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Monday 27 April 2015

Natural Wine Movement Entering Phase 2

I had a nice "Aha" moment a few days ago when I read Alice Feiring's article in Punch Magazine (here), in which she casually mentions that the Natural Wine Movement has moved on into "Phase 2"!  And then proceeds to discuss a whole batch of "Phase 2" concepts!

On the one hand I felt a sort of relief and I uttered a silent "At last! About time too!", because it was starting to get really tiresome reading the same old unfounded criticisms, attempted humour, and fantasy misconceptions coming from wine-writers and bloggers who either do it on purpose or who don't bother to inform themselves or do any due diligence on the realities of natural wine. Over the last year or so I've managed to restrain myself from actually replying to these posts in writing, but I haven't been able to stop myself from thinking up replies in my mind, which I find really annoying because I could be puting all that brain power to better use! Ha!

And on the other hand I thought "What? Phase 2 has started without me!!!? And here's me still miserably thrashing around with outdated and demodé Phase 1 stuff!!  This cannot be!"

So how to drag myself into Phase 2? I think I will actually have to write down all these mental replies to Phase 1 concepts that have been in my head recently. But not publically. I won't bore the people who read my blog with that sort of thing (again!). I will just pour it all forth onto paper in private, and it will be a sort of catharsis, a cleasing, an expurging from my mind of useless concepts, that have become boring, and that have served their purpose. I hope.

For me, these Phase 1 concepts include things like:

1. The semantic meaning of the word "natural" (Actually I dealt with that particular issue to my entire satisfaction here)

2. The existence or not of a "Natural Wine Movement", which has "champions", "dogmas", evil marketing ploys, etc  (I can sense a Hosemaster-style parody deep within me - if only I had the writing skills to materialize it!)

3. Blanket statements (humorous or not) about natural wines in general, ie "The champions of the natural wine movement believe that...."; "natural wines taste of ....."   Ach, these are just so stupid and annoying

4. Assorted nonsense, ie "It is essential to use SO2, otherwise....",  consipracy theories, ie "marketing to hoodwink the unsuspecting public", fantasy genre creative writing, eg "I raised my eyes heavenwards as yet another putrid brew was proffered to me by a bearded, tree-hugging ...", etc

Yes, enough of all that. Even though I find some of it interesting in its own right (like the semantics), I really ought to focus my mental energy on serious and interesting Phase 2 issues, and just totally forget about the denigrators.

And what are these Phase 2 issues anyway?  Well, Alice Feiring covers a good number of them in her Punch article, but basically, I believe that they all boil down to the question of whether a substance or a technique helps the wine express its terroir or not.

By focusing ALL my grape-growing and wine-making decisions through that lens (ie, whether it helps express the terroir better or not), all that Phase 1 nonsense above will automatically disappear from the agenda.

Example 1: Should I spray herbicides in my vineyard(s) to kill off the weeds or not?

Phase 1 answer: Herbicides are bad for the environment, kill micro-life, insects, pollute the ground-water, pose risk to larger animals and human vineyard workers and possibly neighbours and end consumers of the wine. Therefore no herbicides, irrespective of whether the wine will express the terroir better or not. Decision taken from a (higher) moral, philosophical (dogmatic) level, not from a (lower) mere wine-making terroir-driven level.

Phase 2 answer: By killing off the weeds, and microbes and insects, etc I am reducing biodiversity and placing the vines at risk of attack by disease, insects, etc because I have killed off the preditors, and I will be obliged to use more chemicals to combat this possible attack, which will affect the quality and taste of the grapes. Also the herbicides have empoverished the nutrient quality and quantity of the soil, and it may be necessary to use additional chemical fertilizers. The vines will be unbalanced, will lack certain elements and have an overabundance of others, and will not be able to produce balanced complex healthy must. Therefore, no herbicides, and seek other solutions. Decision based on soil-vine-grape-must-wine quality, which happily coincides with the environmental aspect of the question.

Example 2: Should I add any SO2 to my wines?

Phase 1 answer (by a sans-soufriste): No, never. I believe that SO2 is a barrier between the expression of the terroir and the taster. Any level of SO2 means that the terroir has not been expressed as well as it could have been expressed.

Phase 1 answer (by me): By default, No. If my grapes are healthy and my equipment is clean, there is no reason for me to use any SO2. But if I need to use some small amount for whatever reason then I will.

Phase 2 answer: hmmm, this one is more tricky! Lets see. If I'm making a young wine to be drunk within the year, then my Phase 1 answer above is valid. ie, assuming that my grapes are healthy and my equipment is clean, there is virtually no risk of the wine spoiling. It will certainly evolve, but not spoil. So my choice is one of taste: do I want to 'stabilize' my wine, in terms of colour and possible aromas and taste? or do I want to let it evolve naturally, ie becoming darker, losing its fruitiness, becoming more sherry-like? Which is the most faithful expression of the terroir?  Is the expression of the terroir better in say January when the aromas and tastes are fruity and intense? or the year after, when there is less fruit, the wine is more Sherry-like, and has other different non-fruit complexities?  If I add SO2, the wine will never evolve (or will it evolve much more slowly?)

But what if I want to make a 'crianza' or vin-de-guarde type wine which will have a long elevage both in barrel/amphora and in the bottle? Well, I have to plead ignorance here. The oldest wine I have is a Tempranillo 2010, which was bottled in 2011, and was made without any SO2, and it's still showing perfectly well! I don't know. I will have to think, and read, and ask about this.

Example 3: What containers should I use? Stainless steel, clay amphorae, concrete, plastic, wood?

Phase 1 answer: is based on the pros and cons of the characteristics of each material. Eg, stainless steel is easy to clean, and poses a very low risk of contamination, but it's expensive, completely non-porous to the atmosphere, and there are possible electro-magnetic issues.

Phase 2 answer: hmmmm, tricky again!  In the Sierra de Gredos or in the SE of Madrid I don't have hundreds of years of experience and opinions and consensus of what the terroir ought to be like, to draw on, like in say in Burgundy or Chianti. How do I even know what to aim for? La Mancha has historically only ever produced vast quantities of table wines (with a few isolated exceptions) and Sierra de Gredos is in a similar situation, ie no critical mass of producers/tasters/commentators/consumers of quality wines. Any suggestions welcome!

Cheers! Give me more juice!

Monday 6 April 2015

Achieving Things While Pottering About the Bodega and Vineyard

It's amazing. Back in January I started writing down a list of all the things I manage to achieve over time. Before that I just had my usual "to do" lists, which never seemed to get any shorter - the items changed but they stayed the same length, which was kind of depressing as it seemed that I wasn't getting anywhere or achieving anything.

But now I feel great! I can look at my "Achieved in March" list, for example, and I can remember (and feel great about) all those things which I did, but which I would have forgotten about! Easy!

I've even broken the list down into categories, because otherwise I get all confused and overwhelmed! It just goes to show that there really is a lot more to winemaking than just pottering around in the bodega and in the vineyards!

- Bodega
- Vineyards
- Orders delivered
- Samples sent
- Visits attended to
- Tastings gone to
- Paperwork done
- Contacts made
- Other

Well, I won't bore you all any more with this nonsense!  Instead here are some nice photos for you to enjoy, one photo for each of the above categories:

Hundreds of liters of wines bottles up and stored

Four vineyards pruned: Carabaña, Villarejo, and two in El Tiemblo
Orders delivered:
Un petit pallet pour Paris
Samples sent:

Some samples prepared and ready to be sent
Visits attended to:
Attending to a visitor
Tastings gone to:
Explaining something at Enoteca Barolo
Bodega books that have to be filled in with numbers
Contacts made:

I have a list of about 25 contacts, just from the Vitis Vinifera tasting in Barcelona the other week (from biz cards and memory jogging) that I ought to follow up. It's on my to-do list, but quite far down on the scale of priorities!

- I managed to get myself interviewed on Radio Aragon; blah-blah-blah natural wines blah-blah-blah
- I'm working on new labels (again) for next year
- I wrote three posts in March for this blog
- ... and some more trivial stuff.

Any questions, just post it here below, and I'll answer you asap.

Two Visitors to my Vineyards and Winery

Like I'm sure I've mentioned before, it's not all hard work in the vineyards and winery - sometimes I get a 'day off' when someone comes to visit, even though it's still considered to be 'work'. A bit like when I travel to a wine fair :)

The first visit was about two weeks ago, by Clara Isamat, of Vinos Compartidos, based in Barcelona. She's producing a video documentary on natural wine, with a chapter or a section for each producer that she's selected. She working with a production company called Entropia Films.

Here's me and Clara, in the patio behind the bodega, on the old weighing station
So basically I spent all afternoon/evening with her and her film crew, blah-blah-blah, answering her questions, and holding forth on all sorts of issues related to natural wines, skin-contact whites, conventional wines, fine wines, the environment, globalization of wines, ingredient labelling, quality, etc, etc.

Checking the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc Amphora

Bottling up, the slow way

Fishing out a glass of Suav blanc
 Here's Victoria and Martí of Entropia Films doing a bit of post-production on the fly

Next day, more of the same, but in the vineyards. Nice and early so they could "catch the light" which is more beautiful just after sunrise!

Here we are in the car on the way to the vineyard. Can you believe that I'd never seen a selfie-stick before? Amazing! This one had a blue-tooth connection to a clicker!

A selfie-stick
I think it's that way
Check out that vine!

Pruning or posing?
Clara brought me a present, a new wine toy called "Kit de Cata" or "Tasting Kit", which consists of special wine socks that you can slip over a bottle of wine when you're playing a blind tastings! Otherwise, you have to wrap the bottle up in silver foil, or use a paper bag, or other inelegant solution! :)   It's great fun, and impossibly difficult to guess the wine (unless you're a professional taster, who tastes many different wines every day). You can get these lovely socks here:

Blind tasting wine socks by adivinosvinos
But I have to say that I've had at least two minor blind tasting triumphs over the last few years: one was when I gate-crashed into a monthly tasting held by a club in a village near Madrid that I happened to be passing through one evening; and I knew they were there so I thought, why not?  Well, the first wine was ridiculously obvious to me, because as luck would have it I'd recently tasted lots of them at a wine fair in London!  It was a Georgian wine and when I declared my guess everyone looked at me like I was mad. But I was right! :)

But anyway, I'm getting distracted! The next visit was by Mario Siragusa, a grapegrower and winemaker from Piemonte, Italy. I'd met hime in Turin last year at Banco, a natural wine bar and bistrot in the old part of Turin, during the Slow Food event back in October last year.

This visit was just for pleasure and no business, but we were blah-blah-blah all day anyway, again about natural wines, additives, ingredient labelling, etc, etc. Mario is a collector/drinker of old vintage wines, and he brought me this as a present:

Vintage Barbaresco 1971
He has more of the same at home and he says that it will be perfectly drinkable. Probably. They say you never can tell with such old wine. I'm starting to take an interest in old vintages, both for the taste and for the collection thing. If only I had more time! :)

Here we are in the Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo, Sierra de Gredos:

Fabius et Marius in vinea stant
 And here I am, extracting some Albillo 2014 to taste:

Extracting a sample of Albillo 2104
I really must come up with some other method of taking samples!

Actually, there was a third recent visit - by by Nacho Bueno, but he has his own blog (here) so he can write about it himself! :)

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