Natural wine (and food) – Part 1

February 5th, 2019 | Food & Wine

There is no doubt that we need to take care of our planet, in every possible way. These days it’s all about carbon footprint, minimal intervention, and natural products, and this is not unique to the wine industry.

If you think for a moment about the evolution of wine making, then it must be true to say that once-upon-a-time all wines were ‘natural’ (when wine was first produced). Then, over the decades and centuries, as technology has evolved, we have started to make cleaner, more technical wines – the inherent problem being that at least some of the body and character has almost certainly been processed and filtered out.

Of course tradition is important, and this is often protected through the rules and regulations of the controlling bodies – the D.O.’s and A.O.C.’s of this world. On the other hand, I believe that technology still has it’s part to play, but the question is, how much technology? The quality and style of the end product will ultimately be directly determined by the amount of intervention and manipulation that takes place (both in the vineyard and in the wine cellar).

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy wines that are allowed to fully express themselves and that are a true and honest representation of their roots and origins, but at the same time I don’t want to be offered a completely opaque wine that leaves a residue of soil at the bottom of my glass! Believe it or not I have atually been presented with such a glass (OK, maybe without the soil), but to be brutally honest, I didn’t really like it one bit. As a former wine buyer I was trained to be open-minded about new and exciting wines, but then there always has to be a limit.

Our current official classifications (that can be certified), are biological, biodynamic and natural. However, wines can also be sustainable, with the least possible amount of intervention – using what I prefer to call ‘mindful winemaking’. And that is just what we do.

Tasting samples

January 28th, 2019 | Competitions

Over the course of a year, we use/send out quite a lot of samples. Many are sent to wine fairs and tastings organised by our own D.O. office, for tastings either here in Spain, or in International Wine Fairs. Others are sent to existing customers who possibly want taste a new vintage. Then of course there are potential customers, who will almost certainly request samples before making any buying decisions.

In Canada and a number of Scandinavian countries, wine import is still government controlled. The State owned shops  will usually send out two or three tenders a year for albariño. This entails much form filling and the sending out of yet more samples for their tasting committees. (The downside is that there is usually only one winner, and no prize at all for coming second).

Wine competitions are by far the biggest sample consumers (assuming that you play the game). The problem is that there are now dozens and dozens of International Wine Competitions – some apparently organised in small, obscure villages in the middle of nowhere, but still claiming to be “International”. The high cost of sending samples is quite apart from the fact that you also have to pay to have your wines tasted (often 100-150€ per entry).

I do often wonder how ‘legit’ some of these competitions and would-be importers really are? Just imagine the scam of writing to hundreds of wine cellars requesting 3 or 4 sample bottles from each, perhaps using the facade of a fake website. That could result in one huge garage sale or maybe just one hell of a party!

Blue (Brexit) Monday…

January 21st, 2019 | Weather

After two or three weeks of sun, we finally had a weekend of rain, and now that we are back at work again, guess what? Yes, the sun has returned again! Ironic, or just plain annoying I ask myself? At this time of year we also experience quite a lot of mist and fog hanging around in the early morning, certainly until the sun has had chance to burn it off. When the Salnes Valley is shrouded like this, it can look quite dramatic as the sun starts to rise over the surrounding hilltops. Of course, the other ‘mist’ that often hangs around during the day at this time of year is not actually mist at all, but rather the smoke generated by grape producers burning their vine cuttings after pruning. (It’s a bit of a waste really, as vine cuttings are really excellent for adding that extra touch of smoked flavour to barbecued food).

Despite this wonderful weather, we are actually busy inside this week as we prepare one or two large orders. I don’t really want to dwell on this, but one is actually destined for the UK, as importers actively start to stock up a little prior to Brexit. Of course, no one knows what will happen as yet, but it will almost certainly change our documentation (for example, it will no longer be Intra-Community), and leaving the EU could also cause additional delays to our shipments as vehicles will take much longer to cross borders into the UK. Who knows? Our Prime Minister certainly doesn’t!

Hace frio…. (it’s cold!)

January 14th, 2019 | Vineyards

The last few months of 2018 were miserable, wet and autumnal, but temperatures did not really dip too much and remained several degrees above freezing. Plants and trees that would normally be dormant at this time of year were still alive and active. Of course, in the case of our vines, not only do the plants need to have a dormant period (helping to reduce bacteria and having a therapeutic effect), but freezing conditions can also help to kill off vineyard insects and pests.

It was not until the New Year (quite literally from the turn of the year) that the skies cleared, to give us almost unbroken sunshine from dawn ’til dusk, and of course, with clear night skies, a drop in temperature. During the day the thermometer has been hitting the mid-teens in Centigrade (around 60°F), whilst at night it has just about reached freezing point – but certainly enough to give us ground frost in rural areas. Although wind has not really been a feature, airflow has been from the north, providing us with a real nip in the air. The upside of this is, however, that it provides our guys with very pleasant conditions for pruning.

 

Happy New Year!

January 7th, 2019 | Bodega

Whilst we are already a week into the New Year, the Christmas holiday has only just ended here in Spain. Yesterday, 6th January, was Reyes, known outside Spain as Epiphany. which celebrates the baptism of Jesus and is also known for the visit of the Three Kings. Some Spanish households still celebrate Reyes rather than Christmas, and gifts are exchanged on 6th January. This year, as 6th falls on a Sunday, some autonomies of Spain will have an additional ‘festivo’ day today – 7th January – but not here in Galicia, it is a normal working day.

Owing to this extended holiday, some businesses are only returning to full production this week, including ourselves, as many of our team return from their break. Thankfully they will be greeted by a busy month! To start the New Year we have some pretty large orders in the pipeline, that will necessitate at least two bottlings during the month of January. Of course, it’s always nice to start the year with a few orders in the book, but our longer-term goal will be to maintain this momentum throughout the year!

Tasting rediscovered!

December 28th, 2018 | Festivo

As we start to recover from the upheaval of the holiday period (and perhaps a little over indulgence – in my case turkey saturation), we are now putting our feet up for a few days. Our cellar doors still remain closed, taking full advantage of the usual seasonal lull in business.

The other good news is that over the Christmas holidays I have rediscovered wine tasting! Tasting had been such a big part of my life for so many years that I had really started to take it for granted – until earlier this year. In March I embarked on a course of dental treatment, which (I didn’t realise at the time), would extend for a period of more that 8 months. The real problem was that it entailed living with a mouthful of plastic for the duration, unfortunately making tasting much more challenging, and even slightly awkward. Not completely impossible, just difficult.

Shortly before the Christmas break, I received a phone call, just as I was leaving the bodega. Within 20 minutes I was in the dentist’s chair, having the final procedure carried out and the plastic finally removed from my mouth. Normality had been restored, and thankfully, just in time for the holidays!

Once again, I can fully appreciate the nuances of wine, but now with a newly invigorated enthusiasm.

Happy Christmas!

December 25th, 2018 | Food & Wine

First of all I have to wish a very Merry Christmas to anyone who might just be bored enough to read this post on Christmas Day!

As is the tradition in Spain (and in many parts of Europe), the Christmas meal is eaten very late in the evening of 24th December. In our own multi-cultural household we compromise, by having dinner on 24th, but perhaps just a little more to an English timetable, starting at around 8pm. This year we opted for a turkey dinner, but as always, with the typical Spanish seafood starter (often a meal in itself, the main course often being less important).

Wine, of course, plays an important part in our household. In 2018 our aperitif was the limited release of Tio Pepe Fino ‘en rama’ (we drink a lot of fino and manzanilla throughout the year). With the seafood we had an astonishing 2013 Castro Martin Family Estate. This was made more astonishing when we consider that 2013 was not really a great vintage. Prolonged rainfall in the period before picking meant big adjustments to the pressing and winemaking – pressing for example, was limited to minutes, making this vintage almost a ‘first press’ wine. However, there was no hint whatsoever of dilution in this bottle – simply delicious.

The star of the show, as always, was reserved for the main course – a 1992 Corton Charlemagne from Domaine Michel Juillot. The older bottles in my cellar are usually made by people that I know, and have visited regularly over the years – Juillot, however, is not one of them!

The wine itself was bright gold in colour, but not a deep gold. A very full, ripe nose, still showing fruit, but with notes of caramel (to be expected in a 26 years old wine). Full in the mouth, with no hint of oxidation, I was really amazed that this wine was still full of ripe, honeyed apricot fruit, but balanced by a steely elegance, finesse and just a touch of lemon acidity. Of course, this type of wine only serves to prove that pedigree, and a skilled winemaker, can, and will, always make wine that is capable of lasting the course (assuming correct storage).

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)

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