Into ’24

January 2nd, 2024 | Holiday ramblings

It’s been a fairly quiet start to the New Year, although a few customers have been stocking up after the Holidays, which is always welcome at this time of year.

For us, the Christmas and New Year period will go down as the season of techie nightmares! For long periods of the holiday period both Angela and I suffered from both software and hardware issues meaning that we did not have access to our computers and/or files, but each for completely different reasons. Anyway, it appears that these trials and tribulations are mostly behind us, and so we can now move forward into 2024.

January itself was mostly unsettled and quite wet, which, of course, is only to expected in Galicia at this time of year. Having said that, since the end of the month and now into February the temperatures have been unseasonably warm, up to a high of around 21°C (70°F). Whilst this is not particularly extreme, it only goes to show how variable and unpredictable our weather can be, and also that forecasts these days, are not always accurate.

Whilst the sunshine itself is quite welcome, the warmth is not good for our vineyards. This should be a dormant period, and the danger is, that if these very mild conditions persist, then the vines themselves might start to bud too early, exposing them to the threat of frost should temperatures suddenly fall.

Nearly Christmas…

December 21st, 2023 | Festivo

After two months of rain, it appears that the last two weeks of December might actually be a little more pleasant. Cold, but at least dry and sunny. Indeed, in the last few days we have seen our first frosts of winter, which are always welcomed in our vineyards as a way of killing at least a few pests. These cold temperatures also reduce the vine’s metabolic activity, conserving energy that can be used for growth and fruit production during over the coming year.

Inside the bodega it has been slightly traumatic in the last week or two. My business laptop overheated (a replacement battery was at fault, although at least it didn’t explode, as sometimes can happen!). The keyboard was damaged and so I have been working with a USB keyboard and no battery at all ever since. Finding a new laptop is more difficult than you would think. It is almost impossible to buy a new laptop in Spain with an English keyboard. To cut a long story short I bought one in the Republic of Ireland, which I am now still in the midst of setting up.

On top of all this the WhatsApp account on Angela’s mobile phone was hacked a day or two ago. This might not sound to bad, but the hackers can do a lot more damage than you might think and trying to contact WhatsApp by any means is more or less futile. They simply send you into a loop of never ending, and mostly useless suggestions. In the meantime the hackers are soliciting money from Angela’s contacts by any number of different rouses. The lesson is quite clear – NEVER click on any link in any message unless you know that it is completely legitimate.

After all these trials and tribulations the only thing now left to say is, enjoy the Holidays and have a healthy, safe and Happy New Year.

Castro Martin 2022

December 3rd, 2023 | Bodega

Since the very first time that I tasted the grape must of our 2022 vintage I must confess that I was very enthusiastic (or perhaps it would be fairer to say that, at that point, I thought it had great potential). We had enjoyed some pretty good vintages in both 2019 and 2020, although I have to say that I was never completely enamoured with our 2021’s (which was quite a difficult year).

A year or more down the road, after several months on its lees followed by a few months in bottle our 2022 is only just now starting to show its real identity. (I have said for a long time that it really takes a year from harvest, for our wines to realise their potential, and our 2022 Castro Martin certainly does not disappoint).

In Tim Atkin’s recent, and very comprehensive review of the 2022 vintage in Rias Baixas, he awarded our Castro Martin Family Estate 93 points and commented: “Unfiltered and lees-aged, this unwooded Albariño hails from Salnés Valley vineyards grown on a combination of granite, schist and sandy soils. Fuller flavoured and more textured than
the 2021 release, it has notes of oatmeal, pear, lime and kiwi fruit and the focus and salinity that come with the territory in this part of Rías Baixas.” He recommends drinking between now and 2027, clearly showing great faith in its ageing potential.

Apart from this positive review and the points, our Castro Martin also appeared on Tim’s ‘Podium’ of awards for different categories of the 2022 vintage. He rated this wine as ‘Value White Wine of the Year’ (bearing in mind that many of the wines above ours in the general ratings are premium cuvées, older vintages, limited editions and special elaborations, that attract a much, much higher price in the market. As a former wine buyer myself I am very proud of this accolade as  we always preach that quality/value is a very key point in the philosophy of our Bodega.

Of course, this score can be added to the 92 points that we also received for our Family Estate 2022 in the Guía Vino Gourmets 2024. I highly recommend that you buy a bottle (or two) to savour with your favourite marisco!

Writers block!

November 7th, 2023 | Harvest

I think that after publishing so many posts during the harvest I have been suffering from a bit of ‘writers block’. On several occasions since the harvest I have been sitting in front of my screen, trying to think of something to say. Of course, there are a number of things that I could have written about, the weather, the new wine and important Consello meetings to name just a few, but putting something into words has been difficult. So let’s have a try!

Since finishing the picking our weather has been changeable, if not typical for the time of year. The first few weeks after harvest were, somewhat ironically, dry and warm, but then around the middle of October the picture changed completely. It has been raining every day with just a couple of storms thrown in for good measure. There has hardly been any sunshine worthy of note. Perhaps we should just be thankful that we have not actually suffered from any flooding, as has occurred in many other places.

Inside the cellar, we have been tasting our 2023’s (on one occasion with a group of Irish visitors), and the consensus seems to be that the wines are really quite good, and certainly better than we originally anticipated. With all the complications caused by the poor weather this year our expectations were really quite modest, and so, if I am being honest, we have actually been pleasantly surprised by the result.

Harvest 2023 – Day 12

September 15th, 2023 | Bodega

So, it seems like the end of the 2023 marathon has finally arrived. It has been a campaign fraught with difficulties, starting with the technical problems of our two very first presses, to our steadily depleting picking team (towards the end). To be brutally honest it has been long and exhausting and I’m sure that every single member of our team will be looking forward to getting home and putting their feet up – I can hear the sighs of relief from every side!

Of course, as I explain ever year, on the final day, we have to wait until every grape is inside the bodega and weighed before we can load the final presses. Obviously we don’t want to be left with an odd pallet of grapes that we can’t press. The minimum capacity of our smallest press is 3,000 kg and so every kilo has to be calculated and evenly distributed to make full loads.

Early assessment of the wine is good, supported by well balanced analyses from our lab. Good concentration of fruit, surprising viscous (despite the recent rains), albeit with an average alcohol a little lower than last year. We estimate somewhere between 12% and 12.5%.

Now that everything is done in the vineyards our undivided attention shifts to the cellar, seeding and monitoring fermentations for the next couple of weeks.

Harvest 2023 – Day 11

September 13th, 2023 | Bodega

Well, we’re still here…. the harvest that keeps giving and giving, which is actually a euphemism for saying ‘never ending’. After so many days I feel like I am running out of things to say.

The weather is good, and our (smallish) team of pickers are working flat out to try to bring this year’s campaign to an end. As I have mentioned in one of my previous posts there is an acute shortage of experienced people this year. Luckily the core or our picking team are very loyal to us and work extremely hard. Unfortunately other bodegas have not been quite so lucky. We hear tales of groups abandoning the job mid-harvest as they discover that a neighbouring bodega is paying a euro or two more. These days it feels like the main consequence of these things is always financial – last year bodegas were obliged to pay a top price for their grapes, whereas this year it is for the pickers. Post Covid we have been hit with every possible type of increase. Grapes, pickers, transport and every single element of our packaging, all at a time when end consumers have much tighter budgets to work with.

I think I mentioned that many of our pickers also work in the sea, gathering seafood. The evidence of this is clear when you see their improvised lunch table. On an upturned grape case, they set up their small stoves and today, tuck into one of my very favourite types of shellfish – razor clams, or ‘navajas’ as they are known locally.

Despite the slow progress outside, our work inside the cellar continues as more tanks are seeded.


Harvest 2023 – Day 10

September 12th, 2023 | Bodega

It looks like the bad weather is finally behind us, and so we should now simply be able to concentrate on final days of harvest and winemaking.

On the subject of winemaking, today is a very busy day down in our tank room. Racking several tanks and seeding three more, which for a bodega of our size means a lot of work. The racking process is comparatively simple, as I have explained many times in the past. The ‘seeding’ process (adding yeast to support the fermentation), is, by contrast, quite a long and drawn out procedure when done correctly.

The first phase of seeding is to rehydrate the yeast, very much as you would do in baking. Simply add water, at body temperature (about 37°C or 98°F), and leave for at least 10 minutes (left hand photo). Once the yeast is rehydrated we start to add grape must from the tank, bringing down the temperature in small increments. To goal is to reduce the yeast mixture to within about 5°C of the tank that we are seeding. For example, if the tank to be seeded is at 15°C, we need to reduce the yeast mixture to about 20°C before we can add it to the tank. The problem is that we cannot simply add the cool grape must to the yeast in one go, a huge and sudden change of temperature would simply kill the yeast. This is why we add the grape must slowly, bit by bit, stopping between additions to allow the yeast to recover. During this process, and once the first grape juice is added to the warm yeast mixture, it immediately reacts with the sugar and produces a thick foam (sometimes depending on the strain of yeast used). The two middle pictures show the foam, and the last picture is an artwork by Angela, adding the initials of our business!

Harvest 2023 – Day 9

September 11th, 2023 | Bodega

To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether to call this Day 8 or Day 9 of our harvest. Yesterday, apart from some work in the cellar, our picking was halted for bad weather. Forecasts on Friday said that we should expect heavy rain for most of the day, whereas the reality was that it rained during the night, but by mid-morning it had stopped and then remained completely dry (and even quite sunny by the afternoon). Having said that, it was good to give our people a rest, as with a smaller team, they have all been working that bit harder.

On a bright sunny Sunday morning we re-launched our campaign, with the hope that in a couple of days we should be finished (hopefully sometime between now and Christmas!!).

Today we picked one or two of our smaller, more local vineyards (probably just over 1km from the bodega). Using a combination of tractors, vans and a small truck we actually managed to move everything into our grape reception quite quickly. With the presses working all afternoon the end result was that our bodega team did not need to work half of the night, and they were probably all at home, safely tucked up in bed by midnight!

Harvest 2023 – Day 7

September 9th, 2023 | Bodega

Grapes harvesting vehicles come in all shapes and sizes

Today we are seeding our first tanks. After a day to chill the tanks and a couple more of  ‘cold settling’ they are then racked into clean tanks. At this point the temperature of the grape must is quite low, indeed, too low to start or sustain fermentation, and so consequently we need to wait until they recover sufficiently to begin. As the tanks are so large and the ambient temperature inside the bodega is also quite cold (obviously other tanks are still being refrigerated), raising the temperature of the tanks is also quite slow.

At this time, when harvesting and seeding are happening simultaneously the workload becomes quite intense. There is a lot going on, both physically and mentally. We are constantly up and down three flights of stairs – grapes arriving at the top level, the pressing room in the middle, and the tank room itself at ground level. Apart from the stairs, there is also temperature to take into account – working on the top two levels can be quite warm, whilst the tank room feels almost like a refrigerator by comparison. You always need to keep a jacket or body warmer handy!

Thankfully today was a little busier, and it finally feels like the end of the picking might be in sight. Having said that the forecast for tomorrow does not look good, with some heavy rain predicted. So much for making progress.

Harvest 2023 – Day 6

September 8th, 2023 | Bodega

Thankfully another bright day to continue our campaign. Most of our more distant vineyards (no more than 10km) have been completed, and now we are working a little nearer to home. This being the case it makes transporting our fruit much more easily. Today we are not relying on any big trucks, but have reverted to our more ‘traditional’ method of a shuttle between the bodega and the vineyards using our tractors and vans. The downside of this is that we are moving individual cases by hand rather that using pallets and forklifts in the vineyard. In this way, it is a bit more labour intense, but then on the upside, with smaller, more regular grape deliveries it means that we can keep our presses ‘fed’ and working. (Using the truck method, we have periods of inactivity, until suddenly, we are faced with a delivery of 14 full pallets – about 10,000 kg).

Today we picked our ‘Bodega’ vineyard, just a small 1 hectare plot surrounding the wine cellar. Our tractors shuttle grapes straight into the grape reception, and so from picking to the presses can almost be measured in minutes, rather than hours! If only all of our vineyards we so close, it would make logistics a whole lot easier (and many a bit cheaper too).

Of course, the advantage of not having to wait very long for our fruit to arrive is that we can load the presses much earlier than some other days, especially when we are waiting for growers to deliver their crop at the end of their working day. Instead of finishing the presses in the early hours of the morning, our last press was completed shortly after midnight (albeit there is still quite a lot of cleaning to do after that).

Today’s photo shows the ‘bagazo’, or pomace as it is known in English. This is simply the remnants of the grape bunches after pressing (sent to the distillery to make ‘aguardiente’ (eau de vie or grappa in other countries).

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