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Thursday 16 December 2010

Gothic Underground Tasting

Following hot on the heels of our Technical Tank Tasting two weeks ago, last Monday 13th December we organized another tasting - along completely different lines.

It was held in the basements (dungeons) of the former State Tabacco Factory in Madrid. And therein lies a tale! This emblymatic building was abandoned in the 1990's when the Spanish state tobacco monopoly was privatized, and there it lay for over a decade.

Then last year (2009) it was squatted ('okupado') and is now used by over 50 different collectives to carry out their activites. The majority are focused on art and culture (photography, film, theatre, drawing, painting, etc) but they also do things like skateboarding, computer programming, gardening, there's a kindergarten, a library, a café-bar and restaurant, and more.

And what's all this got to do with Vinos Ambiz? Well, apart from all the above activites, it's also the place where about 10 different 'Organic Produce Consumption Groups' meet. These are groups of poeple who get together in order to buy directly from different producers of all types of organic products: bread, cereals, legumes, fresh fruit and veg, milk, eggs, meat, cheese, yogurt, you name it, and of course, wine! I'm a member of one myself (BAH) and I've been delivering wine to them for years, so there was no question, really, of where to do our main tasting this year.

The place is enormous and there are literally hundreds of rooms and open spaces available for activites, but even so I had to book the space for the tasting weeks ago; I was actually a bit worried that things would get out of control, due to the numbers of people in there at any given time, but everything turned out fine; maybe it was because it was a Monday, or because we were in the basement, along a long passageway and around a corner. Any way, about 40 people turned up, which was perfect for the amount of wine and number of wineglasses we brought!

It was joint tasting with two producers: ourselves (Vinos Ambiz) and Bodegas Pincelada, ie the same Juan from Morata de Tajuña, who is letting us share his winery this year.

Wines tasted:

Vinos Ambiz:
  • young white Airén 2010
  • unoaked Garnacha 2009 (these are the only two wines we have available right now which are ready for drinking)
  • young white Airén (with a touch of Moscatel)
  • young red Tempranillo (with a touch of Airén)
  • the star of the show, a Crianza 2006 (100% Tempranillo)

The tasting was scheduled to start at 20:00, but the first guest only turned up at 20:30 (and Juan himself at 20:15); but that was OK because there was a conference happening in the room which I'd booked and they didn't vacate it till 20:30 anyway! The conference was on biodynamic agriculture and some of the participants stayed on for the tasting, even though my wines aren't biodynamic.

Still working on a natural winemaker pose!

So people kept on arriving in dribs and drabs, so I opened a bottle of Airén and we did a pre-tasting (strictly for quality control purposes only of course!) while we were standing around chatting and smoking and waiting.
At about 21:15 a critical mass of people had arrived so I stood on a chair, rang two empty wine-bottles together and called the meeting to order! I managed to speak uninterrupted to a silent and listening audience for about 5-10 minutes. There were even a few questions which I answered and which everyone could hear.

The first wine (our 100% Airén 2010) was rather cloudy in appearance, and there was a question about that. I explained that we don't filter our wines because we believe that filtering removes 'good' tasty and aromatic things, and that simply decanting the wine wine once from one tank to another is enough to get rid of any possible 'bad' things that might spoil the wine. There was also a question about why it was fizzy and tasted like champagne or cider! I answered that I thought it was because there was still some residual sugar in the wine which hadn't fermented into alcohol yet and was actually fermenting in the bottle as we spoke!

Someone also asked why the wine had such a long finish or after-taste (for a white wine), and I didn't really know what to answer there. I was too shy and/or modest and/or nervous up on that chair to say that it was because we make such awesome wine and know how to extract all the aromas and flavours and express the variety and the terroir perfectly :)
Then came the second wine - Juan's 2010 Airén+Touch of Moscatel. But I lost my audience! In the time it took to pour the second wine for 40 people, they had broken up into little groups, and were all talking among themselves. If you can't beat them, join them! So that's just what I did. I circulated and chatted to lots of people and answered questions and topped up glasses. The two young reds got hopelessly mixed up, but we did manage to keep the Crianza 2006 for the last.
There was one experienced taster present in the audience, who was taking written notes, and I recommended that he post them to the Adegga wine site.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Technical Tank Tasting

Last Friday 4th December we organized an informal tasting of all our 2010 wines with a bunch of wine-lovers, including some experienced tasters, again at La Cave du Petit.

    pending: photo 1 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

The purpose was partly social, ie to spend a pleasant evening talking about and drinking wine in good company; the purpose was also partly technical, in that I was hoping to get some feedback on the wines in general and specifically on which wines would be suitable for oaking and which best drunk unoaked, and also opinions on any possible interesting blends of varieties.

So a few days before I bottled one bottle of each wine straight from the tanks.

   pending: photo 2 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

Also, to make things more interesting, I made a special label for each bottle with a number on it, and was only going to reveal the variety at the end of the tasting. I thought it would be more fun that way and make everyone think more while they were tasting!

Here's what we tasted:

1. Airén. Normal fermentation; our 'flagship' wine that we've been making every year since we started 8 years ago

2. Airén. Carbonic maceration; an experiment

3. Airén. On skins; an experiment (orange wine)

4. Tempranillo; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

5. Tempranillo; our own; our other 'flagship' wine that we've been making for 6 years

6. Graciano; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

7. Shiraz; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

8. Petit Verdot; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

9. Garnacha; grapes bought in from organic neighbour

Why so many grapes bought in? Several reasons: firstly, we were bored making only Tempranillo and Airén year after year, and we wanted to experiment and try new varieties. Life is short! One thing leads to another! So we may or may not do buy in grapes again next year. We are feeling our way forward. We need to expand our production while maintaining quality, and buying in grapes was a way that we wanted to try. We've also taken on a second vineyard this year which we'll be managing ourselves, which is another way. We'll try anything once!

   pending: photo 3 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

   pending: photo 4 (have misfiled photos of tasting)

Conclusions? Feedback? Well, things didn't quite work out the way I'd visualized them playing out. I'd imagined that we'd all taste the first wine, then that each person would comment one at a time, and that I'd have time to write it down; then onto the second wine, etc. Then I'd summarize my notes and post a beautiful tasting note post. How naive! And me living in Spain for 15 years! What happened of course was that everyone started talking at once, split off into little groups of 2 or 3, wandered off to talk on their cell-phone, to change the music, to go to the toilet, to get something to eat, etc; then we tasted the bottles out of order and started making blends in our own little groups, and generally being chaotic, and having 3 conversations at once across the room! Basically, we had small party as opposed to a tasting, and of course a great time was had by all!

    pending: photo 5 (have misfiles photos of tasting)

The minimum, lowest-comon-denominator feedback I've been able to synthesize after 3 hours of partying and tasting (with no written notes whatsoever) was this:

Whites: Airéns (1) and (2) can be drunk now, but Airén (3) needs more time. Some liked Airén (1) because it's slightly pétillant, and is very fruity in the nose and mouth, and with a surprisingly long finish. Others didn't like it because they thought it lacking in acidity and that it had too much residual sugar.

Reds: None are ready to be drunk now. The one closest to being ready and which most people though would be good drunk young and unoaked was the Tempranillo (4). The only other consensus with a majority was that the Garnacha (9) would also be fine unoaked as it was the most distinctive.

So, now what? Well, nothing, for the time being! We're just going to let all the wines sit there over the winter, to settle and to evolve, and in February or March we'll have another tasting party and maybe decide what to do after that!

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Who or what ate my grapes?

Our sparkling wine experiment has suffered a setback.

Look, no grapes!

The aim of this joint experiment, in collaboration with Alfredo Maestro, was to make a few hundred bottles of sparkling wine, using our white Airén grapes. We (Vinos Ambiz) would provide the grapes/wine and Alfredo would provide the special facilities needed for sparkling wine (cooling equipment, racks for placing bottles upside-down, etc) and the knowledge of how to actually make the stuff!

The idea was to set aside some of our normal Airén wine (which we've done) (see #1 below) and then ALSO do a late harvest and ferment a second lot of wine separately. This wine would have a higher alcohol content and would also contain residual sugar which is needed for the 2nd in-bottle fermentation that takes place in sparkling wines.

Look, more no grapes!

Well, as you can see from the photos, there's no grapes!!! We suspect that they were eaten by little animals (rabbits, birds) and/or insects. It hasn't really rained a lot in Madrid since the harvest, except for a few heavy downpours, and night-time temperatures have reached around -8ºC; but the rain and the cold wouldn't have affected the grapes that much anyway. It must have been the animals.

Look, still no grapes!

But all is not lost, and we still have options open. The main thing for me now is to carry on and actually produce some sparkling wine somehow or other and to learn for the experience - after all, that's the reason we're doing all these experiments! And I've been looking forward to doing this since last June when the idea first came up, so I'm not giving up now!!!

Basically we need a source of sugar for the 2nd in-bottle fermentation. And these are the possibilities that have ocurred to me so far (in order of preference):

1. Grapes from our own vineyard (Not possible now)
2. Organic grapes from a neighbour (difficuclt, if not impossible)
3. Conventional grapes from a neighbour (almost impossible)
4. Organic grape juice or must (?)
5. Conventional grape juice or must (?)
6. Bog-standard chaptalization like they do in France (?)

I don't really like any of them. But I don't know; maybe there are other options that I don't even know about (yet). Maybe we don't even need residual sugar at all and can do without? I dunno! I'll have to read up a bit on the subject, and not let poor Alfredo do all the brain-work, as he's done up to now!

In any case, next year (because we'll definitiely be trying again next year) we'll have to think about it more carefully and have some kind of contingency plans in place.

Look, yet more no grapes!
Note #1: Our 'normal' Airén, which we've been making now for 8 years has turned out really good this year. (We organized an informal tank tasting last Frinday (post coming soon) and it went down really well!) We're presenting it and releasing it at a Tasting Event that we've organized for Monday 13th December at 20:00, in Madrid (CSO La Tabacalera, Glorieta de Embajadores, 1). See Event on FaceBook: Natural and Organic Wine Tasting

Thursday 25 November 2010

Status of Experiments (Report Nº 3)

1. Airén (Carbonic Maceration)

No news is good news. Aromas are good (fruity and intense) and taste is good too. No off-tastes. We may rack it off its lees and release it for Christmas, along with the Normal Airén. (BTW, the we've decided not to clarify the Normal Airén this year, as the clarifier (egg-white) removes good flavours and aromas along with the particles in suspensión that are supposed not good. I think a little bit of extra cloudiness is a good price to pay for extra aromas and flavour. Agree, disagree?

From left to right:
Airén (Carbonic Maceration); Tempranillo; Airén (Normal)

2. Airén on its skins

Again, no news is good news. Aromas and tastes are good. I've been advised by a few people (including Gottfried Lemprecht, who makes this kind of wine) to leave this wine alone for a long time. I guess I'll do that, and keep tasting it regularly to see how it evolves.

However, I'll have to fix the tap because it leaks!

Leaky tap

3. Shiraz

This is only an experiment in the sense that it's the first time we've made a Shiraz wine. We've oaked 1 barrel (225 l or 300 bottles) and the rest is staying in the stainless steel tank.

Shiraz in Tank

Shiraz In Oak

4. Petit Verdot

This lot of P.V. seems to be normal more or less, but we suspect something is up!!! Even though it's finished fermenting (apparantly, as the density is 996!) the aroma is still like what you get at the beginning of fermentation, ie compost, gassy, not very fruity. The taste is rather sweet, which suggests ther's some residual sugar in there. I dunno! At least there's nothing seriously serious happening! I'll have to get an experienced taster in to check it out. Any theories, anyone?

Garnacha (left) and Petit Verdot (right)

5. Graciano Explosion

I've kept the Graciano news for the last, because it's the most interesting! A few days ago the oak cask of Graciano exploded and made a huge mess in the barrel room!

I suppose that it hadn't finished fementing and the relative heat (18ºC) in the barrel room activated the yeast.

I missed the direct action and Juan (who's letting us share his bodega this year) kindly cleaned up the spillage. Here's some pics of the collateral damage:

Close-up of the bung-hole and environs

The bung itself has disappeared! It must be somewhere in the barrel room, but we haven't been able to find it yet!
The ceiling directly above the Graciano cask

The state of the cask beside the Graciano cask

The leak at the front of the Graciano cask

Monday 8 November 2010

At last! End of Fermentation

All done!

At last! On Saturday (6th Nov 2010) we finally pressed the last of our red wines off the skins.

Juan manning the pump.
Moving the Graciano into the barrel
Fabio at the other end.
The light is so I could peer into the barrel to check the level

Close-up of the stick-thing used to fill the barrel

It was only about 350 l of Graciano, but it was complicated, and it took us all day! This was because we fermented the Graciano in some old oak barrels that we recovered, and we had to replace the tops - quite a tricky operation if you're not a barrel-maker!

'Engrudo' a mixture of flour and water, used to seal the top of the barrel

Juan and Justo attempt to replace the top.
Note the metal hoops

Two manual cage presses bleeding off Graciano

While we were doing all this, we also filled another oak barrel with Tempranillo 2010, and another one with Shiraz 2010. I forgot to take photos of them, but I have this other one:

Crianza 2009. Cask filled in August 2010

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Stuck Graciano Has Started Fermenting

Yes! yes! yes! Our two barrels of Graciano which had been stuck for about 6 days finally started fermenting today! Look, you can even see some CO2 bubbles (I think!):

Graciano skins (1)

Apart from the tender loving care, what we did was:

1. Put the casks out in the sun during the day, and back in the bodega at night.

2. Mix in about 1 liter of our Airén which was in fermentation and so full of active natural yeasts

Graciano skins (2)

Graciano skins and our "punching down tool"

I can't believe there no word in English for a "punching down tool"!!! I've looked (rather hurriedly) but couldn't find anything better!

More Graciano skins with PDT
Yet more Graciano skins
And that's about it. I'm so pleased :)

Sunday 17 October 2010

Status of On-going Experiments (Report Nº 2)

First the one that are working out fine. Then the ones with 'complications':

1. Airén (Carbonic Maceration)

This experiment is working out very well so far. Yesterday we opened up the tank that had been hermetically sealed 17 days previously. The whole clusters had started to ferment inside each grape as expected.

Bunches of Airén at bottom of stainless steel tank

We then crushed and pressed the grapes as usual; and the must is now continuing with it's fermentation. The aromas are definitely different from those we usually get from Airén fermented 'normally'; we smelled fruit salad or ripe fruit.

2. Airén on its skins

This experiment is also working out well so far. We pressed the wine off the skins and the fermentation is now basically finished. I think we just need to leave it alone and not do anything at all to it over winter. Time and low temperatures will round it off (I think/hope) and we could bottle it in Jan/Feb. On the other hand, it seems perfectly drinkable to me now, but I suppose it'll improve.

The colour is rather dark for a white wine - sort of browny-ambar-orange- and the armoas are also stringer, darker, more intense than in a normal white wine.

3. Shiraz (or Shirah?)

This is only really an experiment in the sense that it's the first time we're working with this variety. We destemmed, crushed, fermented it conventionally in stainless steel. yesterday we racked it off its lees into another tank. Nothing of interest to mention here really. Again, time and low temperatures will round it off. At some point during the winter, we'll have to decide whether to oak it or not, based on our own and others tastings.

'Gunge' at the bottom of the Shiraz tank

4. Petit Verdot

Here we had a slight complication - it wouldn't start fermenting! Maybe it was due to the colder weather. Nightime temperatures have dropped quite a lot recently here in Madrid and they've been reaching under 10ºC, and daytime temperatures inside the bodegas have been around 16ºC.

So a few days ago we started taking the tank outside into the patio during the day to warm it up a bit. And we also added a liter of our Airén which was in full fermentation, so as to add in some active natural yeast.

I think it's worked, because yesterday for the first time we could see a few tiny CO2 bubbles popping. And the skins seemed to be a little higher (ie being pushed up by the COs).

Two casks of Graciano and tank of Petit Verdot

5. Graciano

I've kept this strange case for last! Again we had/have a case of fermentation not starting, but with a strange twist in the tale!!!

We decided to ferment the Graciano in oak casks because 1) we wanted to experiment with fermenting in oak casks! and 2) because we had run out of stainless steel tanks!  So anyway, we duly destemmed and crushed the Graciano grapes and poured them into 3 oak casks, to about the 2/3 full level. The weird thing is that one cask started fermenting on schedule as expected, but the other two didn't! We had done everything exactly the same with all three: same grapes, destemmed and crushed at same time, casks filled at same time, etc).

There's only one difference that i can see, but can't imagine how it could possibly be the cause of this mystery: It's that the two stuck casks are from Seguin Moreau while the one that started is from Demptos!

Anyways, we've been puting the two casks out in the sun along with the Petit Verdot and we've also added a lites of Airén with active natural yeast. Still no sign of fermentation so far :(

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Status of On-going Experiments (Report Nº 1)

Experiment 1. Sparkling wine (Champagne, Cava, Spumante, ... need a name!)

We've made a lot of Airén in the 'normal' way, ie crushed, pressed and left to ferment. It's coming along nicely and there's nothing left to do here, except for one decanting to remove the dead yeast and other larger particles that will have sunk to the bottom of the tank.

We've left some grapes on the vine, to be picked in Nov/Dec, fermented separately and then added at some point in the 'champagne' making process, in collaboration with Alfredo Maestro.

Experiment 2. Airén, (Carbonic Maceration)

We have another lot of Airén that are fermenting. We put the whole clusters, uncrushed into a tank and sealed it about 15 days ago. By now each grape should have started to ferment internally, and should be at 1% or 2% alcohol. Tomorrow or next day we'll open the tank, crush and press the clusters and let it finish fermenting.

Experiment 3. Airén (on skins)

Yet another lot of Airén, we left macerating in their own skins for about 12 days. We pressed them a few days ago, and this lot is also coming along nicely. It has a sort of browny-orange-amber colour and smells more intense than the 'normal' Airén, we also have.

Experiment 4. Barrel fermentation (Graciano)

Last week we rocovered three old oak barrels that we found in the attic of the winery! Actually we tried to salvage 6 but three were so leaky, even after extensive soaking, that we couldn't use them. So we destemmed and crushed a lot of Graciano, and put it into the 3 barrels to begin fermenting. 
Old oak barrel, before being soaked

Non-Experiment 5. Petit Verdot.

This lot was going to go into the other three recovered barrels, but as we couldn't use them, we're using a stainless steel deposit. Not much of an experiment rally, except in the sence that it's the first time we've made Petit Verdot.

Our other wines this year are also in stainless steel, made in the same way we usually do, ie no unnecessary manipulations, or adding of 'substances'. This year we have:
  • Tempranillo (2 lots)
  • Airén (4 lots)
  • Garnacha
  • Shiraz
  • Graciano
  • Petit Verdot

Monday 4 October 2010

Garnacha (Grenache) Tasting 2010

I should have posted this post a bit earlier as International Garnacha Day seems like it's in the distant past now, even though it was only 10 days ago!

I only discovered that Int'l Garnacha Day even existed on the Monday (20th) and it took me 24 hrs to realize that I could actually do something about it, and organize a tasting! So on Tuesday (21st) I called Carlos, the owners of La Cave du Petit (wine bar, wine shop, bistro) during the whole day, but no joy. So on Wednesday (22nd) I physically went there, and hit him with my bright idea. It was complicated, because on the Friday all his (4) tables were booked for supper, and the place was too small to do a tasting at the same time, though he liked the idea. But over a glass of Alfredo Maestro's Viña Almate 2008, inspiration came: we would do it on Thursday night (23rd) but we would make sure that the tasting ran through midnight, so 'technically' we could say that we did it on the right day (Friday 24th)!

So I got onto my mobile and Carlos onto his laptop and mobile and we began calling people up: producers willing to come with their wares, and wine-lovers willing to come and sample them. We called a lot of people and by the time we were done, the bottle of Viña Almate was done too!

In the end, only a few people came, as was to be expected given only 24 hrs' notice. However, lack of quantity was more than made up for by quality :)

Here's the cast of characters:

winemaker Samuel Cano
winemaker Alfredo Maestro
winemakers me and Juan
wineshop owner Carlos
wineblogger Ignacio Segovia
wine TV producer Eduardo Benito
winelovers Fermín, Julián, Dioni, Sergio and Ben and Courtney

And here's the list of props:

- Vinos Ambiz (100% Garnacha 2009) (AVIN6475421703467)
- Patio Ensamblaje 2008 (50% Shiraz, Tempranillo, Graciano, Petit Verdot) (AVIN8201428759293)
- 3 different wines from Alfredo Maestro (all Tempranillo)
- A French wine from Carlos ("Terraine"?)
- A German Riesling from Carlos

Hmm, it seems that there was only one wine with any Garnacha in it! Well, that's only to be expected too, I suppose, given the short notice. Anyway, nobody complained! The main thing is that we all had a great time, talking about wine for over 4 hours AND I got to wear my loud shirt with (mis)matching fractal geometry shorts, and stripey socks :)

Here are the links to some great videos:

- VinusTV (I understand now why Eduardo Benito took so long to send it to me - The quality is excellent! To be expected really as he's a pro. See the VinusTV web-site for other wine-related videos. There's a short "interview" with each one of the producers. I've seen the video but haven't heard it as the speaker in my computer is broken. I dread to think what I was saying!!!

- VenderVino 2 videos taken by Ignacio with his mobile.

I could't take any photos or videos because that day because I forgot to recharge and the batteries were flat :(

The interviews are in Spanish at the moment, but I'm working on subtitles in English.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Final Harvest and Post-Harvest Report 2010

Well, basically our harvesting is over, though there's still a lot of work to do in the bodega, and some loose ends to tie up (of which more below). It's been an exhausting 3 weeks (and maybe we bit off more than we could chew) but it's also been very productive, creative and great fun, even if a bit stressful at times. But I'm not complaining! This is what I love to do; and it does keep me off the streets, and prevents me from watching TV, getting bored, etc :)

The reason we harvested so many grapes this year is that it's part of our yearly expansion plan. We want to move up from the level we've been at the last few years (ie, glorified home-winemakers running an expensive, time-consuming, family-destroying hobby!) to at least maybe 'garagiste' level this year; and after that to 'small, viable wine business' level ('world domination' can wait a bit longer!).

This year we're in a 'real' bodega; it's a proper building with a roof that doesn't leak and walls that insulate from the heat and cold, a barrel room with AC and humidity control, and equipment that can handle larger quantities of wine. Now, it's not a chateau, so don't get any ideas, and the views are not spectacular either; it is in fact located in the industrial zone of Morata de Tajuña; it's, shall we say, 'functional' :) I'll post photos in another post, though some have appeared already in previous posts.

Apart from our own grapes which we grow ourselves in our vineyard in Carabaña, this year we also bought in and harvested more grapes from some neighbouring grapegrowers who farm organically. This is what we have fermenting in the bodega at the moment: Tempranillo 1, Tempranillo 2, Garnacha, Shiraz and Airén for a total of about 6000 l. One of the loose ends to be tied up is another possible 1000 kg of Shiraz, which should be confirmed or not this week sometime.

With these 5 (or 6) lots of wine, we have to decide what types of wine to make. One day Juan and I will sit down and work it out; the result could be an interesting and complex flow-diagram! We already know that some will be for young wine, best drunk within a year, and some will be barrel aged, assuming our barrel-sponsoring scheme works out).

We already have a few experiments in the pipeline:

EXPERIMENT 1: Sparkling wine, in collaboration with fellow natural winemaker Alfredo Maestro. Some of the Airén will be set aside for this, and in Nov/Dec we'll take it to his bodega, where he has the space, equipment (and knowledge) required. We've left some Airén grapes in the vineyard to be picked in Oct/Nov when they're super-ripe and have a high sugar content; these grapes will be fermented separately and then added to the sparkling wine, as 'liquor de expedición' (what's that called in English?)

EXPERIMENT 2: We're going to ferment some of the Airén grapes by 'carbonic maceration' to see how it turns out. This is done by putting whole uncrushed clusters in a fermentation tank and sealing the lid hermetically. See this previous post. We did it this way last year with Garnacha and the year before with Tempranillo.

EXPERIMENT 3:We're also going to let a lot of Airén grapes macerate in their own skins for a day or two, as if they were red grapes, again just to se how it turns out.

That's enough experiments for one year I think! With the red wines, we'll do three 100% varietals (Tempranillo, Garnacha and Shiraz), and also try all the possible coupage combinations, and based on tastings and advice, decide what to actually bottle.


Then there's the question of what do with all this wine! Well, obviously we have to sell it so that people far and wide can drink it and enjoy it, and so we can make more and better wines in the years to come! So in a week or so when things have calmed down in the bodega, I'll be putting our Marketing Plan down on paper. I remember reading a funny comment to a post about a year ago, on the definition of Spanish marketing: "Make wine; wait for phone to ring." Well, it's not really funny of course, more like sad, as I image a lot of winemakers really do do that. But we're not going down that route. Probably the ONLY thing that's been clear to me since I started 7 years ago and still is clear, is that there are, and always will be, three equally important, and inter-connected, parts to our Vinos Ambiz project:

1) Grow (or buy in) quality grapes

2) Make quality wine

3) Sell it!

Pretty simple and obvious really. 1) If you don't have quality grapes, you can't make quality wine; 2) To make quality wine you have to be really careful not to do anything wrong/stupid/hasty/etc in the bodega, and if you have quality grapes to work with and you keep your machinery/equipment/everything scrupulously clean and hygienic, over half the battle is won; 3) and the part that many winemakers forget about but which I believe is equally essential, is that you have to sell it, otherwise you can't carry on making wine: I mean, even Juan and I and all our friends put together can't drink that much wine!!!

Other Items of Interest

- New Vineyard. This year we've taken on another vineyard in addition to the one we've tended in Carabaña for the last 7 years. The new one is just up the road in the next village (Villarejo). It's 1 hectare in area (2.4 acres), white Malvar variety, 30-40 year old vines. The first year we'll be working with the man (now retired) who used to tend it, as we convert it to organic. Should be interesting!

- Grafting/Planting. We've been meaning to do this for the last 7 years, but finally this Spring, it looks like we might actually really do it! In our vineyard in Carabaña, there are about 200 empty spaces where a vine used to live (it died, dried up, got knocked over by a tractor over the years) and another 50 or so vines that have gone 'wild' (ie the varietal grafted on top didn't take, or died, and the rootstock is sprouting directly). So in the spaces, we have to dig a hole and plant a rootstock+varietal and on the wild vines we have to graft on a varietal. We've finally met a neighbouring grapegrower who both knows how to do this and is willing to do it for us (we'll provide the unskilled manual labour, and look and learn).

- Webpage. I really need to get a good webpage up and running. Yes, I've been saying that for about 7 years too, but now it's becoming embarrassing! Dare I say that I'll have one up for before Christmas?

- Another thing I'd like to do is follow up on the 65 cases of Vinos Ambiz Airén 2009 that shipped to the USA a few months ago. I haven't been able to do that so far, what with the Summer holidays, harvesting and crushing etc. I've heard through the grapevine and from a few posts/comments/tweets that it's going down well, which is really encouraging. I heard that it was presented during the JPS Wine Tour at events in S.F., L.A. and N.Y.

That's about it. Thanks for reading. Any comments, thoughts, questions most welcome. In fact it would make me really happy!

Monday 20 September 2010

Non-harvest Report 2010

We had planned to harvest our Airén grapes in Carabaña on Saturday, and everything was ready to go (ie, crusher and presses clean and in position, van loaded up with crates, etc) but when we arrived at the vineyard at 8:00 am on Saturday morning we were afflicted by doubts. We hummed and hawed and walked the vineyard for about half an hour, and then decided not to harvest; for the following reasons:

1) It had rained quite heavily in Carabaña on Thurs and Fri, and it was a bit muddy underfoot. This means that inevitably the bottoms of cases get muddy and some of the mud will find its way into crusher, press, tank and lastly the must

2) The vines had sucked up a lot of water and the grapes were fat and bloated, and the must diluted. So if we harvested, the sugar content (as a %) would be lower and consequently the wine would have a lower alcohol content

3) A dark Cloud of Doom was hovering over Carabaña, while in the neighbouring villages (Tielmes, Perales, Morata) the skies were quite clear. We figured this was the universe sending us a message and we listened!!!

We then took a representative sample (not a quick-n-dirty one) and headed back to the bodega to crush, strain and analyze our sample. We were right, the probable alcohol content had dropped by 0.4% from the previous sample we'd taken before the rains.

Representative Sample of Airén Grapes

Dark Cloud of Doom over Carabaña

Skins, stems and manure

On Friday we were at the bodega pressing the Tempranillo skins that had been macerating with the must since the harvest ofer a week ago. Up to now we had always done this manually, using a press like this one:

Manual press (cage open after pressing)

We used it last week for the small lots of Tempranillo, Shiraz and Garnacha that we have this year. But we also have a 3500 kg lot of Tempranillo, so for that we used this hydraulic press:
Hydraulic Press
Basically, you fill it up with skins and must and close the lid. Then a bag inflates and crushes the skins against a filter around the inside of the shell. You can program the pressing cycle with your desired pressures, times and number of repititions.
Press full of skins, pips and must/wine
We set the press at one of its lowest possible pressure levels as we were a bit worried about crushing the pips, and releasing bitterness and other undesirable flavours and aromas.
Waiting for the press to finish

In the end, it all worked out well, and we didn't get any nasty tastes or smells from the last wine to dribble out. In theory we could have extracted quite a lot more wine, which would have been low-quality table wine, but we didn't. We think there's more than enough of that kind of wine in Spain, and in the rest of the world, as it is!
Dry skins and pips
Juan shovelling out the skins and pips
Ogre-size shovel!

Remains of our midnight snack

Above you can see the remains our our midnight snack, which consisted of jamón (ham), cheese, bread, wine and rolling tobacco!!!
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