2020 wine making – seeding the tanks

September 18th, 2020 | Bodega

Since finishing the picking last weekend we have been very busy inside, racking grape musts and initiating fermentation. The first week or so is extremely busy with quite intense activity leaving little time to sit down and write posts for our pages!

It goes without saying that we always try to grow our grapes and vinify our wines in the most natural way possible, with the minimum intervention. Whilst the resulting wines cannot actually be certified as organic or biodynamic, they can actually be classified as SUSTAINABLE.

If we ever decided to make a natural wine then this would restrict us to the exclusive use of indigenous albariño yeasts that occur naturally on the skin of our grapes. However, the problem is that this natural yeast is generally not strong enough to sustain a complete fermentation. It may well start naturally, but the likelihood is that it would not finish, as this delicate yeast would mostly likely die off before our wine is fully fermented. For this reason we chose to seed with cultured yeasts, as is would simply be to risky to rely solely on these indigenous yeasts.

The seeding process itself (when done correctly) takes a lot of time, and involves a lot of human input. The yeast is first re-hydrated in warm water, at body temperature, which then has to be reduced very slowly, over time, by adding small amounts of grape must from the tanks. The idea is that the re-hydrated yeast (starting at about 38°C) will eventually be cooled to within a couple of degrees of the temperature of the tank. Depending on the wine cellar, and the technique used, the tank temperature could be anything from about 14°C – 18°. If this long, careful procedure is not followed, and the yeast added straight into the chilled must too quickly, then the shock of this sudden temperature change will simply kill the yeast, and the juice will not ferment. It can take around 3 hours to seed a single tank, and so we never usually seed more than 2 or 3 tanks a day.

Harvest 2020 (Final picking day!)

September 13th, 2020 | Bodega

OK, so you’ve already guessed it. As we move into our seventh and final day of picking the weather is hot and sunny…. again! Today is very much a ‘mopping up’ operation as we gather the final bunches from our Pazo vineyard. As I have mentioned in previous years we don’t necessarily pick vineyard by vineyard, as, in the case of El Pazo, it is picked sector by sector, on different days, according to the maturity of the fruit. Indeed, we actually gathered the first grapes from a plot in El Pazo some six days ago (on Tuesday).

Harvests are often about making calculations of kilos, movements and logistics etc.. For example, we already know the maximum and minimum loads of our presses, but then what happens if we have a few kilos left after the last press is filled? The secret of the final day is to wait until we have every last kilo gathered in, and then calculate how we are going to process them, splitting and sharing the loads between our two presses. The same rules apply to our tanks. For example, there is a minimum level of juice that we need in each tank in order to achieve optimum temperature control. We can calculate the litres of juice from each press (more or less), but we have to spread this evenly between tanks simply to ensure that we don’t have a few odd litres left over at the end of the day!

You may recall that in a previous post I forecasted a lunchtime finish, whereas our last grapes were actually unloaded at 8pm. I should have known better, we always overrun on the last day.

So tomorrow we can focus all our efforts to the grape must, racking and working on fermentation. In the end the forecast says that it might not rain tomorrow, but we have all our grapes safely inside so I don’t really care too much!!!

Harvest 2020

September 12th, 2020 | Bodega

Yesterday I mentioned that today could be our last day, but it appears that perhaps I was just being a bit over optimistic. When I sat down and did a few calculations late last night I now know that it would be pretty much impossible for our picking team to gather everything today (even though they have been working at hyper-speed). My revised guess is that we will probably finish at lunchtime on Sunday. At least this should mean that our people can enjoy a meal with their families, as is the tradition here in Galicia.

And yes, it is yet another hot, sunny day!

The other thing that I did not mention is that we have also more fruit than we planned for. Before the harvest we walk the vineyards in an attempt to assess the potential yield of the vines. Even with years of experience it is still only our best ‘guesstimate’ and naturally we have to allow for some margin of error. (Bear in mind that we also have to rely on the estimates of our grape suppliers too). It appears that we were just a little conservative, possibly because after such a warm, dry summer we anticipated a comparatively low yield. The effect of this is that we have to check that we have enough materials for the wine making (yeasts, nutrients etc.), and then we have to re-plan the tank movements, to ensure that the extra grape must is evenly distributed, and that we don’t end up with any half-filled tanks. It’s actually much more complicated than you might think!

By the way, my short video shows the ‘fangos’ at the bottom of the tank after we have removed the clean wine. As you can see it’s almost like a mud (from the dust and soil), but also contains a few odd grapes and skins from the pressing.

Harvest 2020

September 11th, 2020 | Bodega

Today we start in sombre mood, not only for the victims of this terrible virus, but also as we remember the events of 9/11, 19 years ago in New York City….

Our fifth day is yet another hot one. Of course, we shouldn’t complain as this is preferable to cold, wet conditions, and makes life just that little bit less stressful for us.

Today we are working in our ‘bodega’ vineyard – a small one hectare site at the side of the bodega. Of course, this means that grapes are delivered almost as soon as they are picked, and we have a constant flow throughout the day. Indeed, at times the ‘flow’ was almost overwhelming and the reception was processing grapes at warp speed! Our picking team are also working extra hours in order that we can finish either tomorrow, or most probably on Sunday (just before the weather is due to break on Monday). The forecast also says that tomorrow will be 33°/34°C (93°F). Let’s just hope that our weary bones will survive.

I failed to mention that down in the cellar our wine making chores are also underway. Once the wine has ‘settled’ for a couple of days and the fine coating of dust on the grape skin has fallen to the bottom of the tank, then we simply have to ‘rack’ the clean grape must into new tanks, leaving the debris behind almost like a kind of sludge at the bottom. This dust and debris is known in Spain as fangos.

Harvest 2020

September 11th, 2020 | Bodega

Day four – yet another hot sunny day, but perhaps not for long. The forecast for the beginning of next week shows the possibility of rain. The race is now on to finish by the weekend!

Of course, after saying that yesterday that everything went smoothly, today was a different story. The problem was not with the harvest itself, but rather with our brand new temperature control system in the bodega. (At the moment we are using this to chill the grape must in our tanks, simply as it settles better when it is a little colder).

In our bodega we have mainly small tanks of 9,000 litres, but we also have a number of larger tanks of 25,000 litres. The temperature control of the small tanks worked perfectly, but when we fired up the large tanks, then it was a case of “Houston, we have a problem”! They simply didn’t do what we wanted them to do. Tanks that were switched off started to chill, and tanks that we wanted to use simply wouldn’t chill at all. We called the technicians who installed the new system….

OK, so the technicians came and went, apparently leaving everything in working order – except that it was not! Several hours after the problem became apparent it was finally resolved by one of our own guys. He discovered that all the electro-valves had been installed in reverse! Who needs technicians?!

Harvest 2020

September 9th, 2020 | Bodega

We move into our third day with yet more blue sky and brilliant sunshine. Yesterday the temperature touched 30°C (86°F), which can make picking a little uncomfortable, more especially when wearing a mask. Of course, the big advantage of our region is that the vast majority of fruit is grown using the pergola system, which in the hot sun at least provides a little bit of shade for our team.

By the end of the evening the bodega was functioning very smoothly (I really shouldn’t really tempt fate), as grapes arrived in a very timely fashion. No sooner had we unloaded one press than the next was ready to go…. if only all days were like this! After three days we must be somewhere near our halfway point.

Today’s photo shows a glass of our 2020 grape must. Admittedly, this example has been ‘settling’ for a day or two, and is much cleaner than the murky brown liquid that emerges from the press. The clarity of the juice is really determined by the amount of rainfall that we have as we approach the harvest. If there is no rain at all then bunches can be covered with a film of fine dust blown up from the ground. Whilst this is not necessarily visible to the naked eye, once the grapes have been pressed we can end up with quite a dark, unattractive liquid. (It tastes great, but simply doesn’t look particularly appealing). However, this year, as we experienced a few days of rain a week or two ago, our fruit is comparatively clean. It is thick and unctuous and should make a very attractive wine. Time will tell!

Harvest 2020

September 8th, 2020 | Bodega

Whilst the weather is actually warm, bright and sunny, we start our second day under a bit of a cloud, as we hear stories from the Rioja region of spreading virus and further lockdowns. As if a harvest is not challenging enough, I cannot begin to imagine what it might be like with even more strict controls than we already have. Hard, physical work wearing a mask is not easy, especially when the weather is hot and sunny.

So today we continue picking in our second biggest vineyard, Castrelo, which provides some of the fruit for our Family Estate wine (the rest coming from El Pazo). This year we have modified our transport system a little, which not only makes it more efficient, but also helps to reduce our carbon footprint. Castrelo is our most distant vineyard, about 10km from the bodega by road, and in the past we have transported our fruit using a tractor with trailer. We can load 110 cases on a full tractor/trailer, and each round trip takes about 40 minutes (excluding loading and unloading).

This year we are palletising our 20kg cases in the vineyard, and then loading 12 full pallets of grapes onto a medium sized truck. One truck load is the equivalent of four tractor loads, and so this will obviously help in reducing our carbon footprint – not to mention that when the fruit arrives it is already on pallets and easier to manipulate in our grape reception.

For the technically minded, the balance of our grape must is very good this year – pH and acidity at the levels we would normally hope for. As with the last couple of vintages, the only slight anomaly is the alcohol, which, after a long, hot summer is just a little high again. At this point my guess is that we will probably land somewhere between 12.5% and 13% alc., but with the acidity that we have, this should not present any problem.

Harvest 2020!

September 7th, 2020 | Bodega

Yesterday (Sunday) every person in our picking team went to hospital….. for a Covid test (happily no one tested positive).

On a bright, sunny, albeit windy Monday morning we kicked off the 2020 campaign, with yet more health checks! This time it was a simple temperature test, with every detail carefully noted. This was followed by a brief training session about the various Covid protocols in the vineyard, mostly to do with the handling of equipment and social distancing. This year there will be no picking in groups, every individual will be distributed evenly throughout the vineyard. (Probably quite boring for our team, with not too much opportunity for social interaction, but in 2020 this is our ‘new normal’, at least for the time being). We are, of course, obliged to take this pandemic very seriously.

By the afternoon, our presses were already working, with their familiar droning motors echoing throughout the bodega. This is really the moment that you know the harvest is underway.

The tasting of the first juice revealed a bright, intense fruit, typical of the albariño grape, and backed by a very good level of acidity. It will be some time before we can assess the yield of the 2020 harvest (volume of litres per kilo of grapes). We are especially cautious after last year’s low yield, and a very dry summer this year. Only time will tell.

The build up begins

September 1st, 2020 | Bodega

There is no doubt that 2020 has been slightly surreal so far, and getting back into any sort of routine has been difficult, however this week will be used for brushing off those cobwebs…. quite literally! It’s time to prepare the bodega for action.

Over the last week or two we have been trying to work out the volume of wine that we might make this year, obviously by calculating the kilos of fruit that we might take in. Despite reduced sales this summer tank space will not be a problem, as you may recall, 2019 was quite a small crop. However, every tank and every piece of equipment has to be spotless, especially this year (for obvious reasons).

We have also been busy ordering the wine making products that we will require – yeasts, enzymes, nutrients etc., again according to the anticipated volume of fruit that we will gather.

Now is the time to begin our annual “weather watch” (not that there is anything we can do to influence this). It looks good at the moment, and clearly we would prefer the current dry conditions to continue for the coming weeks. However, we also have to be realistic and simply work with what the weather Gods decide to give us! As I say every year, fingers crossed.

Harvest approaches!

August 26th, 2020 | Covid 19

After more than a month of sustained sunshine and high temperatures the weather finally changed around the middle of August. A few days of rain and grey skies transformed the completion of our summer completely, and hopefully might be of some benefit to our harvest. A little rain, at the right moment (especially after such a dry period), could add a little more substance to the fruit. The only danger being that if the berries are small and thick skinned, a burst of prolonged, heavy rain could cause the skins to split and allow rot to set in. Thankfully, this does not appear to be the case. At this time the bunches are slowly changing colour, and whilst we can taste our fruit now, it still has a week or two to evolve before we start picking. (It appears that we might start around 7th September).

Of course, this year’s harvest will have quite a different look, with many new rules imposed upon us as a result of the Covid crisis. Obviously, everyone will work in masks (which is obliged by law in Spain), and we will still have to maintain our social distances. There will also be copious amounts of hand gel used, albeit well away from the grapes! Authorities have also created a good deal of extra documentation attached to the harvest process, just for good measure, but that is a whole other story!

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