The Salon – Phase 2

October 22nd, 2018 | Bodega

Of course, dismantling the salon a few days ago, removing a few tables and chairs was very much the easy part of the job. Phase two is quite a bit more serious, requiring more manpower and just a few building and/or demolition skills – removing all the wooden beams from around the ceiling space. I did mention in my last post that none of these beams were actually real, and therefore not load bearing, but it still required a bit of skill (and muscle) to take them down.

I guess that many visitors over the years had assumed that the beams were real, but as you can clearly see from today’s photo, these large wooden beams were, in fact, just a bit of wood cladding around a much bigger and uglier concrete beam. The smaller beams running across the ceiling were also purely decorative, and served no practical purpose at all. So much for authenticity!

Phase three,  the rebuilding phase, will not be so easy. The reason I say this is because we haven’t even decided what we are going to do with this space. In the past, it has been used (very infrequently) for meetings and parties, but we feel that it really could be used for something more worthwhile. We are currently scratching our heads.

Salon dismantled…

October 15th, 2018 | Bodega

A year or so ago we discovered a problem in the ‘salon’ of our bodega – we have been attacked by wood boring insects! Of course we do not really know where they originated from, only that they have slowly but surely started to munch their way through chairs, tables and the beams in our roof. (Thankfully the beams are not structural, and are purely aesthetic, so removing them should not cause us a problem).

There are different ways of tackling this problem; insecticide is just one option, as is fumigation by professionals. Although this could probably done quite safely (even in a wine making environment), we are not taking any chances – we are simply going to remove all of the wood and burn it! This might seem quite dramatic, but the reality is that we have been thinking of modernising our reception room/function room for some time now.

Now that most of the post-harvest cleaning jobs have been completed, and before the long, tedious chore of pruning begins, we have a bit of a lull in activity (not forgetting that the wine making is still ticking-over in the background). This provides us with the perfect opportunity to start.

The first step was easy – removing all the furniture, fixture and fittings (see photo). The next step will be to tackle the beams.

What a difference!

October 8th, 2018 | Bodega

One of the biggest post-harvest jobs that we have to do, apart from the wine making, is cleaning the cases that were used for collecting grapes – we have about 2,000 of these.

In previous years they were washed case-by-case using a pressure washer, simply because there was always a build up of grape juice almost ‘baked’ onto the plastic. This year it is a little different….

With our new case washing machine (inaugurated at the beginning of the harvest), every case was washed thoroughly each time it was used. A conveyor-like system pulls each case into the machine where it is ‘attacked’ from all sides by a set of high pressure water jets – this removes all the lose dirt. It then undergoes a second wash in clean water (re-cycled through filters) before it is left to dry. The result is that, over the period of the harvest, there is no dried juice build-up (our old wash-by-hose method was not quite so effective), and the cases are always completely clean and dry.

At the end of the harvest we now simply give all the cases one more final wash before they were stacked away for next year. Any that that fail inspection are separated and undergo a quick pressure wash to remove all residuals. This year, using the machine for this final wash took just over one working day, whereas our old method employed three people for a period of up to two weeks! Now that’s what I call a labour (and cost) saving investment!

Post Harvest – Fermentation

October 1st, 2018 | Bodega

Just when you think that all the hard work, collecting grapes is done, then it all starts again inside the bodega. We have two huge programmes running simultaneously with one another…. The first is a deep clean, and when I say deep clean, it really has to be deep! Grape juice must be one of the stickiest substances on the planet (perhaps it could give Gorilla Glue a run for it’s money!) To be honest it’s not really ‘super’ sticky but it’s special property is that it simply transfers everywhere – there are few places that escape, so much so that a full change of clothes and shoes is really essential at the end of each working day. So now the task in hand is that we have to unstick everything, by far the most difficult chore being the presses – the epicentre of juice production.

The second, and most important project is getting the fermentation under way. I did post a quick photo a day or two ago, taken as we started to re-hydrate the yeast, but once this is done then it has to be carefully and slowly added to each tank, one-by-one. The process of seeding a single large tank (see photo) can take up to 4 or 5 hours – the smaller tanks are a bit quicker, taking about 3 hours. Of course this time includes the pumping-over after the yeast is added. Pumping over is simply a mixing process, when we connect the top of the tank to the bottom using hoses, and then circulate the juice and yeast mixture in a cyclical motion for a couple of hours.

The timing of fermentation is determined by the juice, when, after cold settling, the temperature recovers to a level warm enough to support the yeast. If the juice is too cold, then the yeast will simply die of shock – the result? No fermentation!

This year the temperature dictated that we were here for the entire weekend, meaning that for the last two or three weeks, none of us have had a break! Who was it said that running a wine cellar is a romantic profession?!

Post Harvest – let’s make wine

September 27th, 2018 | Bodega

So now that the last grape is safely in, and the cold settling period is concluded, we embark on the small matter of wine making. Year-on-year there is never too much variation in what we do – we might make some small adjustments according to the vintage, and perhaps trial a new product or two in one odd tank, but the majority of what we do remains largely unchanged.

There is one characteristic of the 2018 vintage that I haven’t really mentioned as yet…. alcohol. I did say that we had been surprised by the quality of the fruit, and that it was quite viscose (rescued by a dry and warm August and September), but the other side effect of heat is alcohol. My guess is that we will see the FIRST EVER Castro Martin wines of 13% Alcohol!

We had already seen a number of 13% wines appearing last year, whereas our own mean average alcohol for 2017 was somewhere between 12.5% and 13% (the label has to be within 0.5% of the actual). This year we will almost certainly break this barrier, whilst bearing in mind that many people are still picking in 32°C heat (heaven only knows what level of alcohol this fruit will yield). Could we see albariños approaching 14% in 2018?

Oh, and by the way, don’t simply dismiss today’s picture as just another ‘moon shot’ – this is actually the yeast being mixed, just before it is added to one of our tanks!

Harvest 2018 – Day 6

September 25th, 2018 | Bodega

Perhaps the biggest disaster of the harvest (so far) was reserved for the penultimate night. Last night our ‘bodeguero’ (chief cellar hand) and pressing specialist fell, and slid down a flight of stairs! Fortunately he was not seriously injured, but after hospital tests, returned with his arm in a sling and restricted to a purely supervisory role.

Today will almost certainly be our final day, and another scorcher for working. The last day is always a bit frustrating as we spend hours with almost nothing to do (in the grape reception) and then we are hit with one final rush at the end of the day. After several hard days so far, it hardly seems fair on our fantastic cellar team, but unfortunately, that’s the way the cookie crumbles….

To keep the team occupied during these final hours of waiting, we deliberately leave one small corner of our ‘bodega’ vineyard unpicked, and so in these periods of calm they can take a bit of fresh air and enjoy the view! (see today’s photo of our small but happy team).

Tomorrow we may turn to the wine making, embarking on step two of the 2018 campaign.

Harvest 2018 – Day 5

September 24th, 2018 | Bodega

Yet another beautifully sunny morning (which should now be the pattern until the end of the coming week). With temperatures now touching 30°C (86°F), it makes for very hot work – but better this than rain!

Unfortunately another minor incident occurred during the night when the very last pressing of the day suddenly stopped. However, with a 24 hour call-out service during harvest time, a technician quickly rectified the problem, and the last press of the day was completed (about 4am).

It transpires that Sunday turned out to be a completely manic day, and by late afternoon a short queue of vehicles had accumulated waiting to discharge their grapes. The heat was clearly taking it’s toll on everyone as the torrent of grapes continued throughout the evening without remission. By the end of the day we had by far exceeded our daily target, bringing the end of our 2018 harvest almost within touching distance. Perhaps one day more?

Meanwhile, downstairs in our lab, every single delivery of grapes was being analysed from the obligatory sample taken upon arrival. The results were better than we could have hoped (certainly after such poor spring weather). Of course the yield of juice per kilo was slightly less than normal, but it was the viscosity and balance of the juice that surprised us a little.

Harvest 2018 – Day 4

September 23rd, 2018 | Bodega

We arrived to work on Saturday morning under a beautiful clear blue sky, and according to the forecast – this should now continue well into next week and the end of the harvest (probably Tuesday).

In terms of kilos picked we are already more or less at the half way point, and apart from my big transport error on the first day, it has been comparatively smooth sailing. Of course there are always minor issues, the latest being the new, dynamic case washing machine being delivered without one of it’s main filters! Very annoying and inconvenient, but at least not terminal to the operation.

Indeed, the story of our latest addition made me laugh. Whilst we were getting excited about this modest new piece of kit, our neighbours down the road (at one of the regions Co-operatives), were just inaugurating their brand new 300,000 Euro grape reception! In a different league altogether… whilst we remain small, humble, but very beautiful.

Meanwhile back in the real world, grapes flowed in very nicely, and with our well-drilled team they were swept through the cellar in a very efficient and timely manner. (A backlog is the last thing that we require on a Saturday which is, as always, by far the busiest day of the week).

The view in today’s photo shows smoke – not heat haze, sea mist or cloud, but smoke. A fire somewhere in a forest nearby filled the afternoon air, but fortunately it would seem that it was quickly extinguished.

Harvest 2018 – Day 3

September 22nd, 2018 | Uncategorized

Last night we spent a long time deliberating about the weather – some website said 75% chance of rain, and some said 20% – so who to believe? In the end we used our old saying, ‘open the curtains in the morning and take a look’! There was no rain, and indeed the sun was just about poking through.

As the picking continued unabated in our vineyards, so we embarked upon our work inside the wine cellar. After a period of ‘cold-settling’ we racked the grape must (juice) into clean tanks. This year the cold settling (when all the pips, stalks, soil etc. ‘settle’ to the bottom of the tank), is especially significant. As there has been little or no rainfall for the last couple of months the vineyards are obviously very dry, and one of the consequences is dust! When the grapes enter the bodega they are, inevitably, covered in a very fine, invisible layer of dust that unfortunately ends up in the presses. As a result, the juice is a dark green/grey colour with a slightly brown hue. The average consumer would certainly be shocked by this and would probably wonder how on earth this dark, opaque juice could eventually end up being a bright, clear white wine. That is really the function of the cold settling…. after a period of 48 hours we end up with a limpid, clean grape juice.

Today’s photo shows the special glass link that we connect to the tank to monitor the clarity of the juice as we transfer it. In Spanish this is known as a ‘mirilla’ – almost like a looking glass, but without Alice!

Harvest 2018 – Day 2

September 21st, 2018 | Bodega

After a slightly fraught, late night yesterday, the new morning didn’t start so well. One of our famous Ocean mists had rolled in from the Atlantic leaving the whole area shrouded in a cold, damp cloud. We knew however, that the sun would eventually burn through, and by mid-morning it had done exactly that – picking was not delayed.

Today’s minor trauma was a puncture! The trailer on one of our tractors burst a tyre, but quite fortunately, just as it was arriving at the bodega and not in the middle of it’s journey. Of course we had the equipment on hand to make a relatively speedy repair, and so I guess it was hardly worth mentioning!

In the meantime the grapes continue to arrive, today in a steady flow, rather than yesterday’s late rush. Apart from yield that I mentioned yesterday, there is another attribute that we have noticed in this year’s fruit. There appears to be more variation in bunch sizes (related to individual vineyard sites), than in previous years, which is why we always pick plot-by-plot in a strict order. Obviously this variation is down purely to our Spring weather – cool, damp and hardly ideal for the flowering period. On a more positive note, the warm, dry conditions during August and September have probably yielded better quality than we had anticipated.

By the way, as I mentioned in my previous (special) post, the new case washing machine has had an amazing impact on our grape reception – cases can now be washed the moment that they are emptied into the presses. No more stacks of dirty cases, and no more hosepipes!

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