Last week Bodegas Castro Martin welcomed it’s youngest ever visitor…. Our friends Caterina and Robert visited from Oporto (only an hour or two from our door), accompanied by their beautiful new daughter Carolina. She was remarkably well behaved and only made any complaint at meal times, otherwise she enjoyed the full bodega tour, although I should point out that she didn’t participate in any albariño tasting – milk tasting, yes, but no wine at this very tender age! Being born into the wine trade I have no doubt however, that it will only be a matter of time before wine appreciation becomes a big part of Carolina’s daily life.
In the meantime June continues to be extremely dry, I think that we have only experienced only one light shower since the beginning of the month, and possibly for as much as 5 or 6 weeks.
It has always been a great British pastime to complain about the weather, and despite the fact that I’ve just celebrated my 13th anniversary of moving to Galicia, the urge to have a good moan now and again, is still firmly rooted within my DNA. Despite being away at the start of the month I can still tell you that June has been pretty hot and dry, to date, culminating in a weekend of temperatures above the 30°C mark (touching 90°F). Unlike the States, however, Galicia is not tooled up with wall-to-wall air conditioning, and so you largely have no choice but to just grin and bear it, and the nights especially, can be very uncomfortable. Of course I have no right to complain, when we have just enjoyed the very same conditions during the flowering period in our vineyards. At the moment the heat and extended sunshine is actually not too bad for the vines, albeit that eventually we will need a bit of water just to keep things in balance.
After a couple of weeks out of the bodega, we have now embarked on an intense programme of ‘racking’ in our cellars. As I am sure I have explained before, every wine that we make undergoes and extended period of ageing ‘on the lees’ once the fermentation process has finished. The ageing period is always for a minimum of at least five or six months, but in all honesty, there is no fixed timescale attached to this, and sometimes it may be even longer. The way that we decide the optimum time to separate the finished wine from its ‘bed’ of lees, is quite simple, and is the way that we often make many of our wine making decisions in the bodega….. simply by tasting (and of course, our combined experience). If the wine is left for too long it can start to develop what is known as ‘reduction’, which, in layman’s terms, means that it can develop smelly forms of sulphur compounds. Whilst reduction at a low levels is not necessarily a bad thing, and is claimed can actually add complexity to the finished wine, it is certainly something that has to be monitored, and halted at the correct moment.
In the case of our 2014 wines, many of the tanks are being racked now, meaning that they have enjoyed almost 8 months of lees ageing. Once the racking programme is complete, it means that our 2014 wine is almost ready for sale – only the cold-stabilisation and a light filtration remains before bottling. Whilst a very little 2014 wine has already ‘leaked’ onto our domestic market, the vast majority of our stock will not start to hit the streets for perhaps another month or two – almost one year after the grapes were collected.
Nine flights and (almost) three continents in the last two weeks, hence our blog has been a bit quiet lately. The reason I say ‘almost’ three continents is that the second leg of recent travels included the Canary Islands, which whilst still technically Spanish, are only about 100 km off the coast of North Africa. I seem to have spent a disproportionate amount of my time sitting in airports, and stripping off to pass through security scanners. Oh, the joys of modern travel!
The first leg of my trip was to one of my favorite cities – New York, for a tasting of Rias Baixas wines. Prior to the actual tasting I spent a day or so pounding the streets, bottle in hand, with my good friend Matt, converting his Manhattan and Brooklyn customers to the ways of Castro Martin albariño. The downside was that the thermometer was reading about 31°C (nearly 90°F), and the atmosphere was fiercely oppressive. A very good way to shed a few pounds I can tell you. Suffice to say that our wines were very well received, both on the street, and at the official tasting.
After a frantic return trip from New York (including cancelled Trans Atlantic flight – but that’s another story), I arrived back in Galicia with just enough time to switch suitcases, and pick up my beach gear for the Canary Islands – literally a 12 hours turnaround at home, including sleep. It turns out that the beach gear was not such a good idea after all, as temperatures in Gran Canaria hovered around 20°C (68°F), completely overcast and a lovely chill wind from the Ocean. After a couple of days of business, the free time for a little R&R didn’t really work out too well, and the shorts stayed well and truly tucked away in my suitcase.
The final leg was a stopover in Madrid, for the University graduation of our daughter – a double degree in law and business – Angela, we are very proud of you! (Our daughter is also called Angela, just to keep our life simple). I should mention that the temperature in Madrid was between 35° and 37°C (95 – 98°F), perfect weather for attending a graduation dressed in a suit! It seems like somewhere along the way, I got my suitcases mixed up, and I really needed my shorts for New York and Madrid, not for the beach…..
Meanwhile, back at home in Galicia the weather was also baking hot, which was actually great news for our flowering this year. By the time of my return it was all done and dusted, which effectively would mean that we are looking at a mid-September harvest for 2015….. time will tell.
Here in Galicia (and Spain) we have more than our fair share of food festivals – any excuse for celebrating food is embraced with great enthusiasm, from the more basic products, such as tomato, cheese, sausage, or chicken, through to some slightly more elaborate dishes such as our local cocido. Of course in Galicia many of the festivals are centered around fish and seafood, but generally speaking, if it can be cooked or eaten, then it will be celebrated!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, they also have festivals for the appreciation of food. For example, this month is National Burger Month, and the good news is that I will be in the States next week to sample one or two. Now, I know that this might make me sound like a heathen, so I have to qualify this by saying that I’m not talking about Burger King or McDonalds – I’m talking about real, honest to goodness, quality beef! I have to admit that I have a craving, and please allow me to explain why….. The ‘red’ meat that is most commonly found here is called ternera, and it is not beef as I know it, but actually a cross between beef and veal. When cooked it always looks slightly anemic, and not entirely appetising. Real red meat here is known as buey, but this is not always available, it is only carried by certain shops and restaurants, and believe me I have found every one of them!
Suffice to say that next week I might be on a high protein diet.
As people who read our website will know, I have mixed views about wine competitions for many different reasons that I won’t go into just now. Suffice to say that we do not actively seek to win medals, but rather leave it to our importers to select the most appropriate tastings for their market – once decided, we do of course, support any entry that they decide to make. This being the case, every bottle submitted is drawn directly from the stock held in that country, and absolutely no ‘special’ samples are mailed from Spain. If we are lucky enough to win something, then consumers will be able to enjoy exactly the same quality as the victorious bottle.
Our UK importer recently submitted our Castro Martin Family Estate wine for the Sommelier Wine Awards in London, which is a rather unique competition. It focuses upon wines aimed purely at the UK ‘On-Trade’ - hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants. Wines that are sold more widely on the high street are not permitted, and therefore the competition serves as an ideal reference point for on-trade wine buyers. It is also judged by members of the trade including Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, who look for food-friendliness, versatility, typicity, personality – and value for money.
A day or two ago we were thrilled to learn that we had achieved Gold Medal status, especially as our focus is, and always will be, to make ‘food wines’ aimed largely at the on-trade. Mission accomplished in that respect!
Whilst reading the summary of our award I was puzzled by the comment “Generosity of flavours and a taut freshness gave Castro Martin Gold once more for the latest vintage of its Family Estate Albariño”. Gold once more? What does that mean? I asked myself…… Well, it transpires that the previous vintage of this wine also won Gold last year, and we didn’t even know it! Not only does this say something about our quality, but also, more importantly, proves our consistency.
In the vocabulary of wine and wine making a word that crops up quite frequently is ‘tradition’. Whether it be used to describe a method of vinification handed down through the generations, or perhaps the ownership of a property that passes from father to son (or daughter), it appears quite frequently, and in many cases is promoted as a guarantee of quality. Of course from a wine making point of view, it’s also very important to respect traditions, despite the fact that they are often protected by the rules of Denomination or Appellation. Having said that, innovation is perhaps, equally as important – we can never afford to sit back on our laurels and let the rest of the (wine) world pass us by.
So, what about families? How important is it that you deal with the founders of a business or their descendants? In every country there are famous names, dynasties if you like - Antinori of Italy, Vega Sicilia and Torres of Spain, Château Mouton Rothschild, Famille Perrin and Joseph Drouhin of France and Egon Muller Scharzhof of Germany. The question is, do they really make better wines?
Perhaps family ownership is a bit of a romantic notion, but these days one of the harsh realities is that an increasing number of family estates are slowly and inexorably being swallowed up by the ‘big boys’ of the wine world. Without naming names, there are now quite a few mid to large-sized bodegas here in our own denomination that are owned by Companies from outside our region (many from Rioja), leaving very few that are owned and managed by the founding families. Of course Castro Martin is one such example of this, as Angela and I run this family business in a very ‘hands on’ style – never afraid to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty. During the harvest, we are right in the thick of it, and by the end of each campaign we really start to feel our age! Exhausted is another description.
I suppose the difference is, that in a family business (and yes, we do have a wine that we call Family Estate Selection), we treat every wine that we make as one of our children, watching it grow and evolve quite literally from bud to bottle. It gives us immense pleasure to prepare pallets to be delivered to different corners of the world knowing that thousands of different consumers, from many different walks of life, will hopefully be enjoying the ‘fruits’ of our labour.
Family tradition? Yes, it matters!
By coincidence I have continued my recent theme of using film titles for our blog… I posted some time ago about underwater wine ageing, but now it appears that in the United States the FDA have expressed some new concerns about the practice. The Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has issued an advisory saying water pressure could cause contaminants to seep into the bottles.
“Overpressure on bottle seals increases the likelihood of seepage of sea water into the product, and biological growth on the container may contribute to the degradation of the cork which could contaminate the product when the bottle is opened”. The advisory warned that contaminants from petrol and oil to pesticides and heavy metals can sometimes be found in sea water.
For the time being the FDA will not approve labels for any underwater aged wine until more tests have been carried out. This ban will not change anything at Castro Martin, as of course, we don’t use this method for ageing any of our wines, but I do know that there are at least one or two other Galician bodegas that may be affected.
One of the problems of using the pergola system for training vines is that at certain stages of the growing cycle, the plants can be left a little exposed. As the new shoots are suspended on wires about 2 metres (6-7ft) above the ground, it leaves them completely open to the elements. As our vineyards are located only a few km from the Atlantic Ocean, one of those elements is the wind, and if you vineyard happens to be in an exposed location (which is great for maximising sunshine hours), then it can be even more vulnerable when the wind howls in off the sea.
At this point in their development the new shoots are still too short to be attached to the wires (see today’s photo), but unfortunately they are just long enough to be snapped off by gale force winds. The day before yesterday (for the first time in a while), the weather was extremely windy – I have no idea of the exact wind speed, but it was certainly strong enough to cause a small amount of damage to our vines. Of course it is very early days in the vine cycle, and as such we have no real way of calculating how many (potential) bunches may have been lost – suffice to say that it is not the end of the world, and is simply one of the harsh realities that we face as fruit farmers….
Today is May the Fourth, which, as you may know, holds a special significance for Star Wars fans – indeed one UK TV channel is running a Star Wars marathon, showing every film ever made, back-to-back. And so, if you still don’t understand the significance of today’s date, then please don’t expect me to explain it any further.
However, the real reason that I wanted to make today’s post was simply to include an image of the second of our new Denomination campaign adverts. As I said last week, I think they look great, and certainly represent an improvement as to how we might be perceived out there in the big wide world of wine. Good work boys (and girls)!
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