Archive for the ‘Vineyards’ Category

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.

Weather watch

September 1st, 2017

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So now we are almost ready, a few bits of last minute cleaning in the bodega, and grapes just hanging around waiting! So now it is simply a question (as every year), of watching the weather. To be honest, August was a very odd month, and certainly not as hot as usual. A high percentage of overcast days, a few days of drizzle and light rain (nothing substantial), and when the sun did eventually appear, it wasn’t exactly “scorchio” – it other words, only moderately hot. The final few days for example, even during unbroken sunshine, the daytime temperature reached no more than 25°C (77°F), and nights were also quite cool – down to about 14°C (57°F).

It is almost certain that we will kick-off next week, but exactly when will be determined by the weather Gods. As always I am following about four or five different weather websites, all of which are marginally different. Generally good, but with a possibility of showers. They have been wrong before.

I will just have to consult my weather stone (see picture), which is much more accurate.

For many years I have been under a slight misapprehension…. that irrigation of the vineyards was, at the very least, frowned upon, and to some extent, illegal! I think that this is probably a throw back to my early days in the wine trade, when the majority of ‘old world’ countries did not allow a single drop of water to be used in the vineyards, whilst the ‘new world’ producers (who used it extensively) were considered by Europe as charlatans, spraying water everywhere with impunity.

The interesting fact is that since around the turn of the millennium, things have been changing – but in a very quiet, almost stealth-like manner, as the traditional wine producing areas of Europe slowly adopted their wine laws to allow irrigation to be introduced. Certainly this is still done with an element of control as, for example, in some areas it is only allowed during certain summer months.

Of course, having made all the initial fuss about the ‘cheating’ new world producers, the old world soon came to accept (persuaded perhaps by the onset of global-warming), that allowing the use of water was actually quite a sensible thing. For me personally, the idea of irrigation is quite similar to the use of treatments in a vineyard – no sensible producer is going to sit back and watch his fruit rot on the vine if there is some step that he can take to prevent it. Yes, we all use products that are as ecological as possible to treat our vines, but in the end it’s all still a form of intervention. And so, logically, if your vines are wilting in the heat (and consuming all their sugars to survive), then just give them a drop of water – no so much as to inflate the berries, just just enough to keep them ‘comfortable’.

Today’s photo shows the drip irrigation that we have just added to our bodega vineyard, where the upper part can be particularly dry in hot weather. The irony is that, as I write this, it’s actually raining!

Whenever we have welcomed visitors over the last few years, we have usually taken them out for a trip around the vineyards, and to explain the geography of the Salnés Valley – where we are situated in relation to the Atlantic Ocean etc. We have discovered that best way to do this is actually quite simple – to drive them up a hill, above the valley, and admire the wonderful view of Salnés extended out in front of them. 

Dotted around Galicia, there are quite a number of ‘Miradors’ (look out points), designed almost exclusively for tourism purposes. (They are also often used by locals as picnicking places, as many include stone tables and benches, perhaps even a built-in barbecue).

Our very favourite for showing off Salnés is the mirador of San Cibran, located only a few km from our front door, which is, as you might imagine, mostly an uphill journey! However, recently, we have developed a bit of a problem….. no view! 

Very unfortunately, the surrounding hillside is planted with Eucalyptus trees (not indigenous to Galicia, but extensively planted some years ago to produce cheap timber). Now they are taking over, not only blocking the views, but also creating the perfect environment for forest fires. You may recall that at the end of May last year I wrote about how our own Ocean view, at the rear of our bodega, had been restored when some trees were felled, and it now seems that St Cibran is desperately in need of a bit of TLC as well. Regrettably, a mirador without is view, is now essentially, just a hill!