THE 2021 STORY – Part 2

October 20th, 2021 | Bodega

The story of the 2021 vintage really starts with the 2019 and 2020 vintages. In my last post I mentioned the style of these wines, but the other significant factor was the volume produced – they were not big vintages at all.

A few months after the onset of Covid-19 albariño producers really started to feel the effects. Hotels and restaurants closed, and with it the on-trade business dried up completely. The only sector that appeared to benefit was the supermarket sector (small wine shops and liquor stores were also locked down). As consumers were not able to eat or drink outside their homes, so the supermarket business took off…. but regrettably, at a cost. Whilst trading with supermarkets proved lucrative, it was much more to do with volume than profit. Cellars were simply happy to see wine going out, not knowing how long the Covid crisis would last.

By May/June 2021 the on-trade tentatively started to re-open, but once it did start up, then what followed was something of a cascade. It appeared that restaurant customers were making up for lost time, and consequently orders were flying out of our door almost as quickly as we could prepare them! Having resisted the temptation to flirt with supermarkets, we still had stock, whilst those that had succumbed to the temptation suddenly had a crisis on their hands. By August 2021, many cellars (including many big players) were simply running out of wine – a month or two before the new vintage was even ready to be picked.

A mad scramble ensued. Cellars were desperate to buy tanks of wine at almost any price, and, as a result, the vintage 2021 problem started to emerge. In a small wine region that still relies heavily on buying grapes from producers, Pandora’s Box had well and truly been opened. 2021 was destined to become the year of grape ‘ransom’ (regardless of quality)!

The 2021 story – Part 1

October 14th, 2021 | Bodega

For reasons that one day might become clear, this vintage has been particularly demanding, and as a result, today’s post is long overdue. The last couple of weeks have been fully occupied by the small matter of the wine making. To do things well demands quite a lot of thought and attention, especially when the vintage has not been altogether straight forward.

Following on from a largely unpredictable summer, the 2021 harvest itself has produced a few just a few twists and turns that we might not normally expect. For example, as I have already mentioned during the picking, the amount of grape must extracted from the fruit was lower that it would normally be, perhaps by as much as 2% or 3%. That may not sound like much, but when multiplied by many thousands of kilos, it soon adds up.

So, despite the bosses of our D.O. loudly (and apparently proudly) proclaiming that this was the biggest vintage ever, the numbers alone do not begin to tell the story of how the year 2021 has unfolded. In the end, there is one simple adage that I believe to be true, more often than not – that bigger does not always necessarily mean better.

Over the last couple of vintages I has used the term a-typical to describe the wines that we have produced, largely because they have been very ripe and perhaps just a touch too alcoholic. It was not uncommon to see wines of 13%, 13.5% (or even higher) in both the 2019 and 2020 vintages, whereas this year we are very likely to be somewhere closer to 12%, or perhaps 12.5% – in other words, much more in the style of a typical albariño.

To be honest, I think that is so much more to tell about 2021, that I will really need at least a few more posts to explain everything that has transpired this year (and as a result I will probably have to completely re-write my vintage report)!

Harvest 2021 – Day 8 (final day)

September 25th, 2021 | Bodega

Yet another day dawned with clear blue skies (apparently the last before a few days of rain). The ‘final’ day of picking (we hope), which was planned to be a simple mopping up operation, but has since turned into, what could be, a full day of harvest. The grapes just keep on coming!

The complication that we have, as I have explained in previous years is that we have to wait until every last grape is in before we can start the last presses. The reason being that we have to spread the loads in each press evenly, because if they run with less than the minimum load, then we will cause serious damage.

Inside the bodega, with the first tanks racked a few days ago, we are now preparing for fermentation. This simply means that we allow the tanks to recover temperature sufficiently for the yeast not to be rendered ineffective. We chill the tanks for settling, and then release the temperature control to allow them to slowly increase again. Once they reach about 14°C then we can usually get started (dependent upon the type of yeast that we decide to use).

Finally, at about 8.30pm, the final grapes arrived, kilos calculated, and presses loaded for the last time in 2021. Once the final count was made the quantity of grapes processed was actually more than anticipated, although the volume of juice yielded was almost exactly on target.

Harvest 2021 – Day 7

September 23rd, 2021 | Bodega

Today is yet another sunny day, although from Friday onwards, three days of rain is forecast… we shall see. The good news is that this will almost certainly be our last full day of harvest, unless our picking crew can pull off some miracle. (On the very first day the team established a new bodega record for collecting grapes from pergolas by hand – 24,500 kilos in 8 hours – not bad going!). By the time the rain arrives (assuming that the forecast is correct), we will have everything safely collected, and we will continue with the wine making process, as well as a full programme of deep cleaning.

As the day progressed, we were making some headway, but it very soon became apparent that there might be more picking left for tomorrow, or at least more than we thought. Of course we are quite happy that we have more kilos, which will help to compensate a little for the low yield of grape must at pressing.

Harvest 2021 – Day 6

September 22nd, 2021 | Bodega

Yet another day of wall to wall sunshine, but marked by a very chilly night and early morning. I am not exactly sure what the overnight temperature was, but it must have been close to single figures (in °C, which would be close to 50°F).

Yesterday I mentioned that the yield of grapes per hectare was more than anticipated (but that the yield of grape must per kilo of grapes was lower). With at least another full day to go, a quick bit of mathematics was applied, based on kilos already collected. It transpires, that even with the lower amount of juice per kilo, that the net result will be that we will still probably fill more tanks than we originally anticipated. In terms of physical tank space this does not present a problem, however, the products and materials that we use for fermentation might be stretched to far. A quick bit of top-up ordering was required. Indeed, many of the products could be sourced locally, which I guess is not unusual for a wine producing area at harvest time. By tomorrow we should have everything that we need.

The work day itself was relatively quiet, by recent standards, and once again without any incident worth mention. Maybe one more full day for our harvesting team (who have been picking grapes like locusts!), and then it’s possible that there might just be a few remnants left to gather on Thursday morning. We will see.

Harvest 2021 – Day 5

September 21st, 2021 | Bodega

Apart from the trucks that deliver our pallets of grapes the rest arrive in transport of all shapes and sizes. A few years ago our smallest ever delivery was in the back of a Fiat Panda!! (Admittedly it was only the remnants of the main delivery). However, I have never seen grapes delivered in a horse transport before, not exactly a horsebox, but still used for moving horses (I think). Suffice to say that it had been well cleaned, and so we won’t be making an ‘equine cuvée’ this year.

The fact that I am writing about transport is because Monday was a hugely uneventful day, which from at least my point of view is actually a very good thing. That’s not to say that the cellar wasn’t busy, because it was. It simply means that everything happened as it should.

The one thing that stands out from the vintage so far is that the yields are quite low. That doesn’t mean that the number of kilos is down, because this is quite the contrary – the yield of grapes per hectare is up. What I mean is that when we actually press the grapes, the volume of juice is not as high as it usually is. Normally, in a year where the yield of juice per kilo is low we would expect higher quality wine, with more concentrated must, but in 2021 it would seem that this is not the case. The juice is sweet, as it always is, but it is not particularly viscose and the potential alcohol is still quite low. Indeed, I would still stand by the prediction of my post on Saturday – somewhere between 12% and 12.5%.

Harvest 2021 – Day 4

September 20th, 2021 | Bodega

After a long, exhausting night in the bodega on Saturday, we had our fingers crossed that Sunday might be just a little less hectic. The day itself started with bright sunshine, albeit (as has been the pattern this summer), temperatures in the low to mid 20’s (70-75°F). Indeed, the night had been quite chilly, and so sweaters were needed fist thing, for our journey to the bodega.

However, after two and a half days focusing on the vineyards, it was time to start a little work inside. The first tanks were racked, and the clean grape must moved to new tanks ready for fermentation. Our fermentation never starts immediately simply because the juice is too cold (having been chilled rapidly in order to help the wine settle). It usually takes at least a few days for the temperature of our tanks to recover sufficiently for seeding.

Our day ended in the early hours of Monday morning, with everyone feeling just a bit jaded after a hard weekend. Thankfully Sunday was not quite as hectic as our peak on Saturday evening, which is probably just as well. The good news is that after this busy weekend we have probably crossed well into the second half of our harvest.

Harvest 2021 – Day 3

September 19th, 2021 | Bodega

Saturday, as always, is a crazy day – when everybody wants to pick their grapes. It all started well enough, blue skies, a good, well-prepared bodega team, what could possibly go wrong? Well, not much to be honest. Despite the kilos of grapes flying in by the tractor or van load, our guys managed to stay on top of things.

It wasn’t until nearly 9pm that we had a slight disaster when the truck delivering our grapes lost a pallet. As we manoeuvred an adjacent pallet we didn’t notice that they were ‘interlocked’ with each other, so when we moved one, it tipped the other! For transport the pallets are only wrapped with a little film, and so once they start to fall they don’t stop. A cascade of grapes, ending on the floor!

I asked myself the question – do we now have to declassify this pallet to Viña de la Tierra (vineyard of the earth)? OK, that’s just my sense of humour, but at least my comment raised a few smiles…

Joking apart, Saturday turned out to be especially busy (mainly because of the half day lost on Friday), and the presses were actually working throughout the night. We know that Sunday will also be busy, but hopefully not quite as much.

Harvest 2021 – Day 2

September 18th, 2021 | Bodega

On Friday morning we opened our shutters under grey, cloudy skies with cool temperatures. All fingers were tightly crossed, as the threat of rain loomed over us.

I mentioned yesterday that I make a post about our grapes, and their quality. For the last two years, we have had what I describe as a-typical vintages – warm, dry summers resulting in low yields and very high alcohol. In 2019 and 2020 it was not uncommon to see albariños of 13% or even 13.5%, whereas several years ago, the ‘norm’ would perhaps be nearer to 12.0% or 12.5%.

So far, it would appear that we will might produce wines that are much nearer to the previous level – my early prediction would be nearer to 12%. The grape must is certainly not as thick and viscous as the last two years, the result of a much cooler summer and just a little rainfall in recent weeks. Obviously we will be able to make a much better judgement of this in a weeks time, when we have all of our crop safely gathered in.

As far as day two, was concerned, it turned out to be a half day of picking, as the rain arrived more or less as forecast. It was really just a short, but significant downpour, and by late afternoon the sky was already clearing. Of course, we did not want to gather damp fruit, and so by lunchtime vineyard work was suspended for the day.

Harvest 2021 – Day 1

September 17th, 2021 | Bodega

Picking started on Thursday under bright, clear blue skies. Of course, we hope that this sun might continue for a while, but the forecasts are very uncertain to say the least. Our plan for today is to bring our own grapes in on large trucks, with our cases already loaded onto pallets in the vineyard. In this way they can be quickly forklifted on and forklifted off. Less journeys too and from the vineyard (14 pallets per truck), and less labour in the bodega to offload cases. Historically, cases have been unloaded by hand, one by one, and with many of our smaller grape suppliers, this is still the system that we have to use!

Beautiful weather aside, our first day was not without incident. A few technical difficulties with equipment, which, despite having been tested, decided to play up on us. Firstly the machine for cooling the tanks would not start up (we needed to change a digital thermostat). Later, our case washing machine kept cutting out, but then eventually, and quite mysteriously, it decided to work again! (It might have been the moment when I threatened it with a hammer!)

Apart from that, there was no easing gently into the first day – from lunch time we were inundated, and spent virtually the whole day playing catch up, just managing to keep our heads above the water. It was a bit tiring to say the least.

I will write more tomorrow about the grapes, and the quality of our 2021 harvest.

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