Now that the vendimia is behind us and the fermentations are at an end, we continue with the ongoing task of deep cleaning the wine cellar. There are some areas, including the tank room, that we are pretty much unable to touch until the wines are finished and the tanks firmly closed. (During our fermentations the tanks have to be left open to allow the huge amounts to CO2 generated to escape – supported by a strong air extraction system so that we don’t all expire whilst working from a lack of oxygen!)
In the pressing room for example, the presses themselves have been thoroughly cleaned, albeit that they still need to be re-assembled and some of the internal parts fixed back inside.
Today’s photo shows some of these pieces – the long rubber ‘fingers’ extending from the steel parts that you can see, are the pieces that help to break up the grapes and bunches as the machine rotates during pressing (in a similar action to the modern washing machine, as it rotates gently back and forth during the cycle). The long brown fingers of the press are ribbed, and really, really remind me of the very famous Spanish delicacy ‘churros’, which are traditionally eaten with a thick hot chocolate drink – the churros themselves being used for ‘dunking’ in the cup!.
I’m afraid that these rubber fingers, even if they were sprinkled with sugar and dipped in chocolate, wouldn’t taste quite the same!
Our fermentations have been underway for some time now, but we are very much on the home stretch. The very first tanks that we seeded are already complete, and can now be sulphured to ensure that no unwanted, secondary fermentation will start during the lees ageing period. Of course in some vintages, when the acidity is particularly high, we might actually encourage a second, malolactic fermentation in some of the tanks. This will convert the (harsh, green, metallic tasting) malic acid, into the much softer, more palatable lactic acid (found in milk products). These tanks can then be blended throughout the cellar in order to lower the average acidity in the rest of the tanks.
However, 2016 is different. We have a beautifully balanced wine in terms of fruit and acidity, and so no further adjustments will be required. It is now just a question of watching each tank closely until all the remaining sugar has been consumed…. not long now!
In all my years as a wine buyer, I still maintain that one of the most difficult tastings of all was that of a raw wine – a wine that was either still fermenting, had just finished fermenting, or was perhaps undergoing its malolactic fermentation. This is the moment when any wine buyer worth his or her salt, would have to rely on their crystal ball – to look into and predict the future of what the finished wine might look like. I can tell you that it is no easy task which in the end, simply comes down to experience.
In the case of our own wine cellar it is not quite so complicated, as effectively, we only have one wine (or at least one grape variety). The main difference being, from my point of view, that there is no major buying decision hanging in the balance! Even so, tasting a raw white wine, especially from a variety with high acidity, still requires a pretty strong constitution.
As our wines approach the end of fermentation (they can now officially be called wine rather than must), we can finally start to assess the true potential of the vintage. Of course, at the very beginning, the grape juice itself is always a pretty accurate indicator, but it is only now that we can begin to really see how the finished wines might really look.
Our tank tastings so far have revealed almost exactly what we had anticipated – extremely fruity wines with good weight and structure, but whilst still retaining their fresh albariño acidity. An alcohol of about 12.5% also provides additional mouthfeel. And so all we have to do now is wait – another 6 to 8 months resting on their lees, and then we can pass our final judgement.
As you may already be aware, all of our fruit is picked by hand (the pergola system of vine training does not allow machine harvest), and gathered in small baskets of around 18-20kg (40lbs). The cases are open, well ventilated and chosen specifically to avoid fruit being prematurely crushed and preventing any possible fruit oxidation.
Over the years many cases have been lost or broken, sometimes causing a bottleneck in fruit collection as grape suppliers have to wait for cases to be emptied and re-cycled. This year we added 1,000 new cases to prevent any delay in delivering our fruit from vineyard to press as quickly as possible.
Although they are washed and re-cycled during the picking period, at the end of every campaign they still need to be thoroughly cleaned using our pressure washing machines, and then stored in our grape reception until they are required again next year. In common with the grape reception itself they are only used once a year for a period of about one week. In the meantime they simply form a part of our very own case mountain….
Today did not start as expected. We arrived at the front door of the bodega to find our electrical junction box on fire! (Fortunately it is located on a wall outside the building). If you can use the word lucky in these circumstances, it seems that the fire had started only minutes before, and so we were able to quickly grab an extinguisher (the powder in the photo), and kill the flames within minutes.
Of course, with the junction box virtually destroyed, there was no power at all in the building. Pretty much a disaster at harvest time, when we rely on refrigeration to keep our tanks cool during fermentation. Having no light, computers, telephones etc., was of secondary importance at this critical moment of the wine making process.
Thankfully we have very reliable electrical contractors, and within 30 minutes of the fire they were already on site. Within an hour or so, we had all the replacement parts, and by 12.30 (three and a half hours after the initial disaster), power was restored… Very, very impressive in the circumstances.
As soon as the power came back on, we quite naturally, rushed to look at the tank thermostats. Fantastic! The temperatures had only increased by 0.2 or 0.3°C, almost nothing at all, and certainly not enough to do any damage to our fermenting wines.
I guess this serves me right for claiming that it had been an uneventful campaign!
This might seem like a slightly odd post to make on our blog, but it’s only to make you aware of an addition to our ‘DOWNLOADS’ section of this website. If you click on the download menu you can find the new 2016 Harvest Report in full (but so far, only in English – the Spanish translation will appear soon). This is really intended as a supplement to all my harvest posts of the last couple of weeks, and gives much more information about the growing season prior to the picking itself.
Of course, I can’t claim that it makes great bedtime reading, but it might just help you to get to sleep!
Despite the wine making process now keeping us fully occupied, we also have to sell a bit of wine to fund it all. Although we don’t actually close, or refuse any orders during the harvest, our resources are always at full stretch, and consequently any order that does arrive has to be temporarily put on hold. As soon as the picking is finished, then we immediately get to work on any backlog.
Today we had our first post-harvest collections, and it is always quite gratifying to see a queue of trailers outside the bodega waiting to pick up stock. Knowing that there are customers waiting to ship our wine to different corners of the world always helps to make our extensive workload just that bit easier to bear.
Finally, all of our fermentations are under way – it always appears to be such a long drawn-out process, but at least everything is looking really good as far as quality is concerned (fingers crossed). Having said that, we are still a very long way from the end of the wine making operation, there are still another good three or four weeks of work to do.
As I think I mentioned before, at various stages during the fermentation we have to make additions to the tanks, and once added these products require a thorough mixing, or ‘pumping over’ as we call it. This pumping over process can take hours depending on the size of the tank.
The other notable thing about these tank additions are the products themselves (by the way, none of them are cheap!). At least two or three of them come in the form of a very fine powder, and have to be mixed with grape must before they can be added to the tanks. We do all the mixing by hand (as you can see in today’s picture), and initially, regardless of how much care we take, there is always a cloud of fine, almost choking dust. So the protective masks that we wear are not intended to make us look more like doctors, but are, in fact, worn for a very practical reason.
Owing to our policy of only selling wines with an extended period of lees ageing it means that when we start our harvest, around mid/late September, we might still have around half of our previous year’s harvest in tank. Although these wines have been removed from their lees long before the new harvest begins, they still occupy valuable tank space (until such time as they are finally bottled).
So then we have to ask ourselves two crucial questions. Firstly, how much wine do we expect (or want) to make, and how many empty tanks will that require? Secondly, how might the weather affect the yields during the growing cycle? Never having any definitive answers so early in the year, we simply have to use our best judgement and get to work. For example, over the summer months we embark on a programme of bottling that will hopefully leave us with just enough tank space to accommodate the new harvest. That might sound fairly straight forward, but that’s why yields can be so fundamental, requiring us to allow at least some leeway in our calculations.
Of course the other significant consideration when calculating tank space, is that during fermentation we are never working will completely full tanks. Some of the additions that we make at this time can cause quite a dramatic reaction, and so we need to allow a little ‘overflow’ space in every tank to allow for this. It’s all in the planning!
If anyone ever gave you the impression that once the grape picking had stopped, that we have time to relax and put our feet up, then think again. Whilst it’s true that the hours might not be quite as long, and we might even manage to get a full nights sleep every day, the bodega work is just as exhausting. After a period of cold settling the must has to be racked into clean tanks. We then wait for a short time until the temperature of the tank recovers sufficiently to enable seeding, when we add the yeast for fermentation. During the period of fermentation, not only do we have to monitor the density (measuring the remaining levels of sugar/increase in alcohol) and control the temperature to ensure a smooth transition from must to wine, but then there are quite a number of additions that we make – the most notable of these being the bentonite, that we use as a fining agent.
It is quite a drawn out process that takes the best part of a month to complete (including weekends – fermentations wait for no man, or woman). At this busy time I will do my best to keep the updates coming, but I can tell you that on some occasions it can be really tough to find a few moments to even look at my computer keyboard. Yesterday, for example, was just such a day, when I spent much of my morning preparing for an inspection by our D.O. Nothing too sinister, they simply needed to know the final count in litres of must. The kilos of fruit collected during the harvest itself are entered onto a special D.O. website on a daily basis, but the tanks of grape must can only be measured and counted physically, on site.
Today’s photo montage shows some of the current processes: Top left and bottom right are the residues left after the cold settling period. Top right is the process of re-hydrating the yeast, and bottom left shows the very start of fermentation (looking into the tank from above).
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