Spain can be a country of contradictions – sometimes between Local and National Governments. I do not comment on many of these simply because they have no connection to the wine trade, but on this occasion, as it relates to alcohol, I feel compelled to comment…..

Last year, whilst explaining why we chose to opt out of the annual Albariño Festival (see August 2006), I mentioned a worrying phenomena that continues to grow here in Spain – The Botellón. Basically these are organised street-drinking parties that take place every weekend in nearly every city, town and village throughout Spain.

Young people take to the off-licences and supermarkets to stock up on spirits and mixers, on the pretext that they cannot afford to drink in bars and discos. The result being that public areas in cities, towns and villages throng with drunken young people well into the early hours of the morning as they openly swig from their bottles. (And when I say young, they start as young as 11, 12 and 13, simply asking their elders to buy the alcohol for them). The areas that they frequent are left littered with debris and empty bottles, and I will not detail some of the other sights and smells! I guess that the only saving grace might be that they do not appear to resort to any violence (as yet).

The Spanish Government has acted by printing the brochure above, stating that one in every three children between the ages of 14 and 18 gets drunk at least once a month, and then it goes on to warn parents that excessive alcohol can cause irreversable brain damage. Bravo! I may hear you say, there is at least one initiative….. but wait, how does Local government chose to back this National scheme?

Reported, quite incredibly, in the local Galician press, is a meeting between a member of the local Xunta and representatives of the young people. Their agenda? To discuss ways to prevent this under age street-drinking? Well, no, but actually to find alternative locations around the city of Pontevedra where they might re-locate their Botellón to create a little less disturbance!!!

Apparently the local Government believes that it is easier to accomodate the young people and find them a nice location, rather than to confront them and address the underlying problem…..

Is this a tale of ‘political correctness’ gone mad?

N.B. At the meeting, the young people turned down the alternative locations as unsuitable, so they will continue to party in the historic old town centre of Pontevedra. Heaven help the local residents….
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David shows off the ‘fruit of his labour’

You may recall that immediately after our 2006 harvest (in the middle of September), it started to rain. Well, I can tell you now that it almost didn’t stop raining until the end of July 2007! Hardly a complete week passed without some form of precipitation, and this included many days of torrential rain, at times reminiscent of the tropics. Indeed the month of October 2006 recorded the equivalent of six months of the annual rainfall in just three weeks! Suffice to say that I guess we had what you could honestly describe as a wet winter, spring and early summer….

Of course, such humidity levels are not ideal for grape cultivation, and it is only fair to admit that we were obliged to spray against mildew and oidium a little more than usual. Having said that, the many hours that we spent in our vineyards during the early part of the summer certainly paid dividends. By using radical ‘canopy management’ techniques imported from the ‘new world’ (yet rarely seen here in Galicia), we were able to give our fruit the best possible exposure, effectively minimising the levels of treatment needed.

This year, we should certainly make special mention of David (our vineyard manager) who worked tirelessly under Angela’s supervision, to keep our vineyards in tip-top condition – even sacrificing weekends and days of his annual leave to ensure that essential work was carried out at the optimum moment.

The month of August, as we would anticipate, provided a much-needed break from the wet conditions, although temperatures remained fairly modest. However, the character of the 2007 vintage was probably defined during the final two weeks before the grapes were actually collected. The beginning of September witnessed a welcome increase in daytime temperatures, pushing towards 30°C (86°F). Under these conditions the grape sugars received a final boost, but perhaps more significantly, the acidity was reduced to a more manageable level.

Inevitably the actual harvest date was decided by a combination of the physiology of the fruit, and the Galician weather. And so, by Saturday 15th September, with all the boxes ticked, the 2007 harvest kicked off in perfect conditions.

I always believe that the secret of any successful ‘event’ is in the forward planning, and with each passing vintage, we implement the lessons learned from previous years. In this way we hope that each campaign might be a little easier than the last! In 2007 it would appear that this philosophy paid some dividends as our well drilled team went about their business. David and Juan in charge of grape collection, Luisa in charge of grape reception, Fran in charge of the presses, and Angela and I, swanning around trying to look important…..

Actually, I lied about the last part – During the harvest my task is to stay on top of the logistics and planning, making sure that that we have people in the right places when they are needed, and also ensuring that the grapes flow through the cellar in a timely fashion. Angela, meanwhile, can be found in her lab coat, recording the quality of every single grape that enters the Bodega.

The first weekend passed off without major incident, although it soon became clear that the yields of 2007 would be well down on those of 2006. It should be remembered however, that 2006 was a record year, and so this shortfall was only to be expected, and could perhaps equate to a better concentration, and therefore superior quality. We shall see…..

In the early hours of Monday morning as we left the Bodega to grab a few hours sleep, it started to rain (exactly as had been forecast). When we woke up it had stopped, the pavements had dried, but the sky was pretty dull and overcast, with not a breath of wind. In these conditions, having looked at the water retention in the canopy, we decided to suspend picking for the day.

By Tuesday morning the sun had returned, together with a fresh breeze, so naturally we returned to the fray. Fortunately, such a small amount of water had made no difference whatsoever to the quality of the fruit, and this proved to be the only small weather hiccup of the whole vintage.

And so, after one week of picking, all the grapes had been safely gathered in, and we moved into the cellar for the more complex process of the winemaking. The next few weeks will see virtually non-stop activity as we first allow the must to settle, before racking it into clean tanks to begin fermentation. Unfortunately the natural yeasts on the Albariño grape cannot sustain fermentation by themselves, so we stimulate the process by seeding with carefully selected yeasts. After trials with several different yeast strains conducted over the last few years, we have deliberately selected a very neutral variety that allows the delicate flavour of the grape itself to dominate on the palate.

Before fermentation our first view of this year’s ‘must’ reveals a greater concentration than last year – unctuous and with a thicker consistency. The nose and palate both share aromas of peach, pear and apricot (and not as floral as we sometimes see). This rich, generous mouthfeel that originates from the high level of grape sugar, will probably produce an Albariño of around 12.5% alcohol – the same as our 2006 wine. So, despite the reduced quantity that we have produced, we have high hopes for the quality of our 2007 wine.

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On the home stretch

September 21st, 2007

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‘Behind the scenes’ – Luisa records the incoming crop

2007 Harvest – Day 6 – Friday 21st September

At the same moment that many Bodegas in our area are springing into action, our 2007 campaign is about to draw to a close. In some ways this can be one of the most complicated parts of the whole harvest…..

We have two presses, each with a different maximum and minimum capacity. Incredibly the minimum capacity is probably more important than the maximum – exceeding the maximum is practically impossible anyway, as the grapes will not physically enter into the press. However, leaving the press with too few grapes can cause the pneumatic membrane to rupture, as it is forced to over-expand and presses against the rubber ‘fingers’ on the inner walls of the drum. (Does that make any sense to you?)

Meanwhile, back to the original story. Taking into account these weight restrictions we have to ensure that we are not left with an odd few hundred kilos of grapes at the end, as obviously we would not be able to fill even our small press to the minimum level. This might sound like a relatively simple problem that is easy to work out, but believe me, it can be quite tricky when your brain is seizing up at the end of a long week!

And so, apart from the one night of rain, and missing one day to accomodate the drying process, we have enjoyed pretty much a perfect week. I will post a resume of proceedings in the next day or so.

With thanks to my small, but beautifully formed team for 2007

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Who me? 150kph in the vineyard? Impossible!

2007 Harvest – Day 5 – Thursday 20th September

Speaking to our electrician yesterday I am reliably informed that some of the larger players (the two main Co-operatives) in our denomination are entering the game today. I have always been puzzled as to how such a small denomination (less than 3,000 hectares in total), can support two such large Co-operatives, so you can imagine my complete astonishment when I tell you that a third Co-operative opens it’s doors for this harvest. This is assuming of course that the doors have actually been fitted yet….

I am sorry to tell you that this new co-operative was possibly born out of a lack of trust between the bodegas and the growers. The absence of contracts or the complete abuse of such, mean that the growers form co-operatives in an attempt to achieve some sort of security and continuity – you cannot blame them really. The downside of this is, of course, that there is more pressure put on grape supply, and rumours already abound of increased prices – the last thing that any denomination needs.

However, setting up a new co-operative is one thing, selling the wine that they produce from a standing start, is quite another. Time will tell.

So, meanwhile back to our Bodega, the grapes continue to roll in and all is well here in a warm, sunny Barrantes – I only wish I could get my ADSL connection to work properly – we have recently upgraded the connection to 3Mb, but quite frankly I don’t think the lady on the local switchboard can handle it……

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Fran shows great determination when loading the presses!

Harvest 2007 – Day 4 – Thursday 19th September

Today is yet another sunny day, but without the breeze, and consequently warmer than yesterday. One of the big problems that we face in these conditions is the risk of catching colds and flu – perhaps I should explain……

It’s quite simple really – one minute you find yourself working in a warm sunny reception area checking in grapes as they arrive, and the next you are down in the bowels of the cellar racking ‘musts’, where the ambient temperature is usually between 12°C and 14°C. Alternating between a sweatshirt and a t-shirt there is naturally the risk of catching a chill – a sore throat is pretty much an occupational hazard (although this could be caused by the presence of suphur that is used to protect the fresh juice).

Today’s only real problem is a shortage of electricity! It would seem that the recent upgrade of our cooling system (which obviously works overtime during the harvest), has overloaded the circuit a little. You would think that the electricians might have thought of this before now! But no matter, a few adjustments and a bit of sticky tape appears to have done the trick and everything is working again.
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Any ideas what this is?

2007 Harvest – Day 3 – Tuesday 18th September

I have mentioned before that we follow the forecasts closely at harvest time, and I have to admit that they got it spot on once again. We opened the shutters this morning to reveal a perfect blue sky, exactly as promised. The other successful prediction was a drop in temperature – about 4/5°C cooler than the first day of harvest, but still a very pleasant 22°C (72°F). The only slightly unexpected element was a cool fresh breeze (although this did actually help to ensure completely dry fruit).

After nearly three full days of picking it is quickly becoming evident that the yields this year are much lower than 2006, which I guess is only to be expected. We should not forget that the last few of years have produced some record figures, partly owing to new plantings, but also because of some very abundant yields. From a quality standpoint this is no bad thing, albeit that some of our growers would probably find this mentality a little difficult to understand. Naturally they are more motivated by weight, despite the fact that we actually pay more for quality grapes rather than merely volume.

At the very end of the night, we did experience one minor hiccup (let’s hope it will be the first and the last), when one of the presses seized up and refused to move. Thankfully this occurred when it was empty, and being cleaned, so hopefully it will be repaired before start of play tomorrow……

N.B. The above photo is taken looking directly down into one of the tanks as the first litres of grape ‘must’ arrive from the presses.

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Hold the presses!

September 17th, 2007

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Angela in the lab – testing ‘must’ samples
2007 Harvest – 17th September 2007 – (not Day 3!)

As we drove home from the Bodega late yesterday night it started to rain, exactly as the forecasts had predicted. By this morning the rain had stopped, the roads and pavements had dried up, but the atmosphere was still a little damp, and skies overcast.

We immediately examined the vine canopy to see how much water had been retained, and decided that, in the absense of any wind or sunshine (to dry the grapes thoroughly) we would suspend picking for the day.

We are confident that this will have no effect on the overall quality (as the amount of rain is so little) and the forecast for the rest of the week is for sunny skies, albeit that the temperature has dropped to the low 20’s C (around 70°F)

Looking forward to an unexpected early night tonight!
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My guess is that this guy was once a boy scout!

2007 Harvest – Day 2 – Sunday 16th September

They say that grape pickers are nomadic, but one of the guys working for us this year takes all the prizes! Take a look at his 4×4 pictured above (click on the picture to enlarge) – he appears to be prepared for all the perils of the Galician outback.

OK, so now back to the serious business of harvesting grapes. The weather forecast for today was not perfect, but we did at least start in bright sunshine. As the day wore on however, the sky did become a little overcast, mostly high cloud, and we did experience just a few spots of rain that fell in the late morning, but not even enough to dampen the pavement.

The grapes collected so far are very healthy, with good sugar levels, and perhaps just a hint more acidity than last year, although it is very difficult to judge this so early on. Our first look at the grape ‘must’ (which is in the midst of ‘settling’) reveals a nose of apricot and peach, with the same fruits appearing on the palate, together with apple and pear – very typical of the variety. It appears to have good weight and concentration, balanced by a fresh acidity, but obviously we will know more accurately after fermentation.

After a reasonably relaxed weekend, we await the onslaught of the new week.

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OK, so it’s not the Murciélago Roadster, but it has an open top!

2007 Harvest – Day 1 – Saturday 15th September

So, we finally decided to go early again – not as early as last year, but I am sure that we are the first Bodega in our zone to start picking. As I mentioned yesterday, it is never an easy decision, but after continued sampling of all the vineyards over the last few weeks, monitoring levels, we called Herminda and her team into action. (For those of you who don’t recall, Herminda does a fantastic job for us both rounding up, and managing our pickers).

Under perfect blue skies, and temperatures of about 28°C (82.4°F) the grapes started to arrive by mid-morning – looking pretty healthy considering the relatively poor, damp summer that we have experienced this year. Certainly the hot, dry conditions that we have enjoyed for the last two weeks has provided a welcome boost to the maturity, and helped to reduce the acidity, which until now, has been quite elevated.

I guess that one of the secrets to a successful harvest is organisation, and I have to say that this year we have everything planned to the last detail, so that when the grapes finally arrive, there is no big panic or fuss.

In summary, the first day has passed off pretty smoothly, but at this stage we are still only building towards the crescendo that will probably arrive on Monday, when we invite more of our grape suppliers to join the campaign.

So far, so good.

N.B. The Lamborghini is actually not ours- one of our local tractor dealers has kindly loaned it to us for the duration of the harvest to help collect grapes.
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As wine making decisions go, deciding upon the optimum moment to start the harvest is probably one of the most difficult.

In a perfect world, all grapes, from all our different vineyard sites would reach full maturity at more or less the same time, with the perfect balance of sugar, acidity and pH. The nights would be cool and the days warm with perfect blue skies.

Unfortunately the reality is a little different….. whilst the sugar (potential alcohol) increases, and the acidity falls there can also be a loss of aromas – so it the end it all becomes a bit of a gamble and a question of holding your nerve. Deciding upon the correct moment to reap the full potential of the grape is one thing, but then we also cannot afford to forget the vagaries of the local weather. Torrential rain can very quickly dilute an entire years efforts in the vineyard.

We have our fingers well and truly crossed, and our presses at the ready.
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