Archive for the ‘Winemaking’ Category

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!

Craggy Range, Hawke's BayHaving been in the wine business for so long, and having travelled so much, it’s inevitable that I have befriended one or two wine makers around the world. Happily, I am still in contact with quite a number of them. We don’t always chat about wine, but at this time of year my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, have only one thing on their minds – the 2017 harvest.

On the other side of the world (geographically opposed to our location here in North West Spain), is Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand. Christchurch has had a pretty tough time in recent years – a series of damaging earthquakes, followed this year by drought and forest fires. Very recently hundreds of residents around the city had to be evacuated, 11 homes were destroyed and one pilot was killed when his firefighting helicopter crashed whilst dropping water.

The relevance of this story is that the summer of 2017 in New Zealand has been warm, dry and windy, and they had been anticipating a very good harvest. In the last few days however, one or two areas have suffered some rainfall, but fingers crossed, this will not be enough to do any lasting damage to the fruit – only time will tell. (Don’t forget that this weather pattern very much mirrors our own experience here in 2016).

Meanwhile, out in our own vineyards, we have just about broken the back of this winter’s pruning. Until now, our  2017 weather has been mostly dry, and apart from one short, wet period during the first two weeks of February, the sun has continued to shine. Last week our daytime temperatures were pushing 20°C (68°F), which to be honest, although very pleasant, is really just a bit too warm for this time of year.

The last leg

October 19th, 2016

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Density watchOur fermentations have been underway for some time now, but we are very much on the home stretch. The very first tanks that we seeded are already complete, and can now be sulphured to ensure that no unwanted, secondary fermentation will start during the lees ageing period. Of course in some vintages, when the acidity is particularly high, we might actually encourage a second, malolactic fermentation in some of the tanks. This will convert the (harsh, green, metallic tasting) malic acid, into the much softer, more palatable lactic acid (found in milk products). These tanks can then be blended throughout the cellar in order to lower the average acidity in the rest of the tanks.

However, 2016 is different. We have a beautifully balanced wine in terms of fruit and acidity, and so no further adjustments will be required. It is now just a question of watching each tank closely until all the remaining sugar has been consumed…. not long now!

Must tastingIn all my years as a wine buyer, I still maintain that one of the most difficult tastings of all was that of a raw wine – a wine that was either still fermenting, had just finished fermenting, or was perhaps undergoing its malolactic fermentation. This is the moment when any wine buyer worth his or her salt, would have to rely on their crystal ball – to look into and predict the future of what the finished wine might look like. I can tell you that it is no easy task which in the end, simply comes down to experience.

In the case of our own wine cellar it is not quite so complicated, as effectively, we only have one wine (or at least one grape variety). The main difference being, from my point of view, that there is no major buying decision hanging in the balance! Even so, tasting a raw white wine, especially from a variety with high acidity, still requires a pretty strong constitution.

As our wines approach the end of fermentation (they can now officially be called wine rather than must), we can finally start to assess the true potential of the vintage. Of course, at the very beginning, the grape juice itself is always a pretty accurate indicator, but it is only now that we can begin to really see how the finished wines might really look.

Our tank tastings so far have revealed almost exactly what we had anticipated – extremely fruity wines with good weight and structure, but whilst still retaining their fresh albariño acidity. An alcohol of about 12.5% also provides additional mouthfeel. And so all we have to do now is wait – another 6 to 8 months resting on their lees, and then we can pass our final judgement.

Vintage Report 2016This might seem like a slightly odd post to make on our blog, but it’s only to make you aware of an addition to our ‘DOWNLOADS’ section of this website. If you click on the download menu you can find the new 2016 Harvest Report in full (but so far, only in English – the Spanish translation will appear soon). This is really intended as a supplement to all my harvest posts of the last couple of weeks, and gives much more information about the growing season prior to the picking itself.

Of course, I can’t claim that it makes great bedtime reading, but it might just help you to get to sleep!

MixFinally, all of our fermentations are under way – it always appears to be such a long drawn-out process, but at least everything is looking really good as far as quality is concerned (fingers crossed). Having said that, we are still a very long way from the end of the wine making operation, there are still another good three or four weeks of work to do.

As I think I mentioned before, at various stages during the fermentation we have to make additions to the tanks, and once added these products require a thorough mixing, or ‘pumping over’ as we call it. This pumping over process can take hours depending on the size of the tank.

The other notable thing about these tank additions are the products themselves (by the way, none of them are cheap!). At least two or three of them come in the form of a very fine powder, and have to be mixed with grape must before they can be added to the tanks. We do all the mixing by hand (as you can see in today’s picture), and initially, regardless of how much care we take, there is always a cloud of fine, almost choking dust. So the protective masks that we wear are not intended to make us look more like doctors, but are, in fact, worn for a very practical reason.

Post Harvest 2016

September 26th, 2016

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the-dars-32So let’s talk tank space and yields. It’s actually quite a complicated story that begins as much as six or seven months before we even consider picking our first grapes.

Owing to our policy of only selling wines with an extended period of lees ageing it means that when we start our harvest, around mid/late September, we might still have around half of our previous year’s harvest in tank. Although these wines have been removed from their lees long before the new harvest begins, they still occupy valuable tank space (until such time as they are finally bottled).

So then we have to ask ourselves two crucial questions. Firstly, how much wine do we expect (or want) to make, and how many empty tanks will that require? Secondly, how might the weather affect the yields during the growing cycle? Never having any definitive answers so early in the year, we simply have to use our best judgement and get to work. For example, over the summer months we embark on a programme of bottling that will hopefully leave us with just enough tank space to accommodate the new harvest. That might sound fairly straight forward, but that’s why yields can be so fundamental, requiring us to allow at least some leeway in our calculations.

Of course the other significant consideration when calculating tank space, is that during fermentation we are never working will completely full tanks. Some of the additions that we make at this time can cause quite a dramatic reaction, and so we need to allow a little ‘overflow’ space in every tank to allow for this. It’s all in the planning!

Post Harvest 2016

September 23rd, 2016

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Tank collageIf anyone ever gave you the impression that once the grape picking had stopped, that we have time to relax and put our feet up, then think again. Whilst it’s true that the hours might not be quite as long, and we might even manage to get a full nights sleep every day, the bodega work is just as exhausting. After a period of cold settling the must has to be racked into clean tanks. We then wait for a short time until the temperature of the tank recovers sufficiently to enable seeding, when we add the yeast for fermentation. During the period of fermentation, not only do we have to monitor the density (measuring the remaining levels of sugar/increase in alcohol) and control the temperature to ensure a smooth transition from must to wine, but then there are quite a number of additions that we make – the most notable of these being the bentonite, that we use as a fining agent.

It is quite a drawn out process that takes the best part of a month to complete (including weekends – fermentations wait for no man, or woman). At this busy time I will do my best to keep the updates coming, but I can tell you that on some occasions it can be really tough to find a few moments to even look at my computer keyboard. Yesterday, for example, was just such a day, when I spent much of my morning preparing for an inspection by our D.O. Nothing too sinister, they simply needed to know the final count in litres of must. The kilos of fruit collected during the harvest itself are entered onto a special D.O. website on a daily basis, but the tanks of grape must can only be measured and counted physically, on site.

Today’s photo montage shows some of the current processes: Top left and bottom right are the residues left after the cold settling period. Top right is the process of re-hydrating the yeast, and bottom left shows the very start of fermentation (looking into the tank from above).

LeesYou may know that a couple of weeks ago we returned from quite an extensive tour of the United States, and whilst we always try to stay on top of things, inevitably we always face a backlog of work. No sooner had we started on this, than I received some devastating news from the UK. The tragic loss of my mother. Without wishing to dwell on this subject, the inevitable result was that I had to spend a further ten days away from our business, and as if that was not enough, I have now returned from England with a heavy cold.

So much has happened over the last few weeks that I really don’t know what to write about first, but perhaps the most significant event, from a bodega point of view, is the racking of the first tanks of our 2015 wines. It was pretty much decided before we went to America (already a month ago) that at least some tanks would be ready to remove from their lees. In today’s photo you might notice a few bubbles on the surface of the sediment, these are from the natural CO2 trapped inside the tank, and also the crystal deposits that leave the inside of the tank stained brown….. but nothing that a good cleaning won’t remove. As I have written many times before the timing of racking our wines is ultimately decided simply by a combination of tasting and experience – not really a high-tech methodology I’m afraid.

The new wine that we are preparing now still needs to be cold-stabilised, filtered and submitted to the Denomination tasting panel before it can finally be bottled. This whole process will take another month before we can even consider selling a bottle into the domestic market here in Spain. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention that the 2015 wines are actually quite good!

Posted in Bodega, Other, Winemaking