name="description" content="Terroir-expressing natural wine minimum intervention">

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Pruning Update – March 2015

Like I mentioned in a previous post (here), I seem to be on schedule this year as far as the pruning is concerned.

Below are the vineyards that I attend to myself, but apart from the grapes from these vineyards, I also buy in grapes from local grapegrowers (if they agree to abide by certain conditions).

Carabaña Vineyard (Field blend of Airén and Tempranillo; 1 hectare total)

This vineyard is all pruned already:

Airén and Tempranillo vines all prunes in Carabaña

All I have to do now is pile up those canes into bigger piles so that the ‘tractorista’ can come and pulverize them while at the same time cutting back the high grass and flowers and plants and thistles. This will happen in April/May so that he only needs to come once, because by that time of year the growing season for grass and flowers is over, so they won’t grow back.

Most grapegrowers either burn the canes or ‘dispose’ of them by taking them to the municipal dump. But I believe that it is much better to return the vineyard material to the soil.

Another pending item in this vineyard is some manure. I’ve been trying to contact an organic sheep and goat farm up in the mountains near Madrid, to arrange for picking up about 10 t of manure, ... but so far to no avail. Here’s some pics of the last time I did it:

insert photo

And yet another pending item here in Carabaña, is to replant some new vines in the spaces where the original vines have died. There are about 200 such spaces. I’ve already bought 200 pre-grafted baby vines, and they are ready for planting, in April. They are Tempranillo grafted onto American rootstock “Paulsen 1103”. I really should have taken my own cuttings from the vines in the vineyard and grafted them myself (selection massale), but I don’t have the skill. I would need to do a course or work with an experienced grape-grower.

I actually already attempted to plant new vines back in May 2013 (see this post). All went fine but most of the new baby vines died over the summer due to lack of watering! Live and learn. I will have to make sure I water them a few times over the summer this time.

insert photo

Villarejo. Malvar (1 ha)

This vineyard is all pruned too. Here I also have to make big piles of canes for the tractorista.
In this vineyard I like to do a secondary pruning during the summer months, to ensure that no canes, leaves or clusters are in contact with the ground, and that there is a gap at ground level so that the wind and air can circulate freely. Otherwise there is a risk of creating a humid, jungle-like environment under each vine, with the possibility of mildew and oidium.

Malvar vines in Villarejo all pruned 

El Tiemblo I. (Sierra de Gredos). Garnacha – low altitude (0.25 ha)

I am about ¼ done. I hope to finish pruning before the end of March – one more day’s work should do it.
Here I am going to do a rather strange experiment: around this olive tree (see pic below) there are about 7 vines that could climb up it, and I am going to allow them to do so, instead of pruning them normally. I’ve been reading some ancient Roman texts on viticulture recently (Pliny, Columella and others) and I was fascinated to learn that the ancient Romans had 3 systems of grape-growing: 2 just like our modern methods today, ie low bush vines (fr: en gobelet, or sp: en vaso) and trellised along wooden structures or fences (similar to our modern wires); but they also had a third system – training vines up trees!

Garnacha vines in El Tiemblo, about 1/4 prunes

So hopefully I shall be able to harvest (somehow) about 50 kg of tree-borne grapes with which to make some ‘Roman’ wine!  I already have an amphora to make this wine in. But first I have to line it with beeswax. There is a good video on YouTube that I am going to follow, and then I will make my own video when I (attempt to) line my amphora.

El Tiemblo II. (Sierra de Gredos). Garnacha - high altitude (1 ha)

At the time of writing I haven’t started pruning this vineyard. I am leaving this one to the last because it is quite high in the mountains, and there is a slight risk of late frost. So the later I prune, the later it will sprout, which will reduce the risk a bit.

The other day when I was checking the vineyard, I came across two goats!  This is OK at this time of year, because there is nothing to eat; but it would be bad news if the goats could get in after the vines have sprouted, as they could eat those lovely tender and tasty vine shoots!  I will have to check and mend the fence!

Goats in the Garnacha vineyard,
El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos), as yet unpruned

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Natural Wine Tasting in Paris

I’m just back from an absolutely incredibly awesome 2-day tasting event in Paris. It was organized by Thierry Puzelat, who in addition to being a natural wine producer based in the Loire, also imports and distributes foreign wines in France.

Here’s a list of the winemakers who came (here). Anyone who knows their natural wines will recognize some impressive names there, and I felt overwhelmed and honoured to be invited along with them. For me, this invitation to participate in the fair (called “Deguestation”) and have my own table to pour my wines, was the final affirmation that I really do make good wines, which many, many people buy and enjoy. This is of course silly and irrational because I’ve been exporting thousands of bottles for years, and mostly repeat sales too, so ‘intellectually’ and ‘rationally’ I already knew that  my wines were ‘good’. But they say that we humans are fundamentally emotional animals and that we are not really as rational as we like to think we are. Whatever! The fact is that now I really know, deep down and ‘emotionally’ that I’m doing something right.

And France! We all know what the French are like when it comes to wines, don’t we? Yes, they’re a bit like the Italians and Spanish, actually, ie they think that ‘their’ wines are the best, and so it’s very difficult to sell foreign wines in those countries.

And that, is basically what I wanted to say in this post. But here’s a bit about the tasting itself:

It was held in Le Chateaubriand and in the Le Dauphin, two restaurants next door to each other on Avenue Parmentier in the 11ème.

Here I am (left) with two other producers

View from the inside, from my table

We producers were all lucky enough to be invited for lunch and dinner on both days, though at lunch we had to eat on the go, as it were, at our tables, as it was really busy, and couldn’t really close:

with Thierry at my table
I was sharing a table with two Georgian producers, John Wurdeman (from Pheasants Tears winery) and John Okro, an small independent producer:

John Wurdeman at his table
About half the producers were Italians (mostly Northern Italy, Piemonte, Veneto), and half was made up by Slovenians, Greeks, Catalans, and two Spaniards (one proper Spaniard, Goyo García from Ribera de Duero; and an Italo-Scottish Spaniard, from Sierra de Gredos, ha! ha!). Such is Thierry Puzelat’s multi-faceted stable of foreign winemakers.

Here I am at La Cave, next door to Le Chateaubriand, tasting an orange wine from Rome
I met many interesting people over the 2 days. The ‘official’ hours were 11:00 to 18:00, but of course the tasting/drinking/networking continued outside in the street till dinnertime, then over dinner, then after dinner until the wee small hours.

Polenta with lamb, washed down with a full-bodied Georgian!
On the first day I met, incredibly, ___ ___, who used to play scrum-half for the Spanish rugby team back in the 1980’s. What was he doing there? I don’t know, I forgot to ask! We had a great chat about rugby and about the positive values it instils, so unlike football. I also forgot to take a photo of us together.

after hours
Then I met a cook-actor who cooks dishes for clients right in front of them, as if on a stage, with music and dancing included – and he wants my wines! We chatted for a long time about this and that (and life, etc) because he believed that he had to know his producers personally (of food and wine) in order to give his clients 100%.

Then I met many, many chefs, maîtres, sommeliers and waiters and waitresses, who were all more ‘technical’ if you can call it that. They would smell and taste my wines and then sort of stare into space for a while – obviously trying to imagine what they could pair the wine with.

I wish I’d taken more photos and more notes, because I’m sure I’ve already forgotten at least half the people who came to taste. However, I don’t have a single business card left in my pockets, so I must have given them all out!

It only remains to wait and see if any results are forthcoming, in terms of sales. I’m pretty sure they will be. They say that “all things come to they who wait”, but I believe that you also have to throw out little signals (eg attend tastings) otherwise no-one will know of your existence. Also, I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t pay to rush things in the (natural) wine world, not in the vineyard, nor in the bodega, nor when looking for an importer in Japan! (hint hint) :)

I also met, on the first morning before the tasting started, a fellow natural wine-maker, Jordi Llorens, from Montfort in Catalonia. It turned out that we had a lot in common and had lived sort of similar parallel lives which took us both to where we are today, ie practicing organic agriculture, and making natural wine.

Winemaker Jordi Llorens myself

The lock filling up with water 

And lastly, here’s an anecdote that couldn’t be more appropriate to this post. I was sitting behind my table during a quiet period, and I was doing a bit of anti-social media on my mobile (as one does) and did I not see a tweet by @AliceFeiring with a link to an article on natural wines in the Wine Spectator; so I thought ‘how appropriate’, I went to read it, and after reading I tweeted back “There seems to be a disconnect between theory and reality here”. I had to make an effort to be polite and correct here, because otherwise I’d have come across as a raving fanatic – which I’m not!

The article is a complete fantasy by the author who cannot possibly have much experience of natural wines. To me it read like something out of a creative writing workshop, ie good use of the English language, nice turns of phrase, good sound-bites, condescending platitudes in the introduction, inappropriate but alluring analogies later on, in general an excellently written ‘piece’. But unfortunately it has nothing to do with the reality of natural wines. The author, Harvey Steiman, is of course immensely knowledgeable about wine and food in general (he’s been writing for the WS for decades), but as far as natural wines are concerned, I’d respectfully say that he lacks the knowledge and experience to give a balanced and informed opinion.

And of course, as usual, no names were given regarding the faulty wines (of the winery, the wine or the vintage), just the usual generality along the lines of “the natural wine movement has a great tolerance for faults” Is this out of politeness, or is it lack of hard evidence? Even after all those times "sitting round a table wanting to moo at the barnyard aromas wafting ..." ?

Over just two days I must have tasted +100 natural wines at Le Chateaubriand, and:

- not one had Brett
- not one had excessive VA
- not one was like cider
- not one had funk (whatever that is!)

They were all in fact completely fault-free. Is that so amazing?

But c’est la vie! I’ve reached the stage now (in the development and evolution of my attitude) where ‘frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ what the mainstream writers write. But at the same time I think it’s a terrible shame that with such a wide readership, many people will be put off or will become skeptical of natural wines and will not bother to taste any. Again, c’est la vie, I’m not out to evangelize or ‘convert’ anyone to natural wines. Each to their own, and a wine for each occasion.

After all this time (12 years making natural wines; 5 years participating in the wine world) I still don’t understand the attitude of the mainstream wine world (writers and trade) towards natural wines. This article in the WS was just ignorance, but many other articles are aggressive/denigrating/mocking. Why? Is it fear? Fear of losing market share or sales? Ridiculous, IMO, because the best guestimates puts natural wines’ share of the world market at less than 0.01%.  Fear of the public realizing that about 90% of all wines produces are full of additives and subject to industrial manipulations? Again unlikely, IMO, as natural winemakers do not have a marketing lobby or the resources of the budget to do any advertising. Is it just mockery? Just pooh-poohing a passing fad? I don’t think so, because the modern manifestation of natural wines has been going on since the 1970’s.  I really don’t know (or care) but I would be curious to hear of any theories that anyone may have on this question.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

How on earth did I manage to achieve all that?

It's been a long time since my last post, and such a lot has lot has happened; so much in fact that I haven't had any time to write any posts on this blog!

That's probably a good thing though, all things considered, as after all, my 'core activities' (as it were) are growing grapes, making wine, and marketing and selling said wine; not writing a blog.  On the other hand though, one could consider writing this blog as part of my marketing!  I suppose it is, really, even though I like doing it just for its own sake.

There's a lot of information in this blog (especially in the "Pages" above), and I get a lot of good feedback about it from many different sources; so I guess I must be doing something right.

So like I said, I've been busy, busy, busy. But in a good sense, not all stressed out and running around madly constantly doing stuff. Like last year!

So here's a quick summary of what I've managed to achieve recently:

1. The pruning. Incredibly I'm on schedule! Usually, if I remember rightly, I'm always running late, some years really, really late, and other years just late! But this year is perfect, so far (touching wood here!). Carabaña (field blend of Airén and Tempranillo) is done; Villarejo (Malvar) is done; my low altitude Garnacha plot in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos) is just under half done, and my high altitude Garnacha plot (also El Tiemblo) is the last one to be started on, in a few weeks.

My half-pruned low-altitude Garnacha vineyard (El Tiemblo, Sierra de Gredos)
2. Bottling. Again, much better than last year, when I had to bottle up madly during the summer to free up tanks before the harvest. This year, I'm about half done already. I just have to bottle up the Airén 14, Doré 14,  Albillo 14 (from an amphora which will be very time-consuming), the Sauv blanc 14 (ditto), and just 1 more barrica of Garnacha.

Bottling up
3. I started beautifying the patio, and preparing a plot of ground to plant some vegetables in.

My rather messy looking patio at the bodega
4. I bought 200 vines to plant in the empty spaces in my Carabaña vineyard (Tempranillo variety, grafted onto Paulsen 1103 rootstock) which I hope to do in April, depending on the temperature and weather

5. I managed to source and buy 2 kg of organic beeswax, so I can line that new baby amphora that I bought on the spur of the moment a few months ago!

6. I prepared and delivered several nice orders (Thierry Puzelat (France), Restaurante Montía (El Escorial), Restaurante Los Asturianos (Madrid), Le Petit Bistrot (Madrid), CienPorCien Natural (Cádiz), Restaurante Bodeguita de Pilar (El Tiemblo), a CSA type group in the mountain village of Bustarviejo)

Boxes, having been prepared, ready to receive bottles of wine, having been corked and labeled
7. Sent off samples to people who were interested in tasting my wines: Barcelona, Vienna, London, Avila, Grenada, Madrid (being discrete here, no names!)

8. Organized some tastings in my bodega with possible importers/buyers (Australia, Norway, Barcelona) and with other people (not possible buyers) who just came to taste because they wanted to (Japan, Boston, Portugal/Belgium, Madrid) (being discrete again here, no names!)

Doing a bit of tasting in the bodega
9. Did a presentation/tasting of my wines in the Petit Bistrot (Madrid) (see this previous post)

10. Went to a Slow Food / Slow Wine event in Zaragoza, to pour my wines, and managed to find a distributor for Aragón, one Carlos Scholderle, #winelover ambassador to Spain. (This two-day event deserves a whole post to itself!)

My table at the Slow Wine tasting, Zaragoza (Aragón)
11. And am in the process of calmly updating the paperwork/redtape/bureaucracy that has to be done if you want to have a legal wine business. Instead of madly doing it the day before the deadlines!

12. And all the while working at my day-job!

 Not bad, eh?  Another new year's resolution was to write down all the things I manage to achieve, which I've been doing. This makes you feel good about your life! Before, I just had the to-do list, which is of course never-ending, but it seemed that I wasn't achieving anything. In fact I was, but I just didn't realize it!!!

Anyway, I hope that wasn't too boring to read through. But it just goes to show that winemaking is not just about being mystical in the vineyard and getting to taste some really interesting wines at tastings! Though of course I love those occasions too, when they occur! There's lots and lots of rather mundane stuff that has to be done, but which is not really photogenic or interesting to write about!

So I think I'll just post this now, without any further ado, and maybe get round to writing some more specific posts next week (or at least before the end of March!)

PS. Just to say that I'll be off to Paris, France this weekend: see here. It's a tasting organized by Thierry Puzelat of all his 'natural wine' producers that he imports into France.

PPS. And also just to say that on Friday 13th, I'll be presenting my wines at Enoteca Barolo (Madrid). 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.