21st February 2019
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Closure, Plus some Breaking News!
Apologies – for some reason WordPress won’t allow me to load the final photo of this blog! Boo! So, when I send the link out on social media I’ll include the photo there, for reference re this, the final part!
Well, I was correct in saying that Part 16 was the penultimate entry in this blog, but I didn’t realise how long it would take me to write this, the final part of, A Season in the Life of a Vine! The small matter of my heart attack rather got in the way!
As you can see, from the photo above (ahh, the last photo – sad isn’t it?!), the vine has been pruned, ready for the 2019 vintage. If you look back on this blog, to the first part, you’ll see the vine in nearly the same state – the difference is that there is a drop of sap on the old photo. This one doesn’t have that drop – yet, but it will soon have it, as the vine once again starts its growing cycle!
You can also see that the vine has been pruned in another way too. Again, comparing it now to photos on previous parts of the blog, you’ll see that some of the dead wood, that didn’t produce anything last year, has been sawn (rather than pruned) off. This is likely to allow the vine to produce more grapes for the 2019 vintage, than the the 2018 vintage.
So it’s closure for the blog – except that today, following a meeting with Pepe Mendoza, yes THE Pepe Mendoza, of Bodegas Enrique Mendoza as well as his new enterprise, Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola, confirmed for me that Giró, is in fact the same as Garnacha (see below for discussion on this).
And finally (for the blog, but not for ongoing information about Pepe’s new venture, a grape’s throw or two away from ‘our’ vine – as there’ll be more on this in the Costa News and on social media), I’d like to thank readers for their interest in ‘A Season in the Life of a Vine’! I’ve enjoyed writing it and very much appreciated the comments I received! Muchismas Gracias, and I hope that our vine contributes to a good wine year, 2019!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part 16
My guess is that this will be the penultimate part of this series of blogs. As you can see it’s almost two months since the last entry, and in case you are thinking that I just became lazy, or, worse still, bored with the blog – well, there’s not been a lot happening in the vineyard. Though there is still action in the plants.
The sap that rose, all those months ago when I started the blog, which was the sign that another season, another vintage was on the way, is now receding, back from whence it came, in fact to the roots, almost completely at the bottom of the vine. We can’t see it, but we can be sure it’s happening.
Soon the vines will be completely dormant, resting, metaphorically recharging their batteries, ready for Spring and the 2019 vintage!
In the vineyards there has been some tidying and some minimal ploughing too. The green weeds that grow naturally between the vines were allowed their short lives before being ploughed into the soild where they will rot down, providing a little natural fertilizer, as well as some nitrogen.
The leaves which are still clinging on manfully will eventually drop, or be cut off with their branches as the pruning starts – and it’s this notion, along with a chance meeting with an elderly chap on his daily constitutional through the vines, that inspired me to write this, next to last entry.
There should be a photo here but for some reason I’m told it’s too big for the site, though it’s the same size as all the photos I’ve used here, taken with the same mobile phone camera! I¡ll try and sneak it in on another day! So, for the moment the description below will have to do – apologies!
As you can see, our vine has changed it’s colour from the vibrant green it was, to the quite autumnal, fading green, amber yellow, red, light and dark brown colours that are evident now. There are some vines within this specific vineyard that are still green, though not so full of life as they were. This is because they are Moscatel, the white wine variety, and not Giró like our vine, and the rest of the plot. Errors were made when planting all those years ago.
When I took the photo above, the elderly chap asked if I was looking to taste a grape or two! I assured him that I wasn’t, as, well first of all, they’d all been harvested, and secondly, they aren’t mine! He shrugged his shoulders in an avuncular way and we chatted on.
I asked him when he thought the winter pruning would take place and was reassured that traditionally in these parts, as I knew, this would start to happen the day after the first frosts. This, as you may well imagine, will be when I write the final part of this blog, and is very likely to be in January.
Thanks again for reading, and as always, please feel free to e-mail any comments or questions you may have!
A Season in the Life of a vine – Part Fifteen
Subtitle – Oh, to be in Jalon, now the harvest’s gone! (With apologies to Robert Browning!)
Well, I started Part Fourteen with some Fake News – so I thought I’d risk it again! I won’t make a habit of it, though – or you-ll start doubting the accuracy of this blog, largely like I now doubt the accuracy of any news feed! Sad, isn’t it!
The above, as you’ve guessed, is not a photo of Jalon/Lliber vineyards – in fact it’s Rioja. However, the following photos are, firstly of ‘our’ vine, the subject of this blog, and then another from a nearby vineyard –
Botanists will be able to tell me why, but, here in the south east of Spain (Rioja is way to the north, and east, of course) we don’t get to enjoy the stunning beauty of autumn colours in the vineyards.
It’s as if dealing with the searing heat of summer here, up until the harvest, is just too much for the poor leaves, which, it seems just give up the ghost, when their vines have given up their grapes, and simply whither and die.
Next for our vine will be the dropping of the leaves, which, like the green layer of dazzling, green weeds between the rows of vines stimulated into growth by the recent rains, will be ploughed into the soil to act as a natural fertilizer and to add a little nitrogen to the earth.
In the meantime, the sap, as seen on the first photo in this blog (please see well below), will slowly start its descent to the foot of the vine, where it will sleep until awakened in Spring 2019!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Fourteen
And here it is – a bottle of the wine to which our Giró vine in the Llíber/Jalón vineyards contributed! Yayy!
Err, well, ok – I admit it, as Fake News seems to be a buzz-phrase these days, I thought I’d get in on the act! The sharp eyed amongst you will see that it says 2017 on the label, so it’s obviously from last year’s vintage, for a start.
Also knowledgeable readers (that’s you, for both, right?) will know that there will, as yet, be no red wine from this area’s 2018 vintage as the grapes that have been harvested so far will probably still be fermenting, and even if fermentation has finished for some batches, the resulting wine will certainly not yet be released.
Plus, those who know the Jalón Cooperativa will know that there is absolutely no chance of being able to identify a single bottle, amongst so many thousands, that holds some of the fermented juice that came from our vine!
And speaking of the co-op:
The above is a photo of inside the Cooperativa de Jalón – where the 225 litre barrels and far larger foudres are doing their part making the finer wines offered by the co-op. There’s a wide selection of wines, with several available for tasting, and olive oils plus other local products. It’s worth a visit, for sure!
Currently, between downpours, there is a race against time here – those who believed their grapes were ripe enough for the harvest and therefore picked, days, even a couple of weeks ago (see below) will be pleased that their resulting wines will not suffer any dilution from rainwater – there was none at the time!
However, those who waited, either hoping for an extra sugar content, or those whose grapes simply were not ripe enough, are now worried that their grapes will be collected wet, or, far worse, damaged, if the storms bring with them hailstones as well! Who’d be a grape grower?!
And it was certainly the case that some of the vineyard’s vines’ grapes were not fully ripe when I went nosing about the other day:
In the pip above you can see that it has browned nicely – on this side at least.
However, its underside, seen above, shows a little greenness still, indicating that the grapes on this vine were not yet fully and evenly ripe. So, a delay was necessary before they were harvested – I do so hope that they weren’t/won’t be caught out by the weather!
As I said, who’d be a grape grower?!
Thanks for reading!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Thirteen
At last! Today I chatted briefly with a vineyard worker, who knows very well ‘our vineyard’ and I can now confirm that ‘our vine’ is, as thought, the Giró variety. Plus, that’s not all – my educated guess earlier on in this blog, that the vine was about 30 yrs of age, is in fact correct.
So, nine years before I came to live in Spain, the vineyard I have visited so often since March this year, when I first started the blog, was planted and, following the first couple of years it spent establishing itself, our vine, the subject of the blog, has been furnishing its owner with grapes!
I can also confirm that the grapes did make their way to the local Cooperativa, and that, not long now, they will be contributing to the 2018 vintage!
I’ll be including some photos of the inside of Jalón Cooperativa soon, and I intend to also continue the blog, right up to the end of the ‘Season’ in question!
Thanks for reading!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Twelve
Subtitle: Here today, gone tomorrow!
Well, as you can see from Part 12 below I may have been the first to Break the News that the harvest in Jalón/Llíber Valley was starting – and it continues as I write! And Guess what:
So, there you have it, readers – the grapes from our wine have been harvested!
As it’s not really practical to camp out in the vineyards(!) I missed the harvesting! What a shame!
However, if you read the post below, Part Eleven, you’ll note that I said that it was curious that the black grapes (Giró? We still don’t know, but I’m on it! I’m hoping to see a vineyard worker, sometime – though perhaps not until pruning down to the trunk for the winter sleep!!) in the vineyard, in fact that’s almost all of them, seemed to be more or less ready for picking; whereas the odd green grape vines (probably Moscatel!) planted here, perhaps by mistake 30+ years ago, were not yet ripe, which is unusual, as it’s normally white wine varieties that ripen first.
Well it seems my comments were correct, as the Moscatel hasn’t yet been harvested.
Although lots of other Moscatel grapes are already in the cooperativa, and continue to arrive:
More soon – including some photos of the cooperativa, and if we are very lucky, a bottle of wine to which our grape contributed!
Thanks for reading!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Eleven
It’s all excitement here in Jalón Valley, well if it’s not yet, it soon will be: BREAKING WINE NEWS – The 2018 Harvest is underway!
I’d actually just been visiting ‘our’ vine – you’ll see evidence in a moment – when I came across this lonely, single tractor with, as you can see, a full burden of green grapes, which I’m sure will be Moscatel. Note also, that they are contained in what I guess to be 20kg capazos, containers, the like of which are used for a multitude of jobs here in Spain.
This is a good sign and could mean that these grapes are destined to make better quality wine than just the run of the mill – why, well because the weight of the grapes above should not be sufficient to crush the ones below, thereby starting an early, uncontrolled fermentation. Grapes collected and dumped into lined tractors until they are full will certainly suffer this fate and will likely be used just for table wine quality.
The juice in the bottom of the tractor, crushed out of the bottom layer of grapes by the pressure of the weight of those above will start to ferment of its own accord. The natural yeast present on the skins of the grape will delight in consuming the sugar withing the juice, the more so with the high temperatures that we have here – and hey, that’s fermentation, where the chemical process that transpires from this action turns the sugar into alcohol!
But what of the grapes on our vine, the black, Giró variety. pictured above? Well, firstly can you see the evidence of my visit today? A touch naughty I know, but I had to taste one grape, didn’t I? And for a very good reason too.
You can see where I pinched it from (as well as one of the grapes below which has been damaged), but this was for scientific reasons! I wanted to test the sweetness of the grapes and to inspect the pips within – just has thousands of winemakers in the Northern Hemisphere are doing right now or will be about to do.
Yes there are little machines that reveal the sugar content of the juice when a grape is squeezed, a Refractometer, but it´s used by experienced winemakers only to confirm what their taste has already told them, when they have selected a grape from the same bunch and bitten into it. The Refractometer is a useful field assistant, but that’s all!
He’ll also look at the grape seeds, the pips inside the grape. If green and very bitter, it won’t be time to harvest; if browning, less bitter it won’t be long now; and if brown, not bitter and the juice is as sweet as you like, then get those secateurs out!
Curiously, in the row where our vine is located there are two Moscatel vines, amidst all the Giró. So, I thought I’d have a taste of one of those grapes too. There was a surprising difference – the Moscatel juice was as aromatic as we expect from this variety, the juice sweet, but not very very sweet, and its pips were green and quite bitter.
However our Giró, was, it seemed to me, the correct sweetness and its pips were largely brown, and not bitter. I’d therefore draw the conclusion, inexperienced though I am, that the black grapes were nearer to harvest time than the white! Curious, as I said!
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Ten
So, who agreed with me that there was perhaps a slight change in the colour of the grapes on our vine, indicating the onset of veraison?
No matter, of course, but we were right – it’s official, our vine is certainly a black grape!
However, although I believe it is Giró (see Part Eight below), I’ve yet to have this confirmed – and looking out of the window right now, it’s not likely I’ll be seeing the grower today – it’s pouring!
Now, whilst the rain is of course good – we need it here in parched Alicante province, but it brings with it some problems for grape growers and wine makers. The growing is done now, it’s only the sunshine that the vine needs in order to fully ripen the grapes (and change their colour to the final purple/black that we’ll see when they are harvested).
The spring saw more rain that is usual, so the vines wouldn’t have been in any danger if we hadn’t had the recent sustained rain. At this stage, the rain isn’t a benefit – particularly if it arrives via violent storms! And it has!
The main problem with such heavy rain (the more so it it includes hailstones) is the likelihood of damage to the grapes. I’ve just read a sad lament from a grower in La Rioja who has suffered a 50% loss in his Garnacha grapes for the same reason – that’s a whole year’s work don’t forget!
The next problem with heavy rain is that, if harvested now, there would be too much water content in the fermenting wine, meaning diluted, insipid wine. Harvesting of the black grapes wouldn’t normally be starting now, so, with a change in weather and some drying wind, this shouldn’t be a problem for our vine’s vineyard.
However, it’s normally around this time that the green grapes, mostly Moscatel hereabouts, for white wine, of course, would be harvested. So, growers have to make decisions – delay the harvest (or perhaps it’s better to say, wait until the normal harvest time of perhaps a decade ago, before climate change made such a difference?), and risk disease (always more likely with wet grapes and warm temperatures) and maybe further wet weather; or harvest soon as the grapes are at their optimum ripeness, and hope that the rain holds off and some drying wind materialises!
Who’s be a grape grower/wine-maker?
More soon – please don’t forget that your comments and questions are most welcome!
13th July 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Nine
Is it just me, or do you also detect a slight change in colour from the last photos of our vine?!
Perhaps not so much here in the photo, but I’m pretty sure that in the vineyard the first signs of ‘veraison’ are starting to appear! Veraison is the onset of ripening, or the gradual change in colour of the grapes and I believe that the dark green of the early weeks of berry formation is now changing to a slightly more yellow colour – the start of the grapes turning black!
In the post below, Part Eight of this blog, I refer to my newfound ability to better identify the varieties in the vineyards in the Jalón/Llíber valley – it’s rather primitive I know, but, as I said below, I’m told that the small berried and shorter bunches are likely to be Giró, the indigenous red wine variety of the area. The larger berries on the far longer bunches will probably be Moscatel.
And it’s these latter grapes that further help re the notion of varaison – they don’t seem to have changed colour recently! Well, they wouldn’t would they, if they are going to be the green, white wine variety, Moscatel!
Well, we’ll know for sure when I write Part Ten – I’m away for a while and when I return the colours will certainly have changed – of the red wine varieties, of course!
ALSO, and rather exciting – I heard just yesterday that the great, internationally renowned Spanish Wine Maker, Pepe Mendoza, of Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, has just signed a 25 year lease for an established vineyard to increase the capacity of his bodega and, no doubt, to make further innovations in his excellent portfolio of wines. And, blog readers – guess where this vineyard is situated; yep, you got it – it’s in Llíber!!
More on this when I meet Pepe in October, at the aforesaid vineyard to chat about his plans!
27th June 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Eight
A week later than Part Seven – but little external development to observe. However, whilst I still haven’t been able to speak with a vineyard worker, busy on ‘our’ plot, I believe I am, mas o menos (more or less), able to confirm that ‘our’ vine is in fact the local, indigenous variety, *Giró!
Looking at other vineyards there are vines whose grapes are rather larger than those on our vine and others in the same plot. I’d thought that this was probably because they were better developed as they would be the ones to ripen first, and therefore be harvested before ‘our’ vineyard. In other words, knowing that almost the whole of the valley is planted with Moscatel and Giró, the more developed grapes at this stage will almost certainly be the former.
It seems I was correct. I spoke yesterday with a worker ploughing a nearby vineyard, who confirmed this, also adding that another way to tell was that not only are the Moscatel grapes larger at this stage, their bunches are longer too, with Giró being smaller grapes on shorter, more compact bunches. A few stops on my walk seemed to confirm this.
There’s another way to tell, also – though unless you have a very keen eye, I think you really have to be an expert. I referred, at the start of this blog, to Ampelogrophers – botanists specialising in grape vines, and it’s their trained eyes we need right now! So, if any readers whose expertise is Ampelography, can help us out with the following photo – please don’t be shy, put us out of our misery!
Of course, in July, we’ll at least be able to tell if our vine is a black grape variety – it will change colour!
*Please note: interestingly, I’ve just received the Guía de Vinos y Aceites 2018 (an impressive, bilingual [Spanish/English], impartial guide to the wines and extra virgin olive oils of Spain, categorised by grape/olive variety). Looking under Garnacha, I found Giró, listed as a synonym!
I believe there are a number of bodegueros in Jalón who would dispute that assertion! Me? Well, I’m staying out of that one!
P.S. I’m happy to receive comments/suggestions/questions – thank you for reading!
20th June 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Seven
Again it’s been some time since I last blogged! Same reasons – we are so busy at the moment, but as the school term drudges to a finish and wine tastings/judging end for the Summer break, I should be able to find time to continue with this blog, encouraged by the interest shown by those who called/texted/e-mailed me – thank you!
Well, although I’ve yet to meet anyone tending the vineyard, somebody who can confirm the variety (we think it’s the local, indigenous Giró, black grape) and the vine’s age, it’s clear from the photo that progress is being made. Taken a couple of weeks ago, you can clearly see the burgeoning grapes – whatever variety they are!
Since this photo the grapes have increased a little in size and remain green, a colour which will eventually change (if, indeed they are destined to be black grapes!) during the period known as veraison, the transition period from grape growth to grape ripening.
Standing back and looking at the vineyard as a whole, it’s interesting to note that, although this was the first vine to show any sign of coming back to life after the winter, the reason why it was chosen, it’s now by far the saddest looking one – that’s if we don’t count the dead one nearby!
A measly three bunches, with not that many grapes per bunch, will not be making that great an impact on the wine made from this plot. Never mind though, I’m nothing if not loyal!
Weather-wise it seems we are now into the heat of the summer, the growing season, after a most peculiar Spring and I wondered if our vine had ever experienced such an odd season, in its, what, 30 – 40 year life? It has certainly been the wettest Spring I can remember in the 21 years I’ve been living in Spain, with several thunderstorms, which I’m happy to say, our vine ‘weathered’ rather well, with practically no damage to the plant nor its precious grapes.
More soon – thanks for reading! Please also remember that I’m happy to receive comments/suggestions/questions – interactive, that’s what I’d like this blog to continue to be!
31st May 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Six
At the end of Part Five of this blog, I perhaps should have said – don’t hold your breath regarding waiting for the next one! It’s been a long time – what with presenting wine tastings/pairings, wine judging, Youtube recording (the latest here: https://youtu.be/RggtnJNtuP0), helping with the organisation of various of my lovely wife, Claire-Marie’s concerts and musical events (www.clairemarie.es), plus a dreadful attack of ‘man-flu'(!), I’ve been rather slow in keeping up with A Season in the Life of a Vine!
And a lot has happened in the meantime!
Yes, on my birthday I went for a walk to our vineyard and was delighted to see the long-awaited flowers almost in full bloom. It’s from these flowers that the grapes eventually develop, so our vine is progressing nicely!
Only two later, I must have just missed the grower for I came across a nicely ploughed vineyard, with the smell of the soil still in the air. There was also a very slight vegetal smell – not new-mown grass, which has its own distinctive, and to me, very attractive, evocative fragrance (I learned my tennis on grass courts many years ago!), though similar in that the aroma was clearly freshly cut vegetation.
A glance at the rows and then the vines revealed what the grower had been up to – he’d taken off some of the leaves on various of the vines. This, I’m pretty sure is indicative of the eventual use for the grates from this vineyard. It’s likely, I think, that grapes harvested here are probably destined for the local co-operative.
This is where the photo should be to support the above and the following, but my computer tells me it’s too large to load, though the same size as the above! So, I hope you’ll just believe me!
Why? Well the, just over 200m above sea level, at which these vineyards are located is not sufficient altitude for the vines to have the benefit of a dramatic drop in temperature during the night. This is considered rather crucial in fine wine making in hot climate countries. So it could be that the farmer is moving some of the leaves to help ease the heat by allowing any passing breeze to refresh the vines, both in the daytime and at night.
However, I doubt it. I think it’s more likely that he (I’m not being sexist here, I’ve yet to see a lady tending the vines in this area!) is making the leaf canopy smaller to allow more sunlight to affect the grapes which will soon appear. This is in fact the antithesis of what would be happening for the making of fine wine – in these days of climate change.
Some winemakers, with the wherewithal, in Spain, Torres is an excellent example, having been buying land at greater altitude as well as increasing leaf-cover in their existing vineyards – to give the vines extra shade from the heat!
Here in Spain, the grapes will ripen – it’s a given. There always has been enough sunshine anyway, nowadays there’s even more. The more sunshine, the more sugar in the grapes, and ultimately, the higher the levels of alcohol – just right for the bulk wine market, and generally, the local co-operative. Methinks this farmer is after quantity rather than quality!
More very soon!
28th April 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Five
Whilst it’s not exactly been the sustained period of sunshine and warm temperatures asked for in Part Four, below – it’s not been too far off. Therefore our Giró(*we still think, but haven’t yet had this confirmed!) has developed since the photos included in Part 4.
The very closely knit ‘bunch’ of nascent grapes of previous photos has opened out a little, as you may be able to see here. Each ‘grape’ has its own space now, making it clearly defined from the others, though, of course, in time they will grow, become larger and be closer again.
To give some orientation I’m including this next photo – you can see that our vine is close to the the very low wall that divides the vineyard from one of several caminos (small lanes)that service the whole valley floor, wherein we find our vineyard and vine.
We can also see something of the owner’s, shall we say, relaxed, attitude to vineyard management (*I’ve yet to see him to ask if we are talking Giró here, up if I’m barking up the wrong vine!) . It hasn’t been ploughed for some time, there is sparse vegetation between the rows, with dead weeds making it look unattractive and an occasional clump of such deceased weeds, taken up by the wine and rolling along between the vines, as if in a spaghetti western of years ago!
It made me look recently at the other vineyards adjacent, over the road and a little further afield – it’s interesting to see the different owners’ philosophies. Some have their between-vine land ploughed to a fine tilth, leaving the soil almost powder-like. Others plough less energetically, preferring the soil to be left in small to large ‘chunks’
Between rows on some of the vineyards there are a lot of wild grasses, weeds and some lovely flowers too. These are left deliberately – the grower wants to make use of the the insects attracted by the flowers, for they can also be insects that attack some of the vine pests, reducing (hopefully eliminating?) the use of pesticides. Later when they have served their purpose they too will be put to the plough in a final, beneficial sacrifice – they will be ploughed into the soil to become natural fertiliser, adding also, nitrogen to the soil.
Still no flowers – watch this space!
14th April 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Four
Each of the days I’ve checked our vine this week, it’s been rather windy. There’s been no damage to the vine, but I was unable to take a photo of the development since the post below. However, it’s been an advantage as the development is now a little more pronounced – i.e. you can see it quite clearly now, albeit still small.
The buds are tiny, the flowers won’t be much bigger either, when they arrive – and when’s that going to be? Well, firstly we’ll need a period of sustained sunshine, bringing warmer temperatures.
I’m on it – so whenever our flowers do eventually deign to join us, I’ll bring them to you, so to speak!
Thanks for reading – remember, please, all comments/suggestions/questions are most welcome – please e-mail me at email@example.com.
7th April 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Three
Having returned from my travels (IWSC judging in Guildford; family holiday in Paris) I was up early this morning and in the vineyards of Jalón – on a mission!
It’s about time we knew the variety of ‘our’ chosen vine!
I suspected that work would be done on the vines as the mists cleared this grey and overcast day, I was right, and wrong! In the vineyard next to ‘our’ vine’s home a lonely worker was doing some (late?) pruning – with electric secateurs, no less!
His vines are old Moscatel, which he uses mostly for eating, though he does make some wine for home consumption – no doubt as his family have done for generations!
And yes, he did know the variety of our vine – Giró, seguro (for sure); though ‘our’ vineyard was deserted!
Well, that’s good enough for me, although I will confirm it whenever I see the vineyard being worked.
So, what is Giró? Well you can read all about it in my Costa News article to be published on Friday 2oth April, and online too www.costa-news.com click Cork Talk.
If you look clearly at the first of the above photos, both of which were taken at the same time, you’ll see that ‘our’ vine (in the foreground) has been joined by a host of others, now well into leaf. In fact, ‘our’ vine, is looking a little sorry for itself when compared to some of the others, despite it being the first to show!
But hey, there’s loyalty involved here – so I aint changing!
22nd March 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine – Part Two
At then end of Part One of this blog (below) I alluded to the naming of the vine – don’t worry, I don’t think of it as a pet! I love wine, but not that much! Perhaps better to say, identifying, the vine, rather than naming it!
As I mentioned below I’m not an ampelographer and couldn’t, therefore, identify the vine by looking at its leaves. That’s actually quite a skill, and one that I don’t own. So, I’ll make an educated (well, fairly educated) guess as to the identity this particular vine, from the many Spanish vine varieties grown on the Iberian peninsular.
My first thought was Tempranillo. It may continue to be my belief, but it may not! Let me explain – Tempranillo is known as an early ripener. In the large expanse of vineyards in Jalón V alley, this along with its neighbours in the same vineyard was the first to come into leaf. My guess is that the first vines to leaf, will also be the first to ripen during the season. So, in this case Tempranillo seems like a decent guess.
However, guess is what it has to remain. And, there are a number of factors conspiring against it too. Historically (vines have been grown here for hundreds of years) Tempranillo is not a common variety around these parts. Girò is preferred – a variety which has its own fascinating history.
That said, there are growers in the valley and further inland to Parcent and beyond who have been experimenting over at least a couple decades, planting different varieties to see how they fair in these soils. Perhaps this vineyard, which, for me, has the look of being between 20 – 30 yrs old, was planted with Tempranillo by a forward thinking grower, perhaps with an eye on the prices that Rioja was achieving, with with Tempranillo being the darling of those vineyards!
It could be Girò. Covering lots of vineyards in Sardinia, Girò is well used to parching temperatures and isn’t too fussed about altitude. However, it’s considered to be a mid to late ripener – there at least.
Garnacha? Well, this Spanish variety, known in France as Grenache, is grown here. In fact there are those who think that Girò is really Grenache – all part of the fascinating story referred to above, and which will be revealed in Cork Talk in the Costa News, soon. But Garnacha is a late ripener, so, as this vine is one of the first to break into leaf around here, I doubt it.
Or, perhaps it’s not even a black grape variety! Certainly the white Moscatel grapes grown in the Jalón valley ripen early, and there’s a large production of Moscatel wines, here, many sweet wines, but not all.
So, a conundrum, until I come across a vineyard worker who’ll be able to advise me. Watch this space!
NB There will be a two week or so gap now before Part Three, when we’ll be able to see how our vine has developed further as well as what’s happening in the vineyard as a whole, and those surrounding it.
20th March 2018
A Season in the Life of a Vine!
With a novel about 60% completed (and an interested Literary Agent waiting for further chapters – following the initial five, with synopsis); plus three nascent short stories, one of which may move into the Historical Novel genre, depending on the success of the nearly(?) completed novel above, and my therefore having the time, and the confidence to elevate it thus; and, of course, my various on-going projects in wine presentations, writing, tourism etc, this may not seem like the most auspicious time to start a lengthy blog!
And lengthy it’s likely to be, as you’ll see from the title – I’m going to be talking about the life of a single vine in a vineyard, in fact in the basin of Jalón Valley, watching it’s progress over the whole of the growing season, from the rising of the sap at the start of Spring 2018 (though you wouldn’t know it, as it’s still pretty cold, with uncharacteristic rain and wind right now), to the grape harvest, when the vine’s work will have been done!
So, lengthy yes, but don’t worry, it will be served up in bite-sized morsels – so as to continue to engage with the reader. If you like wine in general, and in particular, Spanish wine; if you are also interested in finding out what goes on before the wine ends up in your glass; if you know and appreciate the fact that the most important part of the wine-maker’s art is that which he oversees in the vineyard; and if you are interested in nature, then this blog is for you!
Now, I’m no ampelographer (a botanist specialising in grape vines) whose skills in ampelography enable him/her to identify a grape variety by the study of its leaves, and even if I were, it’s unlikely that I would be able to do so until the leaves are more mature than this, my first photo of the vine in question, which follows another photo of a tiny drop of sap emerging from a nearby vine and about to drop to the soil.
Well, I say ‘introduce’ in the caption below the photo, but in fact we are not yet on first name terms! More on this later – told you the entries on this blog, ‘A Season in the Life of a Vine’ would be bite-sized!
The day after my release from hospital I really felt like a good wine, and why not some mature cheese too? My choices were both from DO Toro – perhaps influenced by the fact that my article in the Costa News SL that week was a report on my visit to DO Toro, where we had tasted exceptional wines from Bodega Fariña, as well as having visited a really top Artisan Cheese Producer.
The elegance of Fariña’s Colegiata Campus 2008 is astounding given the body, richness and great depth of flavour and complexity. Drinking perfectly right now – with or without the outstanding Chillón Reserva cheese. This example was only one of the exceptional portfolio, most of which we tasted in situ, just on the edge of Toro town.
So, the above is my excuse for writing this blog on a subject some way from wine appreciation on this wholly wine orientated website!
It occurred to me that there will, no doubt, be many people in different parts of the world who are about to have a knee replacement, and that, like I was, they might be a little nervous about it. Perhaps my very positive experience will be of some comfort?
I’ll make it fairly short, but a very brief intro first:
I read in a recent edition of the Costa News Group’s Costa Blanca News (I have been writing for the group, yes, about wine, for 18 years now, incidentally) that there is a famous Spanish Actor who has been complaining about the poor service received by his mother at Denia’s ‘new’ hospital, after an accident.
Of course we all can only speak of our own experiences, but to even it up a touch, i’d like to say that the service I have received from my original visit to my GP, the early visits to the Knee Specialist and Operating Surgeon; through arriving in hospital the day of the full knee replacement, and then the after-care, including the sympathetic and caring nursing, of course, and the physiotherapy received as an In-Patient as well as that on which I’ve just embarked, now as an Out-Patient, has been exemplary!
(Incidentally, and not just as an excuse this time – another wine reference: one of the excellent physios is very interested in wine and was delighted to hear that I would be able to advise him etc about his country’s wines, and me an Englishman too!)
When I ‘checked in’ to the hospital, with my wife, the lovely Claire, in support – I was processed very quickly and taken to my rather ‘posh’ room, the single occupant; and within an hour and a half I was waiting in the ante-room adjacent to the theatre chatting to the Anaesthetist who was happy to show me the ‘ultra-sound’ image on her screen while she was locating my sciatic nerve and a major vein where she was going to place some delayed-action painkiller to cover the 1st 12 hours after the op.
Of this, i was wholly in favour – I’m not great with pain!
Often such ops are undertaken using an epidural, but because one hadn’t worked so well with me a few years ago for another op, and added to the fact that I have a dodgy spine, she’d decided to give me a general anaesthetic (how do you spell that?!). Fine by me!
A little gas and air in the theatre, decreasing the air and increasing the gas – and that was me, out of it!
I awoke with a tap on the cheek and was able to hear the gentle buzz of the various monitors into which I was plugged. I surprised myself in that I felt, well, sleepy, but otherwise fine! Claire was surprised too.
There was basically very little pain, the delayed action pain killers coming into their own. As I was sleepy anyway I had a good night and whilst some pain did arrive the next morning I was able to cope with it easily until the prompt arrival of the nurse/angel with the Morphine!
Various drips adorned my arm and whatever was in them dripped away, to be replaced at regular intervals, and again when asked about the pain if my answer was yes, please, something would be good – it arrived!
The nurses were lovely as were the cleaners who regularly came into the room. Plus the food, which was fine, was delivered just when i was starting to feel hungry.
The Physio arrived on that 2nd day giving me some simple exercise to do whilst in bed, to prepare me a little for my first visit to the ‘gym’ the following morning. Now, as a seasoned patient in the UK, with experience of several meniscus ops, I was well aware that what the Physio says matters!
If you want to escape hospital early, do as you are told by the Physio. Plus, of course, for your general progress and in terms of obtaining as a full a use of your knee as possible, you have to do what the nice lady/man says – even when it hurts. And it will hurt. They are sensitive to your needs and your pain so they aren’t going to let you be in agony, but the mantra is definitely – no pain, no gain! It works!
Your knee will be swollen, more so during (and after the physio visit) so movement is restricted. However the Physio will push you to your best.
On my third day – I was impatient to get out of bed, but I was sensible and asked for help – it definitely is not worth going it alone here! Now, this may seem a little crude – my apolgies but I’m sure that there are those who await such an op who have a similar problem to me, and therefore the same concern.
I have a prostate problem – under control, with medication, but visiting the bathroom, to put it rather quaintly, is crucial. The bottom (bad choice of word, there) line is that a plastic bottle doesn’t work for me, and I suspect many others. I needed to get out of bed as soon as possible. Ahh – the relief!
Later in the morning I was taken to the gym and asked to do various exercises which I did, religiously, until told to stop; then I moved onto the next one etc. My surgeon had suggested a walking frame and I’m sure his recommendation was correct. Moving from station to station was via the frame and it was very useful. I’m now, one week after my discharge from hospital, able to walk without it, though I have a crutch near to hand in case I need it – which I will when i go out into the big world!
On return to my room I rested for a few hours and then did some more of the exercises, never doing too much or straining myself. I didn’t sleep so well that night – some pain, but more discomfort really. The beds are excellent, electrically adjustable, but – well, it’s not my own bed!
I was up very early and surprised the night staff as I ‘framed’ past their station several times, getting in some early walking practise!
I was able to do a little more, physically, than the day before and, I think I impressed the Physios a little as they went to work on me again. I was also able to recommend the Godello grape variety for lovely white wine!
When I left they said they’d do some more advanced work with me the next day, scheduled to be my last in hospital. However, on arrival at my room a nurse told me that the Surgeon had visited and signed me out – I was off after lunch! Wow – just three nights, I was well pleased!
I’m writing this now following my first return to the hospital as an outpatient today. I’ve been doing the exercises that I’d been given in the gym everyday at home, twice a day and on occasions three times a day, and my visit today proved the value of this quite hard, slightly painful and uncomfortable work.
So, if you are about to have a full knee replacement – please, don’t worry. I wouldn’t say it’s a breeze, but it’s nothing like as bad as you might think!
PS Most Godello wines come from DO Valdeorras and DO Bierzo! Told you this was a wine orientated website!
Fenavin 2015 – the Blog!
Fenavin is the biennial National Wine Fair attracting thousands of wine buyers from around the World. As such it is a major player in the world of wine commerce and happily plays a crucial part, not only in improving the finances of those bodegas that exhibit (which is almost every bodega in Spain!), but it also helps make a significant contribution to the nation’s coffers.
Not Birthday Blues, but whites, rosados, reds, sparklers and, hopefully, just desserts on my birthday!
Well I’ve arrived early and without difficulty from the tranquil setting of the very modern centre of Ciudad Real to the soon-to-be-frenetic Fenavin Pavillions. (I’d expected the centre of this ‘Royal City’ to be ancient, steeped in history with dramatic Gothic Architecture etc, however it seems that the only building remaining that is testament to its medi-eval roots, is the, let’s be honest, rather undistinguished Cathedral.
No matter, though – there is a good feel to the city, and there’s certainly a buzz here in the Press Room of Fenavin, Spain’s biennial National Wine Fair. Whilst I’m a veteran of many years at Aliemtaria in Barcelona, this is my first time here, and so far, I’m impressed.
There are lots of staff available and willing to assist a virgin-visitor like myself (in the sense of this being my first visit, you understand. I mean, not in the sense that, well you know!) and on entry to the Press Room I was given a memory stick to record this and any other comments I make during my three days here. Noce touch – a free data-traveller, gracias a Fenavin!
So, it’s off to work now – starting with the Sparklers, and why not, it is my Birthday after all!
Call that work! I know I’ve heard it before and I have to agree that digging the roads, laying bricks, teaching, in fact pretty much everything else is harder work than being a wine taster/writer! Although, well, I’m not complaining – but tasting and judging wines professionally still requires effort, dedication and determination and this means that it also takes its toll.
I needed a rest last night, something diverting so I went to a bar, drank agua con gas only and watched the Champions League!
So, now it’s the second day of Fenavin, the huge National Wine Fair held in Ciudad Real and I have some reflections on yesterday, my first day at this event.
Firstly, it’s a very well run affair. Very professional but always with a smile and all the staff I met yesterday were happy to help and, considering that there was considerable pressure – of numbers and indeed languages – this is praise indeed!
Official figures, before the event, which probably means, as usual, that they are a little short of the actual numbers, tell us that there are visitors here from 65 differesnt countries world-wide. There are also, we hear, 1361 Spanish bodegas exhibiting their wares – and if they all bring with them, say a conservative 6 different wines (though in lots of cases with me yesterday it was more than six) that means – well you do the maths! Suffice to say there is a veritable wealth of wines to taste here and a physical impossibility to try even a quarter of the total! Told you it was hard work!
The fair is huge, containing several different large pavillions and I certainly didn’t have th chance to visit all, but the with the three I did visit, I started with sparkling wines – a birhday treat! Of these sparkling wines, 90% were Cavas. Not surprising, you might think – Spain is of course home to Cava. However there are also excellent sparkling wines here that are not cavas, made in areas well away from those designated as official cava making zones.
Cava has suffered some criticism over the last few years – criticism based on quality, or rather, its dirth at the huge-volume base of the sales pyramid. In a sense the criticism has been justified – the horribly (in every sense of the word) cheap cavas that make up this base level are in no way representative of the quality that is available in DO Cava.
However, as Señor Bonet, President of the Consejo Regulador DO Cava, said to me when I interviewed him last year, this criticism can be directed at other famous DOs too. The fact is that there will always be those who obey the rules and can therefore call their wine ‘DO Whatever’ whilst paying litle (no?) attention to quality. For example – there has been some dreadful DOCa Rioja made and sold, to a largely unsuspecting consumer base which sees Rioja on the label and buys regardless.
However, my experience yesterday leads me to conclude that in reality this criticism that DO Cava has suffered, in fact has been beneficial, once the wounds were licked. Criticising Cava meant that other sparkling wine producers all over Spain were suddenly, by association (the link being bubbles), in the spotlight. In many cases (though definitely not all, according to my tasting yesterday) these producers’ acts was already together.
Free of the constraints (if that’s what we can call them) of having to use cava-approved grape varieties, their sparkling wines have, of course, the same autolysis notes (patisserie, brioche, bready etc) but with the added dimension of aromas and flavours specific to varieties of their own. Cue Verdejo, Albariño and Godello for example (watch this space for some info on Godello based fizz, along with a prediction!).
You can imagine it – these sparklers have lots to offer! And the cava producers are aware of this, of course. Well, Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada, the traditional varieties of Cava (as well as the now permitted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), also have a lot to offer. And the cava producers got to work on making sure that their sparklers stood the test of comparison.
The result, it would seem to me, following my tasting, what 25 cavas yesterday, is that their act has been cleaned up and is well and truly together, to say the least. I did not taste one poor cava, all were of a high standard and most enjoyable – with equally pleasing prices too! In fact the only below-par fizz I tasted (endured would be a better word!) was a sparkler that wasn’t Cava! Tables turning?
Well I doubt that, as I did taste several really good non-cava sparkling wines, but at least it means that lovers of bubbles like myself are in for a pretty good time as the one sector competes with the other! Bravo!
And what about another comment of mine over the past couple of years – that it has seemed that the sweetness levels of Brut Cava have been pushed towards the limit? Brut means that the maximum level of residual sugar in the finished product cannot exceed 12 grams poer litre. It has been my view that producers have been scaling upwards from the mean, 8-9 grams.
Well, think again Colin! I asked every Sparkling wine producer, including non-cava, about their residual sugar levels. There was one at 10 grams, one between 8 and 9 grams, but all the rest were 7 grams and below!
Has my moaning been taken on-board? I don’t know, but I do know that the Brut cavas I tasted, mostly young ones, were naturally ripe fruit rather than adder sugar at the dosage stage! Good on ’em, is what I say!
So, as usual a rather long intro to a blog – the next, concerning my second day at Fenavin, will be shorter. Promise!
So, what was Christopher Columbus’ favourite tipple aboard his flagship, Santa Maria (or was he actually on La Niña or La Pinta, the other two ships comprising his mini-fleet?) when he left Spain on his historic voyage to discover ‘The Indies’?
Of course history tells us that in fact he was wrong about where he actually landed – he’d thought he had discovered Asia, but in fact it was what we now call the Bahamas, gateway to North America, where he first set foot.
A journey of discovery such as his was perhaps fraught with dangers unknown to man at that time. Indeed, according to many contemporaries of his day, it would be a journey to certain death as the ship was bound to fall off the edge of the world, the Earth being flat, of course!
Well, considering the stress he and his crew (in fact on the, unknown to them, penultimate day of the voyage they were just one day away from either returning to Spain, or mutiny!) you can well understand the need for a drink! The more so, when we learn that the fresh water had gone bad and that alcohol was the only thing that could satisfy a thirst.
Good job Columbus had included in his provisions many large oak barrels full of wine! And the wine? Which wine was it that was drunk on this formidable, game-changing journey? And indeed, which wine therefore was it that was first consumed in the New World?
Several metres below a fairly unprepossessing calle (street) in Toro, western Spain, there lies dormant an ancient, very small winery. At street level and above there lives a tiny 94 year old Spaniard, Gildo – a delightful gentleman and the last surviving descendant of Bishop Alonso Manso.
At the time of Columbus’ momentous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, Alonso Manso was the Canon of Salamanca, a man who, although he didn’t know it, was on the fast-track to fame. Gildo’s, now famous, relative was responsible for helping Christopher Columbus with his provisions for the journey he was about to make.
I think it’s true to say that the small group I had brought to Gildo’s cellar, under the guidance of Nicola, the Export Director of Bodegas Fariña, and I were in awe when we negotiated the uneven steps down to the depths of the cellar. It was here that Alonso Manso and Christopher Columbus tasted the wine and agreed on its price before it was transported to the waiting fleet!
So, in answer to the questions above – the wine that was first drunk in the Americas, as well as on the journey, of course, was Toro wine! Wine that we now know was made from the Tinta de Toro black grape variety, which is actually Tempranillo – the famous and most planted variety of Spain!
So, when enjoying the super, rich and darkly coloured wines of DO Toro you’re also taking part in history!
“Evening, Chris – the usual?”
“Yes, please, Alonso – but just a ‘pinta’*, thanks – I’m going sailing tomorrow!”
* Watch this space re the Spanish Pinta and the UK Pint!
Day 4 and an overview of the International Wine & Spirits Competition 2015:
After 60 – 70 wines per morning for four days, I’d like to think I could be forgiven for being a little late with this final blog about my experiences judging on the Spanish Panel of this year’s International Wine & Spirits Competition! Indeed, the more so when you consider that I was up at 04:55 hrs on the day after the last judging session, to make my connections in order to fly back to Spain!
Well, what an enjoyable experience, as it is every year, of course. It is such a pleasure to sit with like minded people, who invariably become friends, tasting wines from all over Spain and then, when the scores are in and the session over, discussing the wines and latest developments in the Spanish wine world.
And, being honest, I have to admit to a certain satisfaction and indeed delight at being asked for my views in such august MW-rife company! Of course I take my hat off to such highly qualified wine experts, not only the Masters of Wine, but others who clearly have such a profound knowledge of wine.
I admit to being in awe of such people so when my views are sought and when I’m given the opportunity to update here and there with the latest information from the Spanish wine world in the middle of which I live, well I’m glad to help, of course!
Plus, it’s a two way thing. Whilst Masters of Wine and their ilk have a huge and most enviable knowledge, understanding and experience of wine – there is, of course, nobody who knows everything! Not even those who teach and examine those who take the MW exams. Nobody – as wine-making is continuously evolving.
The wine world is dynamic. For example, 20 years or so ago innovative methods assisted by state-of-the-art technology totally transformed wine production in Rueda and brought the Verdejo variety to world acclaim. Look back also to whenever it was that stainless steel fermentation tanks, now considered an integral part of every winery, were invented. Again a whole new grape game followed.
I wonder if in 20 years I’ll be looking back at the technology/wine styles/wines/wine accessories/knowledge/etc of today a displaying at least a wry smile if not a full on belly-laugh!
Day 4, my final day the the IWSC 2015, but not the last day of the Spanish Panel – there are three more this week, as well as days scheduled for other country’s (lesser!!) wines – was a super way to end! One wine enjoyed so much in Room No.1 where I was lucky enough to have been, was awarded the top prize – Gold Outstanding.
You’ll have to wait until the results are published to find out which though – and in case you are wondering, so will I!
The IWSC is very professional – we taste out of numbered glasses, the numbers corresponding to the actual wine which is poured in secret before being brought in to the panel. No phones are allowed during judging, which is done in silence so as not to influence fellow judges.
Each room has a ‘Chair’, a lady or gentlemen, always with lots of previous experience judging at the IWSC and invariably with a most impressive CV in the wine business. Often, but not always, the ‘Chairs’ are Masters of Wine.
Before judging starts all present are asked to taste two example wines about which we are told their country/area of provenance and often the grape variety and to judge them – scores are collected by the ‘Chair’. If there is a great divergence, for example with some marking the wine in the Gold category whilst others mark it as being outside the medals, then judges are asked to justify their marks.
A discussion will take place and if no agreement is reached then these wines could be sent for review by the other room. Plus further example wines could be brought in.
This has never happened when I’ve been there!
If, as has always been the case with me, the judges are more or less in accord then the first ‘flight’ of wines will be brought in for us to assess and score. And so it goes on! 60, 70 or more(!) wines later, we adjourn to lunch where we chat about all things wine! Great!
One of our discussions this year was about the rise and rise of Prosecco sales in the UK and the toll that this has taken on Cava sales. Somebody wondered if this might affect the cava makers, making them lean towards a sweeter style. Heaven preserve us – is my answer to that!
When Cava was first made here in Spain, before it even had the name ‘Cava’ it was basically just an attempt to copy Champagne – for a number of reasons, too many to discuss here, it failed. Fortunately somebody had the multi-billion Euro (pesetas in those days, and more of them!) business saving idea of saying, and this is a rough translation(!), ‘No let’s not copy, let’s use our own varieties, let’s be proud of what we do here in Spain, let’s be an alternative to Champagne, not a copy!’.
I rest my case re any possible change in Cava land!
Well that’s it for this four part blog about the IWSC 2015. I hope it was of interest? I’d be delighted to receive any comments/suggestions/questions you may have, of course.
Next Blog – well, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about when I visit Spain’s largest Spanish Wine Fair, Fenavin, in Ciudad Real in early May.
Thanks for your time.
Day 3 of the Spanish Wine Panel judging at the International Wine & Spirits Competition near Guildford, UK.
We’ll, it’s called the International Wine and Spirits Competition because we receive wines from all over the world. There is judging in the Northern Hemisphere, where I am now; and there is judging in the Southern Hemisphere – where I’d like to be one day!
Plus there is also the IWSC in Hong Kong – again, I’d love to have a crack at that, too!
However, it’s not just the wines that are international – so are the Judges!
During the three days I’ve been here this week my fellow judges have come from several different countries: South Africa; Hong Kong; Germany; Italy; USA/Canada; Great Britain and probably more – well, me from Spain, for example!
It means that we are able to gain a real understanding of perspectives across the planet, and it makes the judging that much more accurate, when you consider that IWSC medals are proudly displayed on winning wines made and sold all over the Globe. It’s an honour to be a part of it!
Today was a good day, really good. The standard was high, in some cases very high. Plus there were, yet again, a number of Spanish Wine producing areas represented that often are in the shadow of the fame of some of the better known wine zones. And what a delight to see so many of the wines hailing from these lesser known areas achieving the same medal level as will wines from the ‘sexy’ areas in the coming week!
It’s further proof that Spain continues to be in the vanguard of dynamic, innovative quality wine-making!
I’m not allowed, yet, to reveal anything specific about the wines we tasted today. But I can say that the standard was high and that my fellow judges, and that includes a number of Masters of Wine (there are only 301 MWs on the planet!), and I thoroughly enjoyed the wines and the experience!
Last day for me tomorrow, but there are another three days of Spanish Wines in the coming week. Wish I could be there!