Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

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!

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.

It occurred to me that on my recent list of ongoing tasks (keeping us super busy in the bodega at the moment), I omitted to add training. Yes, once a week, Angela, Luisa and myself attend a four hour session to learn all about our new software system. At the beginning of the year we launched our revised accounts system, which from this September (at harvest time) will be partnered by an entirely new stock control system.

However, this is no ordinary stock system, as it will record every aspect of our wine production in fine detail – otherwise known as traceability – from grape to bottle. In fact, I guess that the vast majority of people would be quite surprised by the amount of detail required, actually beginning out in the vineyards whilst the fruit is still growing. Every lot number of every treatment (organic or otherwise), used by both the bodega and our grape suppliers is recorded – together with dates and amounts applied. This level of detail (including lot numbers etc.) is carried through the entire wine making process, right down to the bottle and cork used to produce every single wine. Yes, even bottles and corks are allocated lot numbers.

Of course, the simple reasoning behind this being that if any one bottle is discovered to have a technical defect, then the entire batch (usually from a specific tank) can be withdrawn from sale, and the fault traced right back to the very grape with which it was produced, if necessary. The amount of information recorded for your delicious bottle of albariño is mind-boggling!

So not only do we now have to learn how the system works, but somehow we have to find the time to input all the data. Good job that the days are longer at this time of year…

QuizI spend quite a lot of time browsing wine subjects on the web, and on Saturday I stumbled across a site claiming that, by answering a few simple questions, they could determine the type of white wine that I should drink. I put it to the test…. but in a slightly mischievous way – by working in reverse and trying to steer the quiz toward the answer that I wanted. In other words, to force the algorithm to recommend albariño as my wine of choice.

When you already know the character traits of a particular grape variety then it’s actually not that difficult. The quiz asks a series of questions with multiple choice answers, and at my very first attempt I managed to arrive at the following answer: “The wine you should try is Pinot Grigio. You like a crisp, refreshing white wine, and Pinot Grigio is the perfect fit. But you should also try Albariño from Spain”

Wine Apps are becoming more and more popular, in restaurants for example, offering consumers alternative advice to that of a sommelier. Also, by using a phone’s camera these Apps can recognise a wine label, and so feedback can be very quick and convenient (especially if you find yourself standing in the middle of a retail outlet struggling to make a decision). The only possible downside is that the database of many of these Apps is built up around customer recommendations in a similar way to Trip Advisor, so I guess that not all of the advice might agree with your own opinion or taste. In the end, as I always say, my best and only advice is to pull the cork and taste!

Posted in Tasting, Technology

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.

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……

TypingAbout a month ago our website suffered a ‘brute force login attack’. Now, to be perfectly honest I’m not sure how or why a hacker would want to attack a winery website, but the net result was that our site was down for about 2 hours (one Sunday morning).

The solution has been to do a significant upgrade, and to install the latest security protocols. Inevitably this has not been without its teething problems, and the system is now so secure that I’ve had one or two problems logging in myself! Recently I have been timed out, and then locked out completely when I try to log back in again! At present our WordPress based site appears to allow me about 15 minutes to make new entries before it eventually throws me out, so there is only one solution (in the short term) – I have to learn how to type faster!!

Posted in Technology, Websites

Catch up time

March 21st, 2015

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Prowein 2015To be honest I don’t know where to begin! Angela and I have been away for most of the last week at Prowein in Dusseldorf, to my mind certainly the best wine fair in Europe, if not in the world. It’s a very humbling place, and puts a perspective on where we are placed within the world of wine – one tiny grain of sand on a beach. The number of producers and wines on offer was truly mind-boggling, and made me ask myself, when I was a buyer, how did I cope with this? Well, there is a simple answer. Clearly you can’t taste everything, and so the very best that you can do is set out with a plan, and make sure that you stick to it (allowing perhaps a little extra time each day to make one or two random discoveries). If you simply arrived at the entrance, not knowing what you were looking for, then you would very quickly be overwhelmed. In any event, wine fairs are tiring, whether you’re buying or selling – it’s three long days on your feet, not to mention that Dusseldorf is already quite a ‘trek’ from Galicia (two flights via Madrid, taking more than half a day).

But having to play catch up with a backlog of work from the fair is only half the story – the day before we left for Germany, my computer packed up again, but this time completely…… Nothing… Nada… Rien… I couldn’t even open a programme! Of course I had already been experiencing huge problems in the last couple of weeks, but thought that it had largely been resolved, albeit not perfectly. I was wrong, this time it crashed and took my entire Prowein appointment calendar with it! Of course I had a back up, but this is only of use if you have somewhere to re-install it! At least I was able to leave it with the engineers until we returned from our trip, but I still had to wait another 24 hours before it was returned to me. I then spent an entire day re-loading programmes and changing the settings, to at least make it feel like my own computer – fortunately, I believe that all the data files have been retrieved. After this experience now might truly be the time to consider cloud computing.

So now, it is simply a question of catching up and wading through the backlog of mails in my inbox. Heaven help me.

CyberFor the last couple of days I’ve been having my own personal cyber-crisis. For no apparent reason my laptop decided to throw a fit, and to stop loading programmes (‘programme not responding’). Of course the immediate reaction is to retrace all recent keystrokes (and any updates) to see if you’ve done something wrong. Unfortunately I found nothing obvious, and a system scan for corrupted files revealed nothing either (and only succeeded in wasting the best part of a day to carry out).

Consequently I am now studying all sorts of forums and websites trying to sift out the useful advice, and systematically working through the suggested fixes. It all takes time and patience, and does not really help to sell wine! I will soldier on….

Select Bio 2Finally, the big news of 2014 (so far) – we have just started to bottle some of our 2013 wines with a completely new breed of synthetic closure – NOMACORC SELECT BIO – THE WORLD’S FIRST ZERO CARBON FOOTPRINT CLOSURE. 

We have been using the Select Series for some time now, and this new Select Bio is just the latest product in the evolution of the series. The material used to make this closure includes sugar cane, plant based polymers, meaning that it comes from 100% renewable raw materials. Of course using a plant based source also helps to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and the canes used are cultivated in a socially responsible way – having no impact on the food supply chain. Plant based polymers are also perfect for re-cycling in the normal plastic waste streams.

As if all this isn’t enough the Select Bio is also manufactured using 100% renewable energy – closures simply don’t come with ‘greener’ credentials than this one!

I should finish by saying that this new Bio product has all the usual benefits of our previous Nomacorc closure, being taint free and enabling consistent bottle ageing. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention that we are the very first Bodega in the whole of Spain to be using this new technology!

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