Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


Harvest Report 2013 – Spain – Vinos Ambiz

New Bodega for Vinos Ambiz

New Bodega for Vinos Ambiz

From Fabio Bartolomei:

Grapes in, wines made, wines being made:

  1. Albillo. This year, I made my first ever lot of Albillo. Seeing I’ve just moved into my new bodega in El Tiemblo, in the Gredos mountain range, I just had to make some Albillo. It seems that this is a variety that is in danger of extinction, as only a few winemakers use it. The problem is that it’s also used as a table grape, and is very expensive and difficult to find. I was only able to find a small lot of about 400 kg at the last minute. The wine I made is now practically dry, or perhaps still fermenting very slowly, as I can get a slight whiff of CO2 when I stick my nose into the tank. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I think it will be OK and will only get better after the cold of winter. The fermentation was fast and hot, as I wasn’t able to keep it cool, due to ‘circumstances’. Next year I will definitely do at least two different experiments. Live and learn. And enjoy!

  2. Tempranillo from Carabaña. I harvested it a few weeks ago, last Sunday 22 September. Lovely bunches, totally healthy, not a single symptom of mildew or anything else. I was well pleased. I destemmed and crushed the bunches by hand, and the wine is still fermenting slowly on its skins. The last reading I took a few days ago showed a density of 1020, so almost finished. I’ve been punching the cap down once a day (and sometimes no times at all). That’s not a lot by present day standards, but I don’t really want to extract it to death. Nice and easy does it :) I think I’ll press it off over the next few days, before the weekend, maybe. There’s only enough to make one barrica (225 liters, or 300 bottles) of Crianza.

  3. Chelva. This is a local white variety that grows mostly in Extremadura, but which is found around El Tiemblo too. It’s a variety that is looked down upon and frowned upon. It’s used for table grapes and has a very negative cultural and vinous reputation. But hey, so does Airén, and I’ve managed to make a pretty mean and interesting Airén over the past 10 years, which sells very well and generates positive feedback for me, so who’s to say I can’t do the same with Chelva? There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? So I’m doing several different experimental lots this year:

  4. Chelva Experiment #1. Carbonic Maceration. On Wed 18th September I sealed up a 300 liter tank with selected whole bunches of Chelva. It’s still sealed as I write today. Soon, I’ll check it out and decide what to do.

  5. Chelva Experiment #2. Frutteto style. Acting on the good advice of fellow winemaker Daniel Ramos (with whom I’m sharing the new bodega), I laid out about 500 kg of bunches upstairs on the 1st floor of the bodega, in order to dry them out a bit and increase the sugar concentration. They lay there for about two weeks and the other day I also crushed and pressed them, and they had indeed increased in sugar concentration. The reading I got showed 12.5% of probable alcohol; which seems rather a big increase, so I’m suspecting that one of the two reading may have been a bit off.

  6. Chelva Experiment #3. Crushed and left soaking on the skins, ‘orange wine’ style. That’s about two weeks skin-contact time. This could well be one of the experiments that go wrong. The sugar content was very low and hence the probable alcohol level – only about 10.5%. This could well be lost to acetic acid. I did in fact have a close shave, as the other day when I opened the lid to check the cap, I got a huge whiff of vinegar. To be expected I suppose, with no added SO2, and such low level of alcohol. But all was not lost, it was only in the cap, as the wine I tasted from the tap at the bottom of the tank was OK. So I separated the cap, threw it out, and pressed the rest of rest of the skins.

After all that, I decided to blend the ‘frutteto’ and the ‘carbonic maceration’). The regular vinegary lot, I doused with metabisulfite (about 40 mg/l), and sealed the tank hermetically. I don’t know what will happen, maybe it’ll turn to vinegar after all, or maybe it will survive. I’ll check it every couple of days. Maybe I`ll blend it in turn with the other already blended lot of Chelva.

I was going to do more experiments with Chelva but I won’t be able to now. This is because the grapegrower I bought the grapes from is completely unreliable and I couldn’t get him to harvest on the dates I wanted. For some reason or another he unilaterally decided to harvest one day (19th September) and appeared at the door of the winery with almost 1000 kg of grapes. Now if I had been a hard-nosed business-first type of person I would have told him to get lost and sell his grapes to someone else, and that I didn’t want grapes with a probable alcohol level of 10.5%; but I don’t know why, I took his grapes!

Actually, I’m even more pissed off with that grower because there was another 1000 kg left in the vineyard, which I intended to harvest this weekend, but which now I can’t, because he’s gone back on his word and he’s decided to use it to make some wine himself! What a disaster! Basically I end up with 1000 kg of grapes that I didn’t want, and I don’t get the 1000 kg of the grapes I did want!

All I can say is that I won’t be buying any grapes off him next year. In fact, I’m even more pissed off, if possible, because I turned down another local Chelva grower who offered to sell me his grapes! Grrrrrrr.

  1. Garnacha from Sotillo de la Adrada. Last week, Sat 28th and Sun 29th September, I harvested three different plots of Garnacha. It was hairy. The weather here in Spain that weekend was weird. They were calling for rain, but not too much. To harvest or not to harvest? In the end I decided to harvest, because 2 of the plots were ripe and had to be harvested, and if we got wet, well, we got wet! In the end we were very lucky, because we only got rained on a little on Saturday morning, and not at all after that. So I took in about 2000 kg, all of which I’ve decided to ferment whole-bunch carbonic maceration. And there they lie, fermenting carbonically, as I write.

Harvests Pending

  1. My own Airén, in Carabaña. I checked it out the other day and it’s showing just over 11% probable alcohol, which is not a lot really, cansidering the time of year. I’m going to leave it for another week to see how it goes. It was lloking really good, totally healthy, no signs of any rot or mildew or anything. Touch wood!

  2. My own Malvar, in Villarejo. It was showing 12% probable le alcohol, so I’m going to leave it for another 10 days / two weeks too. In contrast to the Airén, the Malvar was rather uneven. There were lots of vines that had ripe or ripening bunches and at the same time bunches with tiny immature berries. Very irregular.

  3. Tempranillo, El Tiemblo. A nice plot of organic Tempranillo (officially uncertified but grown by a trustworthy grower), which was at a probable 13% last week, but still unripe.

  4. Garnacha, from El Tiemblo. Also uncertified organic. Only showing 12% last week, so probably another 2 weeks to go.

  5. Maybe an extra surprise that I’m not expecting? I wouldn’t be surprised :)

Apart from all that

Now apart from all the above unknowns, I also have other complications or “challenges” to deal with over the next few days or weeks.

Firstly, adding up all the kilos of grapes that will be coming in, I don’t currently have enough storage capacity to process them all! This is incredible and/or ironic, but true, as I’m installed in bodega with a theoretical capcity of 1.2 million liters of wine, in the form of concrete tanks (of 16,000 liters each). The problem is that I can’t really use them, as I don’t have enough grapes/wine to fill even one of them, and it’s very risky to only partially use a tank (especially a concrete one). Because of the oxygen contact and possible contamination from the walls of the unused part. So basically I have to buy a few thousand liters of capacity in the form of bins, containers, tanks, whatever. And my only practical option is plastic, because of the price. I would prefer stainless steel, or clay pots, but the cost would be prohibitive for me. I’m almost tempted to do a crowd-sourcing thing, to finance the purchase of say, 4 or 5 1000 liter stainless steel tanks or clay amphorae, but I just couldn’t deal with that now. Maybe next year.

Secondly, I don’t own a van, so I either have to borrow one from a friend, or rent one. Or not, depending on whether the grapes are ripe or not!

Thirdly, I don’t own any cases for harvesting the grapes! I’ve always borrowed them. This is ridiculous really, and I ought to just go and buy some; there’re not even that expensive! So it depends on whether my friends/acquainances are using their cases or not.

  • Fourthly, labour! Whether to hire a few professionals for the day, or to invite friends and family? That is the question.