Adéu for the time being…

Hello all,

This will be my last blog post for a while as I have now left Catalonia. My wine is now in two barrels and has had malolactic bacteria added to it.

This bacteria has been added in order to start a second fermentation in the wine. This is known as malolactic fermentation (we normally refer to this as MLF). Now, MLF is different from normal alcoholic fermentation because it is performed by bacteria (rather than yeast) and it does not involve the conversion of sugar into alcohol. In MLF, the bacteria convert malic acid in the wine (quite a strong acid that is found in apples – malus is the latin word for apple) into lactic acid (a less strong, softer tasting acid that is found in dairy products like yoghurt).

The overall effect on the wine is that it becomes softer and rounder feeling in the mouth. Depending on the particular bacteria used, it can also result in caramel and chocolate notes in the wine. I have used a bacteria that will create some softness but will not mask the fruit (which I have worked very hard to preserve throughout the winemaking process) with too much caramel flavours.

My wine in its barrel. You can tell it's mine because of the appalling handwriting..

My wine in its barrel. You can tell it’s mine because of the appalling handwriting..

As with the yeast, I could have just left the wine with nothing added and a bacteria would most-likely have started MLF. However, there are some strains of bacteria which consume other acids in the wine and can then produce off-smells. So, I took the decision to avoid that risk by adding bacteria which I knew would behave as I wanted.

During MLF, a small amount of Carbon Dioxide is produced which will prevent the wine from oxidation. When MLF finishes, this will stop so I will be adding some Sulphur Dioxide to prevent oxidation and also prevent any strange bacteria or yeast trying to make a mess of my wine. Just so that you are all aware, the amounts of Sulphur and any other additions I make are all in line with Organic winemaking practices (actually they are a lot lower than the maximum levels permitted in Organic wine) so we are talking tiny amounts (a WHOLE lot less than a packet of dried apricots for example).

I will be going back to Catalonia to taste the wine in January and to make plans for bottling it next year. Of course, I will keep you all informed of what is happening and how the wine is developing.

Before I go, just to give you a truer sense of this place I have been working in, here is a little bit of local history.  The vineyard in Torroja is a beautiful, tranquil place, touched by breezes which are heavy with the scent of fennel, pine trees and wild thyme. I visited it on my last day just to appreciate the peace of it one last time.  However, this peace is relatively recent as this area was one of the last bastions of resistance to General Franco during  the Spanish Civil War. Members of the resistance would hide out in these hills, in this very vineyard in fact (some grenades were found here less than 10 years ago) and try to mount a defence against Franco.

Solitary pine in the vineyard. In the valley below, passes the Ebro river, at the mouth of which one of the last battles against Franco was fought..

Solitary pine in the vineyard. In the valley below, passes the Ebro river, at the mouth of which one of the last battles against Franco was fought..

Apparently, so I have been informed by the local people, Franco bore a bit of a grudge against the Priorat region after that, and so it was always last in line to receive improvements in infrastructure, education and hospitals. This has meant that the Priorat has maintained its character and hasn’t been overly modernised. All of which is great for a visitor but, I suspect, has been pretty hard on the people living here.

If you should finally come to taste this wine, then I hope you will get a sense of the place it has come from, and the history that it has been a part of.

I’d like to thank you all for following this process and I will be back in touch around January.

Merci and adéu,

Antonio Rizzo

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What else has been happening

Bon dia.

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Me doing some precision barrel whacking.

I just thought you might be interested in knowing what else has been going on in the winery. I’ve been making my wine there but I have also been looking after a bunch of different wines. The idea  being that, if any are appropriate to what I want to achieve, then my friend and myself can share some of these wines out between us. This has allowed us to get a bit creative. This blog post will also allow me to shoehorn in some more pictures as I’ve been told I need more, so it’s a win win!

First off, we decided to ferment a few batches of Cariñena in big 600 Litre barrels. This involved opening the barrels up and then closing them again. It looks like I’m just whacking it with a lump hammer but it’s actually a bit more involved and takes a bit of knowledge to get right and make sure that the barrel doesn’t leak afterwards.

We have also fermented some more Garnatxa. We have two batches, one fermented at higher temperatures (this will produce a less fruity but more full bodied wine), and one tank of whole-bunch (not destemmed at all). This whole-bunch tank is what we call a semi-carbonic maceration. In carbonic maceration, whole bunches of grapes are kept covered by Carbon Dioxide without the addition of any yeast. Enzymes within the berry start to break down the sugars and create some alcohol. These enzymes will not consume all the sugar and so you need yeast to complete the fermentation.  A semi-carbonic maceration means that we added a small amount of  yeast with grape juice to the bottom of the tank. This is because, without specialised tanks, it is hard to keep enough Carbon Dioxide in the tank to wholly prevent any oxidation or spoilage caused by micro-organisms. So, by adding a little bit of yeast to a little bit of juice we can ferment a small portion of juice which will then produce Carbon Dioxide and protect the grapes. This kind of winemakng results in very fruity, low tannin wines which can be a useful component to add to blends.

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Wine Amphorae looking like they are about to fall over, luckily they haven’t yet….

Finally, we have gone a bit Roman and fermented some Cariñena in Amphorae. This is how wine used to be made and, apparently, the shape of the Amphora encourages maximum Brownian motion (the random movement of particles in a liquid). The important part of that for us is that the temperatures in the vessel should be fairly constant as the wine is constantly mixing.  Again, wines made in Amphorae tend to be more fruity. 

Ok, that’s about it. I just wanted to keep you all up to date on the other cool things that we’ve been trying in the winery. I’ll tell you what’s been happening with my original wine soon…

Adéu

The sweet spot

Hello!

Here is an update of what has been happening with my wine in Catalonia…

For the last few weeks, my fermented wine has been stewing with its skins in a tank. During this period, the alcohol in the wine has been extracting more tannins from the grape skins and seeds. In addition, I have heated the wine a little bit (only to around 24ºC) in order to help extract polysaccharides (these are basically “sugary” molecules which help contribute to a smoother, rounder sensation in the mouth). 

The wine, at this point particularly, is a constantly evolving, living thing and changes daily. This is because the tannins are combining with other compounds in the wine and then breaking away from them again. These changes mean that the wine can taste very drying in the mouth and then become perfectly in balance with the acid, flavour and mouthfeel. This all happens over time so, when the wine is tasting dry, you need to be patient and wait for the sweet spot when everything aligns. If you miss it, you have to be REALLY patient and have faith that the wine will come back into balance again (this is always quite a tense period and you have to taste the wine everyday so you don’t miss anything).

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Benaisa pouring grapes into our vertical basket press

The good news is that yesterday, we hit the sweet spot and I pressed the wine. I first drained off all the wine I could into a big barrel using a type of sieve (this portion of wine is usually referred to as the “free run”). Then, a bucket was used to transfer all the grape skins into the press where they were squashed to release the rest of the wine. This “press wine” tends to have more tannin content and can add a good structure to the wine.

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Lovely lovely wine!

So I now have two separate barrels (one of 600 litres and one of around 180 litres), these will be left for a few days so that all the lees (dead yeast cells and solid particles) can settle to the bottom. Then I will take the clear wine off it, put it into other barrels and start malo-lactic fermentation (subject of a forthcoming blog).

By the way, the guy pouring the grapes into the press is Benaisa, a legend from Morocco. He’s the same guy who didn’t get attacked by any wasps at all last month, but who was kind enough to go and find my bucket and secateurs after I had valiantly flung them away whilst fleeing for my life. A nice guy.

Lastly, I should probably mention that I am super happy with the wine at the moment, it smells beautiful and it also tastes beautiful and balanced. Also, I haven’t had an animal related “incident” for a while (well I did find a snake in the winery but at least it didn’t attack me) so that’s good news all round!

Adéu for now.