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Tuesday 23 June 2015

Winding down for the summer

Well, its late mid-June-ish, and all is well. More or less. The vineyards are beautiful (touch wood); the bodega is semi-prepared for the coming harvest; (touch wood); and the marketing and sales is going really well too (touch wood!).


I’m really happy with my vineyards. I've let all the grasses, flowers, thistles, etc grow all year, and now all I'm doing is cutting them all back around the vines, so that they will be easier to access during the harvest. The reason I do this, instead of ploughing, is of course to create a living soil and a living ecosystem, full of micro-life (bacteria and other invisible organisms) and visible life itself (insects and other small animals).

Flowery grassy vineyard, Garnacha, El Tiemblo, Sierra de Gredos

If the soil is rich and complex and alive, then the vines can take all the nutrients they from it. No more and no less, but just exactly what they need. The way I create this rich and complex and living soil is just to let everything grow, reproduce, die and decompose; and help the process along a little by cutting the grass and plants back with my sickle. I also keep the canes from the pruning and chop them up into tiny pieces.

At this time of year, dry grass and thistles!
Every few years I add some manure, which I bury near the vines. It's better to bury it because if you leave it on the surface all its nutrients are used by the surface grasses and it doesn't get down to where the vine's roots are.

By letting all the different species of grasses and plants grow, you create diverse and interesting habitats for many different species of insects; whereas if you plough up and keep the vineyard naked, then only one or two species can live there – precisely the ones that eat vine leaves and grapes! Obviously, because there's nothing else left to eat! So now you have to use chemicals to kill them because otherwise they'll destroy your vines and grapes!

This natural system, IMO, produces grapes of a much higher quality than industrially-chemically farmed grapes. The must of naturally farmed grapes is much more complex and interesting and contains a much wider range of components and micro-components; the bunches of industrially-chemically farmed grapes may be bigger and more impressive looking, but the must is diluted, unbalanced and poorer in diversity of flavours and aromas.

more grass
Each to their own. To produce millions of liters of 'affordable' supermarket wine at nice price points, it may well be necessary to pollute the environment and use lots of dodgy chemicals, but to produce small amounts of quality, terroir-expressing, comment-worthy fine wines, it's essential to practice sustainable, environmentally respectful and safe agriculture. IMO.

Next year I'm going to give my vines a fortifying booster, in the form of a horsetail infusion (Latin: Equisetum; Spanish: Cola de Caballo). It's been a few years since I last did this.
The other day I watered the 200 new Tempranillo vines that I planted back in April.


The bodega is more or less under control too; it's just that there are lots and lots of minor loose ends to be tied up, but for which I never find the time.

For example:
- The patio outside
- Shopping for ‘stuff’: Hermetic lids, Boxes for harvesting, Crown cap machine, small bits n bobs
- Cleaning everything: steel tanks, tinajas, presses, crushers, floors, etc
- Bottling up some barricas
- Stick insulating panels back on doors
- Line a new tinaja with beeswax

Not much shade here - maybe next year!
I have to do all the above and more, but I have no time to do it all! So I have to prioritize and decide which tasks are more important, and which can be left till ‘later’. The main things are in fact done, ie most of the wines are sold, most of the bodega and equipment is clean and ready for the final pre-harvest thorough cleaning. I will just have to be philosophical and come to terms with the fact that there’s no way I can do everything and have everything ‘just so’ to my entire satisfaction. :)

Marketing and Sales (the unglamourous part)

No real complaints in this department either. One of my goals last year was to diversify my exports, instead of selling exclusively to JPS in the USA, and I’ve managed to achieve that. I now also export to Denmark, Belgium, France and the UK (see this page for details).

a nice big pallet of wine, almost ready to go
I also decided to try to sell in Spain too, but that is proving more difficult. I do sell regularly to three places in Madrid (Enoteca Barolo, SoloDeUva and Montia) and also sporadically to another few places. But I see two problems here: firstly there is a lot less demand for natural wines in Spain, it’s still very much a novelty, like it was back in the 80’s or 90’s in other parts of the world. And I have no desire to ‘evangelize’ or try to persuade to drink natural wines. My approach is “if anyone wants to buy my wines they are more than welcome to do so, but I’m not going to argue or justify.” That’s a completely different thing from providing information or answering questions, of course! Which I do, a lot!

The other difficulty with selling wines in Spain is that I don’t have the time, resources or skills required to be a distributor! I can only just manage those three places I mentioned above, and even then it takes me weeks to respond to orders! What I really need, I suspect, are some proper distributors! J

Winding Down

So, time to wind down and try to relax. The first thing I have to look forward to this summer is the H2O Natural Wine Festival, held in the village of Pinel de Brai (Tarragona).

Next up will be the Albillo harvest, at the beginning of August. (Albillo Real is a very early ripening variety!) Then there will be a respite of a few weeks, until the regular varieties become ready for harvesting all through September and October.

Before, during and after those two events I hope to hang out in Barga (Tuscany) my family’s home town, and apart from doing the usual odd-jobs about the house and garden, I hope to expand my knowledge of Italian wines at the local enoteca – Colordivino, set right in the centre of the old part of town :)

Wednesday 10 June 2015

RAW Fair 2015, a cloudy two days in London

Yes, it was a cloudy two days in London on 17th and 18th May, but I’m not talking about the weather, I’m talking about my wines :). In fact I seem to remember that what I saw of the sky was clear, bright and transparent, just like the wine industry would have us believe that all our wines ought to be! Ha ha!

During my two days at RAW pouring wine and chatting with visitors, I was asked many times why my wines were so cloudy. Well, I've been thinking about the cloudiness of my wines for quite some time actually, since long before RAW. Every now and then someone inevitably comments on the fact that my wines are generally rather cloudy and full of 'bits', but so many comments in such a short space of time set off the old thought processes again!!!

The short and trivial answer is of course “Because I don’t filter, fine or clarify them”.

“To fine or not to fine”, that is the real question.

There are several points in favour of not fining, and some in favour of fining or clarifying, but before going into all that, here's a nice photo of me and Isabelle Legeron, with a signed copy of her book :)

Advantages of NOT fining:

- Saves time; and saves the expense of the fining agent. This is pretty trivial, but still, I suppose it can be considered an advantage.

- Natural protection. All those bits and pieces (yeasts - dead or just dormant?, particles of grape skins, who knows what else?) surely contribute to protecting the wine from spoilage. That's what I intuitively feel is happening. Perhaps there are studies out there that back this up? Probably! But then again there are probably studies out there that back up the opposite theory too, no doubt! As with many other questions, I just go with my intuition here.

- Looks good visually! There's no accounting for taste, as we all know, and some people (not many!) have actually told me that they like the cloudy, semi-transparent (or semi-opaque) look of my wines.

- Suitable for vegans. Vegans don't drink wine that has been fined with egg-whites or fish bladders (though bentonite would be OK).

- Extra taste. Again this is intuitive, but I believe, that if you fine or clarify or filter, you also remove lots of tasty aromatics too.

Advantages of fining:

- Looks good visually! According to the majority of consumers. The industry standard these days is to produce a clear, transparent wine that has been fined and filtered and otherwise 'stabilized'. But what's that got to do with me? I don't sell my wines to the mass market via supermarkets, ie to consumers who only care about pretty labels and price points. I don't think the people who buy and appreciate my wines care one way or another about the visual aspect of my or any other natural producer's wine. I like to think that the reason we buy and love these natural wines is primarily to enjoy the aromas and tastes and to comment on the expression of the terroir, if any, not to gaze at them as if they were paintings or statues.

- Stabilizes the wine. That's the industry dogma! They say that you 'have to' stabilize your wine otherwise it will turn into vinegar. But that's not my experience. I in fact have an on-going experiment running at my bodega, consisting of several bottles of my wines opened in January 2014 (during a visit from my US importer Jose Pastor) and which I have been tasting every month or so to see how they are evolving. So far (touch wood!) not one is showing any signs of turning to vinegar. But I believe that industrial large-volume producers do have to filter and fine and stabilize their wines because they are of such bad quality to start off with. It's probably perfectly true that if they didn't stabilize them, then they really would turn into vinegar pretty fast. But this is not applicable to small volume, high quality producers. IMO.

- In fact, I believe that we have all just made a virtue of a vice, ie because basically all industrial wines have to be filtered and fined and stabilized, we have all come to accept that that that’s the ‘best’ way to make wine and that that’s the way wines ‘ought’ to look. It’s not that this processing makes the wine tastier or expresses the terroir better, or anything even remotely connected to those kinds of issues; it’s because these industrial wines have to be transported over long distances for a long time, stored for a long time in hot warehouses, and stand for a long time on supermarket shelves!

So the really real question boils down to whether the terroir is best expressed by fining or by not fining. (This is a Natural Wine Phase 2 question - see this previous post here). I don't have the answer, but I've been thinking about it, as I said. I would really welcome any thoughts and suggestions; or pointers to some literature - I'm sure this has been thought about and written about before! Nothing new under the sun here! :)

Just to keep the record straight:

Please note that not all my wines are cloudy. Some are in fact perfectly clear and transparent! But of course those wines don’t draw any comments!

The reason for this is that I generally bottle up from the top of a tank or tinaja and work my way down; so the top and middle are generally clear and transparent, while the bottom quarter generally gets more and more cloudy.

Wines can of course be clarified naturally! All it takes is gravity and time; and the colder temperatures over winter help too.

But it’s not as simple as that. It also depends on the time of the year, and the ambient temperature. Sometimes a cold snap in the bodega will make a batch of wine precipitate out the tartrates (whatever they are!). If that happens in the bottle, like happened to some of my Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (but not all, go figure!) then the bottle will be perfectly clear and transparent, but have a shard of ‘crystal’ tartrate at the bottom. If it happens in the tank, like happened to the Airén 2014, then all the wine is clear and transparent, and the sides of the tank are encrusted with tartrates and a real bitch to clean off!

Also I bet that it has a lot to do with the atmospheric pressure on the day of bottling, and with the phase of the moon. I’ve never taken note of this before, because I’m so short of time generally that I have to bottle up when I have to bottle up, and can’t afford the luxury of waiting for the moon and/or atmospheric pressure to rise/drop. Though I would love to do be able to do so.

I would really appreciate some feedback here; I’ve been havering for months, if not years, on this matter and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere on my own!

Another thing

Another thing that was mentioned more than once during the Fair was the heat inside the main hall where the winemakers had our stands. Well, true enough, it got pretty hot in there! But to tell truth I wasn’t too bothered by it. I was able to get away from my table quite often (to answer calls of nature and to grab a quick taste of my neighbours’ wines!) as I had the help of not one but two wine bitches this year (their term not mine!)

Winebitch#1 - You're fired! (drinking on duty)
Winebitch#2 - Good work!

And lastly

I also heard a few complaints that the white wines were difficult to keep properly chilled, but again I wasn’t too bothered about that either. I took the view that RAW was primarily a wine ‘tasting’ event and not purely a social event, where it is of course more enjoyable to drink your white wine chilled. At a ‘tasting’ I think it’s OK, better even, to serve your white wine slightly warmer than chilled, because that way you can appreciate all its qualities better, and of course detect any flaws easier too.

And really lastly

A nice happy anecdote, I was surprised and pleased to see the tenacious sceptic and stern critic of natural wines, Robert Joseph at the fair, who not only kindly came to my table to taste my wines but also posed for a photo of us together. I find this interesting because we have had our disagreements in the past, and quite vocal ones too, both at his own blog and at mine. But it was all boring Phase 1 natural wine issues! It seems that we’ve both moved on. I’m assuming that he didn’t come across too many “faulty” wines at the fair because he hasn’t published a post on his findings :)

Me 'n' RJ

And really, really finally and ultimately

I did a quick search of the internet and came up with a few posts that covered RAW Fair:

- Decanter Magazine: Natural wine movement has legs, shows RAW Fair in UK

- Jamie Goode: RAW and the London Wine Fair

- On the Lees: RAW Fair London

- The Holborn: Tea and a Chat with Isabelle Legeron

- Street Eats: RAW Wine Fair: What is Natural Wine?

- Chomping Ground: 5 Things We Learned at the RAW Fair

- The Wine Butler: The RAW Fair

- Our Man on the Ground: Hear us RAW at the Truman Brewery's Artisan Wine Fair

And I just have to mention also

that after all these years I may have finally and at last found myself a UK importer! Hooray! Touch wood! And hoping that all works out well! I’m actually in the process of labelling, boxing and building a pallet for the UK right now, but like any football match, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, or in my case until I see the back of a lorry driving away from the bodega with a pallet of wine safely on board! And here’s also hoping that Otros Vinos will do a wonderful job of distributing my wines all over the UK – eventually, that is, let’s just start with London this year :)

happening at RAW

Monday 1 June 2015

Madrid Natural Wine Fair, 10th May 2015

Madrid Natural Wine Fair, 10th May 2015

This is the third of three related posts that I’m uploading in a row. The first was up the day before yesterday, the second was up yesterday and this is the third.

Just a few personal thoughts and a bit of feedback on this natural wine event, which I hope will be the first of many, as it was a great success.

Here's a view of the main room where the fair was held (at Impact Hub in Madrid), and which was extremely well organized by the PVN (the Spanish natural wine producers association "Productores de Vinos Naturales"):

I was in that room at the back with the red cupboard

My table, with my wares
A view from the street

First I have to confess that I was actually very sceptical in the run-up to this event and that I thought that it would be a waste of my time to go. In fact, when I was invited to participate as a producer, I seriously considered whether I should go or not. I was weighing up my options, as it were, as I had (have!) so many things to do in the vineyards/winery that whether to "waste" a day at a fair was a major decision for me. In the end, what decided me was that as I actually live and work in Madrid, it would be inexcusable/ unforgivable/ shameful if I didn't go, even if it were to turn out to be a waste of time. Sorry, but that's the truth!!!

Some wine, anyone?
(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
I have to further confess to being very surprised at the number of visitors throughout the day. After 11 straight hours on the go (from 9:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening) I ended up with sore feet, a sore mouth and a sore throat!  From standing up attending to visitors and from talking about my wines! I think that's a pretty good indicator of the success/failure of an event, no?

A view of the main room from upstairs(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
I received a curious mixture of visitors: on the one hand there were lots of 'trade' people, like bloggers, shop/restaurant people, and other wine-related people, and I even made a contact for a possible importer in Japan! Which I've been seeking for quite some time, but with the inscrutability on the one side and the laziness on the other, ... things have been uneventful on that front :)

Yet more wine, anyone?
(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
And on the other hand, there were lots of 'normal' general–public visitors too who didn't know much about wine technically-geekily speaking, but who had come to see what this was all about. Which was great, as these are the most important link in the supply chain that runs from the earth under the vines to our stomachs!

The lovely food at the Fair was provided by Carlos, of the ex Petit Bistrot (Madrid's only natural wine bar and restaurant), which has recently rebranded itself as SoloDeUva (“OnlyFromGrapes”). I was pleased to see that he also brutally exploits his wife and children - in the kitchen, in his case; as opposed to in the vineyard and winery in my case. Traditions must be maintained!

Many thanks to Carlos Scholderle, and Gabriel Blocona for looking after my stand while I went to answer the call of nature several times during the course of the day. Also thanks to Jorge Sibaritastur for fetching me assorted glasses of neighbouring producers' wines for me to taste, including two from Frank Cornelison, who was the most famous name at the fair (tho he wasn't there in person!). Thanks also to Hugo, son of Carlos, for bringing me things to eat from his father's popup, during the course of the day.

I presume that all the other producers (see final list here) were equally busy. So I guess that means the event was a great success :)

Packup up
(photo by Gabriel Blocona)
The major stress factor that day (or with hindsight it could now be called 'amusing anecdote') was that at 12:30, I was already running out of wine! I had only taken three bottles of each wine, thinking that it would be more than enough. But of course it was nowhere near enough. So I phoned a friend (who had a car) and asked her to do me a favour and go to my house in Madrid and bring me every bottle of wine available! She duly turned up within the hour, with about 20 assorted bottles which saved the day :)

At 8 o'clock we started clearing up and moving out, heading towards Le Petit Bistrot itself for the after-event drinking session dinner. :)
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