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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Labelling (mostly) and Planting a Vineyard in Scotland (maybe)

Last month (Feb 2013) I had to prepare several pallets of different wines to ship to New York and to California, as quickly as possible. I thought I could do it in a few days, but it was slow, slow work, as I had to do it all by hand, not being the owner of any automatic (or even semi-automatic) labelling machinery!

(For details of the wines shipping out, see this previous post/page).

The first step is to make the box:
Boxes and separators (2)

Here (above) you can see the actual boxes, all folded up, and behind them, the separators, which have to be placed inside.

Boxes and separators (2)

Boxes ready to go
Here (above) you can see the boxes made up. The procedure is: Pick up box, open it up, turn upside-down, sticky tape along the seam, and another strip perpendicular.

Then, turn box the right way up, insert the separators, and the boxes are ready.

Bottles of wine
The wine was stored like so (above), in the space between the row of barriques and the wall, which luckily just happend to be about 40 cm! Otherwise I don't know where I could have stored them!

Another shot of the stored bottles (below), also in the barrel room, at 18ºC:

Stored bottles
The labels look like this (below). They are peel-off self-adhesive labels

Here’s a close-up (below) of the front and back labels for the Titulciano 2010 coupage:
Front and back label

Bottles in the boxes

Pallet on which to stack the boxes

Quality control at lunch

First layer

My friend Monica came out to help me one day. She’s the export manager for Pago Casa del Blanco, one of the only 13 Pagos in all of Spain (Pagos are at the very top of the Spanish wine quality pyramid - above normal D.O.'s and D.O.Ca's)

Monica sticking labels

Very pretty, but is it art?  :)

Planting a Vineyard in Scotland

What? Are you crazy? Yes, considering the evidence and past history, I suppose I must be! I’ve had this crazy idea in my head for years, but finally this year I managed to do a field trip up north to check out the lie of the land. Mainly, I just wanted to eliminate the possibility of planting a vineyard in Scotland, so I could have one less thing to fret about, but (un)fortunately – depending on which way you look at it – my fretting days are not yet over!

We chose a place, more at less at random, but with a few criteria: close to Glasgow (1 or 2 hrs drive), West Coast (less harsh climate than the east coast!), in a possible micro-climate (clue, near a Botanic Garden, of which there are a surprising amount in Scotland!). So we ended up in town of Inverary.

The first stop was the Oyster bar on Loch Fyne, where they serve fresh local oysters from Loch Fyne :).  The presence of this bar had nothing to do with our choice of destination!

Then on to the Botanic Gardens at Crary, where we observed the presence of all sorts of palm trees and other exotic, tropical plants (well, semi-tropical!).

Then back to Inverary itself for lunch, in the George Hotel, for some traditional fare in the form of a pub-lunch. Beautiful building, brilliant beer, but ‘traditional’ Scottish food, ie deep-fried fish and chips – I’d forgotten that it was possible to put much batter on a fish!!!

Anyway, so am I going to plant a vineyard in Scotland? Well, I would certainly like to try! It depends on my circumstances here in Spain! Physically and geographically and climatologically, I think it’s possible. Not easy, but possible. The only thing that worries me is why no-one else has thought of this already!!! You know what I mean? Every time you think you have an original bright idea, you search on Google, and a gazillion hits come up!!! But (worryingly), I could only find one (1) vineyard already planted in Scotland. Here: link. Sorry, I don't have any photos of the stunningly beautiful scenery, and exotic plants around Inverary :(

Monday, 11 March 2013

Another Geeky Natural Wine Transport Post (and more)

Following close in the wake of two pallets which have already safely landed in New York, another three pallets of natural wine from Vinos Ambiz (and six pallets from Alfredo Maestro) are on their way to the port of Oakland, California. They are aboard the good ship "Bellavia" who just left the port of Sines (Portugal) a few days ago and is right now somewhere in the middle of Atlantic Ocean bearing a precious cargo of natural wines from different producers from Spain, thanks to importer Jose Pastor Selections. She is due to arrive at the Panama Canal on 17th March.

The Good Ship Bellavia
 (© Patrick Lawson,

Oh, we sailed on the good ship Bellavia

Out of Arabia and into Moldavia
Cried the crew “No, no more natural wine!
“Give us back our grog and our brine”
or we’ll sail her and sink her in Moravia.

Check out her progress here:

This is such a cool site! At the click of a mouse you can bring up all sorts of useless interesting information on the progress of my (and others’ ) wines on their way from Europe to America, and which will then be distributed to warehouses and eventually find their way into restaurants and winestores all over the West Coast of the USA. Amazing!

Villarejo Vineyard

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, about 450 km from the nearest coastline, in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula, here’s a photo (below) of the vineyard in Villarejo (where the Malvar grapes are from) that I took the other day. A grey and cloudy day, raining on and off. See the grass just starting to grow, see the really old vines (>100 yrs) with really deep roots, so that the surface grass with tiny short roots doesn’t compete for the scarce water, but instead provides biodiversity for insects and micro-life. :)

A grey day in Villarejo

A grey day in Carabaña too
Pruning season

Have started pruning, and am off to a good start. I've finished half of Carabaña already, and when I finish there, I'll start on Villarejo.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Focus, focus, focus (on natural wine and other things)

I haven’t been able to post as regularly as I would have liked to recently (over the last few months) for a number of reasons:

Basically I’ve been overwhelmed by events and tasks! Not that I’m complaining. Better to be overwhelmed than to be bored and have to watch TV like I hear normal citizens do!

But now, at last, I’ve managed to do some of the essential tasks that I had to do and am attempting to clear my diary of events, tastings, meetings, distractions, etc so that I can focus, focus, focus on ... looking for a slightly bigger bodega/shed/garage/building/castle/ whatever!

My Master Plan for this year (and the coming years) is to slowly but surely increase both the quantity of wine that I make, and also increase the range of different wines that I make. My ultimate goal is to reach that magical point (tipping point, break-even point, threshold, whatever it’s called) of economic feasibility so that I can leave the day-job I currently have to do, and dedicate myself 100% to grape-growing and wine-making. Having covered the backs of many envelopes with numbers over the years (and quite a few paper tablecloths too) it all boils down to increasing my production to about 50,000 bottles. Which may sound like a lot, but which is in fact considered to be ridiculously tiny in the wine world.

The minor challenge is the physical implementation, ie finding the financing, the building, the machinery, the vineyards, the grapes, etc! That's part is easy, and I’m already on track with all that! The major challenge for me, is how to maintain the artisan quality that I have now, both in the vineyards and in the bodega, as I slowly increase my production. For example, the 2 hectares of vines I have now, I can manage personally and I actually tend each individual vine several times a year; but what happens if I have 4 or 5 ha or even 10 ha one day? Will I be able to care for each vine in the same way?

And in the bodega, dealing with 5,000 litres of wine manually is fine, but what happens when I have to deal with 10,000, then 20,000, and eventually 50,000 litres? I reckon I will have to mechanize certain tasks to a certain extent, but I’m going to be very careful with the use of machinery, especially pumps. Ideally, it would be ideal to just use gravity for moving wine around, but not many bodegas/buildings are designed with that purpose in mind. I think that even the smallest of motor-driven pumps move the wine far too fast and aggressively, and I’m sure the wine gets damaged or altered in some way.

The pump I use at the moment is the tiniest I could find on the market. It cost me €17 in a hardware store and it fits onto the bit of a power drill!

Drill pump

But even this tiny pump can move 2,000 litres of liquid per hour!!! That means I could pump my entire production of wine from one tank to another in 2 hours!! Why do I need to do that when I have all year to move my wine slowly and carefully?

So I’m thinking of buying this pump:

Ye olde pumpe

This pump is over 100 years old (manufactured in the town of Alcoy (Valencia) in 1889), and it still works! A few weeks ago we (the current owner and I) performed a functional test, ie we fitted two hoses to the pump, filled a basin with water, and placed an empty basin at the end of a hose, turned the wheel, and lo and behold, did it not pump all the water out of one basin and into the other!

Am I a Luddute? Or a neo-luddite or whatever it’s called these days? Am I anti-technology? NO, I’m not!!! I have two mobiles, a laptop, a car, and I regularly make use of hi-tech items like elevators, airplanes, and am looking forward to using spacecraft, transporter beams, Culture terminals, cryogenic brain storage, etc as soon as they become available! I believe that technology represents a set of tools to be used as appropriately and as usefully as possible; and I don’t believe that we should be in thrall to technology and just use the latest gizmo available, just because it’s available and somehow deemed ‘better’! A bit of forethought never did anyone any harm, and everyone’s needs and circumstances are different, so why not, in my case, resort to 18th century technology instead of 20th century technology?

Another advantage that this machine has over its more modern counterparts is that its quiet, ie it doesn’t make any noise at all, except for a gentle, soothing whirring sound as the drive-wheels spin. I’ve always hated the horrendous noise made by electric pumps, even the tiny power-drill-driven one I’ve been using. Apart from making me angry and upset, who’s to say that those sound waves don’t affect the wine? Sound waves are used to shatter kidney stones, aren’t they?

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