that!

Alfredo Maestro (Bodegas Maestro Tejero) Ribera de Duero
Charlotte Allen (Almaroja) Zamora
Fabio Bartolomei (Vinos Ambiz) Madrid and Gredos
Friedrich Schatz (Bodega Schatz) Ronda
José Miguel Márquez (Marenas) Cordoba
Juan Pascual (Viña Enebro) Murcia
Julian R. Villanueva (Esencia Rural) Toledo
Manuel and Lorenzo Valenzuela (Barranco Oscuro) Granada
Miguel J. Márquez (Dagon) Valencia
Nicolás Marcos (Dominio del Urogallo) Asturias
Rafa López (Sexto Elemento) Valencia
Ramón Saavedra (Cauzón) Granada
Samuel Cano (Patio) CuencaTodd Blomberg (Benito Santos) Galicia

You can find us here:

Pavilion: NOE
Street: 5
Stand: 11

Now I have even more tasks to do! ... bottling up different wines, sticking on labels, printing out info sheets, printing out business cards, looking for somewhere to stay for 2 nights, etc, etc, ...

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Pruning, Planting, Bottling, Looking for a Bodega, Tastings, ...


Well, it's pruning season again this year, and I'm running late again. There's just so much to do, apart from pruning, and apart from holding down a day-job and seeing my wife and kids every now and then!

Carabaña vineyard, half pruned
The ideal period for pruning, in my opinion, is between when the leaves fall off the vines (in December, more or less) and when the sap starts to flow (in spring more or less). This is because if you prune before the sap stops flowing or after it starts flowing, then you're removing valuable nutrients and strength from the vine. Some of my neighbouring grapegrowers start really early, before the leaves have fallen off, and some even do a pre-pruning at the same time as the harvest!!! Surely not good for the vines in the long term?

Unpruned vine

In Carabaña and in Villarejo the sap has started flowing. It's called the "lloro" in Spanish, which means 'weeping'. I've finished pruning in Carabaña, but I've only just started in Villarejo and it will take me another week to finish there. Oh well, at least I'm not running so late as last year, when the vines had actually started sprouting little leaves. In early May!!!


At last, after 10 years of talking about it and thinking about it, but not actually doing anything about it, I'm going to plant new vines in the empty spaces in the Carabaña vineyard. There are about 200 of them. I've done a bit of research and asked around already, and it seems that one of the most important things to consider is the choice of rootstock. Apart from the usual criteria, like climate, resistance to certain diseases, etc, in this case it's important to bear in mind that the new vines are going to be planted in an existing vineyard, as opposed to a totally new vineyard. So the rootstock has to be extra vigorous so as to be able to survive and thrive against the competition of their neighbouring old vines, which already have a deep and extensive root system.

If you look carefully at this above photo, you can see a few of these spaces.

I still haven't decided what variety to graft onto the rootstock. I could just go for Tempranillo or Airén, which are already in the vineyard, or go for an 'interesting' but unknown and uncommercial local variety, like Malvar or Torrontés (a Madrid variety, not to be confused with the Argentinean Torrontés or the Gallician Torrontés).

BTW, there's a local saying which goes: "Torrontés, ni la comas ni la des, que para buen vino es!", and which translates as something like: Torrontés, don't eat it or give it away, it's for making good wine, yay!

Then, apart from the empty spaces, there are also the vines which have run wild, ie the rootstock itself has sprouted and the grafted variety has died. Here I have the choice of uprooting the whole vine and planting a new one, or cutting it back and grafting a variety onto the existing rootstock. There are about 50 of these wild vines. And there are also about 50 old vines which have died but which are still in the ground. These have to be uprooted and new ones planted.

But one thing at a time! This year I'm just going to plant in the empty spaces and leave the wild vines and dead vines for another year!


At the same time as the pruning, I've also been bottling up. On days when it's been raining too much to be able to go prune. I don't usually do this, but just bottle up from the tanks as orders come in all through the year. Which is convenient in the short term, but there comes a time, before the harvest, when I have to free up all the tanks, and so have to bottle everything that's left all at once. So this should gain me some extra time and peace of mind during harvest preparation time in August!

Yours truly bottling up some Malvar
Lo-tech gravity-driven bottling line
Looking for a Bodega

What a nightmare! What a country to try and do business in! Here we are in the middle of the longest deepest economic recession since the Great Depression of 1930, and there are hundreds of empty buildings, and even actual wineries, for rent everywhere. But is it simple, easy and straight-forward to rent one and start a wine business? No way, José! You'd think that local authorities would be interested in helping, or at least not hindering, small business startups, but unfortunately, it's not the case. The amount of red-tape and bureaucratic obstacles is just ridiculous. I'm not talking about sensible and valid requirements, like safe electrical installations, water connections, fire extinguishers, ventilation, etc, which is perfectly fine. I'm talking about other requirements like having to present an official project description, which you can't just type up yourself, but have to pay an 'expert' to do. And funnily enough it's usually the municipal architect/planning officers who say that as it happens they themselves can do those reports AND sign them off quickly and that'll be €2000 please, thank you very much! And other 'obstacles' which just magically disappear when money is passed! Oh well, mustn't complain! I will find a way!


Thank goodness for tastings! Where would we be, and what would life be like without tastings? I hate to think! Anyway, I remember at least two tastings that I was at recently! The first was a tasting of some of my own new wines from 2012: a white (Airén), a red (Garnacha) and an 'orange' (Malvar). It was at Le Petit Bistrot, a bar/restaurant in Madrid, where they exclusively serve natural wines. The only natural winebar in Madrid - incredible but true. How can a country that produces 50 gazillion liters of wine every year only have one natural winebar in its capital city? Don't all shout out at once! Anyway, the tasting was a small, informal affair, with about 15 people, and I chatted and tasted with them all and answered their questions. I didn't have to give a speech or presentation in the end, though I'd prepared one!

The other tasting was even more informal, as it was just a bunch of friends who decided to get together one evening and do a blind Garnacha tasting just for fun, and see if we could guess where the Garnacha came from. We did it in the Vinoteca Pelayo in the Chueca district of Madrid. In the end we were not very successful at all in guessing the regions, even though some of the people there were experienced tasters, and in the wine trade!

A Bottle of Garnacha!


I also did another two mini-tastings with two Spanish journalists/bloggers in the space of 4 days from each other. Just like the number 27 bus, which never comes and then two come along at once! The first was Joan Gómez Pallarés, who apart from being a food/wine blogger, is a professor of Classical Literature at Barcelona university. He is currently on a month's leave and is touring round Spain, tasting regional foods and wines, and blogging about them, and he included me in his itinerary. He's already written a wonderful post (in Spanish) on his blog about his visit.

The next visit was from Mar Galván, who is a writer and professional wine-taster. She has her own blog here for her poetry and writings, and she also writes wine-related articles for Verema, which is the biggest Spanish language online wine site. A few days after her visit to me, she was participating in the final round of El Nariz de Oro ("The Golden Nose") blind tasting competition.

Mar Galván in the Villarejo Vineyard

Panoramic view of the Villarejo vineyard, taken by Mar

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