Catch up

October 8th, 2020 | Bottles and bottling

Every tank of wine that we sell has to be tasted, and hopefully approved, by the official Rias Baixas tasting panel, before it can receive the official D.O. sticker allowing it to go on public sale. Before a tank can be bottled a number of samples are collected by the D.O. and taken to the Pontevedra office for tasting. The samples are also analysed and compared with our own analysis that we are obliged to send with the bottles. After everything is completed, we finally receive the stickers – known here as ‘tirillas’. This whole process can take a week or more.

Once a year these official tastings are suspended for a period of about six weeks. The reason?… Harvest time! (When the  members of the D.O. team are simply too busy to organise tastings). Of course, sales and shipments don’t stop during the harvest period, and so if a bodega experiences an unexpected surge in sales and hasn’t pre-prepared enough stock, then it’s just too bad, they simply have to wait for tastings to re-start!

In our own cellar the fermentations are almost at an end, and so we now have to re-focus our efforts into getting some wine out onto the streets! Thankfully, we do have a slight backlog of orders (even during a crisis), and so this week we have been busy restocking our warehouse in time for the holiday orders to be fulfilled.

Planet Wine?

October 2nd, 2020 | Bodega

The most important work in our cellar at the moment is monitoring and controlling fermentation. Of course, by control, I mean by the use of temperature. The fermentation can take place at more or less the required speed (within certain boundaries), decided not only by the wine maker and their preferred technique, but also by the type of yeast used to seed the tanks. (Some yeasts are far more vigorous than others and work within entirely different temperature ranges).

Generally speaking, fermentation carried out quickly, and at higher temperature, will produce a very fruity, easy drinking style, that will be ready consume shortly after the wine making process is complete. By using lower temperatures over a longer period, the wine might not have the same instant appeal and will usually require more time before it is consumed – but that’s really the point. It is up to the winemaker to decide their personal preference, and of course, will also be influenced by the target market and how long the wine might be required to last. The warmer, faster fermentation will normally sacrifice shelf-life, whilst the longer, cooler fermentation will slow down and extend the evolution of the finished wine, thereby ensuring better ageing potential. If extended lees contact is added to the wine making process, following on from the end of the fermentation, then this can change the physiology of the wine completely – extending ‘shelf life’ even further, whilst also adding more character and complexity.

During the fermentation we sometimes see strange patterns of foam forming on the surface of the tanks. Clearly this has something to do with the yeast, and the way that it behaves, but to be honest I have researched this and cannot find any specific explanation. I will keep looking.

In the meantime my photo shows one of our tanks (on the right) and the planet Saturn (on the left). I just thought that they looked quite similar!

Vintage Report 2020

September 29th, 2020 | Uncategorized

To say that 2020 has been a difficult year would be something of an understatement. It has been very, very tough for the vast majority of businesses, albeit there have been a few that have certainly benefitted from lockdown. Online businesses have done very well, as have (for some obscure reason that I have yet to figure out), the toilet paper manufacturers!

Working with restaurant businesses around the world, Castro Martin suffered quite a significant fall-off in sales, and for a few months at least, most of our activity was focused around the vineyards as they continued to demand our attention, virus or no virus.

It was certainly a bit of a shock to the system when this years harvest finally arrived, as we switched both our bodies and our brains from a semi-dormant state straight into overdrive! Very fortunately, the harvest itself was largely uneventful, and went off very smoothly. Most importantly it would appear that the quality of our fruit in 2020 is exceptionally good and should produce an excellent wine. We shall see.

I leave you with a copy our Vintage Report 2020 , a bit of light reading just to give a flavour of our year here on the Atlantic Coast.

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.

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