Monday, 31 August 2009

The difference between Verdejo and Malvasia

A deal of sorts was struck over Whiskey and Coke in the village fiesta this weekend. Luis' father owns several hectares of white grapes around the village. He reckons I can take 400kg of Verdejo. Price to be decided later...

I've also organised to harvest as and when I please, which is great. The subclause here, however, is that I'll be harvesting the lot myself. And this means very early starts, picking before sunrise until about 9 or 10am, because I want to bring the grapes in cool. Although I did consider picking in the day and leaving the grapes in picking boxes overnight to cool and get some more flavour from the skins, this presents the danger of oxidation. So the current plans is that I'm going to crush/press the grapes into large tubs and leave under a blanket of CO2 overnight.

Luis did, though, raise one problem with the harvesting: the Verdejo and Malvasia vines are totally interspersed.

'In a row, there might be, say, a Verdejo, then two Malvasia vines, then a Verdejo, then some more Malvasia,' he said. 'You're going to have to be able to tell the difference.'

Other than the obvious conclusion that much of the white wine here must be unashamedly co-fermented, this means I'm going to have to brush up on my ampelography(classification of vines). Although a white winemaker friend told me that the Malvasia would be easy to spot because, by the time of harvest, its berries would be almost brown, I still want to be sure I know what I'm picking up.

And ampelography would be another string to the bow, right?

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Sunday, 30 August 2009

The tank

I've managed to acquire the first major bit of kit: a 300 litre stainless steel tank. It's variable capacity, or in Spanish: 'Siempre lleno' (always full). Hopefully it should do the trick for Verdejo, which is apparently quite prone to oxidation. Thus a 'floating lid' should be better than your average sturdy tank.

The lid is secured by an inflatable tube that goes around the rim and is pumped up in much the same way as a bicycle inner tube. It'll need a good clean, and I'll make a table for it to stand on.

In any case, the main piece of kit is now in my possession.

In other news, it's looking like the barrel that I had lined up for the wine isn't going to happen. It's a bit of a killer blow as my only other options are (a) to do the whole thing in stainless steel or (b) clean out a former red wine barrel as best as I can. I'm finding the latter option pretty hard to stomach because even if I get the barrel as clean as a Swiss toilet I'm damned sure the resultant wine will still have a tinge. And I'm not here to make Oeil de Perdrix, even if it's not for commercialisation.

So I'm still pondering the options.

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Saturday, 29 August 2009

winemaking books

Well, the next best thing to doing it is reading about here's what's on the bedside table at the moment:

Making Good Wineby Bryce Rankine. Pretty much a bible of winemaking. Is unlikely to have been read by anyone in the Old World and certainly has an Australian slant (black and white pictures of a young Brian Croser in Wellington boots standing by a tubular heat-exchanger are almost worth the book price alone).

For the rest of it, it covers everything, from Grape development and composition to Wine-handling operations and Bottling and packaging. It's also superbly practical. In short, it covers the lot.

It's pretty darned dry as far as the reading experience is concerned, and is quite obviously aimed at a special market (an Australian setting up a vineyard in the '90s), but for my money, it's the book to have.

Understanding Wine Technology: The Science of Wine Explainedby David Bird. The contender with Bryce Rankine for winemaking reference book par excellence. Written by the ever-friendly David Bird (he's English, but don't let that put you off), it covers pretty much everything and has more pictures than Rankine (and they're in colour), which is almost a deciding factor in this kind of book.

Personally, I find Bird easier to read than Rankine, if not only for avoiding the New Zealand/Australia slant which, while quaint, can get a bit annoying after 200 pages.

To be honest, either of these books does the business.

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Friday, 28 August 2009

Make your own wine: step one

Well, this is it. While it's easy enough to be a wine writer, a wine taster, and a wine critic, I've decided to go one step further and make my own.

So what are my parameters? Well, this was hashed out on a piece of paper in a Tapas bar in Galicia. A summary of the main points follows:

Grape: I want to make white wine and I'm in Spain - near Toro to be precise - and here I have two options: Verdejo or Malvasia. While I love the idea of making wine from a grape that goes into Madeira, I don't want to make Madeira. Also, I've only ever tasted one relatively decent bottle of Malvasia, and it was Swiss. So through a negative process of deduction I've ended up with Verdejo.

Luckily Verdejo ain't half bad - nice, aromatic wines with bright fruit and moderate acidity. However, it can have something I dislike in white wines: it tends to be quite glycerol-ly. So we'll try to avoid that. Now I need to negociate a price with one of the locals.

Space: once the local group of kids has finished using our small shed for their parties during fiesta, I've got a quite dark place to work in. Appropriately enough, it's on the 'Calle de las Bodegas'. It used to be a small winery (in this town, almost every family owns a ramshackle doorway in the Bodega [winery/cellar] street) but has been gutted. Luckily, the roof is new.

Style: Tough one this. Initially, I wanted to do everything in stainless steel - keep it all nice and clean and fresh. But a barrel came up. And you can't really turn that down. So I'm going for barrel fermented Verdejo. As for skin contact, that's yet to be decided and it will mainly depend on what kind of kit I'll have at my disposal. Aged in oak - no idea, but probably about six months.

All other considerations (bottling, labelling, type of cork, etc.) will be decided on later.

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