Archive for the ‘Bottles and bottling’ Category

The shocking fact is that for less expensive wines, the cheapest element of the price that you pay is for the wine itself – the actual 75cl of white, pink or red liquid in your bottle! When you consider the amount of effort that goes into producing a single bottle (from growing the fruit, harvesting, converting it into wine, bottling it and packaging it), the fact that this can actually represent just a tiny fraction of what you pay is really a bit of a scandal (speaking from a wine producers point of view, of course)!

I guess that the same could be said for any number of products that you might find in your weekly shopping basket – we are after all, simple fruit farmers. The only difference being that we take the production one step further by fermenting the fruit into alcohol. And thereby lies the key word….. Alcohol! 

The moment that the bottles and pallets leave our door is when the costs start to mount up. Transport and shipping I have already mentioned, but once our wine crosses the Spanish border, it immediately become liable for the duties and taxes of the importing country. It’s only when you start to examine these additional levies a bit more closely, that you see the cost of a bottle really beginning to accelerate.

When goods eventually arrive at their destination then they can also attract further warehousing and handling costs. Depending on the type of customer, they could then attract further, onward distribution costs even before they arrive anywhere near a consumer.

Now we can finally talk profit! Of course the wine producer himself has already extracted a very modest cut, and then the importer will add a further margin before passing the bottles on to a retailer or restaurant. Of course the profits made by shops and restaurants are already well documented, and it is probably better that I don’t comment at all – suffice to say that these can be quite “healthy”.

The net result is that with all the handling, distribution, taxes and duties etc., a very modestly priced wine can end up being quite a bit more expensive. A very frightening calculation (working backwards), is that a bottle sold in the UK for around £5.00 leaves almost nothing at all for the cost of the wine itself!

There used to be an advertising campaign on UK TV for bars of chocolate. The slogan was something to the effect that it took 1½ glasses of milk to make one bar of chocolate…. without actually specifying the size of the glass, or the bar of chocolate!

In the world of albariño I can tell you that it takes approximately 1½ kilos of grapes to make one 75cl bottle. Of course this seemingly simple calculation can sometimes be compounded by the price of the grape itself. Even if a bodega owns 100% of its own vineyards (which not too many do in Rias Baixas), the cost of grapes still fluctuates. Of course, yield can be controlled to a certain degree but will always vary a little, and labour cost in the vineyard can change according to the growing season, depending on how much work is required. Then there is also the cost of buying, maintaining and running tractors and other equipment that has to be factored in. On top of this, if you are then obliged to buy additional fruit on the open market, it can become a bit of a lottery. Grape contracts do exist, but some can end up being quite meaningless as market demands can often put a strain on persuading growers to honour them!

So once we have our 1½ kilos bought and paid for, safely in our tanks, then what else needs to be included in the final bottle price? Believe me, it’s a long list! Materials for making the wine, materials for bottling the wine, labour costs, and not to mention the overheads of running the bodega itself – electricity for machinery etc. Next comes the outer packaging, cartons, pallets, pallet wrapping, even before we can even consider moving the wine.

In export we are rarely involved in the cost of transport, but there will always be some element of (expensive) road haulage involved. With pallets weighing in at over 1000kg each (even using our Eco friendly lightweight bottle) the cost of moving them around, especially by road, does not come cheap. Sea container transport does work out much cheaper, but then this is usually limited to customers outside Europe, with the odd exception.

With all these elements quickly adding up the wine is finally on route, and the cheaper part of the final bottle cost has been explained. The really expensive part of the calculation I will save for another day!

For quite a few years now we have noticed that more and more Rias Baixas wine cellars are being taken over by large groups, many from other wine regions of Spain (Rioja producers for example). Clearly it is easier for them to offer a range of wines from around the country, rather than just one local wine, made from a single grape variety – as in the case of our very own albariño. The obvious consequence of this is that there are now fewer and fewer family-owned businesses, and even less that are managed on a day-to-day basis by the actual owners.

It’s no co-incidence that when we created our Castro Martin label some 15 years ago, we decided to call it “Family Estate Selection” (and not simply because the wine is made from the fruit of our family-owned vineyards). The original label placed great emphasis on the grape variety, and then the fact that the wine is made ‘Sobre Lias’ (with extended ageing on the lees), but now we have decided to modify this just a little.

We have recently printed a new label that includes a subtle change – on the front we have replaced the words ‘Sobre Lias’ with the words ‘Family Estate’, the idea being to place more emphasis on being a real family business. Sobre lias is of course, still mentioned, and we have also added the sub zone of our bodega (we are located in the Val de Salnés). It’s simply that in this ever changing world, we believe that being a family producer is still very meaningful!

Red Stripe Albariño?

February 20th, 2018

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Now there was you thinking that Red Stripe is a brand of beer founded in 1928 and originating from Jamaica. Well, it still is, but now perhaps there is a new version…. Red Stripe Albariño?

Actually not. This is simply a ‘gift’ from our printer. As you may already know, our new Casal Caeiro label is actually a quadriptych – a four part label, that joins together to form one large picture. However, when it is joined together this is not usually done using a thick red adhesive tape – this is just an anomaly of the printing process. Now I am just guessing here, but I think that when the labels are being printed, and our printer needs to change the paper roll, then they will simply stick the two rolls together using this tape. It certainly makes quite a startling contrast when these bright red stripes suddenly appear during a bottling run. (At least they are not difficult to miss!)

I should say that the four bottles in the photo did not come from one single batch, but have been collected over the several months that we have been using this new label. Maybe we should leave them in the cases and offer a prize to the people that discover them!

Logistics!

July 24th, 2017

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At this time of year planning, and more especially, forward planning is the key.

I mentioned only the other day that we had been busy racking wines, but the other very important procedure in our pre-harvest planning is bottling. Freeing up a few extra tanks to accommodate the new grape must. However, this year, there has been one major hiccup in that process.

Our bottle manufacturer was hit by a ransomware extortion attack, which pretty much closed down their entire production for a number of weeks. Obviously not having bottles during our peak bottling period is a bit of a handicap to say the least, but in the circumstances there was nothing we could do, except to wait patiently until our supplier’s systems were fully restored.

Unfortunately our first delivery of bottles last week was also a bit of a disaster! We had been promised that our truck was loaded and leaving the factory in Bourgos, arriving with us first thing the following morning (with our entire team poised waiting to unload and start work). Not only did it not arrive, but we subsequently discovered that it was in fact, never loaded. No real explanation was ever offered.

Suffice to say that I am always at a bit of a loss to understand why, at the same time every year, Spanish industry appears to be taken by surprise when the holiday season kicks in, and they find themselves short-handed. Malware apart, there are always delays and missed deadlines when it comes to supply and delivery. Probably the biggest surprise of all is that I continue to be frustrated by these problems…

Oh dear! I am very conscious that I have not posted in a while, but don’t worry, I have lots of ready-made excuses!

Firstly, we had a few days away in Belgium (not bodega business but for the graduation of our daughter after completing her Masters in International Law). Meanwhile, back in Galicia we have simply been very, very busy – possibly taking on too many projects all at the same time: Still working on extending the grape reception, adding an irrigation system to one of our vineyards (more on that later), and racking the final tanks from their lees (after nearly nine months resting quietly).

The truth is that we could perhaps, have left some wines on their lees for a little longer, but the reality is (believe it or not) that we have to start preparing the bodega for the 2017 harvest. Between now and the end of August, we still need to bottle a few more tanks, and empty some of the tanks immediately adjacent to the presses, just make it just a tad more convenient when moving the grape must. Please note that we never ever move wine unless we really have to, and so we usually encompass any re-positioning of our wine within the racking process itself – relocating the clean wine well away from the pressing area. 

Today’s photos shows the impressive tartrate crystal formation at the bottom of our tanks when we rack the wines. They instantly reminded me of the dramatic Jurassic limestone strata of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the Vaucluse region of France, with their sharp-edged ridges and spikes.

By the way… Happy 4th July!

Final clueOver the last two or three months I have dropped a few clues about something new happening in the bodega. The launch of whatever this might be is imminent, and so I thought I would add one final clue before we make it official.

As you may know, I am quite a keen amateur photographer, and many of the photographs that you see both on our website and on our social media pages are taken by me. It is however, rare to see me at work, but in today’s picture (working on our new project), I have been captured in the act, so to speak. On a few previous occasions when I have been taking photos I have caught myself in a mirror or perhaps in some type of reflection, but it is really odd to actually see how others perceive me when I am working…. the photographer’s photograph, if that makes any sense?

Anyway, in a couple of weeks we will be making an official announcement about our closely guarded secret, so watch this space, as they say.

As this video explains, grape producers and wine makers invest an enormous amount of time and money (not to mention the love and attention), to grow the best fruit and make the best wine, and then entrust it’s entire future to one very small, and yet vital element – the closure. They say that a chain is only as string as it’s weakest link, but in the wine business we should be saying that our wine is only as good as the closure that we chose. So why do some people try to save a few cents by using a mediocre quality cork? The future of your wine depends on it!

Here at Castro Martin we have invested an enormous amount of time and effort in studying this, by testing various types of Nomacorc closures, and then monitoring carefully the almost imperceptible amounts of oxygen that penetrate the cork (using NomaSense equipment). Each type of closure allows different levels of OTR (Oxygen Transmission Rate), and by making various tests we can actually chose the perfect closure for our wine. The wine maker is, in effect, given a further opportunity to actually have an important influence over how their wine evolves (assuming that other storage conditions are constant).

I think this video explains the story quite well.

CorcsPeople who know me also know that I am passionate about wine closures. As a wine buyer I could never understand why a producer would go to so much trouble growing superb quality grapes, converting them into the best wine possible, and then cutting corners by trying to save a few cents on the price of a cork. For example, it is rare for the bottle to have a significant effect on the quality of a finished wine, but the cork? That’s a whole other story….

In addition to this, I also have a theory that certain types of closure work better with certain types of wine. Of course I could be completely wrong, but at Castro Martin it has been our mission to find the closure that provides the very best protection specific to our own albariño – preserving our wine in exactly the way that we want, whilst providing a consistency of quality to each and every bottle. The only way to do this has been by extensive testing.

After a prolonged period of testing involving a wide range of different closures, extensive tastings, carefully measuring OTR (oxygen transmission rate) and generally following the evolution of our wine from tank to bottle ageing, we were eventually able to make a decision based purely on our findings. The synthetic closure that we finally selected allows only a controlled rate of oxygen transfer and therefore behaves in a much more predictable fashion than natural cork (and that is before we even start to consider TCA – cork taint). The absence of cork taint is really just an added bonus for us when using synthetic.

These days we are using the very latest closure, made from polymers of sugar cane, boasting zero carbon footprint and probably the most Eco-friendly closure on the planet. This latest ‘Bio’ corc can be seen on the far right of today’s picture, and as you can see, is barely distinguishable from a natural cork. My photo shows how our range of closures has evolved over recent years.

How old is NV?

January 4th, 2016

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2004 RoedererSo, how old is Non-Vintage? This might seem like a stupid question, but I do think that in certain circumstances, it can be quite significant. OK, so I have to admit that I am thinking specifically of Champagne when I ask this question, and this is all owing to a bit of a mix up on New Year’s Eve.

A few days ago I pulled out a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne to chill for drinking with our meal. New Year’s dinner is, as always, quite a late event here in Spain, the idea being that the meal is finished shortly before the clock strikes midnight.

Just before the meal I popped the cork and poured…. Wow, this was seriously delicious, too delicious in fact – nutty, toasty, digestive biscuit, super complex – all the attributes of a lovely, old Champagne. Oh dear, I should have realised just by looking at the colour of the label. Closer examination revealed that it was actually a vintage 2004, which I didn’t even know that I had in my selection!

My point is that I really like old Champagne, and so when I buy a bottle of Non Vintage I rarely drink it immediately, but prefer to put it in the cellar and keep it for a year or so. Of course this is a matter of personal taste, and not all wines will improve with age. It’s just a bit of a habit that I have developed over the years.

There is, however, an interesting question that arises from this slightly odd practice. If I buy an NV Champagne from a wine shop in Spain (that might have a slow turnover), then how old is the bottle when I actually buy it? Apart from the Lot Number, which is coded, how do I know how old my bottle is? Perhaps in the case of their NV blends, Champagne houses should consider adding a bottling or disgorgement date to the label, if only to give the consumer (including me), a little more information? Just a thought.

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