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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.

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