Archive for the ‘Soap Box’ Category

SmartphoneNow I realise as I write this that there might be a few people who view our social media pages using smartphones, so I will start with an apology to them….. I am sorry for what I am about to write! A question that I am increasingly asking myself these days is quite simply, how did we survive before mobile phones? Or perhaps, to refine the question a bit, how did we communicate without them? I was sitting in a restaurant yesterday watching a nearby table comprising two adults and their young child – the mother was messaging on her phone, the father was surfing the web on his, whilst the young child was left to stare at the ceiling. Is this really the example that we want to set to our children? Extending this idea a bit further, could it be that at sometime in the not-to-distant future we will lose the ability to communicate face-to-face altogether? I once saw a young couple in a very expensive New York restaurant texting throughout their meal, and it left me wondering if they were actually texting each other? Had they already lost the ability to talk to one-another? 

Wherever you go, bars, restaurants, airports, public transport, people appear transfixed by their phones. Certainly they are an indispensable tool in modern day life, but it still raises the question, where do we (or where should we) draw the line, before they take over our lives completely? On which occasion should we resist the incoming call or message, and show some respect to the people with whom we are actually sharing our time?

Or perhaps the final question should be….. am I just an old fuddy-duddy?

Iberia ExpressOn the last leg of our journey home from Madrid to Vigo last week, we flew on the recently created Iberia Express – supposedly the discount airline of Iberia. I had noticed on our outbound flight that they had boasted 97% punctuality for the whole of 2014, but it wasn’t until the return leg that I fully understood how they achieved this remarkable number…..

On boarding our flight in Madrid the captain announced that our flight time to Vigo would be 45 minutes – this was quickly followed by a further announcement that our take-off would be slightly delayed. Twenty minutes after our scheduled departure time we eventually took off, and our journey time was exactly 45 minutes, as the pilot had previously confirmed. Imagine my puzzlement therefore, when the stewardess announced that we had actually landed 10 minutes early, and that their record of 97% punctuality remained completely intact….. But how? Had we landed in a different time zone? Were we travelling in a flying machine built by H.G.Wells? Well, no actually. The simple truth is that the published schedule allocates 75 minutes for a 45 minute flight. A 66% margin for error……. Talk about massaging the numbers!

Val D'IsereI am usually the first to shout from the hilltops (or should that be mountain tops) when any of our wines are sold in prestige locations. In recent years we have featured in airline First Class cabins, the London Olympics, luxury cruise ships as well as many a top restaurant, but I’m afraid to say that I forgot to mention one more very good reference from the winter of 2013/14. Just a few months ago we shipped our Family Estate wine to several top ski-ing resorts in the FRENCH Alps – Val d’Isere, Courchevel, Megeve, Meribel and Val Thorens – altogether an impressive collection. I am always very proud to export our wine to any of the ‘Old World’ wine producing counties, and more especially as these resorts are also a winter playground for the rich and famous (which is why I’ve never been). I can’t help but imagine that our humble albariño might just have impressed a few wealthy and influential people during their luxury winter break! 

In fairness, albariño might not be considered as much of a winter wine – skiers are probably more likely to crave ripe, full bodied reds, or perhaps glühwein, warmed through with added spices. Having said that, people still have to eat, and I have no doubt that there will still be the odd restaurant serving fish or seafood, even in the middle of the Alps.

Unfortunately my own skiing days are well behind me, and I know from painful experience that it can be a killer on the old leg muscles if attempted without any serious training or warm up beforehand. For now I think that I’ll just stick to a bit of jogging for my daily exercise…..

Fairtrade fortnight

February 25th, 2014

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Fairtrade‘Fairtrade Fortnight’ runs from 24th February until 9th March – but what exactly is the meaning of Fairtrade? A definition from the official website says “Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world”. A very reasonable premise that deserves our full support. Of course no one, in any country, wants to see workers being exploited, especially when they have no means of fair representation or redress, but I still can’t help but think that the fair trade concept should apply globally, and not only in developing nations. For example, even here, in the so-called mature western economies, farmers and their workers at the very sharp end of our supply chains are still sometimes exploited. We hear stories of dairy farmers being forced to the brink of bankruptcy by having their milk prices continually squeezed by large retail chains – surely this should not be considered as a fair way to do our trade?

Here in the Rias Baixas wine denomination we are always very conscious of our obligation to pay grape growers a fair price, enough to cover their costs and to provide them with a decent living. Unfortunately, during a period of deep recession, we continuously face strong downward pressure on our prices, and inevitably it becomes a fight for survival at almost every level of the supply chain. In the last couple of years I think I am correct in saying that our denomination has lost as many as 40 or 50 of the original 200 wine cellars. Some might say that this is a form of ‘natural selection’ where only the strong have survived, but the sad fact is that there are still many honest, hard-working Galicians (perhaps grape suppliers to the failed bodegas), who will now be struggling to make ends meet. We are also hearing tales of some grape suppliers that are being paid two or three vintages in arrears, or perhaps not at all – hardly an example of ‘fair trade’.

So when we are asked, or even expected to lower our prices in order to compete, then unfortunately, we run the risk of this knock-on effect. Everyone, at every level is being squeezed. Please don’t get me wrong, at Castro Martin we wholeheartedly support the concept of Fairtrade, but I am simply asking the question – where and when does fair trade begin, and at what border does it (or should it) end? 

Selling by variety

February 10th, 2014

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fruit and vegetable varietyYesterday I ate a tomato that had no taste whatsoever and it started me thinking…… In the wine trade, we make, market and sell wine by variety, so why doesn’t this approach apply to every fruit and vegetable – growing and selling them according to their variety, and more importantly, their flavour. Now I know there will be people who will jump on this apparent generalisation, and I do acknowledge that there are already many shops and supermarkets that clearly advertise both the variety and their provenance, but this is not a worldwide concept.

Imagine for a moment that you walked into your favourite wine shop, and the only way you could identify your selection was by the colour, as though it was assumed that every white wine, and every red wine tasted the same (and that the variety of grape really didn’t matter). This thought brings me neatly back to my tomatoes. Why shouldn’t I be able to walk into my local supermarket and knowingly select the variety of tomato that I like and prefer to buy? Why does it have to be a secret?

Of course, I already know the answer to that question – many fruits and veg are grown simply because they are prolific, and not necessarily because they have the best taste (there is even a variety of tomato called ‘moneymaker’). Now, I am not saying for one moment that we should stop growing these abundant croppers, but I am simply saying help us to identify them, and let us make the choice. As with my wine selections, I for one would not mind paying a few cents extra to buy a fruit or veg that I know I am going to appreciate….. it just makes more sense.

For example, in many countries it is very common to display the category of potato that we buy, depending on whether it is required for boiling, baking or frying etc. – but unfortunately not here in Galicia (ironically a big potato producing area). Yes, I can buy bags that are marked ‘for frying’, ‘for boiling’ etc., but the problem is that I do not agree with their selections! I end up with limp, soggy french fries, or hard, waxy boiled potatoes – I can never find what I really want. Very fortunately, I can at least buy my apples and pears by variety, but nearly everything else is pot luck!

OK, so I’ve had my little rant and got it off my chest, but if you stop to think about it for a moment, why shouldn’t the consumer be able to chose, or at least have more information so that they can make an informed selection? It wouldn’t cost any more to tell us what we’re buying…..

Today’s photo is not the best quality that I have ever posted on our blog. The reason? It is a ‘covert’ photo taken very discreetly using my mobile phone – I shall explain why…..

I confess that I had not realised as I woke up this morning that Spain was in the grip of a national strike – a protest against the austerity measures being systematically introduced across the country. Without becoming too political I am convinced that these measures are being imposed out of necessity rather than by choice, as the Government struggles to balance its books and get its financial house in order. Of course Spain is not alone in this predicament, and so the strike was apparently organised not only as a national event, but as an international event, covering the whole of Europe.

I had to attend a hospital appointment in the local town of Vilagarcia (as a follow up to my spine injury) and upon entering the town we noticed that some shops were indeed closed, but that others were opening their doors for normal business. No doubt, in the midst of a deep recession, they had decided that bills still need to be paid and that they could not afford the loss of income. Being a little early for the appointment we decided to have a cup of coffee, and after a long search finally found a cafe/bar that had ignored the strike and opened its doors. On walking around we had also noticed small groups of four or five rather unsavoury looking characters hanging around on street corners – it soon became apparent who they were.

No sooner had we sat down with our coffee, when one of these groups entered. Perhaps not just a coincidence that they were rather large, slightly imposing looking men, who immediately confronted the poor woman in charge of the bar. After several minutes of discussion the woman pulled down her shutters, waited until we had finished our drinks, and then closed her bar. By the time we left the town, we could not see one business which had remained open – those which had braved the strike were now closed.

I’m sorry, but I had always believed that the whole point of a democracy is that we are free to make our own choices. I am not quite sure what gives these ‘pickets’ the right to impose their views upon the small business owners, obviously trying to make an honest living and keep their heads above water in difficult economic times.

Posted in Local News, Soap Box

Ever thought that you don’t like the name of your home town, or that you’d like to live in another town nearby? Then simply change your address. No, I don’t mean move house, simply tell people that your address has changed, even though you live in the same place!

Now, I can hear you say that this sounds like a completely ridiculous idea, but the logic is, if it can work for a discount airline, then why not for me?

A week or two ago I mentioned the saga of booking our flights – trying to get to the wine fair ‘Prowein’ in Dusseldorf, and the fact that we have to fly through Barcelona as there is no direct flight from Galicia (despite having three “International” airports). To do this we also have to use two separate airlines, Iberia and Lufthansa, with two separate bookings.

Yesterday, in a conversation with a work colleague, she told us that she was flying direct to Dusseldorf from Oporto (Oporto being only a 1½ hour drive from us). On face value this would seem like a good idea…. until you look more closely. In this case ‘Dusseldorf’ airport turns out to be Dusseldorf (Weeze), which isn’t located in Dusseldorf at all. It’s actually nearly 100km from Dusseldorf, so I guess that you might need to hire a car, or take a bus – it’s certainly more than a taxi ride away!

As if you haven’t guessed already I am, of course, talking about our most famous rip-off airline Ryanair. (It would be easy to write a book about their misleading advertising, let alone a few lines in a blog.) I can easily think if a few instances where they use these misleading airport locations: Barcelona (Girona), Dusseldorf (Weeze), Paris (Vatry) to name but a few. I believe that the last one, Vatry, is actually about 160km from the centre of Paris (more than two hours by car).

So my question today is quite simple – at what distance should an airline no longer be able to use the name of a distant city to lure unsuspecting customers? Imagine the confusion if airlines started to link the airports of adjacent cities – today we will be landing in Liverpool/Manchester, London/Birmingham or perhaps even Glasgow/Edinburgh……. well, near enough!

Posted in Soap Box, Travel

Much has been written in recent years about the increasing madness of Health & Safety legislation, and I’m afraid that Spain is no exception.

In the workplace it’s quite obvious that no one wants to return to the days when small boys were sent up chimneys to clean them, and everyone recognises that there are many workplaces such as factories and construction sites which are dangerous and where regular health and safety checks must continue. The problem occurs when we treat everyday environments such as shops, offices and even wine cellars as if they were chemical plants full of bubbling cauldrons of explosive substances. It appears that we now obsessed by actively seeking potential danger, even in places where it doesn’t really exist.

I’m sure that by now you have realised the reason behind today’s post – our bodega has just undergone it’s own risk assessment, where some dubious dangers were uncovered, and odd recommendations put forward. Taking our tractors as an example, it was pointed out that our older tractor still requires to have a roll-bar fitted, which we accept, and which is clearly necessary. However, the suggestion that both tractors need fire extinguishers, was slightly more of a puzzle. My personal opinion is that it might be more dangerous to encourage our employees to tackle a fire, rather than to simply stand well back and wait for the fire services.

Health and safety is also responsible for changes in our school policies too. Some sports and playground activities have been curtailed on the grounds that they are now deemed too dangerous, despite having been enjoyed more or less safely for generations. I say ‘more or less’ because there will always be accidents, no matter how many precautions are taken, and this is just a fact of life that has to be accepted. The problem is that we simply can’t legislate for every eventuality.

 Having said all this, I am actually wearing a hard hat as I type this, just as a safety precaution!

Posted in Bodega, Soap Box