November 11th, 2019 | Competitions

In recent times I have noticed that a few reputable journalists have started to question our popular, and sometimes long-held beliefs about wine. Some of the doubts being raised are, for example, the use of points to rate wines, and more recently, the development and definition of ‘natural’ wines.

As you may already know I have never been a big fan of wines being rated or categorised by points – there are just too many possible anomalies. Some fear that the worldwide influence of the points system will eventually mean that certain styles will dominate (and possibly all taste that same), and that lighter wines could lose out, simply because they are less likely to get a attract good scores. Wine shop managers sometimes dismiss ratings as overly simplistic — numbers devoid of context, such as a wine merchant’s sense and knowledge of individual customer tastes. Finally, I have to add that over the years, points and medals have occasionally (in a few proven cases) been abused in order to mislead consumers. Conclusion? That the points system just might not be as effective as we have all come to expect.

It is the lack of official regulation or certification for using the phrase “natural wine” that has now created something of an existential crisis. It’s up to winemakers and those who sell, promote and drink their wines to decide whether a bottle fits the ‘natural’ bill. In an effort to distance themselves from this watered-down, misused and sometimes abused term, some producers who truly work with minimal intervention are now turning their backs on this new movement as a whole. For consumers, that only results in further muddying of a term and ideology that’s already steeped in confusion.

In our business we already have organic, biodynamic and sustainable wine making – the first two of these can be certified, and the third simply relies on producers to use common-sense and mindful wine making practices. However, this should not mean that we abandon or ignore the advances in wine making technology that has been made over the last decades – certainly we all want wines with character, but we also want wines that are reasonably stable and will not fall-apart too quickly!







To Brexit or not to Brexit…..

October 31st, 2019 | International News

The UK Prime Minister has aged noticeably during his short term in office!

…….that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, face down in a ditch…..

Sorry! I studied Shakespeare many years ago at school, and could not resist taking this well-known soliloquy and giving my own twist at the end. If you have been following Brexit then you might just understand my ditch reference.

My point is that Brexit was scheduled for today, and in the end it simply did not happen. It all now hinges on a UK General Election, the result of which is also in the balance. To say that it is a period of uncertainty would be something of an understatement. The only thing that I can say for sure is that both Castro Martin and our UK importers are prepared (or at least as best we can be)!

2019 – First taste

October 29th, 2019 | Post Harvest

A week or two ago I mentioned that our 2019 wines have finished fermenting, and so this week we have attempted our first serious tasting. It’s still very early days, but using our experience of past vintages we should be able to glean at least some idea of the overall quality of the vintage.

The first thing that I should say is that every tank is still a little saturated with CO2 (which is perfectly normal and no bad thing at this point). The wines are therefore just a bit gassy and also completely opaque. There are fine particles of yeast, bentonite etc., still ‘suspended’ in the liquid, and they will need more time to settle before the wine becomes completely limpid.

Our first sensory impressions are often those of residues of sulphur and/or yeast, but as with the opaque colour, these will dissipate over time. Our challenge at this moment is to try to ‘see through’ these minor diversions and explore the underlying wine.

The first characteristic of 2019 is the fresh, ripe, floral nose – perhaps not as full and ripe as 2018, but actually more in keeping with a typical albariño vintage. At this time there is also a noticeable saline ‘lick’ on the palate (a characteristic that I love), and more importantly the wines are well structured and balanced by a zesty, citric, green apple acidity. This green apple component is typical when the wines are very young, but this will evolve over time, more especially after our extended period of lees ageing. I always say that a good albariño can but a little ‘angular’ when it is youthful, but will always soften and that these harsh edges will round off with age.

In summary, the 2019 is actually much better than I thought it would be, in the sense that I thought it could be slightly a-typical and more like our 2018. This is not the case, and I have a feeling that we could be sitting on something very good – the only pity being that lower yields means that we have less wine that we would have liked.

We have wine!

October 17th, 2019 | Bodega

There is a moment during the fermentation when the grape juice (or must) becomes wine – obviously when the degree of alcohol in the must passes a certain point. This week we have finally reached the end of our fermentation period, and so, without hesitation, we can say that we have wine. Our 2019 albariño “est arrivé”  (as they might say in Beaujolais)! Naturally, we are quite anxious to taste the new wine to see what the harvest has given us, but to be honest, this is probably the most difficult time of their entire evolution to try to pass any definitive judgement. The wine are still cloudy, extremely raw, and full of carbon dioxide (which at this point, is no bad thing, as it helps to preserve the wine and keep it fresh). It will be at least another few weeks before we have our tasting glasses poised, ready to draw any serious conclusions.

In the meantime, our renovation and repair work continues, but as the weather has now taken a turn for the worse (some periods of heavy, wintery rain), we have now moved indoors. In our stock storage cellar, we had a bit of a problem with the penetration of damp, and so, rather than just giving the area a quick lick of paint and hoping for the best, we decided to rip the cement rendering off completely and start again. In today’s photo you can see our guys hard at work doing the preparation work – we are just so lucky to have such flexible and versatile people!

Making hay (whilst the sun is actually shining!)

October 11th, 2019 | Bodega

Now that the wine making is all but finished (with fermentations nearing an end), we have a bit of a lull in proceedings before we are able to start pruning. Orders have been prepared and most have been sent out, meaning that we will probably replenish with some new bottlings next week, but in the meantime there is still plenty of work to be done. It is the time of year for maintenance and repairs, and a couple of days of very pleasant sunshine has provided us with the opportunity to work outside. The huge metal doors and shutters that we have on nearly all sides of the bodega require a new coat of paint. Even the limited amount of sun that we have here in Galicia eventually takes its toll on the special enamel paint that we use.

Meanwhile, inside the bodega, with some fermentations almost complete, a slightly clearer picture is starting to emerge of how the final wine might actually unfold. Certainly, the alcohol will be somewhere between 12.5% and 13.0% (maybe a touch less than our 2018’s). The other factor that differentiates the two vintages is that the acidity in 2019 is just a bit more prominent, meaning that the style of the finished wine might be slightly nearer to that of a typical albariño.

Allow me to repeat yet again. Please don’t misunderstand me, our 2018 is really a very good wine – certainly a bit riper and fuller in style than usual, but still a very good wine that will not disappoint in any way. If anything our 2019 might be even better, ripe, fruity, attractive but whilst also retaining it’s usual fresh acidity. Only time will tell whether I am right or I am wrong, but then that’s the great thing about wine…. every vintage leaves it’s own signature, and proves that wine is a unique product that has it’s very own character and style!

Deep clean under way

October 1st, 2019 | Bodega

The minute that the last press is emptied, and the last drop of juice is safely delivered to our tanks, the cleaning can begin. And this is a pretty big job because, as I have mentioned many times before, grape juice is very, very sticky!

Every piece of equipment that has been used has to be dismantled, the most difficult of all being our presses. Floors, walls, hoses, tanks (obviously only those that are now empty!) – everything item has to be washed and scrubbed until it is spotless. Today’s photo shows our case washing machine, which whilst never comes into direct contact with the wine or must, is still stripped to its bare skeleton to be cleaned.

Meanwhile, in the cellar, the wine making continues, carefully monitoring the progress of the fermentation, perhaps adjusting the temperature of a tank by a degree or two, to control how quickly it is advancing – nurturing and encouraging each tank like a small child!

At the same time we cannot afford to forget that we also have customer orders to prepare – as I said to someone only today, our job at the moment is like a juggling act – trying to keep everything up-in-the-air and moving along.

It’s all happening… in the cellar!

September 24th, 2019 | Bodega

Quite apart from all the work in the cellar seeding tanks for fermentation, another piece of history was created today… or perhaps I should say, a part of our history was removed.
Years ago we used a special filter, designed to extract every last drop of grape juice from the fangos. (Fangos are the remnants left at the bottom of the tank after the first cold settling). Normally we would collect this fangos in a seperate tank and then allow it to settle for a second time, and then draw a little more perfectly clean, perfectly good quality juice from the top of the tank. It is the residues that were left after this second racking that were once used in this special filter.
The problem is that this last extract of juice is not only of poor quality, but if used, it could often taint the wine with a green, bitter, phenolic taste. This is why we stopped filtering the fangos many years ago. In fact, I think I only saw it done once (perhaps the first year that I was here). Since then, the filtering machine (which as you can see is quite huge), has been sitting gathering dust and occupying a lot of space. Removing this machine is a very significant gesture and a serious step toward more natural and mindful wine making. Of course when we actively stopped using this machine some years ago we never really realised the significance of this decision, it was merely because we wanted to make our wine taste better – as simple as that!
The long and short of it is that the filter has now been sold, and it was finally removed yesterday morning – right in the middle of seeding some tanks. For a few minutes it was quite chaotic, we had people running in all directions!


Harvest 2019 – Day 7 (Sept 18)

September 19th, 2019 | Bodega

In theory at least today should be the last day of our 2019 campaign. We are finishing the last part of our Pazo vineyard and then all that remains is one parcel in our vineyard here at the bodega. Of course this means that at least our last grapes don’t have too far to travel, and we should be able to gather everything in more quickly.

Although there is not too much happening in the vineyards, inside the cellar the real work is just beginning as we get the fermentations under way. The majority of our wine making process is much the same every year, but having said that we do not stand still. We will be experimenting with at least two or three tanks this year, trying some new techniques and perhaps some new products (usually in the form of different types of yeast). As I have always said, we always work with quite neutral yeasts, as we do not really want our wines to impart any strange flavours or aftertastes – we simply want our customers to be tasting the grape variety itself, something typical and certainly nothing artificial.

Of course our yeast suppliers always arrive charged with glossy brochures, new products making various claims about what they can do. We do not dismiss them completely, but rather ‘dip our toe’ by perhaps making one or two tanks of something different. The proof, of course, is always after the fermentation is complete, when we raise the first samples to our lips.

And so, with year another year behind us the sun sets on the Salnés Valley, and the final curtain falls on the 2019 harvest. All that remains now is a bit of wine making, and of course, my annual vintage report! Thank you and goodnight…..

Harvest 2019 – Day 6 (Sept 17)

September 18th, 2019 | Bodega

Today we start picking in one of our most important ‘Family Estate’ vineyards – El Pazo. As you can perhaps make out from the photos, this vineyard has some of our oldest vines, many between 50 and 70 years old.

The final days of the harvest are always the most frustrating, as we sit and wait for the final grapes to roll in – more often than not, at the end of the evening. We try to keep our cellar team occupied with odd jobs, and indeed, we often send a couple out to help with the picking (with the proviso that they accompany every grape delivery back to the bodega to help offload them). Despite all this there is still a lot of waiting!

On my side, I am busy planning and then re-planning the cellar movements, the number of tanks that we are going to need to accommodate the must (and unfortunately the final number often has to be revisited). The movements can be a bit of a chess game – part of the cellar has clean must after racking, whilst the other half is the most recent must which is still left for settling. The reason I have to re-plan is because as the kilos arrive, we have to revise our totals, and therefore the number and location of tanks that will be used for fermentation (which we will start tomorrow). The concern that we have is that we are not left with half-filled tanks once all the fruit has been collected!

Harvest 2019 – Day 5 (Sept 16)

September 17th, 2019 | Bodega

We have now broken the back of this year’s harvest, indeed, we are now moving toward the last couple of vineyard locations. In the meantime, work is already well underway in the cellar itself as we chill the fresh grape must to help it settle. After a day or two when all the impurities have fallen to the bottom of the tanks then the juice can then be moved, or ‘racked’ into clean tanks ready for fermentation.

In a way Monday turned out to be quite similar to Sunday – smooth and uneventful. As always, once we start picking we like to continue without stopping and so, quite understandably, when we have rain looming on the horizon we do try to step up the pace as much as we can. The weather radar still showed rain and some thunder moving towards our area, and we were anticipating that it might arrive with us at around 5pm (when we would normally stop picking at 7pm). 5pm came and went, and although we could see dark skies on two sides of the bodega, we somehow managed to escape, as did our vineyards. We heard later that it had been raining within 10km of our location, but luckily we didn’t see a drop….. until about 10pm when there were quite literally just a few spots of rain, but then not even enough to wet the ground. In any event, by that time, all grapes were safely inside and already passing through our presses.

Today’s photo shows our harvest cases drying in the sun. Once they are emptied they are immediately washed, ready to be used again. It is really important to wash the cases as soon as they have been emptied, as they inevitably have a little juice inside, which, if left to dry, becomes hard and difficult to remove, almost like a layer of nail varnish!

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