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Thursday 13 December 2012

Natural Wine, Natural Women, and Natural Men

I was thinking the other day…about natural wines! Again! Actually I was sitting on the bench in the courtyard of the bodega tasting a sample of one of my wines, and daydreaming and fantasizing!!!

It was a lovely sunny day, and nice ‘n’ cold too. The whole courtyard is a suntrap, as the wind can’t get in there, so it’s really pleasant to just sit there in the sun, and let my mind wander.

I can’t remember now how I got to thinking about women on that occasion – there must have been some Freudian connection to natural wine, because that's what I was thinking of first. Anyway, I was thinking that there are some interesting connections between natural wines, natural women and natural men!!!

[BTW, if you’re thinking that I have too much time on my hands, or that I should be doing something more productive, instead of sitting around fantasizing, ... well, you’re wrong! Because this is the season for actively not intervening in the winery! All my wines have either finished fermenting, or are still fermenting away very slowly, or are just sitting there, dormant and evolving over the cold of winter. So there’s not really much to do in the bodega. In theory, I could have them analyzed and then “correct” them, with unnecessary interventions, substances and aggressive processing. But why do that? I taste them regularly, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them (touch wood!), and I don’t think they need to be “corrected”. Like all artisans, I don’t make my wines according to a formula, and every year my wines are slightly different and they turn out the way they turn out. So, sitting in the sun and fantasizing is OK!]

Back to the point!

Thinking about it, the majority of women are quite non-natural these days - because they intervene a lot on their bodies: firstly, (starting from the top) they intervene on their hair in every possible way, both by adding chemicals and substances, and also with aggressive processing. For example, using hydrogen peroxide to make themselves blonde; and tints, dyes, hennas, etc to make themselves dark. Using curling devices to curl straight hair, and special ironing devices to straighten curly hair! Then (moving downwards) they shave off all their body hair, or most of it, especially their underarms, and legs and ‘tidying up’ the pubic bits!

The majority of men are more natural, or rather, less non-natural, because we don’t intervene so much. Just a touch of SO2 at bottling, oops, I mean just shaving our facial hair in the morning and nothing else.

Now why is that? Well, as usual, it’s probably a sexual attraction thing! ie hairiness is a masculine trait, and hairlessness is a feminine trait; but even though we both have hair, men are not naturally as hairy as bears and women are not naturally as hairless as pigs! Less hair = more feminine = more attractive, so off they go and shave off everything they can! But by the same token, more hair = more masculine = more attractive, so why don’t we all have full beards, and use all sorts of tricks and interventions to make our beards bigger and bushier? Or even try to make the rest of our bodies even hairier? In theory, we’re actually making ourselves less attractive by shaving off our facial hair. Go figure!

There seems to be an interesting parallel in consumer preferences here. It would seem that the vast majority of humans prefer both non-natural mates and non-natural wines, while only a tiny minority prefers natural wines, natural women with all their body hair, and natural men with all of theirs!

That was Part One.

Then, another day, after having had those thoughts and before actually writing up this post, I did a bit of research on the internet, to try and find out why we men shave off our beards, and why women shave off all their body hair (and why natural wine shouldn’t contain any hair at all!).

Let’s start with the men. It turns out that men have a long, long history of shaving their facial and even head hair. Ancient Egyptians and ancient Greek soldiers did it, to reduce the risk of being grabbed and beheaded during combat. The Romans carried on this tradition which became widespread over the whole male population, and being clean-shaven was equated with freedom and civilization, while beards were the mark of slaves and barbarians. Things took a turn for the worse with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and facial hair has been in and out of fashion here in Europe ever since, thanks to the ‘barbarian’ Germanic and Slavic influence! I couldn’t find any historic references to men shaving other parts of their bodies, and in modern times only for minorities, like some cyclists, swimmers, models, etc, who do it for professional reasons, and some individuals who do it for personal reasons.

Now for the women. In this case, it turns out that women for all of history had never intervened on their bodies and never ever shaved anything. Except maybe queens, aristocrats and prostitutes. For several reasons. A practical reason was that that the razors historically available and used by men were rather inconvenient and even dangerous to use on awkwardly located body parts, and in fact could even be used as weapons. Hence the existence of professional barbers. Another reason was cultural, ie women’s clothing (and men’s) throughout history always covered the entire body except hands and face, which may have been due to the climate in colder regions of Europe, and also due to the Judeo-Christian tradition of ‘modesty’ and repression of sexuality. Whatever. The fact is that women basically didn’t shave anything on a daily basis until relatively recently.

It seems that the reason the majority of women shave so much in modern times is the fault of one man, back at the beginning of the 20th century! King C. Gilette was a man with an obsession, and he devoted his entire life to inventing, designing, manufacturing and selling ... the safety razor! Incredibly, there had been no advances in razor manufacturing technology since the Bronze Age! Anyway, Gilette eventually got his big break in 1918, when he managed to get a safety razor included in each infantryman’s kitbag during the First World War, and so made his fortune. But not content with that, he decided to target women too. The ‘Underarm Campaign’ started in 1915, ran through the 20’s and was highly successful, helped perhaps by the clothing fashion of the times which saw the first ever introduction of sleeveless dresses and tops, and by the popularity of ‘women’s magazines’ for the advertising. Then came the ‘Leg Campaign’ starting in 1918, which was also successful, but not so much, perhaps due to the invention and popularity of cheap rayon stockings.

And the rest is history, up to modern times: at one end of the intervention spectrum, we have aggressive processes like full Brazilian waxing, laser hair removal, creative topiary, etc, and at the other extreme we have a minority of Naturalistas questioning the need for all these bodily interventions in the first place. Just like natural wine! Hey, maybe there’s a Natural Woman Movement out there too!?

Well, all of the above sort of explains the 'when' and the 'how', but not really the 'why'. I would love to delve further into this question.

I suppose, ultimately, despite all the arguments and reasons for and against shaving body hair, and for and against interventions in wine-making, there's just no accounting for taste - neither in women, in men nor in wine!

Friday 7 December 2012

Vineyard Work - Natural Wine Starts Here!

Yesterday was my first day back in the vineyard, after the harvesting and winemaking work of the last few months.

I started with a bit of composting.

This is what the vines look like at the moment:

Ploughed vineyard
The soil has just been lightly ploughed so there are no grass or flowers visible. We only plough up once a year to aerate the soil and to let the rain soak in. The rest of the year we let all the grasses, plants, flowers, thistles grow to create biodiversity. That way all the different species of insects and animals predate on each other and all is in balance. We never get a plague of insect that affects the vines.

And this is what a vine looks like close up:

Uncomposted Vine
The first step is to dig up a little bit all around the vine, so as to make a hole:

Dig a hole
Then load up a wheelbarrow of compost:

Load up compost
This is organic compost from a sheep and goat farm in the Sierra just north of Madrid.

Then tip the compost into the hole:

Tip in compost
Then cover the compost up. It's important to make the hole quite deep and to cover it well, otherwise the surface grasses and flowers with their short roots get the benefit of the compost instead of the vine!

Compost well covered
Lastly, prune the vine. That way I'll be able to tell if the vine's been composted or not over the coming weeks!

Vine, composted and pruned

When I finished that little pile of compost (about 10 vines worth), I did some pruning in another part of the vineyard. But after about an hour, I decided to call it a day, as my back started hurting, from bending over! And my fingers too, from gripping the pruning shears! The first day is always like that. Now I have to start exercising and stretching every day.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Drinking with the Winemaker Boys - Now it's called "Networking"!

I had a great day out last Thursday. I was invited to a Sierra de Gredos winemaker lunch! I don't actually live or work in Gredos, but I do have agreements with local grapegrowers and I buy in their grapes, so I guess that counts! Lunch was at 13:30 and I didn't get home till the wee small hours of the morning!

At 13:15 I arrived in San Martin de Valdeiglesias, parked the car, went into the restaurant, and of course nobody had arrived! So I went for a little wander around the village and went back at 13:45, and still nobody had arrived! This punctuality thing I've got is a bit of a problem me; I just cannot arrive fashionably late or even unfashionably late, like everyone does here in Spain! I've been living in Spain for many years so I KNOW that when lunch is at 13:30, there's absolutely no point in turning up before 14:00. Over the years, I've done many Foreigner Integration Courses (funded by the EU) and even a few therapy sessions (which I had to pay for myself) but to no avail! I guess I'm just going to have to live with it. Anyway, it's not so bad as it was in the old days, as now I can fiddle with my mobile, check emails, send tweets, etc, while I wait :)

Anyway, the first person to arrive (at 13:45) was Daniel Ramos, who was born in Australia. He's obviously managed to integrate into Spanish society better than me, but even so he still arrived 15 minutes too early! He brought two of his wines, which he makes in Cebreros. The one in the middle is an oak-aged Albillo and the one on the right a Garnacha:

Middle - Albillo; right - Garnacha

Then came Guillermo and Carlos from Maldivinas, also in Cebreros, and they brought a bottle of their La Movida 2010. They decanted it before I could take a photo of the label!

Decanted bottle od La Movida
Rubén Díaz, who's involved in several different projects, in and around Gredos, also brought wine, but I don't have any photos! Sorry!

Rafael Mancebo, from Bodega Garnacha Alto Albertche, in Navaluenga, brought wine, and again, no photos.

Belarmino and Alberto, from Bodegas Canopy, brought this wine:

Garnacha, by Bodegas Canopy

Alfredo Maestro, who has TWO bodegas: one in Peñafiel (Ribera de Duero) and one in Nalvalcarnero (Madrid), AND a day-job (like myself!), brought this wine:

A Tempranillo from Ribera de Duero
(at a Sierra de Gredos Garnacha producer's lunch!)

And I brought three of my 2012's which I bottled straight from the fermentation tanks that morning!

Airén, Malvar and Garnacha
A white (Airén), a skin-contact 'orange' (Malvar) and a red (Garnacha from Gredos).

I was a bit nervous - a little case of winemaker angst - at the thought of all these 'proper' (established, recognized) winemakers about to taste my wines. The last time I got the jitters like that was at REAL Fair back in May in London, when Arianna Occhipinti came to my table to taste my wines, and my hand was shaking as I poured, and didn't know what language to gibber incoherently in!!! (in English or in Italian or in Spanish). But anyway, I think I passed the test. There were no pregnant silences, or polite euphemisms. I think maybe there were even some genuine congratulations for the Garnacha and for the 'orange' Malvar. In fact, the owner of the restaurant, who was tasting with us, was taken with them and he ordered a case of each from me there and then! To be delivered next time I'm in the area :) At that point I relaxed and started enjoying!

So, what was the reason for this occasion? Well, I'm not sure, but I think the idea was just for for us small (and not so small) quality-wine producers from the Sierra de Gredos area to get together and ... well, talk about grape-growing and winemaking in Gredos, and maybe just get to know each other.

Did we actually agree to do anything? No, I don't think so, except perhaps to meet up again for lunch another time! And there was a proposal for each of us to bring some of our wines and to make a random coupage (1 barrel) of all our Garnachas from Gredos!

The Garnacha Boys

Towards the end of lunch, when we were having dessert, the local radio station operator popped in. He must have heard that a bunch of winemakers were in town, and he asked us if anyone wanted to nip over to the radio station and talk about wine. Surprisingly (I thought) no-one wanted to, so I volunteered and Rafael Mancebo came too. I dread to think what I said! At least it wasn't on the air live, so maybe the most incoherent bits will get edited out. Actually, it wasn't so bad, as I'd recently written a post (here) about my impressions of the state of the vineyards and wines in Gredos, so I talked about that mainly.

Basically, I said that Gredos was like a hidden treasure, with its unique micro-climate, its auctoctonous grape varieties (most famously Garnacha and Albillo, but also other uncommon, unknown ones). That it was under-valued, and not appreciated, not even by the people from there, and that its wines were not being marketed and sold as well as they could be. I said that this was not the fault of the grape-growers, because they are all old men, at or past retirement age, and all they've done all their lives is to grow grapes and sell them to the local co-op, so they can't be expected to know how to make wine, market it and sell it! I also said that that the local co-ops need to change their strategy! I said that the co-ops strategy, that used to work perfectly well back in the 40's, 50', 60's and maybe even in the 70's, was no longer working, ie paying for grapes by quantity and alcohol level, in order to make millions of liters of cheap table wine. There are thousands of similar co-ops all over Spain, all competing with each other AND with cheap wine from the new world, for a shrinking market, and chasing ever smaller profit margins.

I said it would be better to produce quality wines that express the unique terroir of Gredos, and everyone would benefit: the grape-growers who could be paid a decent price for their grapes, the co-ops themselves who could sell these wines at a good price, and consumers who would have another interesting quality wine available to them as a choice.

I hope I didn't cause offense, especially being an outsider and a bloody foreigner to boot! :)

Anyway, after that sobering experience, I had another coffee, and had another wander around San
Martín. It was pretty cold, especially after sunset. Then I set off for Madrid, and arrived just in time for another tasting at the Viñeta de Carmelo of Bodegas Demencia, natural wine producers from El Bierzo. I really could have done without it, as I was tired and would quite liked to have just to have gone to bed early with good sci-fi book! But no, it never rains but pours! And I didn't want to miss the chance to taste this natural wine, because 1) it's difficult to find and 2) it's expenssive! over €30/bottle!

Btw, the name of the bodega is a play on words: 'demencia' on the one hand means 'dementia', as in
the mental illness, and on the othe hand 'de mencia' means 'made from Mencia [grape variety]' Get it?

So, the tasting went ahead. Nacho talked about his grape-growing, his wine-making, his rejection of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc in the vineyard, his minimal intervention in the winery, his attempt to express the terroir, etc. And he presented his new line of wine, called "Pyjama" which is his 'entry-level' wine, also made form 100% Mencia. So after the tasting finished, at about 10:30, four or five of us hard-line wine geeks, who don't know what's good for us and when to call it a day and go to bed, remained behind. And of course more wine got drunk and the world was put to rights, and before I knew it, it was 1:00 in the morning.

But that's not all! One of the winelovers who remained behind made me a proposition! (A decent one!) He has a vineyard, near Madrid, and he said he'd like me to look after it and make the wine from its grapes! And I think I said yes, I'd love to do that! All the technical details to be sorted out at a later date :)

I live really near La Viñeta, so I left, walked home and was asleep by 1:10.

PS. Next morning I felt perfectly fine next morning, even though I had to get up at 7:00! I think I must be turning into some kind of wine professional or something! I put this lack of a hangover down to three things: one, I've finally learnt to remember to spit at occasions when there's a lot of different wines being poured; two, I didn't mix my drinks and stuck to wine! (except for a few beers before lunch) and three, they were all quality wines, so they didn't contain (many) additives!

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