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Thursday, 3 November 2016

Harvests 2016 all done

Another year, and once again all the grapes are in. My last harvest was the Malvar on Monday 10th October.  And not a moment too soon! Because after a long, long, hot, endless summer with zero rainfall, it stated raining heavily and properly all over Spain on Wed 12th! Ha! So I’ll have to find something else to complain about, as viticultural tradition demands J

I did a total of 15 harvests this year, in 15 different plots, for a total of 15 different wines:

1.      Albillo (Charco)
2.      Albillo (Fx)
3.      Garnacha (Charco)
4.      Doré (Fx)
5.      Doré (Pp)
6.      Sauvignon Blanc (Qx)
7.      Tempranillo (TET-A)
8.      Garnacha (Castañar)
9.      Garnacha (Dehesa)
10.   Garnacha (McCarb)
11.   Chelva (Early)
12.   Villanueva
13.   Chelva (Late)
14.   Airén (Carabaña)
15.   Malvar (Villarejo)

That’s 2 red varieties (Garnacha and Tempranillo) and 7 white varieties (Albillo, Doré, Sauv, blanc, Chelva, Villanueva, Airén and Malvar).

I vinify each plot separately even if it’s the same variety, because it’s more interesting that way. It’s amazing how different the wines are, even if the plots are close together and the winemaking techniques are the same. For example, in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos) the Garnacha Castañar plot is only about 1 km away from the Garnacha Dehesa plot as the crow flies, but the grapes and wines are totally different.

The novelty this year is a variety called Villanueva. It’s not uncommon in the area but it’s usually just a few vines interspersed among another predominant white variety. But by chance a local grower, who has an entire vineyard planted to Villanueva, came by the winery one day to offer them to me. ‘Why not?’ I thought. It’s a rather tiny plot, and there was only 150 kg. So I crushed them and pressed them and let the must ferment in small tinaja – in tinaja because it was the only container small enough available at the time!

All the rest I’ve done before, and am following the line of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’! That’s to say that for all of the wines listed above, I followed (am following) the same techniques that have worked for me in the past, with regard to decisions on type of container (steel tank, wooden barrel, clay tinaja), maceration times if any, with or without stems, etc.

The only crazy experiment I’ve done this year is to follow a recipe I read in Pliny the Elder’s ‘Natural History, Book 14, Chapter 12. I followed the first recipe of the three he gives. So I guess I’ve made (am making) a beverage called ‘deuteria’ by the ancient Greeks and ‘lora’ by the ancient Romans. This is the stuff that was quaffed by slaves and labourers. The original glou-glou wine?

Following are some assorted photos, from over the summer:

 
View of the Albillo (Charco) vineyard, with the Alberche river in the background.
El Tiemblo, Sierra de Gredos

Bird's eye view of Albillo macerating

Bottling machine

My Garnacha vineyard using no chemicals, next to a naked agro-chemical wasteland vineyard!

Bottling up

At a wine fair

Sheep in the Garnacha vineyard, eating weeds and dropping caca!

Sheep entering

Living soil, for healthy vines

My pet nat exploding on me! Too much pressure!

My Chelva vineyard, surrounded by the houses of El Tiemblo village

In another Garnacha vineyard, steep, in El Tiemblo, Sierra de Gredos

Bottling up!



And to finish off, a note on the word “sapid”

I generally find it impossible to have decent in-depth discussion on FB or other social media sites. And a few weeks ago, I found myself feeling frustrated because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say! I think that FB and other sites are just not the right place for a proper discussion or debate: basically, they all tend to favour spur-of-the moment, shooting-from-the-hip type comments, right there and then, whenever you happen to come across an interesting post that you feel like commenting on. There’s just no time to think before typing! Apart from wine, I also like words, so I was doubly affected!

This had been annoying me for days, so I decided to do something about it. After searching on the internet and after doing a bit of ‘due diligence’, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a very useful word to use in written wine-tasting notes or while speaking live to an audience. The due diligence consisted in asking native-English-speakers, uncontaminated by knowledge of a foreign language, if they knew what ‘sapid’ meant. Not one did! English-speakers who know a Latin language would know ‘sapido’ (It, Sp, Pt) or ‘sapide’ (Fr) where it’s quite a common word for everyday use and just make the connection.

Firstly it’s not a very common word at all in English (see here, this is just one of many word-frequency sites) and so it’s not likely that the readers/audience would understand what it means. This may depend on the level of knowledge/culture of the audience though, so an audience of hardened winelovers may have come across it before. But still!

Secondly, once you discover the meaning of ‘sapid’, you also discover how useless it is, for it means “having flavour” “tasty”. Which covers just about every edible/drinkable substance in existence, except for water!

I suppose that a slight degree of usefulness might be attained if a bit of common sense is applied by the reader/listener, ie by assuming that the writer/speaker really means ‘very’ or ‘extra’ flavourful/tasty. But then why bother with ‘sapid’ at all? Why not just say ‘very/extra tasty/flavourful’ and make life easier for your readers/listeners, who are after all reading/listening to you with a view to learning something about wine! But then again, maybe they would enjoy learning a new word? Or are happy to be introduced to the secret and occult world of wine-tasting? Or would they hate wine forever on account of the arcane vocabulary used?

Well, whatever. Anyway, I feel a lot better, now that I’ve got that off my chest.  J

Monday, 26 September 2016

Albillo Harvest 2016, Sierra de Gredos

Well, that was quick! I can’t believe it’s over already! After only four days of intense work I now have about 2500 litres of Albillo fermenting away nicely.

Day 1: in vineyard, harvesting from 7:15 (crack of dawn!) till about 15:00. Six of us took in about 2000 kg. Lunch, then crushing. All done by about midnight.

Day 2: in another smaller vineyard, again at 7:15. This time the six of us took in another 1000 kg and we were done by 13:00. Lunch, and all crushed by midnight.

Day 3: pressing off the first harvest, after 2 days maceration

Day 4: pressing off the second harvest, after 2 days maceration

Scroll down for photos.

This year I decided not to do any experiments with the Albillo like I’ve been doing over the past few years. I’ve tried lots of options and variations, like different skin maceration times, fermenting in stainless steel, open top barrels, amphorae/tinajas, etc. So based on the feedback I get from people and on my own personal taste and preference, I’ve decided to make my Albillo like this:

-          - Crush and macerate for 2 days in stainless steel
-          - Press off, and put juice back into stainless steel
-         -  One racking only into a large tinaja, to remove the really gross lees
-         -  Bottle up in spring, after the cold of winter has passed
-         -  Age in bottle for at least 1 year

This was in fact the way I made my Albillo 2014 (from which I’m constantly receiving good feedback, AND it’s one of my personal favourites). So that’s that!

Climate/weather

Basically, this year in Gredos there was a very mild dry winter and then it rained a lot in May/June, and then a long hot dry summer. I presume that this affected the ripening of the grapes which was a bit odd; they ripened steadily and normally until about the middle of August when the sugar content was indicating a probable level of alcohol of 13%-13.5%, and then it just stuck there. I’m guessing that the vines shut down their sugar production due to the heat. So eventually I decided to harvest at 13.5% (on 27th Aug) as the grapes were otherwise perfectly ripe, ie golden skin, crunchy pips, stems starting to lignify, some leaves turning brown already, etc.

Well, there you have the meteorological info! I know some winelovers like that sort of data, but I personally find it kind of boring and not even all that relevant. I know that it’s important, but on the other hand, I also know that the interventions of the winemaker are much much MUCH more influential on the final wine. So it leaves me kind of nonplussed when I hear a comment like “yes, the 200X was a very wet/dry year” or some such. Or is this a cold-climate thing? Maybe in the Sierra de Gredos, with its dry continental climate, the yearly weather variations, like the one I just described above, it don’t really make that much difference?

More winemaking info

Sulphites. I haven’t added any sulphites (or any other substance, chemical, additive, nutrient, enzyme, etc) to the must. Why not?
1.              Sanitary reasons. Because there is no need to. I ensure that the grapes are perfectly healthy, ripe and clean; I select in the vineyard and reject unripe, rotten or otherwise undesirable grapes, and don’t take in any leaves, dirt, pebbles, etc (see this page for info on what I do and don't do in the vineyard)
2.              Terroir reasons. Because adding sulphites kills the yeasts and thus removes the complexity provided by all the different varieties of yeasts that are present at this time.
During the first few days, saccharomycescervisae is hardly present at all – the active yeasts are other species, including the ones feared so much by enologists and chemical winemaking engineers! (ie brettamonyces, candida, kloeckera and others). During these first few days, these yeasts provide all sorts of interesting flavours and aromas (including so-called “off-tastes”). But, as the alcohol level increases, these yeasts die off and good old saccharomyces begins to take over, because it’s very tolerant to alcohol. And at the end of the fermentation process it’s 100% dominant. This is what I believe is happening during fermentation. But I could be wrong of course!

Racking. I usually do only one racking to take the wine off the really gross lees, but I prefer to leave the fine lees in there. I believe that this a good thing because:

1.              They contribute to the taste and aroma of the wines
2.              They provide protection for the wines against spoilage over time, which is important as I don’t use chemical preservatives or stabilizers to do that

Filtering, clarifying and fining. I don’t! For the same reasons as above, ie for taste, for protection and for terroir expression. This often results in a cloudy wine which many people don’t like. Oh well, you can’t please all the people all the time, can you? And there’s no accounting for tastes! In any case I’ve found that if you leave the bottle standing vertically for a few days it clarifies itself nicely.
It’s interesting to note that all wines must have been cloudy (or clarified naturally by gravity) ever since winemaking began about 8000 years ago. It was only with the advent of bottling technology and the need to store and to distribute to a mass market, that wines started to get filtered, fined and clarified.
It’s not actually necessarily an intrinsically ‘good thing’ to clarify wine, in terms of quality, taste or terroir expression. It’s done due to the need for the wine to be stable and inert so that it can be transported and stored over long distances and over long periods of time.
Clarified wine is also of course ‘prettier’ to look at than a cloudy wine and so is easy to sell to the mass market. A bit like beautiful, perfectly round, shiny tomatoes (which sadly don’t taste of anything).

Photos and anecdotes


Albillo vineyard in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos). River Alberche in the background

Tree in the shade of which we store the cases of grapes 
Close-up of Albillo grapes
  
Close-up of me!

Top-down view of Albillo macerating on skins (destemmed)

Albillo juice flowing out of the press

Flamenco moment :)

Albillo juice in full fermentation

Slight overflow of Albillo fermentation foam

All nice and clean again

Rest and relaxation time under pergola structure in the patio of the bodega

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Parker Points and Natural Wine


The other day the Parker Points for the Sierra de Gredos region in Spain were published in the Wine Advocate. About 25 producers had sent in about 120 different wines to be rated, including myself; I sent in only one bottle of Garnacha 2014.

I was satisfied to see that my quality is remaining constant. My Garnacha 2014 was ranked in position 118 out of 118, with 80 Points!  And last year when I sent in three wines they were ranked in positions 150, 149 and 146 out of 150!  So no change there!

Wonderful! I think this is an excellent example of subjectivity in wine tasting. On the one hand my wines get the worst possible ratings from the Wine Advocate, yet on the other hand, they are sold and appreciated in many top restaurants and winestores all over the world. (Just look here for a list of outlets that carry my wines).

Well, I suppose I could use my horrible score for anti-marketing in the 'natural wine niche/ghetto' if I wanted to; I'm sure it would go down a treat, give rise to some chatter on social media, and some people would love it. But happily, and thankfully, I don't even need to bother doing that; I must be doing something right because my sales are doing very nicely these days! (touch wood!)

I think it's a terrible shame that so many producers, especially small ones, waste so much time and energy on chasing Parker Points. It's really a no-brainer for the vast majority of them. They would be much better off seeking their own markets and clients for their own unique and individual wines; instead of forcing their wines to conform to an international standard taste.

It's a no-brainer because there are literally thousands of producers who are all doing the same thing. The competition is brutal, and probably loss-making! Why not find your own niche? Why not be a big or medium sized fish in a small pond? Where you can actually know and speak to the outlet managers and wine-list curators at restaurants and even with some of the final customers? As opposed to being one minnow among thousands, swimming with the pikes and sharks? Where you are just one ‘account’ among many and the relationship is purely commercial. But, hey, I’m just saying! Each winery is obviously free to choose their own path - in terms of viticulture, winemaking and promotion/sales.

Apart from the above commercial considerations there is also the much more interesting ‘subjectivity’ aspect. It’s all part of the incredibly varied colourful and complex wine world which I’m so happy to be part of. My experience of the wine world over the last decade is that there isn’t just one monolithic wine world, but many different wine worlds (or niches or ghettos!) (or extending the previous metaphor, bodies of water). And each has its own cast of characters, rules of the game, criteria and points systems (though not necessarily numerical ones).

The big difference between Parker’s World and the other worlds is that Parkers’ World is hugely more enormous in all senses: there are thousands of wineries, thousands of intermediaries, thousands of outlets, and probably millions of wine consumers who pay close heed to what thousands of writers, journalists, bloggers, wine critics and sommeliers all have to say. The dominance is such that it’s not surprising that everyone forgets about the existence of the other tiny worlds. Maybe my world is tiny in relative terms, but it’s still big and complex enough to be self-sustaining and independent.

Let me clarify my thoughts here. I have nothing against the Wine Advocate or any of its similar publications with their points systems. I believe they have all done a great job over the last three decades or so, widening the wine base, and bringing many people into the wine universe who otherwise would not have bought wine at all.

They have done away with the snobbery and elitism, and they have simplified what was often an unnecessarily complex and arcane private world, which was intimidating and unwelcoming for new consumers.

But like in all good things there is also the other side of the coin which should be borne in mind. One of them is that people (producers, writers, distributors, outlet managers and the final consumers) all tend to think that Parker’s World is the only game in town, and that its rules and points and criteria are the only valid ones.

Example 1: Cloudiness. The rules in Parker’s World say that all wines must be transparent and not have anything floating in wine in the bottle; while the ‘rules’ of the Natural Wine World say that it doesn’t matter whether a wine is cloudy or not. Fair enough, rules are rules and if you want to play in Parker’s World you have to abide by them (otherwise you get 80 Points or less!).

But what a shame to restrict the enjoyment of looking at a glass of wine to a single dimension. Cloudiness can be beautiful to look at too; especially holding your glass up against the sunset.

Example 2: Sediments. Same as above. Though in this case some wineries apologetically explain on the back label that it’s OK to have sediments at the bottom of the bottle because it’s a ‘natural’ process. Ha!

Example 3: Filtering, clarifying and fining. Again the rules of Parker’s World say that all wines have to be clean and sterilized and stable. Why? Why take out all those ‘bits’ that add delicious flavours and complexity to the wine? And which also help to protect and conserve the wine.

There are several consequences of all the above restrictions:

Firstly there is the question of standardization/globalization/homogenization. The great majority of wines sold these days, are all very similar to each other in style, no matter what part of the world they come from or what grape variety they were made with. On the one hand this is great because millions of consumers can now buy good drinkable wine at a good price without fear. But on the other hand, (1) it’s terribly boring and (2) it’s a sad loss of regional diversity.

Secondly there is the question of the restriction or limitation of acceptability of all the characteristics of a wine. All the players in Parker’s World tend to be very intolerant of any characteristic that is out of their narrow range of acceptability.

The most mentioned characteristic in my experience is the volatile acidity content of a wine, ie the ‘vinegariness’. The same applies to other characteristics such as acidity and sweetness. The range of acceptable aromas and flavours is also limited; if a given wine does not conform to certain expected characteristics, then somehow it is deemed not as good as another one. So we have thousands of wineries all striving to attain 100 points, or approach this Platonic ideal of what the wine should conform to! Whatever happened to regional and personal diversity? Uniqueness? Terroir? All gone in the name of standardization and massification.

Oh well! Basically I find these restrictions sad and boring. I mean, what’s wrong with drinking a wine that’s a bit more acidic/sweeter/alcoholic/weaker than usual every so often? Is it not interesting and pleasant? Or is it better to stick to a safe, clean, predictable wine every time? But there’s no accounting for taste. As I said above, I’m happy and honoured to be a part of the tiny natural wine world, providing different and interesting and complex wines to a growing number of winelovers who enjoy them for what they are, without worrying about how many points they scored.











Saturday, 13 February 2016

Back Label Information

Back in October 2014, there was a flurry of comments on my FB page about what I had written on my back labels. I replied to all those comments here. Well, it's happened again, though this time it's not a flurry, just one person who's taken umbrage, but nevertheless, this has caused me to think about this matter again, and to write this post.

First, here's the back label in question:


Next, to get things in context, I find it helpful to remember the following:

1. It's only wine! In the great scheme of things which are important and essential to me and to many other people, wine and labels are pretty far down on the list! I'm thinking of things like the Syrian, Palestinian, Kurdish tragedies, the bankers/economists/politicians who are destroying our society and empoverishing millions, the dangers of nuclear power, deforestation, child slavery, the whales, the ozone layer, the Sea of Azov, etc, etc, etc...

2. Even in the trivial world of wine, labels are fairly low down on my list of important things: before labels comes the quality of the wine itself, the quality of the grapes, the environmental impact of growing my grapes and making my wines, etc.

So, having established that, I can now explain my position and thoughts on what I write on my back labels.

My first and main motive for scupulously listing the ingedients and processing (and also what I don't add to the wine, and the processing that I don't subject the wine to) is to inform the consumer, the potential buyer, of what's in my wine and how it was made, so they have as much information as possible available to them to decide if they want to buy it or not.

All the feedback I have recieved so far from consumers has been positive, and they have all been very pleased indeed to have had that information.

The spirit (though not always the letter) of all legislation covering foodstuffs is in fact the 'protection of the consumer'.

As you may or may not know, the wine industry is exempt from the normal labelling requirements, for some reason or other. And I would be very interested to know how this exemption came about, as I have been unable to find out for myself. On the other hand, the legal requirements on what is obligatory and what is forbidden to write on wine labels is extraordinarily detailed and complex. There is obviously something very fishy going on here, and consumers' interests are not being protected. It seems to me that it's the wine industry's interests that are being protected.

The labelling legislation is in fact the root of the problem, and that's my second reason for writing so much information on my back labels, ie to draw attention to the problem, with a view to generating some debate and hopefully a solution.

In keeping with my back label philosophy, I will also explain why I am NOT writing all that information!

I am NOT providing abandant information on my back labels as a publicity stunt or as clever marketing, in order to sell more wine. Thankfully, I am a very small producer (around 12,000 bottles per year) and (again thankfully) I don't have any problems selling my wines. So I don't need to drum up sales. You can believe that or not, as there's no way I can actually prove it. (Philosophically or logically it's actually impossible to prove ANY negative statement!)

I am NOT doing it to denigrate or show up other honest hard-working grape-growers and winemakers. I say this because several fellow grapegrowers, winemakers and other agents in the wine world have taken it personally, and view my back label information as an attack on them or on their agricultural and/or winery practices. Well, I'm sorry they see it that way, but like I said, that's not my intention at all.

Unfortunately, there's little I can do about people taking offense where none is intended, short of not writing all that information I want to convey. 

The little I can do is to try to write clearly and unambiguously so as not to send out the wrong message or unintentionally offend anyone, especally when dealing with a hot topic such as this one. I even keep my sense of humour and irreverent cynicism under control, even though I like to be irreverently humourous!

I think it's ridiculous to suggest that I am out to show anyone up or point an accusing finger at them. I've received comments along the lines of "if you write that, you imply that...."  Well, maybe yes, or maybe no, but how can anyone ever know, unless I, the writer, affirm or deny it. And even then, I could be lying!!!  The same case can be made for any written material at all.

For example, here's a typical phrase often written on back labels "....with carefully selected grapes..."   What? How dare they imply that I don't select my grapes carefully! See what I mean?  

It's a no-brainer to read words on a label and then say that those words 'imply' something other than just what they say.

If I say that "I don't add oak chips", it means that I don't add oak chips. It doesn't imply that I'm accusing other winemakers of adding oak chips. There can be no fruitful or useful outcome to an argument based on what my words supposedly 'imply'.

Another criticism I've recieved (again from people in the trade, not consumers) is that I'm trying to occupy the moral high ground, being holier-than-thou, being a hipster-cool ultra-fashion eco-warrior, etc. Again nothing could be further from my mind.

I do what I do (ie, organic agriculture, no chemicals, no unnecessary substances or processing) because I believe that it's better to make wine that way. That way I don't pollute the environment and I don't put consumers health at risk. I have decided that that's the way I want to work, but I have nothing to say about how other people have decided to work. Especially not on my back labels. This is a totally personal decision which of course I believe is "right". It's my tiny contribution to making the world a better place.

In a private conversation, or at a public event where I've been invited to speak, I will certainly express my opinions about polluting the environment and adding chemicals and substances to wine and other foodstuffs, and people who know me or have heard or read me, know what I think about that.

Now, does that imply that other grapegrowers and winemakers do pollute the environment and put their consumers' health at risk? No it doesn't. (See above)  Common sense would suggest that some of them do, though.

I like to think that I'm a pragmatic sort of person, and I much prefer to actually do something or take action, rather than waste my time blowing hot air and complaining. That's why I actually practice organic no-chemical agriculture and actually make no-additive wines. I believe it's a complete waste of my time to argue or try to convince others to be like me! Therefore I don't. I obviously believe that I'm in the right, but I also believe that no good can come out of me trying to make others "right" too.

Perhaps if all wineries were used a similar back label to mine (either legally or voluntarily) and described what they do and don't do to their wine, then their consumers could also decide, with all the facts at hand, whether to buy their product or not. I don't understand why they don't. Surely they're not doing anything illegal? Or are they doing something that they don't want the public to know about? I don't know, and "Frankly, my dears,..."!

Cheers! Here's to what's inside the bottle, not outside :)











Thursday, 4 February 2016

Sheep in the Garnacha Vineyard

Well, for this post I have some interesting anecdotes about sheep in my Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos).
A flock of sheep entering the vineyard
But first...

This is the same vineyard that I wrote about in my previous post (here), when I discovered that ‘someone’ had pruned my ‘Roman’ vines which I had trained up the olive trees, without asking me first. So the other day I had a meeting with the owners of the vineyard and asked them if it was them who had dunnit – and indeed it was! I’m glad that I didn’t speak to them immediately on discovering the unauthorized pruning, because I was upset and angry and would probably have said things that I would have regretted later! But with the passage of time I had calmed down, and now of course it doesn’t seem so important. They were quite amazed when I explained the Roman thing to them, but they were willing to cooperate. Now I just have to wait another year for the vines to grow and try again.
Anyway, I was in this vineyard again the other day, doing more of the same – raking up last year’s dead grass into piles, pruning and hoeing up around the pruned vines. I alternated these three activities so that the same muscles wouldn’t get sore! The method seems to work J
And an ‘interesting thought’ came to me while I was raking up the dead leaves. At first, I had started raking up dead leaves and grass and tidying ‘just for fun’ and to do a bit of gardening and to make the vineyard look beautiful (and alternating tasks so my back muscles wouldn’t suffer so much). But now I’ve discovered a valid agricultural reason for doing this! By raking up the last year’s dead leaves, it makes it easier for the new grass and plants to come up, as there is no physical obstacle stopping their growth, more sunlight hits the earth and little leaves making germination and photosynthesis more efficient, and also the action of the rake on the ground probably helps stir things up and speed them along! I was actually a bit worried that maybe the grass, and plants and flowers would grow too much, to the detriment of the vines, perhaps. But the perfect solution presented itself spontaneously. Sometimes the universe works in your favour, and “they’re not really all out to get you”!
The perfect solution, of course, consisted of a flock of sheep! As I was working, a man called out to me from over the wall of the vineyard. He was a shepherd and he wanted to ask if he could let his sheep graze in my vineyard. I agreed immediately and off he went to get his sheep, which were grazing in a neighbouring vineyard just down the road.
Sheep grazing in the vineyard


Sheep and lambs


Panoramic view

The deal is that I get free manure and short grass and the shepherd gets free grass for his sheep.

Close-up of my free manure

And also, according to my friend and fellow grapegrower Mario Siragusa (who grows grapes in Barolo country near Turin), the sheep also impart positive electro-magnetic energy to the vines from their wool. Interesting theory - I will have to look into it when I have some free time.
This deal only works until about March, when the vines start to sprout. Otherwise the sheep would eat the young leaves.

Sheep leaving the vineyard

Luis the shepherd says that he only drinks wine from the vineyards where his sheep have been grazing! Because his sheep don’t like the grass from chemically farmed vineyards and because the wine tastes crap! Natural wine drinkers are everywhere these days J.
Other vineyard news
There is still a lot of pruning to be done, some of which I will do myself and some of which I will outsource to neighbours. Then there are other assorted tasks to be done too: removing canes, hoeing up around the vines, fixing fences, and general tidying up. I won’t bore you all too much with the details! Yet!
Bodega news
There are lots of tasks I have to be getting on with in the bodega too. Most urgent is the bottling up. I got off to a good start this year but last week I ran out of corks AND bottles! Duh! So now I have to wait for delivery, which takes about 7-10 days. Which is OK really, as I can now concentrate on the vineyards. I also have to fill two barrels with white wine. It took me about a year, but at last I managed to get my hands on two second-hand white wine barrels. They are incredibly difficult to find, for some reason. More about this later. I also have to thoroughly scrub and clean and disinfect two amphorae, which contained wine and which I have already bottled up. Then I have to press off a tank of Garnacha which is still on the skins! And a tinaja of SB and one of Doré. And lastly I have to tidy up the patio and finish building my pergola. Oh, where is all the free labour?
Other news
In about three weeks I’m going to a natural wine fair in Piacenza, Italy: Sorgente del Vino LIVE 2016. It will be my first time at a wine fair in Italy, so am especially looking forward to it. Attenzione importatori italiani J
And in about one month I’ll be going to another natural wine fair in Barcelona: Vins Nus (which means Naked Wines in Catalan). This is one of two natural wine fairs organized in Spain, which is pretty underwhelming really, considering the numbers for France and Italy.
Enough for now. “Salud y buen vino”. (that means ‘Health and good wine’, in Spanish)



Monday, 18 January 2016

In the Vineyard

January is already drawing to a close, and I'm focusing on three different aspects of my mini-wine-business: in the vineyards, pruning, removing the canes, hoeing up around the vines, and other miscellaneous activites like cutting grass, fixings drainage channels, and fences, and generally tidying up; in the bodega, bottling up older vintages from barrels, and filling said barrels with new vintages; and on the home front, writing a HACCP (pronounced "HAZOP"), ie a food safety management plan! Amongst other things. But enough of that! Here's my latest news from the mountains:

In the Vineyard

The other day I was in my other Garnacha vineyard in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos), having completely finished pruning the first (rock rose infested) Granacha vineyard that I wrote about in my previous post. Actually, I still have to finish raking up pine needles and checking and fixing the perimiter fence, but those tasks I have relegated to a lower priority, to be done 'some other time'!

So I spent the whole day here in this vineyard, but in a terribly inefficient manner - I only did 5 rows of about 10 vines. But I did them absolutely beautifully! More like gardening, rather than agricultural labour! I did it this way for a few reasons:
1. The vineyard now looks really beautiful as seen from the gate, so that keeps the owner and neighbours off my back - no more comments on how bad the vineyard look, etc, etc!  I'm used to it by now and I pay no attention, but it's still annoying!
2. A whole day's exclusive pruning is sore on the back muscles, so it's better to do a whole range of different activities that use different muscles
3. It was great fun and immensely satisfying to make such a beautiful 'garden' in the vineyard!

Here's some photos:

Natural State
The photo above (Natural State) shows the vineyard in, errrm, its natural state at this time of year; except for the near foreground, the vines are unpruned and there's lots of dead grass from last year between the rows; and there's new grass growing already, which is quite strange, but not surprising given climate change and generally increasing temperatures. I've even heard news of grapevines budding already - but not in Gredos.


 First Rows
The photo above is of the first few rows of the vineyard as seen from the road. After pruning the vines, I then cut the long grass with a sickle, and then hoed up around around them. I think this is a good idea, as the vines will be able to benefit from 100% of the rain that falls on them, with no competition from the grass and plants. They don't actually need all that water to survive, as their roots are very deep and can find water that the short-rooted plant cannot; and they are hardy drought-resistant varieties anyway. But even so, a little extra competitive advantage won't do them any harm, what?

Then I even raked up all the dead grass between the rows! I don't think there's any good agricultural reason for doing that, but what the hell? I felt like doing it, and the result look quite nice, no? It will be interesting to see if there are any consequences. For example, all the new grass might grow better now that there are no dead leaves and grass in their way. Maybe this spring these first few rows will be overwhelmed by new grass? Has my intervention upset the balance? 

Close-up
Above is a close-up of a pruned vine and its immediate surroundings.


Worm
Above is a lovely worm, evidence of a living healthy and balanced soil. Worms aerate the soil via the tunnels they make, thus helping to protect it from erosion; and they also improve its quality by eating, digesting and exceting it! Go figure!

Healthy balanced soil is very important, because vines can extract from it all the nutrients they need, neither too much not too little, but the perfect amount of each nutrient and micro-nutrient. Industrial-chemically farmed vines produce unbalanced faulty grapes because the soil they live in is biologically dead - it's just a substance that holds the vines upright, and which has an excessive over-abundance of some nutrients and a complete lack of others. There's no way possible to make a complex, interesting, terroir-expressing wine with grapes from that quality of soil. (Enough ranting already - Ed.)

A piece of bad news and really annoying too, is that 'someone' (I'm guessing the owner) took it upon themselves to prune the vines that I had deliberately allowed to climb up the various trees growning in the vineyard. This was so I could make a tiny experimental batch of 'Roman' wine. I haven't spoken to the owner about it yet - I'm letting time pass so I won't be so upset and angry when I do bring the subject up.

The Romans had three systems of grapegrowing: trellised and bush vines which we inherited from them, and also a third method which consisted of letting the vines grow up trees, which we have lost today. Pliny and Columella write about it at length here and here, respectively.

I hope to finish pruning this vineyard soon and make a start on my third, newly acquired, Chelva vineyard here in El Tiemblo.

That just leaves the Carabaña (Airén/Tempranillo) and Villarejo (Malvar) vineyards, but they have interesting issues/complications, ... which is another story!

I've also done some work in the bodega and at my computer, but I'll leave that for another post and another day.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Attack of the Rock Roses (Part 2)

(continuation of Part 1 of the Attack of the Rock Roses)

So I did some physical exercises for a few days, in preparation for my counter-attack against the rock roses; a few press-ups and some abominable crunches in the morning, and some hand, finger, ankle exercises whenever I remembered during the day.

I had intended to start at the crack of dawn, but no plan ever survives contact with real life and my morning ended up full of distractions and complications. It was only after lunch that I was able to get out to the vineyard.

The was no way I was going to tackle the main 'briar patch' on the first day! It was far too daunting. I started with an easy part, working my way down the nearside boundary, where there weren't so many rock roses to uproot, only two or three every row. The going was good, and I even managed to work my way along the bottom boundary for a few meters. But the days are short at this time of year so it soon got dark and I had to stop.

The densely populated main 'briar patch'


Next day I was back, this time bright and early in the morning. But I still didn't feel like starting on the 'briar patch' so I just continued what I was doing - working my way along the bottom boundary, uprooting the sparcely spaced rock roses. Crouch down, grab the stalk near the ground, pull out, put in a pile; repeat all day long!

The sparsely populated bottom boudary


I finished the bottom boundary and started working my way up the far boundary towards the main rock rose patch. When I got to the edge, I stopped, and I went to to the top of the far boundary and started working my way down until I reached the other edge of the main patch. Then it was time for lunch. Perfect timing. I would do the final assault after lunch!


The southern edge of the briar patch

So after lunch (short) I dove straight in to work. I was bearing up well, physically, nothing was too sore. Yet! It was tremendously boring work, as it took me ages to clear each square meter. I seemed to be constantly in the same place and not making any progress at all. There were hundreds of little rock roses in each square meter, and medium sized ones, and large ones too. The tiny little ones were the easiest to pull out, obviously, but they were also the most boring. They were infinite!

so many rock roses

Now everything was starting to get sore, just like I had anticipated: quadriceps, back and fingers mostly. I would alternate squatting down on my haunches (that way my back wouldn't hurt) and when my quads complained I would stand up straight and bend over to grasp and pull (that way my quads wouldn't hurt). In the end though both back and quads hurt like hell! There was nothing I could do about the fingers though, I just had to keep grasping and pulling.

It was now a race against time. I really wanted to finish the uprooting before sunset, otherwise I could have to come back another day to mop up. Not only are the days short in January, but the vineyard is in a valley surrounded by high mountains, so the sun actually 'sets' earlier than usual.

In the end, I managed to uproot all the rock roses before dark.

neat piles of uprooted rock roses


But I had to go back another day after all - to remove all those piles of uprooted rock roses that I had neatly piled up.

more neat piles 

So on the third day, with great satisfaction I threw all the piles of rock roses over the vineyard boundary into the neighbouring pine forest where they would decompose.

But another unexpected task came up which took me the rest of the day to deal with: there was quite an extensive area of the vineyard that was covered with pine needles, fallen from some neighbouring pine trees. I don't think that an excess of pine needles can be good for a vineyard's soil. Nothing much can grow in a pine forest becuse the pine needles are very acidic and don't allow other plants to thrive.

Piles of pine needles, and pine trees at the vineyard boundaries

I spent the rest of the day raking up pine needles and returning them to the forest. But again darkness fell and I had to stop before I could finish properly. I don't know when I'll be able to finish that task.

That was an extra, unscheduled and unexpected three days spent in this vineyard. Other tasks now beckon. At the top of my list of priorities, I have to bottle up ten barrels of red wine. This has to be done soon, because 1) the wine has been in the barrels long enough, and if it stays too long it will taste too much of oak, 2) the wine has to age a while in bottles before I can sell it, and 3) I have to free up the barrels so I can put new wine into them. Next on the list is the pruning - and I have five vineyards now to manage: Airén/Tempranillo in Carabaña, Malvar in Villarejo, Garnacha I and Garnacha II in El Tiemblo, and now Chelva in El Tiemblo too. So the sooner I start, the sooner I will finish, hopefully by March/April. Further down my list of priorities, are a whole load of other tasks and activities, some more fun than others, which I'll deal with too, when the time comes.

But I'm not happy about those pine needles. I wonder if they've even been raked up and removed before. The poor vines affected (around 50-60) must have been suffering for years if not decades. I really ought to give them some lovely manure this winter. We shall see. But other urgent tasks beckon too. Stay tuned.


 
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