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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Visits, Tastings, Wine Fairs and Other Jollys

Life as a small-time artisan winemaker is not all hard work and suffering. I hope I haven’t been giving that impression in all my posts here in this blog, and in all the stuff I post on FB and Twitter. It is of course hard going sometimes, and I do ask myself why I bother sometimes, but I suppose it’s compensated for by the good times, which I’m going to write about in this post!

Firstly I have to say that I enjoy meeting interesting and knowledgeable people in the wine world, and I believe that there are a lot of them about, and that I would meet even more if I got out and about more! But then maybe that’s why I enjoy the few occasions per year that I do get out and about. Maybe if I did it more I would get bored and blasé about it all! Who knows?

On the other hand I’ve never met any of those fabled wine-bores or wine-snobs. Do they really exist? Or are they just a sort of stereotyped urban-legend Jungian persona?

Anyway, getting to the point of this post, here’s Jolly #1:

H2O Vegetal, a natural wine fair held in the village of Pinell de Brai (Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain) back in July 2014.

This was a natural wine fair, which means that all the wines poured there were made with as little intervention as possible both in the vineyard and in the winery. In the vineyard, this means growing grapes with respect for the soil, water, environment, flora and fauna around the vineyard, via organic or biodynamic viticulture, or permaculture or any other system, or just simply not using pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other chemicals which poison and kill life and soil and which endangers the health of workers and consumers, and degrades the fertility of the land due to the use of unsustainable practices and products.

In the winery it means not adding substances and chemicals to the must or wine in order to be able to produce industrial quantities of an alcoholic liquid known as ‘wine’ but which bears little resemblance to real, authentic, genuine, natural, terroir-expressing wine.

The above sounds pretty radical and I get a lot of aggro from many people in the wine world who think that I’m some sort of Taliban nutcase. But really, if you take a few minutes to think about it, all it boils down to, is making wine the way it’s been made for the last 8,000 years or so. Except for the last 150 years, since the industrial revolution, which is when wine started to get commoditized and produced industrially, just like many other food products. Like bread, for example.

Ever since a critical mass of people started living in cities and lost contact with direct production of their own food, the quality of the food produced for them by ‘industry’ has been much worse than the food they used to produce themselves locally. This process (the ‘industrial revolution’) started in England at the end of the 18th century and spread rapidly to the rest of Europe and the Americas (and Japan) during the 19th century.
One of the first cases of adulteration of food was in England in the 1790's when industrial bakers and distributors started adding alum and other ‘ingredients’ to the bread which they supplied to the mass market in London, to make it look whiter and to last longer in the supply chain. Its nutritional value was also greatly reduced as they promoted white bread (after removing the healthy nutritional germ and bran) because in that way they could store it for longer and transport it over greater distances.

The same sort of thing is happening with wine these days. One thing is ‘commodity’, ‘supermarket’ ‘industrial’ wine (about 90% of all the wine produced in the world) which is just an industrial product, churned out in factories run by process engineers and chemists and flavourologists and marketing managers. They make perfectly legal products most of the time except for when a minority of them get too greedy for profits and break the rules. In fact most of the time the product is perfectly drinkable and even delicious, because those flavourologists have been to university and they know exactly what chemicals to use to stimulate the taste buds on human tongues.

But as I was saying (before I got carried away there!), I was on my way to this natural wine jolly, where I was fully expecting to have a great time, to meet other like-minded producers, to drink lots of interesting terror-expressing wine from all over (not the world in this case) but just France, Italy and Catalonia!

So, on the morning of the 4th July I set off for El Pinell de Brai, a distance of 487 km from Madrid, according to Google Maps. My first stop was for a hearty breakfast at the local bar in my barrio, about 350 m from my house:

My favourite breakfast, and map

Mmmmm, this is my favourite breakfast:  coffee (café con leche) with toast + olive oil + tomato.

Note the printout, efficiently printed out the day before :)

Then it was a long boring drive for 300 km along the A-2 Barcelona highway. I reckon one highway is pretty much the same as any other highway anywhere in the world, so I’ll just skip over that bit!

Then at Zaragoza, turn right for another 200 km of secondary roads which were much more interesting.

This is the Monegros in Aragon:

This surely must have been an old Roman road, as they were notorious for building long straight roads. I swear this stretch was at least 30 km long without once crossing a village or anything else!

So I arrived in the evening at about 6 o’clock and of course the first thing one does when one arrives at a wine fair, is to ... have a beer!

It’s very important to do this as you have to calibrate your palate before all that wine tasting that you’re going to be doing over the next few days. In fact, it’s important to do it often, because if you are not a professional taster then you palate becomes uncalibrated very easily!

Below is a snapshot taken sometime during the next day, with Dutch importer Jan Borms and Spanish underwater wine producer Tom ???(surname?). I have to confess that I inveigled my way in to their tasting as Tom’s wines sell for over €50/bottle and so it was going to be the only way I’d ever get to taste it! :) That’s his ceramic bottle on the table – next to my own humble glass bottle :).

The spirit of the fair was just my cup of tea, as it were. Not a single corporate suit ‘n’ tie nor miniskirt ‘n’ high heels in sight. The ‘wine business’ was not here! Just small producers whose only ambition is to make honest, clean, unadulterated terroir-expressing wine, and importers and distributors who like to work with that kind of wine, and most important of all, normal people who love to drink that kind of wine.

I poured loads of wines and met lots of interesting people and tasted loads of interesting wines. What more can one ask for? Well, actually, despite having such a great time I even managed to sell some wine!!!! Firstly to the UK, via importer Tom Craven, who is just starting out, and who is a great guy and I believe he’ll promote my wines really well even though he can only order small quantities at the moment. And also to France, no less, via natural wine producer and distributor Thierry Puzelat, who came to taste through my wines and ordered a few hundred bottles of my Garnacha 2013 (from Sotillo, Sierra de Gredos). Coals to Newcastle, and Grenache to France, what? :) Also, more locally, I hope to be selling to Bar Brutal in Barcelona, and to distributors Cuvée 3000. We shall see!

So that was that. On Sunday 6th July I had to drive back to Madrid, and it was awful. I was extremely tired as I had only slept a few hours the previous two nights, and I had to keep stopping for caffeine and naps :(

Anyway, it was well worth the effort :)

Jolly #2 – Visit by Japanese Photographer

I was honoured to be called a few weeks ago by Keiko Kato and Maika Masuko asking if they could come and visit and take photos of me with my amphoras.

Maika’s webpage is here.

Here are some photos that I took of them!


And here's one Maika took of me:

It was a flying visit as they had a tight schedule. They were travelling all over Spain, interviewing and photographing winemakers who use amphorae (or ‘tinajas’ in Spanish), with a view to writing a book. So we met in the afternoon (they had another appointment in the morning) and went to see one of my vineyards near El Tiemblo. Then we went to the bodega to do a tasting.

Communication was difficult at first as we had no lingua franca that we were all comfortable in. I could do English, Italian and Spanish, and they could do Japanese and French. I could also do a bit of schoolboy French and they could do a bit of schoolgirl Italian and Spanish, so in the end we used a mish-mash of those three languages!

We tasted through quite a lot of my wines, and they could fair knock them back! They were just back from Georgia, so we moved on to Georgian too: ‘Gaumarjos’ which is ‘Cheers’ in Georgian . Yes, communication gradually became more fluid.

So we did a photo shoot with my amphorae and I answered questions about wine.

After dinner, in a lovely restaurant in El Tiemblo which I discovered by chance that very day, as the usual place I take visitors to was closed (La Bodeguita de Pilar), we went our separate ways.

We exchanged presents, I gave them a few bottles of my natural tinaja wines and they gave me a lovely book “Georgian Wine” which they had done the photography for. Here’s a picture of it that I took myself, because I can’t find any reference to it in the internet:

Jolly #3 - The Peñín Tasting

On Thursday 16th October last, I skived off my day job at the office (translating) and went to the annual Peñín tasting, which this year was held at the Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. This is actually one of the most important tastings in all of Spain, and anyone who is anyone has a table there. I like it because it's the only way I ever get to taste Vega Sicilia and the like for free! But the main reason I like is that I can meet up with people that I never get to see as much as I would like, and we can talk and gossip and plan etc :)

On the other hand, it was a pretty poor show compared with other tasting that I've been to, in terms of size and numbers (not that I go to many) For example, wine fairs like RAW and REAL in London are easily bigger, more crowded, and have more wines available for tasting! and they're both 'minority' 'niche' market type fairs for natural wines. I can only assume that this reflects Spaniards' general inability to add value to and market and sell their own products.

So I did that, and in the evening did I not have another tasting to go to!  It never rains but pours. This time it was a tasting of the wines of Juan Carlos Sancha. He is based in Rioja and is working on recovering grape varieties that are in danger of extinction and/or being consigned to viticultural institutes, as opposed to being used to make wine! So we tasted wine made from 'Maturana', 'Monastel' and 'Tempranillo Blanco'. It tasting was delivered by Alejandro Gomez, who at the moment is responsible for the commercial distribution of Juan Carlos' wines, but whose passion clearly lies in the vineyards and in the winery, as opposed to in his car and in buyers' offices. I give him another year or so before we welcome a new winemaker to the world of wine :)

And that was that. Enough. Publish and be damned!

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