A difficult month

May 30th, 2023 | Vineyards

We are almost at the end of May, and what a month it has been (for weather)! OK, we have not suffered any of the extremes so frequently faced in other parts of the world these days, but from a fruit growing perspective it has not been ideal. Not a total disaster, but simply not ideal.

Our problem has been the erratic conditions, with some days of sun, interspersed with days of rain. Despite enjoying a comparatively dry, sunny spell in the middle of the month the temperatures were tempered somewhat by a cold and very persistent wind from the north. The only upshot of this dry spell was that the flowering did at least pass of relatively smoothly.

The weather today is only 15°C (about 60°F), which for this time of year is cold, and the grey sky is filled with low hanging cloud, almost in the form of a mist. It is very unseasonal to say the least.

The consequence of these conditions is the return of disease – mildew to be precise, which is a simple illustration of why it is (or would be), so difficult for us to produce completely organic wines in our region. Our climate makes it difficult, if not impossible. Over the last few days the local spacemen have been scrambling around on their tractors with their spraying equipment in tow, as the pressure to protect our vines in never ending. (I say spacemen simply as the protective suits and helmets frequently worn these days can resemble NASA spacesuits!)

Wine labelling – Nutritional information

May 19th, 2023 | Responsible Drinking

 

As from December 2023 we will be obliged to add nutritional information to our labels. Of course, with the amount of information already appearing on labels (including government health warnings etc.), there is a danger that the label might eventually cover most of the bottle! This leaves us with two options, either produce bigger bottles, or add a QR code to the label linking consumers directly to the information. (The first option of bigger bottles was very much tongue-in-cheek and we have used option two).

Suffice to say that in the very near future we will start to print labels with this new QR code included. (We do already include QR codes that links to the product page of the wine being consumed). The new QR will replace this, but this new link will still include information about the wine itself, so not all will be technical information.

In the meantime, we have already posted nutritional information on our website. On each product page (English and Spanish) there is a link under the downloads (descargas) section. The same link also appears under the general ‘downloads’ header on our homepage. All of these links are clearly marked ‘Nutritional Information’.

April attack!

April 26th, 2023 | Diseases

As if tempting fate I mentioned the possibility of disease in our vineyards in my very last post…. little did I know! Since the extended of sunny, warm weather over the Easter break, April has certainly lived up to its reputation – stop, start showers over the majority of days, interspersed with sporadic sunshine and reasonably mild temperatures.

At this time of year we would normally be giving our first treatments in the vineyards anyway, but this year it has been very tricky to say the least. No sooner have we administered a treatment, than the showers have started and washed off the ‘contact’ treatments that we now use. I use the term ‘contact’, because there are two types of treatments normally available:

‘Contact’ means exactly as it says, it is sprayed onto the vine and dries on the surface, it does not actually penetrate the plant, making it more widely acceptable for use in sustainable vineyards. The downside of contact treatments is that they are simply washed off by rain, especially if not given time to dry completely.

The second type of treatment is ‘systemic’, which works rather like an injection given to human beings, it actually penetrates the plant and gives protection to prevent disease from even appearing. This sounds almost to good to be true, but the downside of this is that over time the immunity of the plant can diminish as it eventually builds up a resistance to the treatment. Apart from this many systemic products are not considered eco-friendly, and certainly are no longer used by sustainable producers, such as Castro Martin.

The long and short of the story, is that, despite our careful vigilance, we have, regrettably suffered an attack of powdery mildew (one of the most common problems faced by vineyards). The only thing we can do now is to remove the diseased vegetation and continue to treat where we can, all the time hoping that our loses will not be too great.

Spring has sprung!

April 12th, 2023 | Festivo

After the outrageously wet weather of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Easter provided us with quite a contrast. Warm, sunny weather for the duration of the extended weekend. After a long, quiet winter, almost bereft of visitors, our coastal towns were bursting at the seams with people flocking from Madrid, Spain and many others from Portugal. Our local bars and restaurants were pretty much overwhelmed after months of relative inactivity.

On Easter Monday, just as our visitors were packing their bags, the clouds returned, as did the rain – ‘April Showers’ I think we call them in English (‘Abril aguas mil’ in Spanish).

The pruning is now behind us, which is just as well, as today’s photo shows the vigorous new growth in our vineyards. Of course, the combination of sun and showers is always a big stimulant, whilst on the other hand, alternate periods of warmth and humidity can also help to promote disease. At this time we always have to remain vigilant, as damage sustained now can sometimes be irretrievable.

British weather

March 27th, 2023 | Galicia

As I have explained many times to friends and visitors alike, Galician weather is actually quite similar to UK weather, with the difference being that it is perhaps 4° or 5°C warmer at most times of year. One of the reasons for this similarity are the Atlantic weather systems which often clip the northwest corner of Spain on their way to the UK.

The other day I captured an image from a BBC weather forecast in which they showed a rain system tracking from southwest to northeast across the North Atlantic. (A direction from which much of our weather develops, and one of the main reasons that we have the amount of rainfall that we do). If you take a look at today’s picture you will notice one small patch of rain, stationed, almost perfectly, over Galicia, whist the rest of Spain remains completely untouched.

Of course, being located in this cool, green corner of Spain is not always such a bad thing. During recent summers whilst much of Spain has been sweltering in record temperatures, Galicia has often come out of this largely unscathed. Having said that we have had experienced some extended dry spells which helps to explain why three out of lour last four vintages have attained an alcohol level of 13%.

Batonnage

March 16th, 2023 | Bodega

At Castro Martin you may have noticed the term ‘Sobre Lías’ on our labels, which translated means ‘on the lees’. The lees ageing of our wine forms an important part of our wine making process. The lees themselves are the exhausted or dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the tank once the alcoholic fermentation is finished. They are loaded with mannoproteins, which, when left in contact, can have a number of beneficial effects on our wines (assuming of course, that they are monitored regularly, mostly by tasting). Firstly, they release flavour and aroma compounds, as well as adding texture. They produce proteins that reduce tannins, which is helpful as tannin is not really required in white wines. Finally, the ‘reductive’ properties of the lees can also provide protection against oxidation, thus giving the final wine an extended shelf life.

So what is batonnage? This is really just a posh way of saying that we stir the lees from time to time, which helps them to stay suspended in the wine and increase the benefit of the lees contact. (It is a little like stirring your tea after you have added sugar – you don’t want the sugar to just sink and settle on the bottom of your cup). On the downside, lees left undisturbed can also start to produce some ‘off’ flavours and aromas, usually in the form of a stink of reduced sulphur (hydrogen sulphide). Batonnage can actually help to prevent these flavours and aromas from developing in the first place.

The decision of when, and how often to stir is a decision based on the evolution and development of the wine itself, combined with the experience and knowledge of the wine maker.

(Note: Photo is only to illustrate, we do not use barrels in our cellar)

Tasting the 2022’s

March 2nd, 2023 | Bodega

At this time of year (apart from the pruning) perhaps one of the most important jobs in the bodega is quite simply to taste the tanks. As I have mentioned many times before our 2022 wines are resting quietly on their lees, but even so it is vitally important to monitor their progress – like keeping an eye on sleeping baby. (You assume that no harm will come to them, but you still need to make sure, if only for peace of mind).

Of course, things can go wrong, for example if the lees are not clean, they can impart off flavours to the new wine. Then we are also looking out for ‘reduction’. Reduction occurs mainly during fermentation when the yeasts are short of nitrogen, or become stressed. Having said that not all reduction is bad, there are also some important wine aroma compounds that form a part of the otherwise volatile sulphur compounds.

OK, so I don’t really want to get too technical, but suffice to say that these are some of the potential problems that we have to look out for.

On the plus side, I still think that our 2022 wines are really good, and have a great future – but there is one slight caveat to that statement. We will have to wait for them to show their full potential. Naturally, they still have another two or three months on the lees, before we will even start to disturb them, but certainly, in the case of the 2022 vintage, the longer we can wait the better.

Now the frost…

February 9th, 2023 | Bottles and bottling

After our very wet period, now we have our dry, but very cold period! Since the last week of January we have hardly seen one cloud in the sky – it is really the polar opposite of the weather that we were experiencing before.

Of course, along with the clear skies come the frosty nights, and in the lower lying areas we have probably had at least 10 consecutive nights of frozen ground (more than one or two in a row is quite unusual). On some days this has been accompanied by a fresh breeze from the north, and although the thermometer might say 14/15°C (57/59°F), with the wind chill this is actually reduced to nearer 6°C (43°) during the day. Despite these cold conditions, I have no doubt that our team (still pruning out in our vineyards), are much happier in the bright sunshine than they were in the incessant, driving rain!

Inside the bodega, since the beginning of the year, we have bottled a couple of tanks, but otherwise we are still waiting for the young 2022 wines to finish their lees ageing.

Finally….

January 25th, 2023 | Bodega

After 2½ months of almost incessant rain, we finally have a break. The last few days have been cold with bright blue sky, and the forecast for the coming days is for more of the same. Although the rainfall has been persistent, we are probably quite lucky that we did not suffer too many extreme downpours that could have caused flooding. (In this respect, I am referring specifically to the Rias Baixas region, as other parts of Spain have not fared quite so well).

Today’s picture shows the Ria of Pontevedra (located about 10km south of our bodega), just as the cloud begins to break and bright sunlight bursts through…. a most welcome sight, especially for our heroic team still working hard on the pruning no matter what the conditions.

Inside the bodega itself there is not too much activity. There has been a very welcome trickle of export orders, especially as January can be a particularly lean month. The 2022 wines themselves are resting quietly on their lees, and our regular tastings still do not disappoint.

 

Happy (& wet) New Year!

January 11th, 2023 | Vineyards

Well, it seems that 2023 has started where 2022 left off – both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day were marked by really torrential rain. In some countries, at this time of year, there is a tradition of ‘walking off’ the heavy celebratory meals, but perhaps not so much this winter (or certainly not in Galicia)!

It’s true to say that after two dry winters, and a very hot, dry summer last year we really needed the water, and it seems that the ground in our vineyards is now, already, well and truly saturated. Like other parts of the world our local rivers and streams were drying up, whereas now they are almost full to overflowing as they struggle to cope with the rainfall.

Of course, as I always mention, these conditions leave us with difficult and very unpleasant conditions for pruning.

 

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