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Monday 31 May 2010

Natural Wine Shipment

At last! On Friday 28th May, our pallet of wine (Vinos Ambiz, Young White 2009, 100% Airén, Unfiltered) began its journey to the USA.

It took me two-and-a-half months to do it, counting from the day that importer Jose Pastor came to visit the vineyard and winery and taste the wines (on 11th March).

This is basically what I had to do:
  • Design and print a front label and back-label (by Hola Por Que)
  • Find a box manufacturer who would sell me ‘only’ 100 boxes (Cartonajes Hurtado)
  • Remove labels and wash and disinfect 400 bottles
  • Fill and cork and stick on labels and put in boxes
  • Find a special US-homologated pallet, (thank you, Vinos Jeromín) stack it and wrap it
  • Do the paperwork!
The ship is leaving the Port of Barcelona this Saturday (5th June) and arrives New York about two weeks later, so I assume that by the end of June the wine should be in the shops.

I’m looking forward to following up on the ‘progress’ of the wine down the chain of consumption and interacting with the final customers and/or retailer on blogs and forums, etc.

Here’s some final photos:

Truck backing up to winery gates

Wine moving out

Thank you, Juan, for doing all the hard work, while I swan around taking photos!

Elevator... going up!

Bye-bye wine

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Our First International Shipment (Labels, Boxes, Pallet, ...)

Yesterday, Tuesday 25th May, I spent all day sticking labels onto bottles, exactly 804 labels (for the record), ie 402 front-labels and 402 back-labels.

It's our very first ever shipment abroad! Vinos Ambiz Young White, 100% Airen (not filtered, not clarified).

The following photos are a bit dark, because I was in a 'real' bodega, ie dark and cold (unlike our own place in Ambite).

After bottling and corking the bottles the other day (see a previous post) we decided to move the bottles to the bodega of our friend (and fellow organic winemaker) just down the road in the village of Morata de Tajuña - temperatures are rising in Madrid (at last!) and our place in Ambite doesn't have good insulation.

Bottles being labelled

Labelling station and detritus

The other day, I discovered by chance (luckily!) that you can't just use any old pallet to ship goods to the USA! It has to be a specially approved model that is made of plastic (as opposed to wood). No doubt the reason for this is to reduce the risk of accidentally importing insects, larvae, germs, etc that can live in wood.

Plastic pallet, homologated for entry into the USA

Below is Juan, sealing up the 6-packs and stacking them on the pallet.

Sealing up the boxes

The stack grows

Well, it's almost ready to go. Now we just have to wrap the stack up in plastic film (I forgot to buy it yesterday!) and call the transport company to come and pick it up.

Monday 24 May 2010

III Annual Ecology Day in Lavapiés (Madrid)

This is just a quick post with the photos and videos that I took myself. For more information, comments and photos see the organizer's webpage here: Grupos de Consumo de Lavapiés (in Spanish only).

I've uploaded two videos of the drumming session to YouTube: one is 20 seconds long:

And the other is seven minutes long!:

And here are the photos:

Setting up the info table

Setting up my own table (Vinos Ambiz)

Pincelada's table (olive oil and wine)

The cheese table

Another table!

Paella being cooked in 'Esto es una Plaza'

Monday 17 May 2010

CEO and Bottle-Washer of Vinos Ambiz Justifies his Title

Yes, (as per my bio on LinkedIn), yesterday I dutifully washed, sterilized, rinsed, filled with wine, and corked no less than 96 bottles on Sunday morning, - as one does on Sunday mornings!

Bottling line

Yours truly at the bottle-washing station

Only one victim-helper turned up on this occasion. Very odd – what on earth was everyone else doing of a Sunday morning?

This session was for our first ever shipment abroad (see this previous post); finally all the elements of the shipment had come together: bottles, corks, boxes and labels:

- Bottles. We’ve managed to accumulate over 400 bottles, thanks to our local customers, who not only returned our own bottles but also other wine bottles (hence the all the recent de-labelling activity!).

- Corks. I bought a new sack of 1000 corks. Due to the recent leaks and humidity in the winery, I was a bit worried in case the ones in the bodega had become infected with mould or other nasties.

- Boxes. Our first very own lovely new boxes with our logo printed on them. It was hard work finding a supplier who would make ‘only’ 100 for us, but in the end Cartonajes Hurtado (from Torrejón de Ardoz, just outside Madrid) came through. Much appreciated.

Our very own boxes, with logo

- Labels. Designed by Hola Por Qué, who also made a huge effort to do them quickly, as they have been really busy lately:

Our labels designed by Hola Por Que

Below is a close-up of the ‘bottling process’. Note the tube which has been cunningly sized to reach right down to the bottom of the bottle. This minimizes splashing and oxygenating the wine. In the absence of an inert nitrogen atmosphere in the bottling line, it’s the best I could come up with!

Bottling line!

Gazing upwards at one point (as one does!) I noticed some wasps building a nest in a flower-pot on the roof of the winery. Don’t ask how it got there – I have no idea! (Maybe it was during one of our quality control sessions!)

Wasp nest in flower-pot on roof

And here’s a photo of the ‘spontaneous vine’ growing around the front door of the winery, and that grew from a pip that found a fertile spot one year when we were crushing/pressing the grapes:

Spontaneous vine

To the Vineyard:

Well, after a brief stop for lunch, I carried on washing and bottling till about six, and then went to the vineyard.

I had to move the canes to the edges of the vineyard, as this week we’re going to either cut the grass or plough up a little between rows to aerate the soil (TBD). We had left the canes in little piles in the middle of the rows while we were pruning.

Canes at the edge of the vineyard

More canes at another edge of the vineyard

I took a short video with my mobile of the frost damage to the tips of the young shoots, which I uploaded onto YouTube. And there’s also some photos of the frost-bitten tips on Twitpic too.

Here are some photos of the vineyard, which was looking and smelling really nice:

Monster thistles are invading

Can anyone identify these flowers, in the pic below? We’ve been meaning to have a ‘bio-diversity study’ of the vineyard done for years, but never get round to actively inviting someone to do it!

Red, white and blue flowers

And why is it that wild vines are so much more vigorous than cultivated ones? Spot the difference:

Wild vine

One of the oak trees that we transplanted a few weeks ago (see this earlier post) didn’t survive. I think we didn’t give it enough water.

Poor oak sapling didn't make it

A lone poppy

A clump of poppies

Lastly, a final shot of the vineyard. The grass is really high for this time of year, because of all the rain we’ve been having. We’ll either be cutting it back this week, or lightly ploughing up the topsoil for a bit of aeration.

Vineyard in the evening

I don't know if this photo does it justice, but it was just so beautiful at that time of the evening, when the sun is low and the light is just 'magical'.

Monday 10 May 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men …

I’ve been meaning to post this post for months, but one thing after another kept cropping up and I just couldn’t find the time to write it up.

These ‘things’ included a number of wine tastings/events (which I’ve posted on below), and I’ve also been busy organizing our first ever shipment of wine to the US, which involved 1) finding a box-manufacturer willing to supply us with just 100 boxes (minimum orders are usually around 2000 boxes!). We did find one in the end (and will probably favour him with our orders in the future for making the effort) 2) accumulating, sterilizing and reusing 400 wine-bottles (our regular local consumers responded well and returned all their bottles and more) 3) working with our label designer on a new front label for white wine and a back-label (I think/hope they’re at the printer’s as I write! I try not to call them too many times a day for the latest news!) 4) and dealing with the horrendous paperwork required by the bureaucrats of Spain and the US, who seem to have made a special effort to make things as difficult and time-consuming as possible for us producers and other people who actually do something useful during the day [end of rant].
As if the above weren’t enough, I’ve also been involved in an initiative between local organic producers and consumers (not just of wine, but of many other products too) in and around Madrid aimed at co-ordinating and optimizing transport and distribution of our products. This involved going to a number of meetings which were frustratingly unproductive (apparently) though things seem to be moving in the right direction (slowly). I’ve been to meetings with just consumers and also with just producers, and the difference in ‘procedure’ is incredible: at the consumers meeting, they pick a moderator, who keeps an ordered list of people who have signalled that they want to speak. The producers all shout at the same time and if anything at all is decided it’s whatever the person shouting loudest and longest was shouting!
Anyway, time to get to the main point of this post: basically, our best laid plans for the coming year were utterly trashed by ‘circumstances’ about two months ago, but happily a number of ‘events’ occurred (at the same time that all of the above was happening) which has resulted in everything working out just fine. A ver:
  • The winery where we were planning on making our wine this October (by renting some of their space, vats and machinery) called to say that we couldn’t do it. The reason: due to the recession, they had fired some workers and so couldn’t provide this service anymore!
  •  The owner of our current ‘winery’ in Ambite refused to pay for the costs of fixing the roof or to reduce our rent. We fixed a bit of it by ourselves some time back, but we can’t afford to have it fixed, and we don’t have the time to fix it all by ourselves
  •  The owner of vineyard we’ve been renting from for the last 6 years, finally gave us his reply to our request to sign a written contract. And his answer was “No!” We needed a written contract so we can apply for organic certification and for the ‘Vinos de Madrid’ Denominación de Origen label
So after all this, I was getting pretty depressed (and stressed!), but talk about finding solutions right under your nose!!!
  1.  First, the winery: on the way back to Madrid one day last week I dropped in on a neighbour and fellow organic wine-maker in a village just down the road (to exchange bottles of wine as we’d been attempting to do for months). I just blurted out “Er, could we share your winery this year, until we find a place of our own?” and he said, “Sure! That would be great!” Just like that – 1 major problem solved!
  2. Then a few days later, I was in the centre of Madrid, in a neighbourhood that I hadn’t been back to for about five years. I decided to go for lunch to this restaurant that I used to go to and where I knew the owner. As I walk in, the owner recognises me and says “Fabio, how are you? You still making wine? You wouldn’t be looking for a new vineyard, would you? Because I have one that I’m trying to rent!” Incredible, but true! Another problem solved!
  3. Next I went to see the owner of our current vineyard, to tell him that we’d keep on renting anyway and that we weren’t so bothered about the contract anymore (we like the vineyard and know it and grow good grapes in it, after all). He said OK, and then offered us the use of his tractor this spring/summer for free!
So there you have it. I’m now trying to relax and get on with things in a more regular sort of way, ie with not so many emotional and/or economic ups and downs!
My plans for the coming months (ie up to grape harvest in September) are based on focussing on the long-term ‘important’ things, and not worrying about ‘urgent’ things that may (and inevitably do) crop up and which just distract and cause stress!!!
- Be on the lookout for a new winery (for harvest 2011)
- Define my long-term marketing plan properly and on paper (it’s just in my head and on the backs of envelopes at the moment!)
- Everything else is secondary!
This was not one of my usual ‘normal’ posts (ie, diary of day-to-day vinous activities), but I thought I’d spit it all out anyway, seeing as all the above events have had a big impact on the Vinos Ambiz project.
Well, if you’ve read this far, thank you and I hope you found it interesting. If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

International Organic Wine Trade Fair (FIVE)

Last Wednesday 28th May, I went to a wine tasting/presentation in Madrid, that was held in the basement of an organic product shop, called Abonavida.

I only took one photo (and not a very good one!):

But, you can see a good video of the presentations and tasting here: In fact, in the photo above you can see fellow blogger, Igancio Segovia, actually taking the video!

The occasion was for a presentation of the first ever trade fair in Spain, EXCLUSIVELY for organic wines.

It’s called FIVE (Feria Internacional de Vino Ecológico) and will be held in the town of Pamplona, the capital city of Navarre (Spain) next 11th and 12th of May.

It’s organized by the Asociación de Empresas de Agricultura Ecológica de Navarra (Organic Agriculture Association of Navarre).

52 organic wineries from Spain, Portugal and France will be there.

After listening to the short presentations from Edorta Lezaun (Bodegas Lezaun), Ignacio Bidegain (general co-ordinator general of the FIVE) and Salvador Estebanes Eraso (Spokesman of the Regional Government of Navarre), we got to the good part of the event, ie tasting some excellent organic wines from Navarre.

And for more info on the FIVE Trade Fair:
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