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).
After five days of almost non-stop action the final day is nearly always a bit of an anti-climax. There is still fruit that needs to be collected, but it tends to arrive piecemeal rather than in a steady flow. At the end of the last working day (as I have explained in previous vintages), we need to wait until the final bunches arrive before we can load the final presses. All presses have a minimum and maximum capacity, and so it is essential to calculate the final loads to ensure that we don’t have any odd kilos left over and also that there are enough grapes to press. (In an emergency I guess that we could always take our shoes and socks off and find an empty bathtub!)
One thing that has become quite clear from this year’s campaign is that we are working faster and more efficiently than ever. More transport, more people, our only limitations these days tend to be the capacity of the building and the key equipment (presses, tanks etc) Whilst we still have a little spare capacity, whereby we could simply harvest over a longer period, there are still many variables that we have to take into consideration – yields being just one such example. We never really know the actual yields (and therefore tank capacity required), until our first pressings are complete.
The other very notable feature of this year’s harvest, apart from the really fine quality, was also the fact that it was very uneventful – no major breakdowns or failures. (I deliberately did not make that comment until the harvest was complete)
Today’s short video shows the last few cases of grapes being offloaded and palletised, with a brief guest appearance by Angela as she collected the final grape samples for analysis.
Once again the day started under bright sunny skies, a slight breeze, but nothing more. The back of our 2016 campaign was already well and truly broken, after four days of frantic harvest we were anticipating a slightly more relaxed day. Big mistake!
Owing to the three day break in our picking, there was already work to be done in the cellar as we were not only racking the clean must into clean tanks (after cold settling), but we were almost at a point where the first tanks could be seeded for fermentation. Of course any break in our picking also makes life more complicated, as the normally smooth transition from grape must, to fermentation, to wine is rudely interrupted. Instead of moving in a logical fashion from one task to the next, the order of priority becomes slightly less clear.
And so, expecting a reduced amount of grapes with no early morning rush of vehicles to unload, we set about our cellar work. By the time we realised that there would be more grapes than anticipated we had already fallen behind, and valuable pressing time had been lost. Quite logically, because our presses work on a programmed cycle (we calculate the optimum time and pressures required, according to the state of the grapes), it means that the time required for each pressing is fixed, and cannot be accelerated in any way. Time lost at the beginning, or during the day, can never be recovered.
In the end the volume of grapes received were what we would consider to be a normal day, but because of the delayed start, it also meant that we all had a late finish. Oh, for the benefit of hindsight!
(Today’s photo – sunset over our small, one hectare bodega vineyard, with the Atlantic Ocean just visible on the horizon)
Firstly, I have to apologise for this slightly late post. Sunday was actually our fourth day of harvest, and in previous years we have either severely reduced our workload, or perhaps not even worked at all. This year however, was very much business as usual!
In contrast to Saturday, Sunday is never a popular day to work – I don’t want to sound ageist, but the younger people don’t appear to have a problem working, whereas the older generation are understandably conflicted more by family commitments. I should also point out that in many parts of Spain (except for a handful of major cities), Sunday is still very much considered as a day of rest, and it is rare to find many businesses open, even for an odd few hours.
The Sunday weather remained very kind, and again it was a day that passed more or less without incident. Owing to the continued sunshine, analysis of the grapes has shown that not only is the sugar increasing (with some sites producing fruit with a potential alcohol of nearer to 13%), but more importantly the acidity is still dropping. As we pick now, the acidity is still in the correct range for us to produce a typical, fresh, zesty albariño, but please note, that with the weather set fair, there are still many other bodegas that haven’t starting picking as yet. In a year when the acidity is too high, we can reduce this naturally by using partial malolactic fermentation, whereas in years of low acidity, the only option is to add – artificially. in my opinion, this never works, and is always very obvious on the palate. Thankfully however, 2016 appears to have provided a very, very good potential balance for our wines.
By the way, I was so worried after posting yesterday’s picture of florescent green grapes (under the artificial lights) that I rushed out to take a picture in the vineyard. This is how our albariño grapes should look – small, tightly packed bunches of golden berries – to produce golden wines!
For the first time this week, we started with a bright, sunny day – a cold morning perhaps, but with clear blue skies. Perfect weather for gathering grapes. Saturday is traditionally a busy day (all our outside suppliers prefer to pick on Saturday), but after our first two, backbreaking days, we wanted to stem the tide just a little. It’s better for the whole team if we can have the load spread evenly across the entire week, rather than having frantic days and quiet days – common sense really. Having said that, there will always be anomolies with yields, weather, speed of picking (according to the health of the fruit) – there is always something that is slightly beyond our control.
To be honest Saturday proved to be quite an uneventful day, everything pretty much under control in the bodega, and some lovely healthy fruit arriving from our vineyards under bright sunny skies. Sometimes we have to savour these moments when everything goes without a hitch, in order to compensate a little for the days when things don’t go quite so smoothly!
At the end of the day, the grape count was actually almost exactly the same as the previous day – it turned out to be quite a busy Saturday, with a few more kilos than we expected. We know that Sunday will not be a day of rest, but let’s hope at least that the heat will be turned down a little.
Today’s photo shows a fully loaded press, but unfortunately the florescent light has changed the hue of the fruit from a golden green, into a bright green….
As appears to be the norm at this time of year, the weather forecasts are quite often meaningless, and change on an hourly basis. Most of the time we have to fly by the seat of our pants, and simply use our best judgement. For example, Friday’s forecast was for bright sunny weather and warmer temperatures, whereas in reality the day started quite overcast, and not as warm as predicted. The good news was that it wasn’t raining!
Our picking team moved out again in force, and having completed our Castrelo vineyard they moved on to Cunchidos, one of our smaller plots at only one hectare in area. Cunchidos was finished in no time, with some super ripe and well balanced grapes. This year our grape collection is actually more efficient, as we have perfectly healthy fruit there is no requirement for sorting in the vineyard.
By afternoon the predicted weather finally arrived, sunshine and temperatures in the low 20’s C (around 70°F). Fruit entered at a controlled pace, and most importantly the first detailed analysis from the laboratory indicated that we have some excellent potential this year.
At the end of the day it appeared that we had been much more efficient than we thought, and picked around 8,000 kilos more than we had estimated for the day. Unfortunately, more work for our late night crew.
After our crazy day on Monday, we are chomping at the bit to get started again – unfortunately, yet again, our weather refuses to co-operate. For the last three days now (it is Thursday afternoon as I write this) we have not really had too much rain, but just a few showers at all the wrong moments. We really need a dry canopy to work effectively – having a little extra liquid inside the berries is one thing, but we simply cannot gather fruit with water on the surface of the bunches. They stubbornly refuse to dry out, and just as they do, we have another light shower.
Remaining positive, the fruit is still completely healthy and the forecast is looking much better for the coming days. Everything being equal, we should be relaunching the 2016 campaign tomorrow (Friday, which will then officially become Day 2). We will know for sure when we open the shutters tomorrow morning.
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