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

Friday, 23 September 2011

Processing the Malvar Grapes 2011 (Part 1)

On Monday 19th we processed the grapes that we'd picked on the previous Saturday 18th and Sunday 17th from Villarejo. During the day we kept them inside (at about 25ºC) and at night we took them out into the patio, where the night-time temperature dropped to about 12ºC.

Malvar Grapes, Destemmed
We don’t usually do this but in this case we had no choice. Our usual procedure is to pick the grapes in the morning, stop for a long leisurely lunch, and then process the grapes in the evening.

Yes, I've become a flying winemaker and I'm off to the southern hemisphere in my biplane to do a bit of pruning!!!!

Before starting to process the grapes, we had to do the usual washing and cleaning and setting up:

Washing down the tanks

Washing down the "capazos" (baskets)

Washing down the Beast

with brushes and soapy water
We (my partner Juan and I) had many lengthy debates over the last few weeks about what kind of wine to make with these grapes, and in the end what we did was this: (I really don't know if this is a good idea or not, or if it's risky, or stupid or what! Like I've said before, during the harvest period, my brain doesn't seem to function 'properly'.)

Tipping grapes into the destemmer
Anyway, we destemmed all the bunches, using a very expensive machine, kindly lent to us by the other Juan, the owner of the bodega we're sharing this year. It works very slowly and gently, and destems the grapes in such a way that it doesn't break or crush the individual grapes (except for very few, say about 5%). Then we put these destemmed grapes into several small stainless steel tanks (700 + 700 + 300 kg) and sealed them hermetically. We'll leave them there for about 2 weeks for them to 'macerate carbonically'. Then we'll open up the tanks and continue with the fermentation process (the must/wine should have reached an alcohol level of about 2% by then).

Then it gets complicated! About half the quantity, we'll crush and press and let the must/wine continue to ferment until it's done. This should give us a nice, fresh, young wine, by straight Carbonic Maceration, which will be ready to release in December. About another half, we'll crush only (no pressing) and let it continue to ferment with skin contact, for an amount of time to be decided later (when my Brain 1.0 starts boots up again).

And lastly, as I'm determined to complicate my life, I'm going to ferment about 200 kg of these grapes with skin contact in a clay amphora that I found in the bodega, but for a much longer period of time - to see what happens!!! First, though, I have to clean it. And even before that I have to extract it from the corner from behind loads of stuff, including a 500 kg agricultural implement that will have to be dragged out of the way using a tractor!

And even more lastly, and so as to complicate my life even more, this year I want to make some grappa (or orujo or marc) using the grape skins left over after fermentation. I've already found a neighbour who has a still (alambicco or alambique), and the we have the raw materials; so all we need really is the time to sit around and watch a still distilling all day. I think that can be arranged in about 2 or 3 weeks.

¡Vivan las complicaciones! ("Long live complications!") Life is Short! The Future is Uncertain! Moments of Happiness! Me Cago en el Amor! From that great, great Italian philospher Tonino Carotone.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Malvar Harvest 2011 (Villarejo)

Last Saturday (17th) and Sunday (18th) we harvested all grapes from our new vineyard in Villarejo de Salvanés (Spain). Incredibly, and in contrast to all expectations, we managed to pick all the grapes and we don't have to go back another day to finish off. We had calculated at least 4 days of picking, but we did it in only 2 days. Two reasons for this, I think:

Harvesting in Villarejo (1)

Firstly, we had an amazing turnout of volunteers to help us pick: friends, friends of friends, and consumers who buy our wines, etc. On Sunday there were 16 of us!

Harvesting in Villarejo (2)

Secondly, I think that the vineyard is actually less than a hectare, which is the size we had just assumed it was, for some reason or other!. I'll have to check it out on SigPac as soon as I can. This is a free online application by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. It's a bit like Google Maps, but focussed on agriculture, ie it shows the type of crops planted, the boundaries of each individual plot, easy-to-use tools for measuring distances and aeras, etc.

Harvesting in Villarejo (3)

No rabbits here in this vineyard thankfully, like in Carabaña (see this post from last week), where they ate a significant percentage of our grapes!. I think this is because this vineyard in Villarejo is completely surrounded by other vineyards and olive groves, whereas in Carabaña, the vineyard is surrounded by grassland and low hills, which seems to be more rabbit-friendly teeritory.

Harvesting in Villarejo (4)

Some of the grapes we harvested were affected by oidium or mildew, which appeared suddenly over the last two weeks. This was our fault entirely because earlier this year (in Spring - early Summer) we decided not to spray any sulphur powder, because the vines and grapes looked so healthy and vigourous. I think maybe a preventive powdering will be required next year.

Clusters Affected by Oidium

A Nice Cluster, Not Affected by Oidium

Also, we're going to have to think really hard about the pruning this Winter. All the vines (which are old - about 60 years at least, judging by the size of the trunks) have been shaped in a rather strange way that we hadn't seen before. Instead of the usual main vertical trunk, with three or four horizontal 'arms', these vines consist of just the trunk with the shoots coming directly off the top all round. When the shoots are fully grown, they grow out and down, and they create a sort of upsidedown bowl, with the grape bunches on the inside, with not much exposure to wind or sunshine. (An image is worth 1000 words here, but unfortunately I don't have one!). We'll have to prune in such a way as to give the bunches maximum exposure to sun and wind.
Harvesting in Villarejo (5)

We decided not to stop for lunch as we usually do at 2-ish, but instead to finish picking the whole vineyard. That way we could go for lunch late (even by Spanish standards!) and relax and enjoy for the rest of the day.

Loading Up the Last Cases

All my worrying of the previous days was for nothing! The rational part of my brain knows this! Every single harvest we've done over the last 8 years (and that makes at least 32 harvests!) has always worked out well in the end, no matter what the inevitable complications that have always arisen, so why should the next one be any different? Go figure! When is HumanBrain 2.0 coming out, that's what I want to know!

Some Cases of Grapes

I have to say that I was even a bit short and aggressive to my partner Juan, about some triviality or other (like which rows people were working on or something), which with hindsight now is totally embarassing and ridiculous. But thankfully I think he understands that during vendimia people say all sorts of things that are out of character and that can be completely and safely ignored for the duration! Anyway, I think I'm on the road to recovery. My brain is functioning better every day, and I'm growing a beard to try to hide the cold-sores that have erupted on my face due to the stress and not eating properly! I'm already smoking less and eating more fruit! I know that the grapes are safe and and the fermetations are all under control :)

Fabio, Smoking Less!

Anyway, at about 5 o'clock we took the grapes to the bodega in Morata de Tajuña and put them inside (at a temperature 25ºC), stacked up on pallets, ready for processing the next day. In the end we only took in about 2,000 kg. That night we took them outside into the patio, as nightime temperatures have been dropping a lot here in Madrid lately (minimums of about 12ºC). It's still nice'n' hot during the day though, ie I'm still wearing sandals, shorts and a T-shirt.
Cooling Off in the Patio of the Bodega

Having arrived safety at the bodega in Morata de Tajuña, about 20 km from Villarejo, we lit a barbecue, and ate and drank (our wine from 2010!) and made merry!!! There was no shortage of beer either, because there's nothing like a cold bottle of beer after a long hot day picking grapes!! It has to be said!



And lastly, a Spanish saying, which was tweeted to me the other day by @VdelaSerna:

"Al cura de Villarejo de Salvanés
le cuelgan los cojones hasta los piés"

Friday, 16 September 2011

Pressing Tempranillo, and Crushing Graciano

Last Wednesday evening/night (14th September) we:

1) pressed the Tempranillo that we harvested two weeks ago (see this post), and

2) crushed about 500 kg of Graciano that we bought in from our friend and fellow natural winemaker, Samuel Cano, from la Mota del Cuervo, a small town right in the middle of La Mancha.

Lovely Cases of Graciano Grapes

We did both tasks a bit in parallel and a bit in series! First we set up the 'assembly lines', inside the bodega for the crushing and ouside in the patio for the pressing. For the crushing we had to position: the pallet with about 30 cases og Graciano grapes, the manual crusher-destemmer, a bucket to catch the stems, two buckets to catch the must/skins/pips, a clean stainless fermentation steel tank for the must.

Tipping Cases of Graciano into the Crusher

Meanwhile in the patio we had: the steel tank containing the Tempranillo wine, skins and pips (In 17 days, the fermentation was complete), one manual cage press, two buckets, another clean stainless steel tank. It took about an hour to set everything up, about an hour to crush the Graciano, and about 2-3 hours to clean everthing up. We did the pressing at the same time.

Manual Cage Press, Bucket, Full Tank, Bucket, Empty Tank

Top-down View of Fermented Tempranillo Skins in the Press

Tempranillo Wine Pouring out of the Press

Crushing really requires two people to do properly: one to tip the case slowly into the crusher while the other picks out leaves, damaged grapes, etc. In this case we owe Samuel Cano a favour, as the quality of the grapes was excellent (none rotten, none damaged, none over- or under-ripe) nor were there any leaves, twigs, earth or any other foreign matter. One of us turned the flywheel while the other held the machine steady, helped the stems and grapes come out, etc. In between cases, one of us would nip out into the patio and press the Tempranillo down another centimeter or two.

Scooping out Tempranillo Wine and Grapes
from the Tank into the Press

We've found that this is actually the best way to press manually, ie very slowly and over a long period of time. The slower the better. In fact, when we opened up the cage to do a second pressing, we found that the cake was already so dry that we didn't have to do it.

It's very difficult to press slowly! For two reasons: 1) because when people are helping us press, they're happy and exited and emotional and so they instinctively want press fast, as if they were pumping water out of a boat! And when we (Jaun and myself) do it ourselves, we want to do it fast so we can finish as soon as poss so we can go home to sleep at a not too unreasonable time! 2) beacause the press is usually quite close to the crusher, and crushing really is a fast and energetic task, and so that feeling infects the people working the press!

Some technical winemaking details:

There were 30 cases of Graciano, but we didn't crush all of them. We decided to pour 5 cases in as whole clusters, uncrushed, stems and all. Hopefully, these grapes will undergo carbonic maceration and fermentation will start inside each individual grape. The stems will also provide a bit of acidity - but no 'green' or 'veggie' notes as we made sure that they were well lignified and not green or unripe.

Posing with a Bottle of Airén 2010 Maceración Carbonica
(which apparantly went down very well at the Chambers St Wine and José Pastor Selections presentation/signing of Alice Feiring's "Naked Wine" that very evening

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Airén Harvest 2011

On Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th September we finished harvesting the Airén in Carabaña (Spain).

The Good News

The good news is that the grapes were very healthy and showed no signs at all of any type of infection (eg, mildew or oidium). They were also perfectly ripe (for the type of wine we’ll be making with them), with a probable alcohol level of 12% and good acidity.

Yours truly

The weather on Saturday was exactly the same as it has been for the last few weeks here in Madrid, ie hot and cloudless, probably about 40ºC max during the day. On Sunday, it was pretty similar but with a bit of light cloud cover, and even occasional breezes (which were very much appreciated!)

A Beautiful Healthy Bunch of Airén

More good news was that we had a very good turnout of volunteers, especially parents and children. (We rely on friends and family and neighbours for the harvesting, and to a lesser extent for the pruning, as we can’t afford to pay professional pickers!). So we managed to finish the Carabaña vineyard and can now concentrate our new vineyard in Villarejo.

A Relaxing Moment 

The Bad News

The bad news is that the rabbits this year have eaten a significant proportion of our grapes! Usually, they’ve been content to nibble a few bunches from the vines on the edges of the vineyard, and we’ve been happy with that too. But this year, there must have been a population explosion in rabbit-world for some reason or another! Basically, ALL the grapes from the edge vines were eaten, the proportion getting less towards the centre of the vineyard furthest from the edges.

Rabbit Hole

This year we only have about 600 liters of must, which will give about 800 bottles of wine, when we usually get from 1000 to 2000 bottles :(

Rabbit Hole 2

We’ll have to do something about that next year. Any suggestions welcome! So far people have suggested the following:

  •  A fence (for too expensive and time consuming for us. It has to be high AND buried)
  • Shiny CDs hanging from the vines
  • Traps
Crushing and Pressing

Again, as we did with the Tempranillo two weeks ago (see this post), we had a manual crushing machine and plastic buckets for those who wanted to stomp the grapes barefoot.

Crushing Grapes Underfoot

Crushing Grapes with Technology!


First, I’m very pleased about the following:

- that we’ve finished harvesting Carabaña in only 2 weekends

- that so many people turned out to help, and that they all had a great time, especially the children

- that the quality of the grapes was so high. The wine will be awesome (assuming we don’t do anything wrong over the next few months!!!)

But secondly, I’m now a bit worried about harvesting the new vineyard at Villarejo. The grapes are very ripe at this very moment (about 12% probable alcohol, according to the quick n dirty sampling and analysis I did yesterday) so we really ought to harvest them all this weekend. And there’s a lot of grapes there, about 4,000 kg, and we never know how many people will be coming to harvest. My head is full of doubts and worries and minor details (Where are all the scissors? Are there enough cases? Where can we get a van for transporting the grapes to the bodega? What to do for lunch? Who should I call? How to stop these monkeys chattering in my brain so I can think straight? ….) I’ve lost my appetite and am smoking like a chimney! At least I’m still writing posts and uploading photos to FB and Twitter!

PS. There are more photos of this harvest (and of last week’s) in my albums on FaceBook here: http://

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Let's Hear It for Industrial Wines

A parody. Imagine a crazy fantasy world dominated by natural wine corporations, where the vast majority of the world population drink natural wine, where hype and convention and globalized values rule, where wine is rated and sold based on Joly Points... and where industrial wine-makers are the weirdos that are misunderstood (willingly or otherwise), ridiculed and attacked. This is the sort of post you could expect to read.


A new book was the subject of a review at "WINEBLOG"

The book is entitled "Industrial Wine" and it's by FRED BLOGGS and A.N.OTHER.

Put me down as one of the dissenters. There’s no such thing as industrial wine, if what you mean (which is what’s generally meant) is the absence of natural processes in winemaking. Because winemaking is a natural process. Manipulated wine isn’t wine at all, but a chemical compound.

To be honest, you have to grant that while “industrial wine” might mean manipulated in theory, it really just means more manipulation than normal in practice (which is what it has to really mean if the wine is to be wine at all). Even with that caveat, I still have a major problem with the whole concept.

Wine’s main goal is to be good, not “industrial”. In fact, “industrial” is a pretty nebulous concept when everyone is processing their wine with as little manipulation as possible, even those who would claim to be the avid adherents to the creation of “industrial” wine. There are some who really take the manipulative thing pretty far. Maybe for them the use of the term “industrial” wine is a little more apropos. But based on my tasting, another term, “bad” wine, is equally apropos. Since wine that’s really not made with all nature's processes at our disposal tends not to be very good, and lasts way beyond its natural lifespan. I think most practitioners who preach “industrial” wines, but who produce high quality wines, in fact eschew the more radical “industrial” practices.

For reasons I’ve harped on at length, the theory that one wine is better than another quickly yields to the reality that trying to say what is a better wine is a really mushy endeavor. There’s no real agreement among wine tasters, since so much of what one means when pronouncing one wine better than another is simply
that one wine meets that particular wine taster’s preferred wine profile. I.e., if you like big wines, the big wine is preferred. If you like lighter, wines, then a lighter wine is the “better” wine.

The one place where I would definitely recognize that one wine is better than another is where one of the wines has a serious flaw. I do think that a wine that’s horribly infected with Mega-purple, or one that’s totally dominated by artifical tanins, is clearly inferior to a clean, well-made wine. But that’s about it when it comes to superiority of one wine over another. And the more “industrial” a wine, the more likely it is to be flawed.

So when an “industrial” winemaker proclaims that his wine is superior, he’s expressing his own subjective, and highly biased, opinion. And, to my mind, that opinion is less than worthless when repeated studies have failed to show that chemical farming, for instance, really translates into a superior product. And when he says his wine expresses the “banality” of his vineyard, he’s mostly mouthing what has become accepted but meaningless “winespeak” of our age.

You get a bunch of wine tasters together, even not very experienced ones, and exept for the most obvious examples (and maybe not even then), they will repeatedly identify the vineyard, region, state, and continent of the wine they are tasting. If "banality" had the meaning so often subscribed to it, then blind tasters should always fail to accurately identify the wines pedigree. But they can’t.

None of what I’ve said means that I favor the profligate use of all sorts of natural processes in the vineyard on a prophylactic basis. But the use of some natural and sustainable techniques when conditions require some sort of response to the bad hand nature has dealt you, is far better than letting your grapes go to hell. And use of one natural process (biodiversity, for example) to try to control weeds through predation really isn’t in my mind, in theory, any different than using some other natural process for weed control.

So put me down as one who, when he hears the terms “industrial wine” or “chemical wine”, really hears “bunk”.


The above is a parody of this post:

Sadly, as is generally the case with these natural wine bashing posts, all the author did really was to touch on the usual stereotypical and boring side-issues. I really wonder why it's like this. Do the authors not do any research at all? Do they just listen to what their like-minded friends utter and then turn it into a post? Where do they get their misinformation? It just seems to be blind faith and no reasoning, an irrational desire to destroy some kind of conspiracy.

To address the points briefly:

The flaw thing. Yes, it's like "I've tasted a few wines from Burgandy and I thought they were flawed, therefore all wines from Burgandy are flawed" !!! Give me a break! Whoever said that there are no bad natural wines? It's just like any region or style of wine - some are good, some are bad. Some you may like, some you may not. Most natural wines are not high in VA, nor are they oxidized. Most natural wines in fact fall in a standard range of acceptablity for all the different characteristics of wine; though some push the envelope, and that's where many conventional tasters find flaws where none exist. Many, though not all, conventional wine tasters are too used tasting big 'soups' laden with sulphites, enzymes, tanines, flavour-imparting yeasts, oak-chips, etc, that they have difficulty appreciating the taste of a real, natural, authentic, un-overly-manipulated wine!

Identifying the terroir. This is new one for me - I've never come across this 'argument' before. So experts are unable to identify a particular wine blind and say where it comes from! What on earth is that supposed to prove or disprove? That the whole concept of natural wine is rubbish? Or what? In fact, thanks to the increasing globalization, homogenization and standardization of industrial wines, it IS very difficult to tell any of them apart, no matter what region, country or continent they come from, or what grape variey was used. All the chemicals no doubt taste the same and are probably manufactured by the same few multi-nationals. This is why more and more people are drinking natural wine!

Spraying. Who said natural winemakers let their grapes go to hell? There are numerous natural, organic, sustainable, non-polluting, non-toxic techniques for ensuring healthy grapes even in adverse climates. The info is out there, so I won't bore you all with it here.

Gasoline for tillage. Jeez! Who said natural winemakers all use tractors for tillage? There are other techniques for weed control, which again I won't bore you with here. And in the case of natural winemakers who do use tractors, I'd say that the use (or abuse) of internal combustion engines is part of a much larger problem that affects the entire population of car-owners, not just grape-farmers.

Manipulation. This is the key concept for natural wines (IMHO), though the author doesn't quite get it. He seems to think that natural winemakers think that manipulation is bad. Duh! Obviously we have to manipulate, as the vines don't prune themselves, nor do the grapes pick, crush or press themselves. Etc, etc. We don't think that manipulation is bad and we know that it's not natural to plant vines in rows, and to prune them so they produce more grapes and less foliage; and we know it's not natural to crush and press grapes using machines. Etc, etc.

What natural winemakers and natural winelovers are against is "excessive" and "unnecessary" interventions and manipulations. I won't bore you all with a long list (the info is out there), but it includes things like adding artifical colourants, enzymes, industrial yeasts, bacteria, oak chips, acids, tannins, micro-oxygenization, reverse osmosis filtering, and in general using substances and techniques that strip the wine of its originality and authenticity and turn it into an industrialized homogenized product.

What was the point of that post? and of many like it? Why are these people trying to debunk natural wine as a category? Do they not realize that there are thousands of natural wines out there, all different from each other? How can they say that they're all bad? Can they not just stick to their globalized brands and leave us alone? Are they scared of losing market share, or what? Do they believe that they're protecting innocent winelovers from unscrupulous fraudsters? I really don't know.

One thing I do know, though, is that more and more people are drinking, and buying and demanding natural wine. That's the bottom line, and all the rest is words, words, words.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Sampling the Airén

I went out to the vineyard in Carabaña (Madrid) yesterday (4th September) to take samples of the white Airén grapes. First the low-down data, then the anecdotes!

The quality is incredible this year - not a single bunch that is bad in any way or infected with mildew or oidium or anything else. They are all clean and healthy. This is rather unusual, extraordinary even, as most years there are a few vines that are affected in some way.

Healthy Bunches of Airén

Healthy Bunches of Airén (2)

Healthy Bunches of Airén (3)

After looking really hard for something to complain about, I can say that the animals have eaten more than their fair share this year, especially round the edges of the vineyard. perhaps because the grapes are so appetizing! Or perhaps because we haven't taken any measures at all to prevent them. Maybe next year we should hang up some shiney CDs or something.

Vine Eaten by Animals

The quantity was also looking OK. Unlike the Tempranillo, of which there was very little (see this previous post). There were also a few vines that were looking a bit weak and not very vigourous. I think that this year we definitiely have get a lorry-load of manure in.

Incredibly Vigorous Vine (Airén)

I did a semi-rigorous sample this time, ie not quick-n-dirty, but not ultra-rigorous either. Looking through the refractometer, I got a probable level of alcohol of 11.3%. And using the mustometer, 11.5%. For the last 8 years we've always harvested when we get a probable level of 12%, and we're going to do the same this year. If the weather stays nice-n-hot-n-sunny all week, we'll probably harvest over the weekend, after doing another few samples during the week.

Nice Bush, Weak Vine (needs manure)

This time I managed to get out to the vineyard quite early, at 9:30, so it was nice-n-cool! I saw a couple of rabbits eating the grapes but they were too fast for me to take a photo. I remembered to take a pair of socks this time, but forgot my shoes! In Madrid, I usually wear sandals from April, and put away all my socks and shoes till about October - except socks and shoes for working in the vineyard/bodega, but for some reason I stored these ones too and haven't got round to fishing them out.

I also forgot to take a container to hold the grapes that I was picking! I was thinking of what to do, as there was absolutely nothing in the car that I could use. Then I saw something white in the middle distance lying among the vines, and it looked like some litter (shock, horror) so I went to investigate. And was it not a plastic bag! Perfect for holding samples!

Then I went to the bodega and crushed the grapes and did the analysis. My last task of the day was to stick some labels on a lot of wine that we bottled a few months ago. It was the Garnacha 2010 with about 4 months in old oak. Only 4 months and old oak so that the wine doesn't get dominated by the oak flavours and keeps its original aromas and tastes. Just enough to "round it off" a little.

I printed the labels myself, as it would be too expensive to do proper labels at a printers - there are only 300 bottles of this wine (267 bottles as of yesterday!).

Even though a barrel in theory holds 300 bottles (225 liters), in practice we only get about 290-295, because the bottom always contains too many lees to bottle. Especially in our case, as we don't filter our wines. I've only sold 4 of these bottles so far, so that means we must have drunk about 20 in samplings and tastings!

Our Bottle Rack

Our 'bottle rack' is a bit precarious to say the least! It consists of plastic crates piled up 3-high in a tiny space between the wall and the oak casks in the barrel-room. At least the temperature is good!

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