Archive for the ‘Winemaking’ Category

The other day my UK journalist friend Tim Atkin wrote an article about typicity. In the context of wine, this simply means the typical characteristics that you would expect to find in a particular type of wine – a combination of factors typical of the denomination, of the grape variety, all ultimately influenced by the local climate and/or vintage. 

In Rias Baixas the definition of a typical albariño will certainly vary according to the sub-zone. Although there is only 60km seperating the north from the south of the denomination, climatic and soil variations can already produce some widely differing styles. These days, unfortunately, flavour profiles can also be manipulated by the use of cultured yeasts whereby a wine’s typicity can be can be rendered almost unrecognisable. At Castro Martin however, we always opt for a very ‘neutral’ yeast, doing our very best to preserve and protect the delicate aromas of the albariño grape. Our extended lees ageing period helps not only to enhance this, but also adds further to the complexity of the finished wine.

In our view an albariño should always have a delicate fruit, perhaps slightly floral nose, sometimes offering a hint of salinity. On the palate flavours are often piercing and intense – a lively sweet and sour mixture. Notes of freshly cut fruit dominate – citrus, green apple, pear  and can include more exotic fruits such as melon, apricot and white peach. On the finish is can have a ‘nervous’, granitic edge and a streak of a salt-lick zestiness. It sounds like a real mouthful – but this is exactly what the typical albariño should be.

The fermentation of our 2017 wines finished at the beginning of October last year, and since that moment our wines have been resting quietly on their lees. Today, some 8 months later, we have just started the annual racking. Over the winter the lees settle to form a sort of thick paste at the bottom of the tank, and today we are simply drawing off the clean wine from above (making sure that the don’t disturb the lees in the process).

It’s actually quite a slow process, with long periods of inactivity as we wait for the precious liquids to be transferred. Once the clean wine is relocated we then transfer the lees into large airtight containers to be sold to the distillery for making aguardiente. Nothing is wasted!

The final job is to clean the interior of the empty tanks, which is a chore in itself. The walls of the tanks are nearly always thick with brown crystals that resemble rust (from the tartaric acidity in the wine), and they can be quite tough to remove. We have to use a caustic solution, but then making absolutely certain that the tank is rinsed thoroughly before it is ready to receive the next wine.

Posted in Bodega, Winemaking

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!

Maybe it’s my imagination but there appears to be an increasing number of National and International days with every year that passes – some that I hear about, and others that I don’t. For example, did you know that yesterday was National Oreos Day – yes, Oreos the biscuit. So how many people did you wish ‘Happy Oreos Day’ or perhaps you simply ate a celebratory packet with friends (or by yourself!)

Clearly, some of the special days are just a bit tongue in cheek, whilst others are a good deal more serious. One of the most prominent such days is International Women’s Day when we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Here at Bodegas Castro Martin for example, we mostly celebrate the achievements of Angela Martin, our boss (my boss) and our winemaker. Back in 1993 when she assumed the day-to-day management of Castro Martin there were very few women in her position in Galicia. Indeed, she was one of the women pioneers of Rias Baixas, where today, nearly 25 years later, it is quite common to find women winemakers in many of the very top bodegas. Local recognition of her accomplishments came in the year 2000 when she was made a Dama do Albariño, in a ceremony held during our own National Albariño Day in Cambados.

Today, we have only a very small team working full time in our bodega, but even so, nearly half of our team is made up of women. On this day we celebrate them, their efforts and unerring support in helping to put Castro Martin well and truly on the world wine map. So let’s raise a glass of A2O to the ladies of BCM!

Continued from Part One….

Don’t ask me why but this second wine was actually called ‘Antika Mickey Mouse’ (I later discovered that this was simply because the owner is a fan, and was probably a better name option than his other wine which is called Antika Podfuck). This Czech wine was completely ‘natural’, hailing the South Moravia region of the Czech Republic, and when I say natural, I really mean natural. The 8 hectare vineyard of Milan Nestarec was created as recently as 2001, and the wine is made in such a way that there is pretty much no intervention, either in the vineyard, or in the wine cellar. A blend of Chardonnay, Traminer, Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner with fermentation on the skins for a period of 10 days, followed by period of ageing in oak barrels. There is no filtration, no clarification, and that’s it. The resulting wine almost defies description, and to honest, I was happy that I was only offered a glass to sample, and didn’t buy the whole bottle (it would be impossible to finish). In the glass it was a murky brown opaque colour – visually not inviting. On the nose…. well, I just don’t know – not like any wine I have ever sampled before. Weeks later I am still searching for a way to describe it – Earthy? Wet straw? Some type of acetone plastic? Bizarre! The palate was a complete surprise – it had some weight to it, but with a really savoury and quite salty flavour – for me a wine that you could sip, but not drink. Natural or not natural, I didn’t really like it.

Today’s post ended up being a bit too long – so I will split it into two parts.

There is a lot of interest these days in Natural, Organic and Biodynamic wine. Without entering into the technicalities I can tell you that these wines do not exist anywhere in our denomination – there is only one certified vineyard, but no certified wine cellars. It is quite simply that our climate makes this classification almost impossible. However, that’s not to say that we are not open minded, and we certainly enjoy trying these wines when the opportunity arises, sometimes with mixed results.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to try two such wines, one from France and the other from the Czech Republic.

As you may know, I am already a great fan of the wines of the Jura region of France, and more especially of the Savagnin grape variety. There are many small ‘artisan’ producers in this region, and they often produce varied and fascinating wines. I was offered a ‘Vin de France’, effectively a table wine without AOC, but I was soon to discover why. The wine ‘Le Zaune à Dédée’ was made from a blend of late-harvested Savagnin grapes from the Jura, and Gewürztraminer grapes from the neighbouring Savoie region. A wine macerated and then vinified ‘sous voile’ (aged under a fine ‘flor’, or film of yeast in the barrel, similar to many other wines of the Jura, and also a technique used in sherry making). The resulting oxidative style of wine is extraordinary. Not only is the wine slightly opaque, but it is pretty much orange in colour – many people would probably refuse it on sight alone! It has a nose that is so interesting and complex, that I could sit all day just smelling it (but come up with a different nuance every time). It has an overpowering aroma of honey, burnt orange, and perhaps a hint of lychee from the Gewurzt. From the honeyed smell you would be forgiven for thinking that it might be sweet on the palate – but not at all – it really misleads you in this respect. On the palate there are just so many exotic flavours, fused with hazelnuts and perhaps just a hint of salinity. But if I thought that this wine was difficult to describe, then the second left me with a blank tasting sheet!

Harvest Report 2017

September 26th, 2017

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Apparently there is a very unique and different ‘style’ of wine now available on the market (although I’m pretty confident that it will never be made here in Galicia) – wine infused with marijuana. In California it is sometimes known as ‘weed-wine’ and in some local markets is now commercially available.

It may surprise you to know that this rather unusual blend was not originally cooked up by the fun-loving, open-minded Californians, but actually dates back centuries or even millennia. Pot-wine was sometimes consumed an integral part of ancient religious rituals, whilst in Chinese medicine it dates back as far back as the 28th century B.C. (so powerful that it could be used as an anesthetic during surgery). In any event, when this slightly bizarre cocktail was first used it was never intended simply as a way of getting high, but was used much more for its healing power and also relief of pain. In religion it was considered as an entheogen, aimed at spiritual development, literally ‘generating the divine within’ – which I think you could interpret in any number of ways!

Despite the fact that marijuana has now been legalised in several States, weed-wine is still not widely available, and in some of the places where it can be bought, it is still treated as more or less an ‘under the counter’ sale.

I have read that the most effective way to add this aromatic herb is by slow, cold maceration, and that the resulting wine has greater depth of flavour and a better structure. It is not mentioned exactly what this flavour is, but the ‘medicinal’ side-effect is ostensibly not as euphoric, but actually more mellow and long lasting. Certainly it would be a wine to be savoured with some moderation (if that’s your thing).

Finally, it is said that white wine better lends itself to these natural aromatics, a healthy marriage of marijuana and grapes, lower alcohol levels, giving a better balance to the finished wine. Who knows, Angela could become Galicia’s first “ganjapreneur”?

Vulcan wineI was recently sitting in a small village restaurant, grabbing a quick ‘menu’ lunch, to the inevitable accompaniment of the television in the corner of the room. The regional news was interviewing a local winemaker, who they were reporting makes the only vegan wine in Galicia! (I should immediately point out that wine classified as vegan is not to be confused with biological, biodynamic or even ‘natural’ wine).

A couple of months ago I made my own discreet investigation into biological and biodynamic wines by speaking directly to the Technical Director of our D.O. I simply asked him how many wines or bodegas are legally certified as such?

His reply was quite unequivocal. There is only one certified biodynamic vineyard in the whole region, but the wine made from these grapes is not…. biodynamic grape growing and biodynamic wine making are two completely different things and are certified independently of one another. To summarise, biological or biodynamic wine of the D.O. Rias Baixas do not exist at the time of writing.

Vegan is however, a whole different classification, and you could easily be forgiven for assuming that all wines might potentially be suitable for vegans. The problem is that there are quite a number of fining agents (commonly used to precipitate out the haze-inducing molecules), that are prohibited in vegan products – casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Fining, or clarification, leaves the wine clear and bright and is often enhanced by a final filtration that adds a bit of extra ‘polish’ to the finished wine.

The good news for vegans is that these days there are an increasing number of wine makers (including Castro Martin) who are using clay-based fining agents such as bentonite – particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal can also be used to produce vegan friendly wines.

So I am pleased to confirm that vegans can safely drink Castro Martin wines, happy in the knowledge that they will live long and prosper!