It’s Christmas!

December 18th, 2018 | Festivo

You can call me old-fashioned, you can even call me Christian, but I openly admit that I still celebrate Christmas. My tree is up, my stocking is ready to be stuffed, and my Christmas Turkey is now on order in readiness for the big day! True, the original sentiment might be a bit lost these days, but hopefully, it still spreads much happiness, joy and goodwill to people around the globe.

For us, our ‘Christmas rush’ finished a while ago, as orders were sent out to different places around the world – including several pallets of a stonkingly good Castro Martin Family Estate 2017 dispatched to Australia. Of course they could be enjoying this as they celebrate Christmas on the beach – almost a million miles from a wild, wet and windswept Galicia! (Only this morning I got so wet walking across Pontevedra that a full change of clothes was required – despite the shelter of a very large, and thankfully very strong, golf umbrella).

My Christmas menu for this year is already decided, leaving only a few days to decide on the Christmas wines (albeit that Castro Martin will certainly feature among them).

Weather

December 12th, 2018 | Weather

Often, when I meet or talk to friends from the UK they ask me what the weather is like in Galicia (so it’s not only me that is obsessed by the weather). Apart from a couple of recent climate aberrations, my reply is usually the same. It’s actually quite similar to the UK, but maybe a few degrees warmer. (I think the majority believe that I am living in something more akin to a Mediterranean climate and that the sun shines every day, and so they are usually quite surprised by my answer).

The fact is that our climate is quite moderate, not excessively cold, nor excessively hot, the significant factor being the damp and often penetrating humidity that we have pretty much year round. This is, of course, why our D.O. does not really produce organic or biodynamic wines – sustainable yes, but organic very, very difficult, if not impossible.

Going back to my original point, I took a quick photo of my TV screen this morning, which rather illustrates my theory. Many of the weather systems (usually arriving from the Atlantic), have fronts extending from southwest to northeast. As you will see from the forecast, this means that weather arriving in the UK, often clips across our location in Northwest Spain as well as the Bay of Biscay before hitting UK shores. Obviously, the slightly higher average temperature comes simply from being that bit closer to the equator. Please note that the rest of Spain is bathed in winter sun under a High Pressure system!

Did I mention pruning?

December 10th, 2018 | Vineyards

Without doubt, the single most labourious and time consuming job that we face every year is the pruning. It usually extends (in all weathers) from November through until February or March – pretty much the moment at which our vines are ready to spring into life once again. It’s a never ending cycle!

Most people would complain after pruning a few roses or an odd tree or two in their garden, but imagine facing 11 hectares (25 acres) of tangled vine plants that all have to be cut carefully and accurately. I really can’t emphasise enough what a tough and thankless job this really is – without even mentioning inclement weather.

Just imagine for a second walking into our bodega vineyard featured in today’s photo and thinking, quite simply, where do I begin?! (And this photo represents only a hundred square metres or so)

The Wire Man

December 3rd, 2018 | Maintenance & Repair

Rias Baixas is certainly well-known for its use of the ‘pergola’ system of vine training. Overhead wires stretched between posts (often hewn from the local granite) looking rather like the staves on a page of music. As the vines grow and are trained along the wires then, inevitably, they are placed under a considerable amount of stress, mostly from the shear weight of the canopy.

These days the wires are made from galvanised steel or stainless steel, but even so, they are still prone to ageing and eventually need replacing…. so who you gonna call? The ‘wire man’ (alambrador) of course! The profession of alambrador is highly specialised and therefore the few, skilled artisans still using traditional methods, are always very much in demand. This is compounded by fact that their repair work is nearly always carried out in winter, when the vines are dormant and there is no dense vegetation to contend with. (During the summer months alambradors are usually only called in case of emergency, for example when a wire actually breaks, or perhaps a post is damaged by a tractor – as has happened to us a couple of times over the years).

To enable his access to our Cunchidos vineyard, our own guys had to move in swiftly and carry out the pruning and remove the old canopy in record time – we simply couldn’t afford to miss the appointment! Of course the only other handicap that we encounter in winter is the weather. Alambradors can’t really work very effectively in the rain, and so for the last few days they have been working on and off dodging the showers.

Shock visitor…

November 30th, 2018 | Odds & Sods

This morning I was shocked (quite literally) to discover that the bodega had been taken over by none other than Johnny English (aka Rowan Atkinson)! I entered the office at just before 9am when daylight had barely arrived, and the office was almost completely dark. Sitting in my chair was the silhouette of a person, which at first glance made my heart skip a beat. It wasn’t until I turned on the light that it immediately became apparent that it was merely a (life-sized) cardboard cutout!

Someone had managed to acquire a cutout of Johnny English (apparently from a local cinema) and decided that it would be fun to seat it at my desk… which of course it was. I can only assume that the joke was somehow related to my Nationality rather than the fact that I am as clumsy, awkward and dysfunctional as Mr Bean himself!

Let there be lights!

November 27th, 2018 | Fiestas

So, the 2018 holiday season started last Thursday in the United States with Thanksgiving, quickly followed by the inescapable ‘shopping’ holidays of Black Friday and then Cyber Monday. Of course, these shopping events are no longer limited to within U.S. shores as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now a worldwide phenomenon (even if people have no clue, and really don’t care where they originate from). The other feature is, of course, that these ‘sales’ are quite protracted, and not simply limited to the Friday and the Monday. Offers often extend for a fortnight or more, encompassing every possible type of business – hotels, travel, pharmacies, bed linen, food stores – you name it and there’s an offer on the table. A great opportunity for early Christmas shopping!

Locally, it appears that at least one of our local mayors has also been swept up in the fervour of Christmas. The streets of Vigo are now adorned with a Christmas light show costing more than one million Euros! When he announced the lights, the mayor said that Vigo would surpass Christmas in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Berlin (a bold claim indeed for a small provincial city)! His apparent extravagance has certainly raised a few eyebrows, but at Sunday’s inauguration (when the mayor inexplicably attempted to make his speech in English), he claimed that local businesses would benefit hugely from local tourism. Judging by the crowds, he might actually have a point!

Let it snow!

November 19th, 2018 | Bodega

Our cellar team are finally coming to the end of the post-harvest deep clean (only started once all fermentations were complete and tanks could be closed and secured). I walked into one of tank storage rooms this morning, and for a split second it almost looked like it had been snowing. The tanks and the floor were veiled in white – but of course, it wasn’t snow!

We have a special cleaning product for stainless steel which is applied by machine as a foam. Just to clarify for a moment, all the cleaning products that we use are both approved for use in food (wine) production areas, and are environmentally friendly.

Not only do all the wine making products that we use have to be approved and recorded, but this also applies to cleaning materials. These days every process and product has to be recorded – it is part of what is known as traceability. Heaven forbid, if something should go wrong, and there is a problem with one of our wines, then not only can the entire batch be withdrawn from sale, but we can then look back through our records, tracing back, if necessary, to the origin of every grape that went into a particular bottle. That’s what traceability is all about – consumer protection.

Turkey Season!

November 15th, 2018 | Fiestas

Now when I say it’s ‘turkey season’, I don’t mean literally go out and hunt a turkey (except perhaps at your local butcher’s shop). Of course, eating turkey in this autumn/winter season is traditional, for different people in different countries. In the States it forms the centrepiece of nearly every Thanksgiving meal, whilst in the UK it usually appears on the Christmas lunch table. Over in Japan they prefer to stick to their traditional KFC Christmas meal – in a Christmas Party Barrel (a brilliant piece of marketing originating back in the 70’s)! I believe that it was a deliberate marketing ploy to blur the distinction between turkey and chicken as part of a traditional ‘westernised’ Christmas.

No doubt you can already guess what my next line is going to be…. my wine recommendation to drink with your turkey. There are, indeed, many widely differing options to chose from, but certainly albariño should appear somewhere on the list. More especially a Castro Martin albariño!

Whilst turkey is not necessarily a Christmas tradition here in Spain, fresh seafood as a first course certainly is. Tables will often be heaving under the weight of a huge platter of every imaginable type of seafood – crabs, prawns, shrimps, lobster, clams, oysters, scallops, mussels – you name it…. Of course in this case, then there really is no other choice. It simply has to be (Castro Martin) albariño!

Winter touch up

November 7th, 2018 | Bodega

As the rain pours down outside, and in the period before pruning begins, we are still catching up on jobs inside the bodega.

You may recall that several months ago we had a serious filtration of water in the roof (tank room) of the bodega, and that at first, we were not even sure where it originated from (water will always find the nearest and easiest escape route). Eventually, after much digging and breaking of cement, we were convinced that we had found the source, but even then, we were not 100% certain. We simply had to wait and see.

Fortunately, everything has remained dry since then, and after some long periods of warm weather, we now feel that the structure has finally dried out. Of course this means that it can be repaired and re-painted – which is exactly what we are doing now.

To be honest the difference is not very noticeable, as it’s rare that we walk around staring up at the ceiling, but at least it now looks much more presentable for when we have visitors. Amazing what a simple lick of paint can do.

2018 – winemaking update

November 2nd, 2018 | Harvest

Well, it seems like winter is finally here. Our extended, late summer is now well and truly over, as the more usual weather of rain and much cooler temperatures is finally upon us. Time to light the fire and put the slippers on!

Meanwhile, inside the wine cellar, after weeks of almost constant vigilance, the making of our 2018 wine is finally behind us. The fermentation period requires that we measure the density of the wine at least twice a day, every day (the density being an indicator of how quickly the fermentation is taking place), and this is where the temperature control really comes into its own. If the process is moving too quickly then lowering the temperature can help to reduce the speed of fermentation – conversely, if it is moving too slowly, then allowing a small increase of temperature will help to get things back on track. Controlling the length of fermentation will ultimately determine the style of wine produced, and suffice to say that a white wine made with a shorter, slightly higher temperature fermentation will be quite different from a wine made with a long, slow, cool fermentation. It’s really a matter of taste and down to the personal preference of the winemaker.

The final act that really brings the fermentation to a close is the addition of sulphur. This will effectively kill any yeast cells that are still active once all of the sugar has been consumed. For this we use tanks of pure, liquid sulphur dioxide, which is extremely hazardous and very dangerous to handle. Suffice to say that full face masks and protective equipment are very much the order of the day.

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