Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category

FIRE!

October 6th, 2016

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FIREToday did not start as expected. We arrived at the front door of the bodega to find our electrical junction box on fire! (Fortunately it is located on a wall outside the building). If you can use the word lucky in these circumstances, it seems that the fire had started only minutes before, and so we were able to quickly grab an extinguisher (the powder in the photo), and kill the flames within minutes.

Of course, with the junction box virtually destroyed, there was no power at all in the building. Pretty much a disaster at harvest time, when we rely on refrigeration to keep our tanks cool during fermentation. Having no light, computers, telephones etc., was of secondary importance at this critical moment of the wine making process.

Thankfully we have very reliable electrical contractors, and within 30 minutes of the fire they were already on site. Within an hour or so, we had all the replacement parts, and by 12.30 (three and a half hours after the initial disaster), power was restored… Very, very impressive in the circumstances.

As soon as the power came back on, we quite naturally, rushed to look at the tank thermostats. Fantastic! The temperatures had only increased by 0.2 or 0.3°C, almost nothing at all, and certainly not enough to do any damage to our fermenting wines.

I guess this serves me right for claiming that it had been an uneventful campaign!

Posted in Bodega, Equipment

Time for maintenance

February 15th, 2016

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MotorsAt this time of year, when the bodega is quiet, it is clearly the best time to carry out any equipment maintenance. Sometimes it is fairly basic work that we can carry out ‘in house’, whilst on other occasions it is slightly more complicated and we have to leave it to the experts.

One of the most important pieces of equipment that we own are our presses – without presses at harvest time then there would, quite simply, be no wine. Even the breakdown of one of our two presses during the picking can cause us huge problems, creating a severe bottleneck and restricting the smooth flow of grapes through the cellar.

Keeping the presses in good working order is therefore a major priority for us, and therefore this winter we decided to completely overhaul the motors in both machines. Unfortunately the best engineers that we know are not local, actually based in Barcelona on the opposite side of the country. Consequently the two motors were disconnected, packed and dispatched on a holiday for treatment and pampering to the Costa Brava.

A day or two ago they returned, fully overhauled, with many parts replaced, and trussed up in plastic like two giant Christmas turkeys (see photo). It’s now just a small matter of reconnecting and testing, but we are told they should operate like new. Vamos a ver!

Posted in Bodega, Equipment

Neff hob

I think it would be fair to say that one of my very favourite pastimes is cooking (which is quite common in the wine business). I find it not only very satisfying, but also quite therapeutic and relaxing, often listening to the radio with a glass of beer in hand.

It doesn’t how much experience you have or how many books you read on the subject, there are always new techniques to learn and new equipment to buy. In my kitchen for example, I often use a Sous Vide water bath which is really great way to preserve flavour and stop food from drying out.

Until recently I was a disciple of gas hobs and electric ovens as being the best possible combination (and to an extent I still do), but I have to confess that my head has now been turned by some powerful new witchcraft known as ‘induction’. I became frustrated by the poor layout and design of my gas hob, restricting the number, size and combination of pans that I could use – it defied logic and was very irritating. After extensive deliberation and much research, I finally decided to go induction!

It’s still early days with my new Neff hob, but wow! I have to say that I am just a little blown away. Clean, fast and responsive, I have opted for a model with two large cooking areas (that can be divided into smaller segments if needed), meaning that it works rather like a professional solid top oven range, or an Aga, whereby you more or less position pans exactly where you need them.

There is only one cautionary footnote to my tale of Seasonal joy – your pans need to be suitable for induction otherwise you will simply need to replace them……

Cold machineLast week the bodega was closed for a short break before our busiest time of year. At this stage there is little that can be done in the vineyards, and so we take advantage to give our team a chance to re-charge their batteries before the main event – our harvest! Or at least that is the theory….. the reality is that most of our team were working.

It’s a bit of a convoluted story, and revolves around one very important piece of bodega equipment. Our ‘cold machine’. I suppose I should really call it our refrigeration unit, but in our daily conversations it is simply known as the cold machine. This super important piece of kit actually does two jobs: This is the machine that we use to chill the wine to below freezing for cold stabilisation (to prevent the formation of tartrate crystals in the finished wine), and most importantly (at this time of year), it forms the very heart of our temperature control system, without which the fermentation would simply career out of control. So, how does this relate to our holidays I hear you ask? Let me quickly explain.

In the period leading up to the harvest we have all our equipment serviced, including of course, the cold machine, and whilst we have refrigeration engineers here in Galicia, none of them really specialise in wine equipment. Probably the best company in Spain is based in Barcelona, and they are so highly sought after in the wine business that you don’t tell them when they should come, they tell you when they’re available. On this occasion the only time that they could come to Galicia was during our scheduled closure, and this left us with no choice – consequently many of our team have been working to accommodate them.

It transpires that we needed much, much more than a simple service. Many of the component parts and systems had been ‘cobbled together’ by different engineers over the years, so much so that our beloved machine was almost an accident waiting to happen! The result is that more than a week later the engineers are still here, and by the time they leave, we will almost have a completely new machine. Heaven only knows what all this will cost, but suffice to say that this piece of equipment is so central to our entire wine making process, that it is a simply a price that we have to pay.

Steam clean

May 19th, 2014

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Steam cleanOne of the questions that we are most frequently asked about our wine making is whether we use any oak or not. My answer is always a most emphatic “NO”. When it comes to wine, and not just albariño, at Castro Martin we always want to be known as purists – our ultimate goal is quite simply to make a wine that is an honest expression of our grape variety, untainted by flavours of yeast, oak or any other additive for that matter.

Having said all that, I can sometimes understand why people might ask….. a young albariño is always fresh, clean, zesty with a lovely concentration of intense, focused fruit, but then, with a little extended ageing, all that can change. After a year or two in bottle, quite naturally, the wine will start to evolve (this is not to be confused with oxidation, which is something completely different). Older albariño can start to develop secondary aromas and flavours that are perhaps more usually associated with oak aged or barrel fermented wines – it can develop a slightly ‘honeyed’ sweetness, with just a touch of toffee or caramel. Altogether quite different from its original, widely known style. In some ways it’s a bit of a shame that consumers really only know our wine in its young, zesty form, and normally don’t get to experience its older alter ego (unless they find a forgotten bottle at the bottom of their wine cupboard). When stored correctly an older, well-made albariño can actually become quite an interesting wine. 

So why does today’s photo show a barrel being steam cleaned in our bodega, you may ask? OK, so I’ll admit it, we do make a very small amount of barrel aged (not fermented) albariño for a very specific customer. Not necessarily my own personal taste, but if there’s a niche market for this wine, then why not? I should add that we can only oak age wine in certain vintages, when the wine has sufficient body and weight to support the oak. If the vintage is not suitable you may just end up with a glass of oak and acidity – altogether unpleasant.

Posted in Bodega, Equipment

Baby sprayLet’s make one thing clear – spraying the vines is something we don’t like to do, but unfortunately, owing to the vagaries of our climate, it is a necessary evil. Clearly we make every attempt to keep our interventions to the minimum, and always try to use the most environmentally friendly treatments that we can find, but in the end, hand on heart, we are never going to simply sit back and watch our fruit rot on the vines. There’s no doubt that Galicia is a beautiful corner of Spain, but it is also has a very damp climate, which explains why the coastline of our province is just so verdant.

In giving the treatments, one simple, ongoing problem that we have always had is when our tractor has to negotiate the space between the pergolas with crop spraying equipment in tow. Some of the manoeuvres required can be a bit tight, especially around the perimeter of the vineyard. In the past we have tackled some of these tight corners by using a special hose attached to the main reservoir of the equipment, spraying by hand, but obviously this is very time consuming, and of course, we all know the simple equation: Time=Money!

Our solution to this problem has been by making a relatively small outlay, buying a good quality, second-hand ‘Baby’ crop sprayer with 500 litre capacity (the ‘Baby’ sticker was already on the tank when we bought it). With the continued wet weather it had it’s very first outing only a day or two ago, and the good news is that it seems to make the whole task just a little more efficient. Hopefully it will soon pay for itself simply by the time we save.

Posted in Equipment, Vineyards

PlatformIf you look back at our blogs or vintage reports over the last few years you will probably find a photo or two of Fran (our cellar guy) balancing precariously on top of the presses during harvest. His task at this point is simply to distribute the grapes evenly inside the press as they tumble from the reception area on the level above, which is much more difficult than it sounds. To be completely honest, clambering up on a ladder and then straddling the machine is very far from ideal, some might say, even a little dangerous.

Finding a solution to alleviate the danger was never going to be easy, and whatever we decided would certainly have to be a customised design and build to fit into a very tight space. Indeed, we quickly realised that short of removing the roof, it was probably a design that would have to be built in situ. Our planners (Fran and myself) got our heads together, and based on our experience of working together on the presses over the last decade, came up with a plan of what was needed.

Having missed the window to do this last year (we left it to late!), we got an early start this year, and presto! Our design has now come to fruition. It is an in-house build (as Fran is also very handy with a welding torch), but I’m sure you will agree from today’s photograph, that the finished platform looks both very solid and very professional. Of course the one thing that you don’t really appreciate is that this new working areas is actually 1.80m (nearly 6ft) above the floor, and that the top of the press is nearly 3.0m (over 9ft), which would be a long way to fall onto the tiled concrete floor below!

The genius of the design (that you can just about make out from the photo) are the two side platforms that pull up from each side of the main platform, rather like a draw bridge, allowing the press to be closed up and to turn freely once it has been charged with grapes. 

It’s so impressive that maybe we should give up making wine and move into light engineering!

New membrane (3)Having just written about changing the membrane in one of our presses I thought that this might be the ideal moment to explain how the wine press really works…..

Using today’s photo you can clearly see that the press is a cylinder more or less divided into two halves. On one side there is the new (beautifully white) inflatable membrane, whilst on the other side you can see a series of silicone rubber ‘fingers’. Once the press has been filled with grapes the pressing cycle begins and the whole cylinder rotates rather like a large tumble dryer. As it rotates the pneumatic membrane slowly inflates to a predetermined pressure, and the grapes are gently crushed, releasing their juice. The juice escapes through holes and is collected in a large tray underneath before it is chilled rapidly and moved to the tank room ready for fermentation. The membrane then deflates and the rubber ‘fingers’ begin to do their job.

Once the bag has deflated the cylinder rotates and the fingers serve to break up the compacted grape pomace. (Pomace is the mixture of grape skins and stalks – known as marc in French, and bagazo in Spanish). Once the pomace is broken up a little the membrane re-inflates to a slightly higher pressure and crushes the grapes again extracting yet more juice.

The length of the cycle, amount of pressure used and the number of pressings for each load of grapes is determined according to the requirement of the individual winemaker and the style and quality of wine they are attempting to make. Less pressing, less pressure and shorter cycles usually equate to a higher quality wine – indeed, some high quality wines are made entirely from ‘free run’ juice, or possibly just the first press. However, there is a danger that if the juice is too clean and pure, lacking in phenolic compounds, that the finished wine could potentially lack a bit of structure and balance.

Of course another decision which has to be made even before the grapes are pressed is whether they should be de-stemmed or not. Certainly the act of de-stemming will allow a much greater weight of grapes to enter the press (without the stems they occupy much less space), but on  the downside, for a white wine maker, fruit oxidation starts from the very second that the skin of the fruit is broken. Again this is the winemaker’s choice, and again this will have an influence on the style of the finished wine.

Good as new

October 23rd, 2012

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For most of the year the team of people who work for us are fully occupied, and usually there are only a couple of moments in the calendar when we can play ‘catch up’, and do the jobs that we have been meaning to do for a while. A couple of our guys are currently working full time to thoroughly clean (with pressure washers) the baskets that we use for collecting grapes. Obviously they are washed as we go along, during the harvest itself, but when we have finished we give them one final clean before they go back into hibernation for another 51 weeks. (The cases that is, not the guys that are washing them!)

In the cellar the fermentations are well under way, and in the case of some tanks, perhaps only a few more days from their conclusion. (Strangely not all tanks progress at the same speed despite the fact that they are seeded at the same time, with the same yeasts, and then maintained at similar temperatures). Whilst we wait, our handyman Fran has been taking advantage of the slight lull in proceedings….. This time he has completely stripped our compressor, painted it, replaced many parts, and then put it back together again, with only a few pieces left over at the end (I am joking about the last part). The result is that we now have a compressor that looks like new, even though it is nearly as old as our wine cellar.

The compressor is a vital piece of kit, and is used for many different functions, perhaps the most important of which is during the bottling – many of the functions on the bottling line are powered by compressed air, and without it we would be sticking labels and putting capsules on by hand. 

With my recent (ongoing) back injury perhaps I could ask Fran to strip me down and give me a few replacement parts (but maybe not the orange paint, I don’t want to end up looking like George Hamilton)!