Another day, another food festival, but same old problem – poor advertising photography! Maybe, it’s just me, but I don’t really find this picture very appealing and it certainly wouldn’t attract me into joining the party. Whether you actually like lacón con grelos is another thing, but suffice to say that here in Galicia it s considered a bit of a local delicacy. The lacon (cured ham) I can just about manage to eat, but the grelos (the leaves of a turnip) I find quite stringy and bitter. It’s all just a matter of personal taste.
By the way, just in case you were wondering, Cuntis is the place where the festival is being held. I will not be rushing there…..
After more than two months of extreme weather (the rain is still lashing against our window as I write this), we have our fingers crossed that a change could be on the way. I feel that I should be apologising for the number of posts that I have made about the weather, but clearly, this can have a knock-on effect for our grape production later in the year. For example, I think it would be fair to say that there will be no shortage of groundwater in 2014!
I was relieved to see on several different weather websites that it looks like we might have a dry, sunny period arriving by the middle of this week. They are also predicting a significant step up in temperatures, from the current average of 11-12°C (52-54°F), to a new level of 19-20°C (66-68°F). Now that our pruning is nearing an end, such a temperature change would certainly stimulate some growth activity in our vines.
Being located where we are, adjacent to the Ocean, I am still very aware that forecasts can change rapidly, and so all we can do for now is to wait, and hope that they are correct. I’m not sure that I can stand another weekend of almost non-stop rain – I thought that I had escaped all this when I moved to Spain from the UK!
‘Fairtrade Fortnight’ runs from 24th February until 9th March – but what exactly is the meaning of Fairtrade? A definition from the official website says “Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world”. A very reasonable premise that deserves our full support. Of course no one, in any country, wants to see workers being exploited, especially when they have no means of fair representation or redress, but I still can’t help but think that the fair trade concept should apply globally, and not only in developing nations. For example, even here, in the so-called mature western economies, farmers and their workers at the very sharp end of our supply chains are still sometimes exploited. We hear stories of dairy farmers being forced to the brink of bankruptcy by having their milk prices continually squeezed by large retail chains – surely this should not be considered as a fair way to do our trade?
Here in the Rias Baixas wine denomination we are always very conscious of our obligation to pay grape growers a fair price, enough to cover their costs and to provide them with a decent living. Unfortunately, during a period of deep recession, we continuously face strong downward pressure on our prices, and inevitably it becomes a fight for survival at almost every level of the supply chain. In the last couple of years I think I am correct in saying that our denomination has lost as many as 40 or 50 of the original 200 wine cellars. Some might say that this is a form of ‘natural selection’ where only the strong have survived, but the sad fact is that there are still many honest, hard-working Galicians (perhaps grape suppliers to the failed bodegas), who will now be struggling to make ends meet. We are also hearing tales of some grape suppliers that are being paid two or three vintages in arrears, or perhaps not at all – hardly an example of ‘fair trade’.
So when we are asked, or even expected to lower our prices in order to compete, then unfortunately, we run the risk of this knock-on effect. Everyone, at every level is being squeezed. Please don’t get me wrong, at Castro Martin we wholeheartedly support the concept of Fairtrade, but I am simply asking the question – where and when does fair trade begin, and at what border does it (or should it) end?
Over recent years many businesses in Spain have been created on the back of subsidies, the vast majority being drawn from the coffers of the European Community. By far the biggest industry to benefit from this was construction…. but that was before the financial crisis kicked in, when not only did the subsidies dry up, but a huge number of construction companies went bust. The problem was that these businesses were simply building for the sake of building – houses, apartment blocks and even airports that were simply not required…. merely to take advantage of the seemingly boundless European wealth. It has since transpired that many millions of Euros were illicitly syphoned off (probably now secreted in Swiss bank accounts), and so there are at least a few builders, local mayors and politicians who truly cashed in on this ‘European gravy train’.
Anyway, that was a while ago, and, as I mentioned, these subsidies have long since disappeared. So where is the next free money coming from? Where is the next opportunity to cream off a few Euros? The answer? Company training courses!
OK, so it’s not big business like construction, so there’s not to same opportunity to become rich overnight, but there is still the possibility of cashing in by inflating the odd invoice here and there – or so it is alleged (he added hastily, for legal reasons). Subsequently we are now being bombarded by e-mails, encouraging us to send our employees on every type of course you can possibly imagine. If we took advantage of even one or two of the several daily offers that we receive, then we could easily end up with some of the most highly trained employees in Europe.
Naturally, I have applied for the BBC English course…
Perhaps people outside North America or Northern Europe might not appreciate how bad this winter’s weather has actually been….. so far. For the last month and a half we have been battered by storms on an almost daily basis. For example, the Atlantic coasts of the western Europe are experiencing two or three damaging weather systems per week – there is no time whatsoever to recover before the next storm strikes, and to say that the soil is saturated is something of an understatement. This winter it has almost become the norm to be soaked by the equivalent of a month’s rain within a period of just a few days…. all previous weather records have been completely blown away (almost literally). Experts are now saying that even when this continuous cycle of bad weather is broken it could take months before some of the floods completely subside.
Only yesterday morning I was on my way back from the denomination office in Pontevedra when I had to stop my car at the side of the road – the rain on my windscreen was so intense that I simply couldn’t see the road in front of me, even with my wipers working at full speed. Water replaced tarmac, as the roads turned to rivers. Possibly the most intense rain that I have experienced since I arrived in Spain. When I did eventually arrive back at the bodega there was no power, which in this day and age obviously causes problems, but fortunately the break in supply only lasted about an hour.
Of course we have no idea what the spring and summer might bring, we simply have our fingers crossed that it will be a good growing season for our vineyards, without too many extremes of weather, but then again, who knows…..
It would be pretty frivolous of me to suggest that Albariño is the most ideal wine to buy your partner for Valentine’s Day. That distinction should probably be credited to rosé Champagne, and being completely honest, I think that I can understand the reasons why….. There’s always something a bit special about opening a good bottle of fizz on a romantic occasion, and for some reason it is often implied that rosé Champagne is especially favoured by the ladies. This notion however, is probably quite outdated, and in an age of more knowledgeable wine consumers I’m not so sure that it’s entirely true anyway. It could simply be that pink is simply considered to be a more romantic colour? Anyway, suffice to say that on February 14th Champagne will be the preferred choice of many to help woo (or perhaps impress) the woman of their dreams.
Possibly the best way to celebrate this special day is over a candlelit dinner, or failing that, perhaps delivering a nice bouquet of flowers (excluding those from your local gas station or supermarket!). Gifts can be many and varied, but in my opinion stuffed toys or novelty knickers are probably best avoided. One marketing suggestion of a Valentine’s gift that dropped into my mailbox only today was some lovely speech recognition software – just the thing to thrill the lady in your life. My guess is that this, or perhaps a new ironing board cover would be especially well received…… if you happen to be fishing for a divorce!
Yesterday I ate a tomato that had no taste whatsoever and it started me thinking…… In the wine trade, we make, market and sell wine by variety, so why doesn’t this approach apply to every fruit and vegetable – growing and selling them according to their variety, and more importantly, their flavour. Now I know there will be people who will jump on this apparent generalisation, and I do acknowledge that there are already many shops and supermarkets that clearly advertise both the variety and their provenance, but this is not a worldwide concept.
Imagine for a moment that you walked into your favourite wine shop, and the only way you could identify your selection was by the colour, as though it was assumed that every white wine, and every red wine tasted the same (and that the variety of grape really didn’t matter). This thought brings me neatly back to my tomatoes. Why shouldn’t I be able to walk into my local supermarket and knowingly select the variety of tomato that I like and prefer to buy? Why does it have to be a secret?
Of course, I already know the answer to that question – many fruits and veg are grown simply because they are prolific, and not necessarily because they have the best taste (there is even a variety of tomato called ‘moneymaker’). Now, I am not saying for one moment that we should stop growing these abundant croppers, but I am simply saying help us to identify them, and let us make the choice. As with my wine selections, I for one would not mind paying a few cents extra to buy a fruit or veg that I know I am going to appreciate….. it just makes more sense.
For example, in many countries it is very common to display the category of potato that we buy, depending on whether it is required for boiling, baking or frying etc. – but unfortunately not here in Galicia (ironically a big potato producing area). Yes, I can buy bags that are marked ‘for frying’, ‘for boiling’ etc., but the problem is that I do not agree with their selections! I end up with limp, soggy french fries, or hard, waxy boiled potatoes – I can never find what I really want. Very fortunately, I can at least buy my apples and pears by variety, but nearly everything else is pot luck!
OK, so I’ve had my little rant and got it off my chest, but if you stop to think about it for a moment, why shouldn’t the consumer be able to chose, or at least have more information so that they can make an informed selection? It wouldn’t cost any more to tell us what we’re buying…..
Despite the fact that we are currently being lashed by rain and strong winds on a daily basis, I guess that by comparison, we should consider ourselves lucky. Large areas of the UK are still under water (some areas have been flooded since Christmas), and huge parts of the US are gripped by snow and ice, and have been for many weeks. Apparently, over in the US, the cold weather extends as far south as northern Texas.
Here at Castro Martin we have not been flooded by the storms, but suffice to say that the heavy rain is now barely absorbed by the totally saturated ground. To compound matters even further, this is the time of year that we are traditionally extremely busy in our vineyards pruning, but to be honest this is the type of weather when you would be reluctant to send your dog out, let alone your poor pruning team! As they leave the cellar they are completely cocooned in their oilskins and boots, but even so, in this weather, it is really the most unenviable task. The problem is that we cannot really stop and wait, it’s simply a job that has to be completed, and with no break in the weather on the horizon, our guys simply have to soldier on regardless….
When I was a wine buyer there was one thing that I was always desperate to avoid during the winter months…. catching a cold or flu. It’s pretty obvious that a blocked nose would simply render you unable to work, which is why at the first sign of any symptom I would quickly dose myself with aspirin and vitamins. An over reaction perhaps, but it seemed to work quite well for me, and over the years I don’t recall spending too many periods out of action.
The reason I mention this now is because I am just recovering from a nasty bout of “man flu” (and yes, it apparently does exist). A new study suggests that men may actually suffer more when they are struck down with flu – because high levels of testosterone can weaken their immune response! The study was carried out by the Stanford University School of Medicine – and that’s good enough for me. The reality is however, that apart from a few flu tablets and a day or two in bed, there’s not really too much that you can do…. apart perhaps from one small discovery that I made recently – the Neti Pot.
When I get a cold it usually goes straight to my head and fills my sinuses, and the neti pot is a way of offering some relief. It is otherwise known as nasal irrigation, which might sound disgusting, but does appear to work. I would recommend giving it a try, but only on the proviso that you follow the instructions carefully – using the correct saline solution made from distilled or boiled water (to get rid of possible impurities).
By the way, I did feel bad, but that’s not me in the photo!
Just a quick note to wish all our Chinese friends and customers a Happy New Year (the year of the horse). I often make reference the fact that our wine is particularly well suited to Japanese food, but I should also say that it also makes a good accompaniment to many Chinese dishes too.
Gong Xi Fa Cai
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