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if something should go wrong, and there is a problem with one of our wines, then not only can the entire batch be withdrawn from sale, but we can then look back through our records, tracing back, if necessary, to the origin of every grape that went into a particular bottle.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.

‘El Canario’ returns!

October 27th, 2018 | People

Earlier this week there were two tastings in the Canary Islands, the first in Gran Canaria and the second in Tenerife. The special significance for us is that Gran Canaria was the birthplace and home city of Angela’s father, Don Domingo Martin, the man responsible for building our current wine cellar, and also the creator of our original brand ‘Casal Caeiro’.

Of course the family still has connections there, and so it was only natural that invitations were sent to friends and contacts, to give them the opportunity to sample the very best albariños of Rias Baixas (Castro Martin and Casal Caeiro).

I should mention that even now, many years after the sad death of Don Domingo, our bodega is still known as the bodega of ‘El Canario’…..

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!

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