It’s all happening… in the cellar!
September 24th, 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…..
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!
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!
Sunday. Yet another sunny morning, with a forecast for more high temperatures. In theory at least, we have almost reached the mid-point of the harvest, which is just as well as we have now seen some forecasts of rain for Monday night (any time after about 5pm).
Traditionally, the weekend is always the busiest time, but despite this slight increase Sunday passed off without a hitch. We had one minor issue with the temperature control in one tank, but this was quickly resolved by our own people.
When we talk of yield at this time of year, we are, in effect. talking about two different things. There is the yield in the vineyard which reflect the amount of fruit collected in each vineyard, expressed in kilos per hectare, and then there is the yield that relates to the amount of juice extracted from the grapes, simply the litres per kilo.
I think I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that yields from the vineyards are smaller this year. Each harvest we try to estimate in advance how many kilos that we might have from our own vineyards. This is done by counting the bunches in a measured area and then multiplying this by our total surface area. On many occasions this is reasonably accurate, and allows us to plan how many empty tanks we will need, and the quantities of materials that we will need for wine making. This year, not only was our own estimate quite inaccurate, but also that of nearly all of our grape suppliers. I understand that this applies to the region as a whole and not only ourselves.
Yet another hot, sunny day. The irony of this is that Galicia is experiencing excessive heat, whilst in the South of Spain several people have now died in flooding caused by catastrophic rainfall. Fortunately it was not quite as hot as Friday, and by mid-afternoon some light cloud cover provided at least a little respite for our teams, both inside and outside the bodega. Unfortunately this cloud was short-lived.
In some ways Saturday was a routine day, but in another way perhaps slightly different. As with every harvest, a lot of our suppliers prefer to pick and deliver their grapes on a Saturday, and so not only is it busy, but it is nearly always a last minute rush! The bodega can be fairly quiet during the day, but once the sun begins to set then that’s when the really fun begins. The secret to dealing with this is simple, to have a good, hard-working, well organised team – some unloading the trailers, some loading and emptying the presses and others washing the cases. (Thank goodness the case washing machine that we installed last year is now working properly – last year was a bit of a nightmare as the filters were choking up every ten minutes which made it very much stop-start!).
We are stepping up the pace as much as we can simply because of the late summer heat. The high temperatures mean quite simply that the potential alcohol is increasing and the acidity is dropping. Obviously, as always, we want our wine to be as typical of our ‘cool-climate’ as possible. Let’s see what Sunday brings!
I should probably start by saying that day one was not without it’s hiccups. For example, a couple of temporary staff did not turn up for their evening shift in the bodega, and at one point our refrigeration machine (for cooling the tanks) cut out completely. We immediately called the engineers (to fix the machine – not to work a shift!), but before they even had chance to arrive, the machine miraculously started to work again. Of course this equipment is fundamental to our wine making (temperature control) and such random, unexplained failures can leave you with quite an uneasy feeling. Fortunately we can monitor this system during the night (by mobile phone), but checking your screen at 5am, after a late night, does not make for restful sleep!
Friday, our second day, was not only sunny but was probably the hottest day of the summer so far! By midday the temperature was already 28°C (83°F) and climbing. By mid-afternoon it had reached a baking 35°C (95°F). We were trying desperately to keep our picking team supplied with fresh water, although I’m sure that they would have preferred cold showers!
One important feature of the 2019 vintage is that it will probably be quite small in volume. Not only are the bunches and berries small, but the yields of kilo/hectare are also well below the norm. Growers simply have far fewer kilos than they thought, which I guess in the long-term, could have an effect on prices. On a more positive note, the must from the presses appears to not only be very concentrated, but also very clean.
Today I have included a photo of one of our lesser known vineyards, from which the eagle-eyed amongst you will spot immediately, is not a ‘pergola’ vineyard (but still produces some of our better grapes).
Here we go again! On a very bright, sunny Galician morning the 2019 campaign gets under way.
By mid-morning the first grapes were rolling in – exactly as I had described in an earlier post. Small berries in tightly packed bunches, green/gold in colour, but with surprisingly thin skins. Normally, at the end of a long, dry summer we might anticipate slightly thicker skin, but as I mentioned before, this is possibly because, although there was plenty of sunshine, it has never been excessively hot this summer (especially at night).
As always, every grape delivery is sampled, analysed and recorded as it enters the bodega, and the first results are similar to last year in a way. High levels of sugar (which translates into higher alcohol), but still with a good level of acidity. Tasting of the must revealed a very concentrated sweet must with green apple and floral hints. Despite this intense sweetness, there is still a fresh acidity in the background, which will help to offset the very ripe fruit.
I just thought that I should explain today’s photo because it can be a bit disorientating (if you are not sure exactly what you’re looking at). The photo is taken from the top of one of our tanks looking down inside. It shows a hose delivering fresh grape must directly from the press. Our press room is on a different level, above the tank room, and so most of the flow is controlled simply by gravity (the less need for using a pump, the better). This shot shows the very first juice of the 2019 harvest.
The last few days before harvest is always a bit nerve-racking. Anticipating the work to come, whilst also constantly checking that everything is in place and no detail has been overlooked…. even down to the purchase of paper rolls.
The grape reception, which is only used once a year, has been cleaned, and nearly half of our mountain of harvest cases have already been distributed.
We are analysing fruit on a daily basis, and watching it edge closer and closer to the best possible balance (between sugar, acidity and pH). Only then will we begin the 2019 harvest.
Of course, whilst monitoring the fruit, we are also keeping a close eye on the weather. At the moment the weather is set fair (at least for the next few days), but as I have said many times before, here on the Atlantic coast this can change in a heartbeat.
I mentioned in my last post that summer could be at an end. I was wrong! For the last few days (and apparently for the coming days), we are experiencing some of the best weather of this summer. Daytime temperatures are now hitting 30°C (86°F), and we have even enjoyed one or two ‘balmy’ evenings. Inevitably this is having an effect in the vineyards.
When I tasted one or two grapes last week, the sugar was only just apparent, and there was still quite a dominant amount of acidity. The bunches were tightly packed with small berries (not too unusual for albariño), but with surprisingly thin skins, which could be down to the lack of intense heat. As the berries are small, and there has been little or no rain for the last month or two, our yields could well be reduced, and the final quality? Well, we will just have to wait and see.
When I re-tasted our fruit today, there was quite an evolution within the space of one week. The bunches have started to change colour – from a verdant green they are now showing hints of gold (as you might just notice in today’s photo). The most significant change however, is the amount of sugar, which is now much more prominent, coupled with a corresponding drop in acidity, now much more in the background.
Analysis of the fruit is taking place as I write, but if this hot weather persists, then we could be less than a week from harvest. Vamos a ver!
Confirma tu edad