Autumn in Galicia

November 23rd, 2020 | Vineyards

At this time of year our team have just started work in the vineyards. Now that the leaves have fallen from the vines, the wood is exposed, and the sap recedes from the branches (owing to the cooler autumn nights), we can finally get to work on the pruning. Ironically, whilst there is little activity in the bodega as Covid takes its toll on our order books, the vines now demand our full-time, undivided attention, through until the end of winter. Pruning, is a slow, labourious task, and can be very unpleasant in inclement winter weather.

On the subject of weather, since the end of our harvest it has been quite changeable. More or less as we would expect for this time of year. Some rain, quite a few days of ‘mizzle’ (a cross between mist and drizzle), and a few odd sunny days just thrown in for good measure. Indeed, the weekend just gone, was good… too good in fact. The mid-November temperature hit 24°C (75°F), provoking a few people to take to the local beaches. Of course, even local travel is quite heavily restricted during our current, partial lockdown, and so I guess that it was only the lucky few (that live close to the coast) who could take full advantage.

My picture today shows the Ria of Pontevedra, and on the adjacent hillsides you can just make out the small fires, as people burn their cuttings. The small finishing boats in the foreground are, of course, a very common feature.

Adapting to Covid

November 13th, 2020 | Covid 19

A few weeks ago we were perhaps beginning to believe that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. Of course, we were wrong as parts of Galicia are once again facing varying degrees of lockdown. One of the affected areas is the city of Pontevedra where the headquarters of our Denomination is based.

This week we joined one of the first virtual Denomination meetings (via Zoom) to review the export business of our region and to discuss the marketing plans for 2021. Of course, the possibility of staging many of the planned events will still, almost entirely, be determined by virus. For example, the vast majority of events, and nearly all of the biggest wine exhibitions were cancelled this year. It goes without saying that tasting and selecting wine is really something that has to be done in person, and simply does not work in a virtual world!

Of course, contracting Covid could be devastating for a wine buyer (with the loss of smell and taste), and so until the technology exists to replace them, we must still rely on these senses.

Doom & Gloom?

November 4th, 2020 | Covid 19

With the holidays fast approaching I think it would be fair to say that we were all hoping that the pandemic would largely be behind us by now, and that we might be returning to some sort of slightly revised normality. Of course, it is now beginning to dawn on us that this hope is quickly fading into the distance. Very regrettably, in an increasing number of countries, the term ‘lock down’ is once again rearing its ugly head, whereby slowly but surely our freedom of movement is being eroded on more or less a daily basis.

As I have mentioned before, our business is, to a large degree, dependent on the restaurant trade, and with increasing restrictions some of our customers are now reluctantly closing their doors (albeit temporarily we hope). Consequently, in 2020, our two peak selling seasons, summer and the winter holidays, have been somewhat curtailed.

Inside our bodega our 2020 wine is completely finished, now resting quietly on its lees, and with another month to go before we can start the pruning, there is something of a lull in activity. Fortunately, a couple of our people have decided to take a short holiday (perhaps in fear that new restrictions might confine them to their homes).

As I write the US Presidential election hangs on a knife’s edge. It feels like some sort of wacky soap opera playing out in front of our eyes…. until we realise that no script writer could ever have come up with a story line as twisted as this one! I’m sure that this will play out for much longer than we had all hoped, with many more twists and turns before it reaches a final conclusion!

Covid & Wine

October 26th, 2020 | Covid 19

One of the first, and most common signs that you might have Covid is, apparently, the sudden loss of taste and smell. The actual cause of this is not yet fully understood (although scientists do have their theories), but it is a symptom that can last for varying amounts of time – from weeks to months. The virus attacks the olfactory neurons and in some cases can destroy them completely, resulting in total loss of smell and taste. The only good news is that these neurons can regenerate, albeit this can be a long, slow process.

As a former wine buyer myself, I know that I was always a bit obsessive about avoiding colds and flu in winter. Effectively this would render me almost completely useless and unable to do my job (which obviously involved a lot of travelling and tasting). This was my nightmare scenario.

I can’t imagine therefore, what it might be like to lose these senses completely, especially when they can take years to train. My biggest concern would always be that if you did lose these senses completely, would they be as sensitive as they were before when they return? I do know, for example, that (because of my life in wine), I have a highly developed sense of smell and taste and can pick up on things in daily life that other people just don’t notice. Of course, this can be both a blessing and a curse, especially if it is a smell that is not too pleasant!

Perhaps a simple and effective Covid test for me might just be to smell and taste wine as often as I can? On this basis, at the moment, I am probably averaging about 45 Covid tests per day….

Catch up

October 8th, 2020 | Bottles and bottling

Every tank of wine that we sell has to be tasted, and hopefully approved, by the official Rias Baixas tasting panel, before it can receive the official D.O. sticker allowing it to go on public sale. Before a tank can be bottled a number of samples are collected by the D.O. and taken to the Pontevedra office for tasting. The samples are also analysed and compared with our own analysis that we are obliged to send with the bottles. After everything is completed, we finally receive the stickers – known here as ‘tirillas’. This whole process can take a week or more.

Once a year these official tastings are suspended for a period of about six weeks. The reason?… Harvest time! (When the  members of the D.O. team are simply too busy to organise tastings). Of course, sales and shipments don’t stop during the harvest period, and so if a bodega experiences an unexpected surge in sales and hasn’t pre-prepared enough stock, then it’s just too bad, they simply have to wait for tastings to re-start!

In our own cellar the fermentations are almost at an end, and so we now have to re-focus our efforts into getting some wine out onto the streets! Thankfully, we do have a slight backlog of orders (even during a crisis), and so this week we have been busy restocking our warehouse in time for the holiday orders to be fulfilled.

Planet Wine?

October 2nd, 2020 | Bodega

The most important work in our cellar at the moment is monitoring and controlling fermentation. Of course, by control, I mean by the use of temperature. The fermentation can take place at more or less the required speed (within certain boundaries), decided not only by the wine maker and their preferred technique, but also by the type of yeast used to seed the tanks. (Some yeasts are far more vigorous than others and work within entirely different temperature ranges).

Generally speaking, fermentation carried out quickly, and at higher temperature, will produce a very fruity, easy drinking style, that will be ready consume shortly after the wine making process is complete. By using lower temperatures over a longer period, the wine might not have the same instant appeal and will usually require more time before it is consumed – but that’s really the point. It is up to the winemaker to decide their personal preference, and of course, will also be influenced by the target market and how long the wine might be required to last. The warmer, faster fermentation will normally sacrifice shelf-life, whilst the longer, cooler fermentation will slow down and extend the evolution of the finished wine, thereby ensuring better ageing potential. If extended lees contact is added to the wine making process, following on from the end of the fermentation, then this can change the physiology of the wine completely – extending ‘shelf life’ even further, whilst also adding more character and complexity.

During the fermentation we sometimes see strange patterns of foam forming on the surface of the tanks. Clearly this has something to do with the yeast, and the way that it behaves, but to be honest I have researched this and cannot find any specific explanation. I will keep looking.

In the meantime my photo shows one of our tanks (on the right) and the planet Saturn (on the left). I just thought that they looked quite similar!

Vintage Report 2020

September 29th, 2020 | Uncategorized

To say that 2020 has been a difficult year would be something of an understatement. It has been very, very tough for the vast majority of businesses, albeit there have been a few that have certainly benefitted from lockdown. Online businesses have done very well, as have (for some obscure reason that I have yet to figure out), the toilet paper manufacturers!

Working with restaurant businesses around the world, Castro Martin suffered quite a significant fall-off in sales, and for a few months at least, most of our activity was focused around the vineyards as they continued to demand our attention, virus or no virus.

It was certainly a bit of a shock to the system when this years harvest finally arrived, as we switched both our bodies and our brains from a semi-dormant state straight into overdrive! Very fortunately, the harvest itself was largely uneventful, and went off very smoothly. Most importantly it would appear that the quality of our fruit in 2020 is exceptionally good and should produce an excellent wine. We shall see.

I leave you with a copy our Vintage Report 2020 , a bit of light reading just to give a flavour of our year here on the Atlantic Coast.

2020 wine making – seeding the tanks

September 18th, 2020 | Bodega

Since finishing the picking last weekend we have been very busy inside, racking grape musts and initiating fermentation. The first week or so is extremely busy with quite intense activity leaving little time to sit down and write posts for our pages!

It goes without saying that we always try to grow our grapes and vinify our wines in the most natural way possible, with the minimum intervention. Whilst the resulting wines cannot actually be certified as organic or biodynamic, they can actually be classified as SUSTAINABLE.

If we ever decided to make a natural wine then this would restrict us to the exclusive use of indigenous albariño yeasts that occur naturally on the skin of our grapes. However, the problem is that this natural yeast is generally not strong enough to sustain a complete fermentation. It may well start naturally, but the likelihood is that it would not finish, as this delicate yeast would mostly likely die off before our wine is fully fermented. For this reason we chose to seed with cultured yeasts, as is would simply be to risky to rely solely on these indigenous yeasts.

The seeding process itself (when done correctly) takes a lot of time, and involves a lot of human input. The yeast is first re-hydrated in warm water, at body temperature, which then has to be reduced very slowly, over time, by adding small amounts of grape must from the tanks. The idea is that the re-hydrated yeast (starting at about 38°C) will eventually be cooled to within a couple of degrees of the temperature of the tank. Depending on the wine cellar, and the technique used, the tank temperature could be anything from about 14°C – 18°. If this long, careful procedure is not followed, and the yeast added straight into the chilled must too quickly, then the shock of this sudden temperature change will simply kill the yeast, and the juice will not ferment. It can take around 3 hours to seed a single tank, and so we never usually seed more than 2 or 3 tanks a day.

Harvest 2020 (Final picking day!)

September 13th, 2020 | Bodega

OK, so you’ve already guessed it. As we move into our seventh and final day of picking the weather is hot and sunny…. again! Today is very much a ‘mopping up’ operation as we gather the final bunches from our Pazo vineyard. As I have mentioned in previous years we don’t necessarily pick vineyard by vineyard, as, in the case of El Pazo, it is picked sector by sector, on different days, according to the maturity of the fruit. Indeed, we actually gathered the first grapes from a plot in El Pazo some six days ago (on Tuesday).

Harvests are often about making calculations of kilos, movements and logistics etc.. For example, we already know the maximum and minimum loads of our presses, but then what happens if we have a few kilos left after the last press is filled? The secret of the final day is to wait until we have every last kilo gathered in, and then calculate how we are going to process them, splitting and sharing the loads between our two presses. The same rules apply to our tanks. For example, there is a minimum level of juice that we need in each tank in order to achieve optimum temperature control. We can calculate the litres of juice from each press (more or less), but we have to spread this evenly between tanks simply to ensure that we don’t have a few odd litres left over at the end of the day!

You may recall that in a previous post I forecasted a lunchtime finish, whereas our last grapes were actually unloaded at 8pm. I should have known better, we always overrun on the last day.

So tomorrow we can focus all our efforts to the grape must, racking and working on fermentation. In the end the forecast says that it might not rain tomorrow, but we have all our grapes safely inside so I don’t really care too much!!!

Harvest 2020

September 12th, 2020 | Bodega

Yesterday I mentioned that today could be our last day, but it appears that perhaps I was just being a bit over optimistic. When I sat down and did a few calculations late last night I now know that it would be pretty much impossible for our picking team to gather everything today (even though they have been working at hyper-speed). My revised guess is that we will probably finish at lunchtime on Sunday. At least this should mean that our people can enjoy a meal with their families, as is the tradition here in Galicia.

And yes, it is yet another hot, sunny day!

The other thing that I did not mention is that we have also more fruit than we planned for. Before the harvest we walk the vineyards in an attempt to assess the potential yield of the vines. Even with years of experience it is still only our best ‘guesstimate’ and naturally we have to allow for some margin of error. (Bear in mind that we also have to rely on the estimates of our grape suppliers too). It appears that we were just a little conservative, possibly because after such a warm, dry summer we anticipated a comparatively low yield. The effect of this is that we have to check that we have enough materials for the wine making (yeasts, nutrients etc.), and then we have to re-plan the tank movements, to ensure that the extra grape must is evenly distributed, and that we don’t end up with any half-filled tanks. It’s actually much more complicated than you might think!

By the way, my short video shows the ‘fangos’ at the bottom of the tank after we have removed the clean wine. As you can see it’s almost like a mud (from the dust and soil), but also contains a few odd grapes and skins from the pressing.

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