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Wednesday 11 April 2012

Pruning and Digging and Snipping Wild Shoots

Hopefully this will be the last pruning post (for this year). Not because I've almost finished the pruning, but because I'm getting fed up writing about pruning and would quite like to write about something else too!!! About vineyard and winery things, that is.

But, I do have some interesting (I hope!) anecdotes from my latest pruning session over the Easter break:


I actually counted the vines that we have in the vineyard in Villarejo! It turns out that there are about 820. But I'll have to count them again properly one day and draw a map, because it's not so simple. The rows have 41 vines and there are about 20 rows, BUT it's not a regular rectangle! One of the sides is squinty so it's more like a lopsided parallelogram! Also, the vines are not planted in square grid shape, but in a hexagonal pattern (called 'tresbolillo" in Spanish), so each alternate row may really have 40 or 42 vines!

Anyway, as of Monday 9th April, I still have about 520 vines to go.

Wild Shoots

I'm going at a rate of about 10 vines/hour, which is very, very slow. The reason for this is the wild shoots that are growing around the vines, sometimes directly from the main trunk from under ground level, and sometimes independently rooted just next to the vine.

Ridiculously long, thin and numerous wild shoots

This must have been due to laziness on the part of the person who ran this vineyard before we took it over last year. It would seem that he just snipped these shoots back at ground level, without uprooting them or cutting them back properly from the main trunk. This would solve the problem for a year, but the deeper problem would just get worse and worse. As you can see from this vine above, for example.

Not all the vines are that bad, but I reckon about 75% of all the vines have some wild shoots that have to be dealt with.

State of the Soil

Well, as I'm digging so much in the soil, I've been getting a good look and feel of it! I think it's surprisingly healthy! There are earthworms, and other beasties underground, always a sign of a soil which is alive and healthy I believe. Above ground there's a veritable plague of ladybirds! I've never seen so many. They must be eating up every single aphid in the vineyard! Unfortunately I can't take a decent photo of them with my current mobile.
Other fauna

Butterflies, magpies and another type of singing bird which I can hear but have never seen. Moles, or mice or some kind of tunnel-maker, as can be seen from the holes and little piles of earth here and there. I presume that this is a 'good thing' as this will help aerate the soil.


The grass has started to grow, and some flowers and plants too. We have mostly little white flowers and little yellow ones and occasional little blue ones:

White flowers

Little blue flower
(pending: forgot fotos of yellow)

Wild Shoot Elimination Sequence

This is how I do it:

This is the way a vine looks (1) when I approach it for the first time. First of all I prune the top, as usual,
otherwise the canes get in the way.

Next step (2) is to clear away the leaves and vegetation (if any) so that I can see what's there, and then to snip the shoots away at ground level:

Step (3) is to dig a trench next to the shoots so as to expose the roots, down to about 20 or 30 cm. Sometimes they go deeper, but I'm hoping that at that depth they won't be able to grow back.

Step (4): Snip! Snip! Snip!

Then, pull the earth back into the trench, and lastly, superficially dig up all the earth and grass in a radius of about 50 cm around the vine, so that it ends up looking like this (5):

Then, repeat Steps 1 to 5, and you get a nice row of vines that look like this:

One row done
I'm doing this so that the vine can have what little water is available. Otherwise the grass and flowers nearest to it would drink it all up. Normally, I don't think that this would be a problem for the vine, as it can access deeper water, but we're in a drought cycle here in central Spain, so I think that every little bit helps.

And the reason for cutting away the wild shoots is so that the vine can focus all its energy and nutrients on the fruit-bearing upper branches - instead of producing and feeding all those unproductive shoots.

The Rain in Spain

Well, even though it rained during the Easter break (enough to spoil everbody's holidays, as tradition demands!), it didn't really rain a lot, at least not to the east of Madrid! And here's the evidence to prove it: the second-last day I went to prune, at some point I took off my jumper, as I was too hot, and laid it on a vine intending to pick it up when ready to leave; but I forgot it, and there it stayed for two days while it was supposedly raining. When I noticed it the next day I went, it was almost dry!!! Only just a tiny bit damp.

My dry jumper after two days in the rain!
A Really Wild Vine

I found this beast (below) the other day, hidden in the grass between the first row proper of the vineyard and the road. I was just about to dig it up, when I thought that it would be nice to leave it alone and see what it does! So I even made its life easier for it, by cutting back the tall grass and flowers near it, and by pruning it a bit.

(dammit, lost the photo, will take again, next time, sorry)

Wednesday 4 April 2012

The Natural Wine Movement (and my Back-Label Dilemma)

As I'm sure you all know, there's no such thing as the "Natural Wine Movement", except in the sociological sense, ie in the same way that there's a "Risky Sports Movement", a "Recycling Movement", a "Real Ale Movement", etc.

There's not really a Secret Inner Ruling Council (even though I leaked the agenda from the last meeting here!), no membership cards, no statutes, no articles of association, no head-quarters, no offices, no rules, no nothing.

What there is, is quite a few associations of natural wine producers, mostly in France and Italy. They actually do have rules and criteria for membership, and if a winemaker agrees with them, then he or she can join the association. Here's a list of the ones that I know about:

- Association des Vins Naturels
- La Renaissance des Apellations 
- Productores de Vinos Naturales
- VinNatur
- Simbiosa 
- Vini Veri

What there also is, is a whole lot of people who share an interest! People of all sorts, from all over the world, and from all walks of life. These people include:

- Producers (associated or not). There must be a few thousand, producing an average of say 5 to 10,000 bottles a year. Mostly artisans, tiny part-timers with no webpage, selling only locally to friends and neighbours; some small viable businesses, with proper labels, distribution and sales networks; and even some bigger ones bordering on industrial style wineries. And there's a whole grey area of traditional long-standing producers of fine wines who may or may not be 'natural' depending on your deifnition!

- Traders (importers, distributors, wholesalers). Difficult to work out how many there are, as some carry both natural wines, organic wines and conventinal wines in their portfolios.

- Retailers (winestores, restaurants, winebars). Again difficult to work out how many there are for the same reason, though I believe that more and more such places are opening up. Seems to be the only sector growing this days in the midst of a recession!

- Writers, journalists, bloggers. I don't think many actually focus exclusively on natural wines, though recently over the last year or so, more and more conventional wine writers have started mentioning natural wines - usually negatively and/or focussing on side issues.

- And lastly, consumers, with every kind of day-job under the sun, but who at night come out and indulge in their passion for natural wines. The most inportant category of all, because without consumers, the rest of us would have nothing to do! There must be thousands of them, and increasing in numbers every day.

All these people have one thing in common: we all love to drink, enjoy and talk about natural wines. We all know what kind of wine we're talking about, don't we, even though there's no legal or official definition. Maybe some of us would like to have an official definition, and maybe some of us like it the way it is now, and maybe some of us don't care one way or the other. I personally don't! Life is short! Let's just all get on with it and stop fretting. I mean, seriously, who's got the time and resources to actively attempt to get some
legislation passed on this? I think talking about this issue over a glass or two of natural wine is about the only effort I'm going to make in that direction! Cheers!

No Pedantic Definitions

It would be far too boring (both for me and for the readers of this post) to draw up my own list of forbidden substances and processes, in yet another personal definition of natural wine! Instead, I've decided to abide by Joe Dressner's 14-Point Manifesto, which you can read here (on Cory Cartwright's Saignée blog).

It's anything but boring! In addition I've added a 15th Point:

"I have the right to delete, add to or modify any of the above-mentioned 14 Points, based on how I happen to be feeling at any given time. So there!".

Also, I've decided to publish the information on the wines that I produce, with details of what I do and don't do to each wine. On this blog (and on my future webpage), on printouts, and on the back-labels. That way, the consumers can all decide for themselves of the wine in question is natural or not, or just how natural it is on the scale of naturalness.

Which brings me to the main point of this post.

Below is a draft of the back-label that I've been working on. It would be great if you could give me some feedback on it. I'd be especially interested in your thoughts on the inclusion what the wine DOESN'T contain and what HASN'T been done to it. Is this legitimate? Is it disrespectful or denigrating? Is it legal?! Is it a good idea? Does the consumer have the right to know both what's in a product and also what's NOT in it? Whatever! Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

- - - - - - - - -
I consider this bottle of wine to be natural wine because of the Ingredients.

It contains the following:
  • Fermented organic grape juice
And it doesn't contain the following:
  • Traces of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides
  • Industrial enzymes
  • Industrial bacteria
  • Industrial yeasts
  • Colourants
  • Preservatives
  • Flavour enhancers
  • Acids
  • Sugar, fruit juice, fruit extracts
  • Added water
  • Wood chips
  • Tannin powder
  • Sulphites or other chemicals
I also consider this bottle of wine to be natural wine because of the Processing.

I did these things to it:
  • Crushed the grapes
  • Pressed the grapes
  • Racked the wine from one tank to another
And I didn't do these things to it:
  • Heat up the wine
  • Cool down the wine
  • Filter the wine
  • Clarify the wine
  • Use reverse osmisis
  • Use spinning cones
  • Use cryo-extraction
  • Use sterile filtration
  • Use any other agressive techniques
I believe that all the above information is legitimate and relevant, and that the potential consumers have the right to know about the ingredients and processing of the product they are about to buy.

(Fabio, grapegrower, winemaker and marketer)

Monday 2 April 2012

Some Vineyard Photos and Comments

Yet more pruning today in the 'new' vineyard in Villarejo. New in the sense that that this is only the second year that we've been caring for it. The vines are actually about 20 years old (Malvar variety).

It's really slow going, as just about every vine has wild shoots growing out of the trunk from under ground level. I remembered to take some photos this time!

Wild shoots from below ground level
 This means that I have to dig down and expose the point where the shoots grow out the trunk and then cut them off. They're usually about 20 to 30 cm deep under ground level. It takes about 10 - 15 mins per vine.

More wild shoots

I only managed to prune about 40 vines today.

This is what the end result looks like, after excavating, cutting of the shoots, and filling in the hole:

Pruned and ready to go

I think the vines are running a bit late this year. The buds are only just starting to show the first signs of swelling, and absolutely none have opened.

And to finish off, our friends and super-predators - the ladybirds:

Ladybird on the landing pad

This photo is quite amazing. I caught it right at the moment of take-off! If only I had a higher quality mobile!

Ladybird taking off

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