Green Issues

February 1st, 2008

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These days we are asked with increasing frequency whether any of our wines are either organic or biodynamic. I thought it was about time therefore, that I post some sort of statement that explains our approach to these ‘green issues’.

As I have written many times before, we live in a very green part of Spain and have more than our fair share of rainfall. We are officially categorised as having an Atlantic Maritime climate, which means quite simply that our weather is damp and humid. Despite all the precautions that we take there is not a single vintage that goes by where we do not have to intervene at some point, and therefore we cannot honestly say that our wine is completely biodynamic. I would actually go so far as to say that it would almost be impossible to produce a genuinely biodynamic wine in the Rias Baixas denomination, and any producer who claims that he does should perhaps be treated with some suspicion!

As a reference for all our customers Angela has compiled a list of the practices that we follow in order to keep our Albariño as ‘ecologically friendly’ as possible. You will see that most of the procedures that we apply in our vineyards are preventive, to avoid disease and consequently minimise the use of chemical treatments.

1). Soil management: We do not use herbicides – we use the traditional system of ploughing the soil 2 or 3 times a year, especially when the vines are dormant (doing this in summer can damage the roots of the vines)

2). We have natural grass cover between the vines that is cut manually. In this way we can also use the natural organic material (mulch) to help replenish the soil.

3). We use natural worm humus, especially when planting new vines.

4). We use sheep and horse “manure” to add nutrients to the soil when required.

5). Plagues and Diseases: Mainly preventive strategies are used, such green pruning and thinning the canopy to avoid excessive humidity under the pergolas. This of course allows a better circulation of air and thus helps to prevent fungus attacks.

Sometimes these attacks cannot be prevented and so we are obliged to use some products (all approved in ecological viticulture), such as:

a). Copper in different combinations in the case of mildew attacks.
b). Soluble and powdered sulphur for the control of excoriosis and oidium.
c). Anti-botrytis (following insect attack or hail damage) when fungus may enter and create rot.

6). To reduce the possible spread of fungus spores in the following harvest we collect and burn all the vine cuttings after pruning.

7). We use pheromone traps that cause sexual confusion to control the polilla de la uva (grape moth) or lobesia botrana. In the case of an attack we treat with bacillus thuringiensis (which is a biological treatment)

8). Harvest : manual collection of grapes to avoid damaged bunches and premature oxidation.

This is also perhaps the time to mention that our Albariño is suitable for vegetarians as we do not use any meat derived products during handling or vinification.

In addition to these vineyard practices there are also routines that we follow in the wine cellar, relating to other environmental issues that I will write about in future posts.
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January 25th, 2008

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Tom Stevenson has been writing about wine for nearly thirty years and is the author of more than 20 books. He’s been nominated on three occasions as Wine Writer of the Year and received the coveted Wine Literary Award, America’s lifetime achievement award for wine writing.

Every year he invites a team of specialised journalists to help him compile a handbook of the best wines that the world has to offer. These fall under numerous different categories, from best newcomer to the best bargain wine.

In the case of Spain, Tom handed responsibility to John Radford, author of the award winning New Spain, winner of the Livre Gormand Best European Wine Book and the Premio Especial Alimentos de España from the Spanish Government. John is also chairman of the Spanish committee of the Decanter World Wine Awards.

We are therefore delighted to reveal that Bodegas Castro Martin is now listed as one of the Top 10 ‘Best Value’ producers in the whole of Spain.

As a former buyer I am truly delighted to receive the accolade of ‘best value wine’, which for me is the most significant of all the different categories in this report – quality and value is, after all, the Holy Grail of any worthwhile wine buyer……

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After a few celebrations and a brief norovirus (don’t ask), I finally find the time to wish you all a very Happy New Year – a healthy, safe and prosperous 2008.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we have just received our copy of a new guide, produced by Wines from Spain and distributed throughout the United States. Our entry is for Castro Martin 2005, and the tasting note, written by Doug Frost (Master Sommelier and MW), reads as follows:

“The aromas show both red and green apple, white peach, apple blossom, and some honey; dusty rocks and minerals are prevalent in the nose as well. The mouth is a bit fleshier, with sweet peach skin, apple, lots of ripe citrus, and a stony finish. I’m sure there are other combinations, but this wine just loves seared scallops.”

Who are we to argue?

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Happy Christmas 2007

December 18th, 2007

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Tomorrow we will be heading off to colder climes (the North of England, not Aspen) to celebrate Christmas.

May I take this opportunity to wish all our friends and customers around the world, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.
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Drinking at Christmas

December 17th, 2007

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The UK government is having a bit of a crackdown on excessive alcohol consumption – and probably not before time. It’s a little depressing to see some UK town centres regularly filled with hoards of young drinkers sprawled about the place in a drunken stupor (unfortunately a sight not exclusively reserved to Christmas time).

However, when it comes to excessive drinking I am not sure that the wine industry is entirely to blame, as I rather suspect that many offenders who stagger the streets on a Saturday night are more likely to be filled with beer and spirits, rather than bottles of Albariño!

At Castro Martin we always try to promote wine consumption in moderation, and I am sure that it will not be too long before we will include a message on our labels to that effect.

One of the other trends that we have also noticed recently are the increased levels of alcohol in wine. It is now quite common to see some new world wines reaching nearly 15% alcohol (the level of fortified wine). This is not intended as a criticism of the new world, as this higher alcohol simply results from the natural process:

Warm climate = more sugar = more alcohol

Until now, this has never been a concern in Rias Baixas – the anticipated alcohol range for Albariño would normally be between 11,5% and 12,5%. Having said that, for the last two years at least, we have seen wines at the upper end of this band, and we are left wondering if this is the effect of global warming on our verdant little corner of Spain.

As a positive selling point I always mention to our customers that Albariño is a ‘drinking’ (food and/or aperitif) wine, where two people can sit down, share, and easily finish the bottle, without feeling too many adverse side effects….. in other words, enjoyable, easy drinking.

So, enjoy your Christmas holidays, and try not to overdo it on the turkey either!

(For more information about the UK drink awareness campaign click here.)
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Autumn in Galicia

December 3rd, 2007

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After weeks of sunshine, the cool, damp mists of Autumn that we would normally expect, have finally arrived here in Galicia. As vines start to shed their leaves and we experience a real chill in the air, this is natures way of telling us that it’s time to reach for the secateurs.

I have to say that I am never really sure whether the act of pruning signals the end of the 2007 cycle, or actually represents the first step in preparation for 2008. Whichever way, it is a long, tough job, and often in very unpleasant conditions.

By complete coincidence the ‘Word of the Day’ on my Google homepage yesterday was Pergola! The definition was as follows:

Pergola: (noun) An arbor or a passageway of columns supporting a roof of trellis work on which climbing plants are trained to grow.
Synonyms: arbor, bower
Usage: The thick vegetation met overhead, interlacing into a natural pergola

There are actually two theories why the Pergola system is used extensively in Rias Baixas. The first, and more popular theory is that it allows better circulation of air around the canopy, suspending the fruit high above the cool, damp Galician soils.

The second theory is that Galicia was (and to an extent still is) a poor, rural part of Spain where many people exist on subsistence farming. It is still quite common for Galicians to raise pigs, poultry, sheep and even cattle for home consumption, and growing your own vegetables is taken for granted outside the towns and cities. Land for farming is therefore a precious commodity that has to be exploited to the full, and for this reason using the overhead Pergola system allows people to grow a second crop, or even graze animals at ‘ground level’.

I am sorry to confess that as a ‘City Boy’ I opt for the local supermarket (where much of the fresh produce originates from our region anyway)!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22nd, 2007

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We wish all our American customers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

(And don’t forget – Albariño is great with turkey!)
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“It is enough to make wine connoisseurs choke on their Pétrus. Hugh Johnson, the doyen of wine critics, has decreed that vintages hardly matter any more.

Johnson, 68, says that wine growers have developed so many clever techniques to compensate for bad weather or disease ruining their crops that almost any year is a perfectly good one for drinkers.”

The Times, London, 11th November 2007

It was almost a year ago now since I wrote about vintage guides, and how it is difficult to generalise about the quality of an entire harvest, by simply allocating a number of stars against the name of a particular region. In a round about way I guess that this is what Hugh Johnson is also implying – there will always be exceptions to the rule, and good wines will still be made even in what is deemed to be a ‘bad vintage’. We have the technology both in the vineyard and the cellar to make something good even when nature conspires against us.

He comments that the gap in quality between good vintages and bad is narrowing, and also hits out at some of the ridiculous prices being paid at auction for the top ‘names’, perhaps even questioning whether they are really worth the money being paid.

Of course we should not forget that the average wine consumer is sheltered from too many bad experiences. Inevitably the wine that he or she buys from the shop shelf will have been filtered through a series of extensive tastings by teams of highly competent wine buyers, all but eliminating unwelcome surprises.

By contrast Stephen Williams, managing director of the Antique Wine Company in London, disagreed: “Winemakers may have all this technology, but great vintages are made in the deckchair when mother nature shines and they don’t have to do anything.”

Clearly Mr Williams has never run a wine cellar!

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Normal autumnal weather is finally restored!

I’m sure that by now you have probably guessed the answer to this question.

As difficult to believe as it may seem, the driest place in Spain between 1st September and 15th November 2007 was southern Galicia! If memory serves me correctly we have had perhaps only two days with rainfall during this period, the rest of the time we have enjoyed pretty much ‘wall-to-wall’ sunshine. This is in complete contrast to last year when it started to rain in mid-September and did not stop all winter.

Of course we have conflicting feelings about this type of ‘Indian Summer’, as whilst it is nice to enjoy a bit of warming winter sunshine, it is also the time of year when our reserves of water need to be replenished.

In any event it started to rain yesterday evening and has not stopped since then – normal service is resumed…..

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Hot Stuff!

November 9th, 2007

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The question of the month?

The Spanish are not very big on hot, spicy food, hence it is virtually impossible to find a curry restaurant in my local area. It is therefore quite interesting that a Spanish food and wine magazine should ask the question “which wines go with curry?”

I wrote a month or two ago about matching food with wine, but this is a particularly difficult question to answer, and, as they point out in the article, it rather depends on the way in which the curry is prepared. There is no doubt in my mind that if we are talking about something extremely hot such as Madras or Vindaloo, then my advice is – stick with a cold beer!

The article suggests that with hotter curries you can drink white wines with a softer acidity and perhaps even a little residual sugar, such as a Viognier, or a ripe Chenin Blanc from South Africa. (Before I receive complaints from my wine making friends around the world, I am not suggesting for a moment that all these wines contain residual sugar!)

They go on to recommend that with milder curries you should turn to wines with a little more acidity, such as a dry Riesling, Chablis or even Champagne. Of course, amongst this selection they include our very own Albariño.

A few years ago when I worked in London I once participated in an extensive tasting in a well-known Indian restaurant. Armed with a wide selection of both red and white wines we tasted them with various spicy dishes. As with any type of cuisine there were some good matches, and some violent clashes, depending on the combination of fruit, tannin, acidity and spice. I have to say that in my opinion, there was no simple magic formula for finding a match.

In conclusion, I still have some reservations about wine with curry, although I would not wish to discourage you from drinking Albariño at any time of day. Perhaps I will just test the theory of this publication the next time I cook a curry at home…..

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