This may well be my last post relating to the 2015 harvest – not because our fermentations are complete, but mostly because there is not much more that can be said about the winemaking process. At this point we are merely observers, monitoring progress by measuring the density of the must/wine, and then, according to what we see, perhaps making one or two subtle adjustments to the temperature control. The idea is that we have a slow, smooth transition from grape juice into wine and at this point the only form of control that we have is temperature. If the fermentation starts to move too quickly then by reducing the temperature by a decimal place or two, then we can slow things down just a touch. Conversely, if the fermentation looks as though it might be sticking, putting too much stress on the yeast, then we can help it along by increasing the temperature. Once all the sugar has been consumed and the fermentation has come to an end, we simply add a good dose of SO2 to inhibit spoilage and kill any unwanted bacteria (e.g. malolactic bacteria). Et voila, done!
The first tanks that we seeded are not too far from completion now and are almost at a point where they are starting to reveal the true character of the vintage. Until now the natural fruit sugar has been quite dominant, albeit that by tasting we can still judge the concentration, style and overall balance of the developing wine. The result is that we are quietly confident that this year’s wine will be very good, and the fact that we started with some excellent quality, healthy fruit was certainly an essential element in this outcome.
The good news is that all the hard physical work of the wine making is now finished, all the tank additions are done and pumping over (to mix them thoroughly) has been completed. All that remains are a few cleaning jobs – clearly we can’t do any real cleaning in the tank room until the fermentations are complete, and all the tanks are tightly sealed. It might be obvious to most, but the tanks have to be left open at this stage to allow carbon dioxide to escape (a by-product of the fermentation). Consequently, our blowers and extractors have to work overtime to remove all the extremely dangerous CO2 and replace it with fresh air. We are now reaching a point when we can start to talk about our 2015 ‘wine’, as the grape sugar is slowly transformed into alcohol, although it is still months away from being the finished article.
On a couple of occasions during the wine making process we have found the need to call upon the services of Alberto. Now, Alberto is not our secret wine maker or special advisor, but is actually a machine! And why do we call him Alberto? Quite simply because he is liquid counter – measuring the amount of liquid that we move between tanks. OK, so you have to be a cycling enthusiast to understand this one….. The Spanish for counter is ‘contador’, so his name is Alberto Contador (a very famous Spanish cyclist)!
It seems a little strange that we have some tanks in our cellars that are more or less half way through their fermentation, whilst out in the vineyards some other bodegas are only just gathering the last of their fruit. Of course this is the difference between those who picked before the storm, and the many who didn’t even start to pick until after. The only consolation is that the weather since the storm has been good, but then the obvious downside is that the warmth of the sun only helps to promote rot. Despite this burst of late sunshine it will not really help the overall concentration of the must caused by the volume of water absorbed by the fruit (which was quite considerable).
To prove my point, we did manage to take a few photos in a neighbouring vineyard (see today’s picture) after the rains, and the damage caused by rain and subsequent humidity is plain to see. Even if the bodega concerned uses a sorting table in their grape reception, they are going to be losing a considerable percentage of fruit. It must be soul destroying to see half of your year’s work end up in the bin….. Thank goodness it wasn’t Castro Martin!
In today’s post I feel like I should be saying “Move along, nothing to see”, as the police might do at the scene of an accident. The reason I say this is because whilst we are supremely busy in the bodega, the jobs that we are doing don’t really lend themselves to very interesting photographs. At the moment we are systematically adding bentonite to the tanks, which involves some re-hydration (bentonite comes in sacks of dull, grey, dry granules), and then adding this to the tanks and mixing it for an hour or two. It would make a very boring video, just a shot of pumps and hoses spread around the floor, thereby leaving me scratching my head wondering what picture I could use to illustrate today’s task. In the end I have opted for something completely different.
Yesterday night there was a lot of interest in the supermoon or blood moon, which, owing to the vagaries of the Galician weather, I didn’t see. Apparently the skies were clear, but regrettably on the Ria where I live, we were shrouded in thick fog…. typical! Indeed, my only glimpse of said ‘supermoon’ occurred when I arrived at the bodega early this morning (see photo) – what a disappointment, I guess I’ll have to wait another generation to get a better view!
I am not quite sure why, but now that the actual picking is finished, we seem to be working harder than ever. OK, the hours are not quite as long, as we can accomplish most of what we need to do within ‘normal’ opening hours, but the physical demands are quite exhausting. We seem to spend most of our day on the staircase between the lower and mid levels of the bodega – in other words, between the top of the tanks and the bottom of the tanks. And then there is the seemingly back breaking job of seeding the tanks. I say back breaking because of the system that we use for preparing the yeast – all done very carefully by hand. We use large 300 litre containers, firstly to re-hydrate the yeast, and subsequently to add grape must to the mixture to slowly lower the temperature, until it is cool enough to add back to the tank. For example, the yeast is re-hydrated at body temperature, around 38°C, whilst the temperature of the must at this time is nearer to 15°C. If we simply poured the warm yeast mixture into the cold must, then the shock alone would probably kill most of the yeast and render it useless. That’s why we have to reduce the temperature of the yeast mixture in a very slow, controlled fashion, and all the time bending over what is essentially, a big bucket!
As I mentioned in a previous post, owing to the two breaks that we had during the picking, this year’s cellar ‘routine’ will also be disrupted. Usually there is pretty much a natural ‘flow’ as our attention moves from one tank to the next, but this year it is already much more disjointed, and obviously will be spread over a longer period. Today we have just finished the last of the seeding, and will shortly start on adding Bentonite for protein stabilisation and to clarify the wine (although technically it not wine as yet). As you can see from today’s photo, Angela is quite partial to tasting the yeast, although her stomach is not quite as keen!
Under normal circumstances our harvest would be divided into two distinct and separate phases – out in the vineyards collecting the fruit, and then moving inside to convert our fruit into delicious albariño. This year however, has been a little different, mainly thanks to our fleeting brush with hurricane Henri.
Whilst we picked for only five days, the time lapse between our first day and the last actually extended to a period of nine days, with two breaks in between. The result being that the first grape must was ready for fermentation even before the last grapes had entered our door. I guess that, depending on the size of the property, or perhaps the number of different grape varieties involved, this might be common practice for many bodegas, but in the case of Castro Martin there is usually very little, or no overlap between the two different phases. Often it is more or less like a cascade effect, meaning that once we start seeding our first tanks we continue, without a break, until the last one is completed. This year our ‘cascade’ will not be quite as regular – more of a stop, start affair.
In my opinion winemaking is by far the most interesting part of the year – we have our raw material that will ultimately determine the quality, but our winemaking will certainly dictate the style of albariño that we make. I liken it to cooking, when the chef shows his skill and creativity using the ‘ingredients’ that nature has provided, making a ‘dish’ using his or her own interpretation. Thankfully, not all albariños taste the same!
Friday 18th September – First thing this morning it felt like autumn had arrived. A beautiful clear blue sky, mist hanging over the valley (as in yesterday’s photo), and only 10°C or 50°F. Good conditions for mopping up our last few thousand kilos.
When the first grapes entered at the end of the morning, it quickly became apparent that the quality was not the same as those we had already collected. In our first pressing the grape must was much thinner and just not as rich as the first four days (just as well that we had gathered nearly all of our fruit in the four days prior to the rain). Of course we do compensate for this slight dilution in the cellar, by using a much, much shorter and more gentle pressing cycle – not quite ‘first run’ juice, but pretty close to this. Also, as I mentioned in one of my previous posts, there is no way that this juice will be blended with the rest of our crop.
The really incredible fact is that the vast majority of other bodegas decided to wait, and had not gathered one single grape before the storm. I believe that our Consello revealed that only 10% of the denominations wine had been gathered in, and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why. Whilst it is true that our alcohol might be a bit lower this year (probably just under 12%), at least our own wine should have a good concentration and balance – in my book far better than a thin, acidic albariño.
By early evening the final grapes were in, and very soon loaded into the presses. The curtain had finally fallen on yet another vintage – a healthy volume taken in record time. I have to say that at Castro Martin we are extremely happy with the fruits of our labour this year (every pun intended), but buyer beware, it will certainly be a vintage of two halves – those who picked before the rain, and those who picked after.
Thursday 17th September – Despite a cool, bright, sunny morning (only 12°C or 54°F), we decided to sit it out for another 24 hours. Our grapes were very healthy before the recent rain, and so we will make one final push tomorrow, thus avoiding the danger of rot having the time to take hold. The forecast for Friday is good, and so we have our fingers crossed that on this occasion the prediction might be accurate! Of course we will almost certainly have to handle the last few thousand kilos of grapes differently to the fruit picked before the rain, as there is no doubt that the must will be slightly dilute. Indeed, these few grapes will be separated completely from the rest of the harvest, and we will wait to see how they turn out once they have been converted into finished wine.
Meanwhile, inside the wine cellar, we have now started the first of our fermentations, seeding the first tanks during the morning. Clearly, with all the breaks we have had so far this year, there is no doubt that the period of seeding and fermentation is going to be more protracted than usual, the only compensation being that we started to pick a little earlier than in many previous vintages.
Today’s picture shows the Salnes Valley at about 9am this morning, with the mist still hanging in the air above the vineyards.
Wednesday 16th September – As we opened our shutters on Wednesday morning we were still in the grip of Henri, torrential rain driven by the wind. However, as the morning progressed the rain stopped and the skies started to clear – the storm was at an end a little sooner than predicted. Originally we had expected the rain to continue for two full days, but as you know, our forecasts are often wrong! Our weather, including storm forecasting, remains unpredictable. The rest of the day was not entirely dry with showers in the late afternoon and early evening.
Meanwhile in the bodega we were busy racking more tanks after settling, and preparing one or two tanks ready to launch the fermentations. Even without grapes coming in there is always plenty to do at this time of year, and we will be working seven days a week, probably for the next month until the very last fermentation is complete.
Tuesday 15th September – For almost a week now we have been worrying about the imminent arrival of Hurricane Henri, or rather his tail end. Amber weather alerts have been issued, and, as it transpires, they have been justified. High winds and rain have been lashing Galicia, and consequently our 2015 harvest is suspended. The excellent news is that over 90% of our grapes are already safely gathered!
The day however, was not without one significant drama. Our tank refrigeration system suddenly kicked out, and would not re-start. A quick call to our electricians revealed that it was actually one of the three external ventilators that had stopped working (possibly owing to rain from the storm entering the circuit). The good news is that the cold machine can comfortably work with two ventilators, and so we have simply by-passed one until the weather subsides and it can be repaired. Panic over.
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