Archive for the ‘Bodega’ Category

Half a tank?

June 19th, 2018

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When you start cutting your tanks in half it’s never just for a bit of routine maintenance – it’s usually much more significant than that. Indeed, the last time we did this was following a catastrophe in 2008 when half of our tanks were accidentally crushed by a powerful vacuum (whilst testing the tank cooling jackets).

Today’s ‘vandalism’ has actually been triggered by choice, albeit once again related to the cooling jackets. This time we are adding more cooling to the tanks to give us greater control and more flexibility during harvest. Logistically it’s quite an undertaking, and to be honest there’s no really good time of year to carry out this work. Having just completed the racking, then obviously we were able to relocate the new wines away from the work area, but even so, tank space is always at a premium (because of our extended lees ageing).

The only option is to do this work, step by step, and when time allows. For example, today we will be cutting and removing just four tanks.

Obviously my short video shows the cutting process, but the one thing that a video cannot highlight is the smell! Cutting metal generates, well, a burning metal smell, and so we have to make sure that everything is completely locked down to isolate this as much as possible. We are actually using our powerful extraction system (used during harvest to remove the CO2), to keep the air as fresh as possible.

The fermentation of our 2017 wines finished at the beginning of October last year, and since that moment our wines have been resting quietly on their lees. Today, some 8 months later, we have just started the annual racking. Over the winter the lees settle to form a sort of thick paste at the bottom of the tank, and today we are simply drawing off the clean wine from above (making sure that the don’t disturb the lees in the process).

It’s actually quite a slow process, with long periods of inactivity as we wait for the precious liquids to be transferred. Once the clean wine is relocated we then transfer the lees into large airtight containers to be sold to the distillery for making aguardiente. Nothing is wasted!

The final job is to clean the interior of the empty tanks, which is a chore in itself. The walls of the tanks are nearly always thick with brown crystals that resemble rust (from the tartaric acidity in the wine), and they can be quite tough to remove. We have to use a caustic solution, but then making absolutely certain that the tank is rinsed thoroughly before it is ready to receive the next wine.

Posted in Bodega, Winemaking

Following my latest post about the cost of producing a bottle of wine, I have just read a very interesting article written by an old friend of mine – UK wine journalist Tim Atkin MW. Although he is not actually commenting directly on the production costs of wine he is, in effect, talking about the price pressures often put on producers to reduce their selling price (and certainly their profit margin). If this downward pressure is allowed to continue then, inevitably, the only thing that can and will suffer, is the quality of the liquid in the bottle.

In the final line of his article he says “More than ever, we need a strong independent sector to preserve diversity, quality and individuality.” In this case he is referring to independence in the retail sector, but allow me to say that the very same phrase could easily be applied to the wine producers themselves.

He is a link to Tim’s full article.

In a small wine cellar like ours no two days are ever the same (thank God!). One day we might be blending or tasting wine, the next we can  be working on a marketing project – such as a new website for example. And that is exactly how it has been this week – preparing blends/samples for a VIP customer on Monday, and working on our new website the following day.

We use WordPress software for our website, and whilst I am reasonably competent in adding news and making the odd page update, setting it up and getting pages to interact correctly is just a bit beyond my capabilities (I am completely self-taught in all aspects of technology – mainly because it didn’t really exist when I was young). For this reason we have enlisted help…. from New Zealand! I don’t actually recall how this originally came about, but we have been working with Meta Digital in Christchurch for several years now.

Whilst the physical distance between Christchurch and Ribadumia is one thing, it is really the time difference that causes the biggest headache – their working day is diametrically opposed to ours. It’s almost like sending messages by Pony Express – fire off an e-mail one day, and then wait until the following day for a reply. It’s no ones fault, it’s just how it is – you either accept it or you don’t.

So the exciting news is that not only will there be a completely new website very soon, but we will also be incorporating an online shop, where our Spanish customers at least, will be able to buy our wines more easily. (We cannot ship overseas because it is prohibitively expensive, not to mention the special packaging that is required by the carriers).

At the risk of sounding too repetitive, please watch this space!

Maybe it’s my imagination but there appears to be an increasing number of National and International days with every year that passes – some that I hear about, and others that I don’t. For example, did you know that yesterday was National Oreos Day – yes, Oreos the biscuit. So how many people did you wish ‘Happy Oreos Day’ or perhaps you simply ate a celebratory packet with friends (or by yourself!)

Clearly, some of the special days are just a bit tongue in cheek, whilst others are a good deal more serious. One of the most prominent such days is International Women’s Day when we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Here at Bodegas Castro Martin for example, we mostly celebrate the achievements of Angela Martin, our boss (my boss) and our winemaker. Back in 1993 when she assumed the day-to-day management of Castro Martin there were very few women in her position in Galicia. Indeed, she was one of the women pioneers of Rias Baixas, where today, nearly 25 years later, it is quite common to find women winemakers in many of the very top bodegas. Local recognition of her accomplishments came in the year 2000 when she was made a Dama do Albariño, in a ceremony held during our own National Albariño Day in Cambados.

Today, we have only a very small team working full time in our bodega, but even so, nearly half of our team is made up of women. On this day we celebrate them, their efforts and unerring support in helping to put Castro Martin well and truly on the world wine map. So let’s raise a glass of A2O to the ladies of BCM!


February 8th, 2018

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After one freezing day without power we are now back up and running again – normal service can be resumed. Ironically, on the day that we had no electricity we were contacted (via a remote e-mail connection) by a transport company that wanted to collect an export order. Of course, physically loading the truck would not be difficult – the wine was prepared and ready to go, but then, there was one big problem….. the paperwork!

When we are exporting goods (as an ‘intra-community’ transaction, in tax and duty suspension), they have to be accompanied by official customs paperwork. These documents are very detailed and have to include the registration number of the vehicle – this is simply because if the truck is stopped and inspected at any point by the police, then the driver can prove that the goods are being moved legally.

Because these vehicle details cannot be added to the documents until the last minute, with no power, this rendered the collection impossible. Unfortunately only one fixed PC in our office is loaded with the official customs software, and therefore we couldn’t simply use one of our laptops. Of course, the secondary problem being that we couldn’t print the documents anyway (a full set of papers have to be physically attached to the goods in transit). Unfortunately, the collection had to be postponed. 

The good news is that our office heating, computers, printers, telephone system (and teapot) have now been fully restored!

Cold & cut-off!!

February 6th, 2018

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It was just over a year ago that we had a small fire in an electrical box connecting us to the grid, temporarily cutting off our power supply. Well, today, after lots of planning, quotes and discussion, the temporary repair is now going to be made permanent. Our electrical contractors are now working on installing the new junction box (pictured on the floor here). Of course this means that we are without power, we assume for most of the day.

To be honest (apart from the fact that it is not raining), they really couldn’t have chosen a worse day to do it – it’s freezing! Probably the coldest day of the winter so far. The outside temperature is around 0°C (32°F), and because the power is off, we have absolutely no form of heating. So winter jackets are on, but trying to catch up on a bit of filing whilst wearing gloves is almost impossible.

It never ceases to amaze me how we take electricity for granted, and you really don’t realise how many things you can’t do with out it. Sure, our laptops are working, but without power, we have no internet connection without setting up a mobile phone network. And whilst our mobile phones might be working, our fixed lines are down, as our small phone network also relies on electrical power. But the biggest disaster of all? No tea! We can’t even boil any water…..

Looking for a leak

January 30th, 2018

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Just before Christmas I wrote about a serious leak from a water pipe in the ceiling above the tank room of the bodega. Well, the saga continues even now. As in the case of many a water leak it isn’t always easy to find the exact source, because, as we all know, water will simply permeate until it eventually finds a place to escape (in this case the ceiling of the bodega).

Nearly one month later, and after much digging and breaking of concrete, we hope that we might have finally located the origin of our mini-waterfall. So now it is simply a question of repairing all the holes and self-inflicted damage that we have caused during our search. The first steps will be sand, cement and concrete (including waterproof membranes and paints), and then finally, repairing and re-painting the ceiling of the tank room itself.

By the way, just in case you were wondering, we were able to isolate certain sections of our water network and these have been cut off during the search – the water was not been pouring through the roof for the entire month! Fortunately, we have other sources of water to work with and we were not completely dehydrated…..

Posted in Bodega, Odds & Sods

January Blues

January 15th, 2018

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It’s January, 2018, and there’s not much happening at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, we have sent out a few orders, and our guys are busy pruning in the vineyards, but other than that our days are short, dark, and now just a little bit damp too. The Christmas holiday rain has continued into the new year, and there have been a few thunderstorms. The weather has been changing quickly – one moment we have black skies, thunder, lightning and driving rain, but then, within an hour or two, the sky is almost completely clear and the sun is bursting through!

After a protracted holiday period (a common feature of the Spanish calendar) it can be difficult to regain momentum, but there is planning to be done, bottlings to be made, and of course, we mustn’t forget that our 2017 wines still need to be tasted regularly. Later in the spring we will decide the best moment for racking – removing the wine from the lees, and finally some of these tanks will be blended before they eventually become the finished article.

Within our D.O. the length of time that an albariño needs to remain on its lees before it can be called ‘Sobre Lias’ is just a little vague, although the very minimum is usually accepted to be around 3 months. Technically, this would mean that we could rack our tanks now if we wanted, but in the case of every sobre lias wine at Castro Martin, we always leave them resting for a minimum of 6-8 months, but depending on the vintage, some can be left up to a year!


Posted in Bodega, Weather

OMG! It’s now probably wetter and more humid inside the wine cellar than it is outside! Yes, we have had some reasonably heavy rain and high wind in the last week or so, but now we have water pouring through the ceiling inside the cellar. As I write this we are still not 100% sure of it’s origin, but we believe that there is a broken water pipe, inside the ceiling, sealed by concrete. Not a good scenario.

It would appear that the entire ceiling cavity is full of water, and so we have temporarily drilled some holes to allow the water to escape (see photo). Before we did this, then obviously the water simply found its own escape routes, which unfortunately was mainly through our light fittings. On the plus side, these florescent fittings are designed to be water-tight, but one did leak a little, and immediately caused a short-circuit cutting all the lights throughout. Although there is some water falling directly onto our tanks, the wine itself is in absolutely no danger, as they are of course completely hermetic. 

Naturally we have turned off the water source, and will now simply leave the water to drain for the next day or two. Once reasonably dry, we will start the daunting job of finding the actual source of the leak, and carrying out repairs. I guess we only have to be thankful that this leak didn’t occur during harvest or the wine making period – that would have been a complete disaster!