Archive for the ‘Bodega’ Category

Computer catch up

October 5th, 2017

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Just before the harvest (apart from all our preparation work), we were occupied by a series of computer training sessions. Well, not so much computer training, but rather software training. During 2017 we have been progressively rolling out our new, updated software package. We started with accounts, eventually moving on to stock, bottling, labelling and then finally, we turned to the harvest. This has been a huge undertaking, and despite the training (carried out mostly at break-neck speed), we are now trying to put into practice all the procedures that we were shown in theory – and it is by no means an easy task!

Indeed, we made a decision at the very beginning of the harvest that we would only enter the bare minimum of information into the system, and the vast majority we would input later when the pressure was off (keeping copious records on paper as in previous vintages). The last couple of weeks, we have spent hour after hour staring at our screens, sometimes just trying to figure out how to make it all work – connecting the theory with the reality is not quite as simple as you might think.

Although today’s photo is not very high quality you might still be able to make out that nearly every tank in our cellar is full. A few tanks are deliberately left empty merely give us some space to work – for example, when racking, we need to have at least one empty tank to re-locate the wine.

Wine making update

September 25th, 2017

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I just finished writing an e-mail to someone a moment ago, apologising that our bodega was in a bit of a ‘limbo’ state during their very recent visit. Meaning that whilst our obvious priority is the wine making, we are also undertaking cleaning, some re-painting and preparing orders. This period of activity is almost more exhausting than the harvest itself. Clocks and calendars are completely meaningless as all of our days fuse into one long extended week – weekends simply don’t apply. Our work timetable is dictated entirely by all the essential cellar work as the transition from must into wine bluntly refuse to take a day off!

Unfortunately (from a rest day point of view), the weekend just gone was probably the busiest of the entire wine making process. With the fermentations well under way, as I have previously mentioned, there are quite a number of tank additions that have to be made at this time – bentonite perhaps being the most significant of these. Bentonite is our choice of fining agent, for clarifying our wine, and was first discovered in Fort Benton, Wyoming (so no prizes for where the name originates), and is a type of clay made from volcanic ash. Not only does the bentonite drag all the unwanted solids and dead yeasts to the bottom of the tank, but also helps to keep the wine stable during fermentation. As it is a natural product, it also means that all of our wines are suitable for vegetarians.

Our grape reception area which was extended just before harvest, is now getting just a little more pampering as we give it a new lick of paint, just before we re-fill it completely with 2,000 empty harvest baskets ready for next year. For a space that is only used for 7-10 days a year, it’s certainly had more than it’s fair share of attention recently!

Posted in Bodega, Post Harvest

 

Something very interesting happened this morning when I got out of bed – I didn’t rush to the window to check on the weather. I also stopped trawling through the weather websites, at least until next year. So when I eventually did leave home and discovered that it actually was raining, I really didn’t care!

So our attention now turns to the contents of our tanks – the grape must. The first thing that I have to say is that we are thrilled with the fruit that we have collected, and so taking into account that quality ALWAYS originates in the vineyard, we should have have the raw material to make some very good wine in 2017 (to sell in 2018).

It’s true to say that no matter how much experience we have working our harvests, we will always be looking for new ideas and ways to improve our working practices in the future. We keep notes of these ideas, discuss them, and then perhaps incorporate one or two in the next vintage. There are also clearly one or two things that are fundamental to a successful campaign – forward planning is vitally important to a smooth and less stressful harvest, as is having a well organised, well-drilled team around us – thankfully we do.

Posted in Bodega, Post Harvest

Harvest 2017 – Day 7

September 12th, 2017

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Our 2017 harvest will be completed today – no loud cheers just yet however, as we start to plan for the next phase – the small matter of wine making.

Monday, our final day, didn’t start too well. Firstly it was grey and overcast, with just a little light rain. However, as has been the case for the last few weeks, this early morning gloom soon cleared up, and by 10 or 11am clear skies had been restored. In the early part of the day, we had our first small technical hiccup of the harvest – our (electric) forklift broke down quite literally in the middle of our grape reception where we unload the vehicles. Clearly this is a super heavy machine, and not simply something that you can push out of the way. We called for the engineer, in the hope that the machine could be moved before our final few grapes of the year arrived. Thankfully, we managed to get this done.

In the meantime, on a slightly quieter day (receiving only a little fruit, and just before wine making), Angela was catching up on some administration. From the photo you will see that she clearly doesn’t trust our new computer software, and has continued to make hard copies of everything (technically I think this is known as ‘back up’). It could also be because Angela is the ‘queen of the coloured pencils’, and that she keeps four copies of everything. There is another technical term for this – but it’s just a bit too rude to post!

At the end of the final day we had actually only made a couple of pressings, just ‘mopping up’ the last few grapes. I will write a more detailed summary, perhaps tomorrow if I have the time, and those of you unlucky enough to be on my contact list, will eventually receive my slightly longer vintage report. Good night and God Bless!

Harvest 2017 – Day 6

September 11th, 2017

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I should have mentioned before that the back of harvest is now well and truly broken. For example, all of the fruit from our own vineyards has already been safely gathered in. Our team of around 60 pickers worked long hours to take advantage of the sunshine, as at the start of the week the long-term forecast was a little uncertain.

Despite being Sunday, we have had quite a busy day – grapes are still very healthy and continue to show very good potential when analysed. As you might expect, with our shortened pressing, this adds to the concentration of the juice, and yields are still very good. Of course we always work below the maximum permitted yields simply because in the world of wine quantity nearly always diminishes quality. Lower yields both in the vineyard and from the presses will mean that 2017 should be a vintage to savour.

As the week has progressed we have noticed that the potential alcohol of our fruit has slowly crept a bit higher, and I would estimate (even at this early stage) that our alcoholic content will probably be somewhere around 12.5%. Obviously the final number will be revealed as time goes on.

I’m afraid it’s another uninspiring photo today, but it does highlight a bit of ingenuity – our cellar guys using the refrigerated heat-exchanger pipes to chill their water bottles!

Harvest 2017 – Day 5

September 10th, 2017

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Saturday! Potentially the craziest day of the week (for reasons that I have explained many times before). Also, just to compound matters slightly, when we opened our shutters it was pretty dull and overcast, much as the forecast had predicted. By the time we arrived at the bodega, there was a short shower of rain – fortunately not heavy, and over within a few minutes. In the end, that single shower proved to be the first and the last of the day. Indeed, by lunchtime the sun had returned.

As you may already know, all of our fruit is picked by hand and collected in small, well-ventilated baskets, each one when loaded weighing in at around 18-20 kg. We hold a stock of just under 2,000 of these baskets, and so, when they are all distributed, can mean that we are collecting potentially between 35-40,000 kg. Today, every single basket is being used, and at times there is a queue to collect more, once they have been emptied and washed. We employ one guy full time simply washing baskets!

Of course we always know that Saturday will be busy, and so the secret is (actually more just common sense), to make sure that we have the staff to handle it.  The other potential problem area (or bottleneck), is the pressing, but having made the decision to shorten the pressing cycle this year meant that the loading and unloading of our two presses was more or less a continuous cycle – simply alternating between the two.

There is no really special photos or videos today as we simply had too many other priorities during the day – just a rear view of our grape reception (used just once a year!)

I feel quite guilty today, worrying about a few possible rain showers when there are people in the Caribbean losing their lives to the weather – our thoughts are with them….

In the wine cellar we are racking our first grape must, after a day or two of settling (when all the residual elements that we don’t want, fall to the bottom of the tank). One of the first things that I noticed this morning was the smell – the floral scent of the juice. Of course, in our line of work, we use our sense of taste and smell all the time and so tend to notice even small traces of different aromas, and the grape must is just one of them. Over the period of the wine making there are so many different smells wafting around the cellar – some good, others not so good. The juice is one of the more attractive scents, as is the smell of the yeast (like a bakers shop), the smell of sulphur however, is pungent and quite unpleasant, used to protect the grape must from oxidation. Finally, during the fermentation itself, we have the deadly carbon dioxide (which is completely odourless, but that you can still detect). Even with our ventilators working overtime, it is still easy to feel a little light-headed at times.

Meanwhile, out in the vineyards, after the first three days of picking, we are nearly half way through the collection process. With sun today but potential showers on the horizon, we are working as hard as we can to get all the fruit safely inside.

Our time lapse video today shows one of our presses being loaded with grapes. 4,500kg in 18 seconds…. if only.

Thursday morning started sunny enough, with wall-to-wall blue sky, but by early afternoon it had evolved into a somewhat ‘milky’ sky – still warm but with slightly opaque sunshine.

So, today we will talk a little about the grapes themselves. On first impression it looks like we will be in for another very good quality harvest. Now, I am aware that everyone says that, and that our own Consello Regulador has never admitted to one bad harvest during the entire existence of our denomination, but believe me, this vintage has real potential. The grapes are healthy, the bunches are a good size, they are yielding the perfect amount of juice, and most importantly, the juice is thick and concentrated but with a very good balancing acidity. I guess my only surprise is that we have a good vintage with a year ending in the number 7. Speaking VERY generally, when you look back at the history of wine vintages, there are not too many great vintages when the year ends with a 7 – or maybe it’s just my imagination? Of course there are, and always will be, some exceptions.

Today’s video is really an experiment with time-lapse video (I have never tried it before). It shows our guys unloading one of our tractor-trailers. I have calculated that if we could really work at this speed we could complete our entire harvest in just under 3 hours!

At least today, we opened our window shutters to discover clear, blue skies – there were no unexpected surprises. I am still searching through various weather websites to find two that say exactly the same thing. Some say fine weather for the next week or so, and others say the possibility of showers/rain at the weekend. This is just one of the delights of living on the corner of a peninsula, next to the ocean – rapid changes in the weather.

As you can see from today’s photo the new area in our grape reception is being put to good use, giving us more freedom of movement and space to work. It transpires that our second day turned out to be smooth and uneventful, and I feel sure that our enhanced floor space has already made some small contribution in this respect. Of course the big test might come on Saturday, which is traditionally the busiest day of the week. This is compounded by the fact that our smaller grape suppliers, who take advantage of the weekend, also tend to arrive all together and later in the evening, which is when the real bottleneck can occur – we shall see.

By the way, today’s minor personal disaster was that my kettle broke, meaning that my constant flow of tea was momentarily interrupted, or at least made slightly more complicated (by resorting to the old-fashioned pan on the stove method). Hopefully, with the help of Amazon Prime, normal service will be resumed tomorrow!

When we opened our shutters this morning, we were just a little shocked. After a beautiful, clear, sunny evening yesterday, the clouds had gathered, and the sky was grey and heavy – almost threatening – and so, what to do? The decision was to cross our fingers, hope for the best and pick grapes.

As it turns out, our gamble paid off. Within a couple of hours the sky was clear, and by lunchtime we were bathed in warm sunshine. By 11am we had already received our first delivery of grapes to the bodega (into our newly revised grape reception), and happily, this flow continued steadily throughout the day. Of course once our press is loaded we get to sample the first grape must of 2017, and make any final adjustments to the presses.

Every year the density of the grape juice varies, and so we often change the time and pressure used for pressing according to the physiology of the berries. Obviously if the juice is thin, as in the vintages with higher rainfall, then we obviously don’t want to ‘over-press’ the fruit and extract too many phenolics (astringency originating from pips and stems). Conversely, in years when there is a lot of sun and the berries are smaller, with thicker skins and very concentrated juice, then we have to strike a fine balance between approaching the best of the must, but without extracting any of the bitterness. Complicated, but calculated.

I have to conclude that our first day passed off very smoothly. No sooner did we empty the press, than we had almost the exact amount of fruit ready to recharge it. Of course, I could claim that it was down to perfect organisation, but I have to admit that it was much more by chance than by precision planning.