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Monday, 26 September 2016

Albillo Harvest 2016, Sierra de Gredos

Well, that was quick! I can’t believe it’s over already! After only four days of intense work I now have about 2500 litres of Albillo fermenting away nicely.

Day 1: in vineyard, harvesting from 7:15 (crack of dawn!) till about 15:00. Six of us took in about 2000 kg. Lunch, then crushing. All done by about midnight.

Day 2: in another smaller vineyard, again at 7:15. This time the six of us took in another 1000 kg and we were done by 13:00. Lunch, and all crushed by midnight.

Day 3: pressing off the first harvest, after 2 days maceration

Day 4: pressing off the second harvest, after 2 days maceration

Scroll down for photos.

This year I decided not to do any experiments with the Albillo like I’ve been doing over the past few years. I’ve tried lots of options and variations, like different skin maceration times, fermenting in stainless steel, open top barrels, amphorae/tinajas, etc. So based on the feedback I get from people and on my own personal taste and preference, I’ve decided to make my Albillo like this:

-          - Crush and macerate for 2 days in stainless steel
-          - Press off, and put juice back into stainless steel
-         -  One racking only into a large tinaja, to remove the really gross lees
-         -  Bottle up in spring, after the cold of winter has passed
-         -  Age in bottle for at least 1 year

This was in fact the way I made my Albillo 2014 (from which I’m constantly receiving good feedback, AND it’s one of my personal favourites). So that’s that!


Basically, this year in Gredos there was a very mild dry winter and then it rained a lot in May/June, and then a long hot dry summer. I presume that this affected the ripening of the grapes which was a bit odd; they ripened steadily and normally until about the middle of August when the sugar content was indicating a probable level of alcohol of 13%-13.5%, and then it just stuck there. I’m guessing that the vines shut down their sugar production due to the heat. So eventually I decided to harvest at 13.5% (on 27th Aug) as the grapes were otherwise perfectly ripe, ie golden skin, crunchy pips, stems starting to lignify, some leaves turning brown already, etc.

Well, there you have the meteorological info! I know some winelovers like that sort of data, but I personally find it kind of boring and not even all that relevant. I know that it’s important, but on the other hand, I also know that the interventions of the winemaker are much much MUCH more influential on the final wine. So it leaves me kind of nonplussed when I hear a comment like “yes, the 200X was a very wet/dry year” or some such. Or is this a cold-climate thing? Maybe in the Sierra de Gredos, with its dry continental climate, the yearly weather variations, like the one I just described above, it don’t really make that much difference?

More winemaking info

Sulphites. I haven’t added any sulphites (or any other substance, chemical, additive, nutrient, enzyme, etc) to the must. Why not?
1.              Sanitary reasons. Because there is no need to. I ensure that the grapes are perfectly healthy, ripe and clean; I select in the vineyard and reject unripe, rotten or otherwise undesirable grapes, and don’t take in any leaves, dirt, pebbles, etc (see this page for info on what I do and don't do in the vineyard)
2.              Terroir reasons. Because adding sulphites kills the yeasts and thus removes the complexity provided by all the different varieties of yeasts that are present at this time.
During the first few days, saccharomycescervisae is hardly present at all – the active yeasts are other species, including the ones feared so much by enologists and chemical winemaking engineers! (ie brettamonyces, candida, kloeckera and others). During these first few days, these yeasts provide all sorts of interesting flavours and aromas (including so-called “off-tastes”). But, as the alcohol level increases, these yeasts die off and good old saccharomyces begins to take over, because it’s very tolerant to alcohol. And at the end of the fermentation process it’s 100% dominant. This is what I believe is happening during fermentation. But I could be wrong of course!

Racking. I usually do only one racking to take the wine off the really gross lees, but I prefer to leave the fine lees in there. I believe that this a good thing because:

1.              They contribute to the taste and aroma of the wines
2.              They provide protection for the wines against spoilage over time, which is important as I don’t use chemical preservatives or stabilizers to do that

Filtering, clarifying and fining. I don’t! For the same reasons as above, ie for taste, for protection and for terroir expression. This often results in a cloudy wine which many people don’t like. Oh well, you can’t please all the people all the time, can you? And there’s no accounting for tastes! In any case I’ve found that if you leave the bottle standing vertically for a few days it clarifies itself nicely.
It’s interesting to note that all wines must have been cloudy (or clarified naturally by gravity) ever since winemaking began about 8000 years ago. It was only with the advent of bottling technology and the need to store and to distribute to a mass market, that wines started to get filtered, fined and clarified.
It’s not actually necessarily an intrinsically ‘good thing’ to clarify wine, in terms of quality, taste or terroir expression. It’s done due to the need for the wine to be stable and inert so that it can be transported and stored over long distances and over long periods of time.
Clarified wine is also of course ‘prettier’ to look at than a cloudy wine and so is easy to sell to the mass market. A bit like beautiful, perfectly round, shiny tomatoes (which sadly don’t taste of anything).

Photos and anecdotes

Albillo vineyard in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos). River Alberche in the background

Tree in the shade of which we store the cases of grapes 
Close-up of Albillo grapes
Close-up of me!

Top-down view of Albillo macerating on skins (destemmed)

Albillo juice flowing out of the press

Flamenco moment :)

Albillo juice in full fermentation

Slight overflow of Albillo fermentation foam

All nice and clean again

Rest and relaxation time under pergola structure in the patio of the bodega

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