España: the beginning

I have dreamed of coming to Europe to see and learn their winemaking styles and traditions for the last five years and this dream is finally coming true! I have begun my journey in Spain in the Pyrenees Mountain region at Castell d´Encus.  The winery is situated 800-1000 meters above sea level and is a sight to see.  The wine history began here with the monks in the 12th century when they planted vineyards and used rock caves as fermentation vessels (which are still being used!!)  Now the winery, Encus, is 3 years old and they have a state of the art gravity flow production facility that is quaint but magnificent.

I am lucky enough to be here for a short time because of a friend, Mireia, who is the winemaker and head of this facility (besides the owner Raul).  She is my boss, my roommate, my Spanish teacher, driver and above all a great person to learn from.

The vineyard consists of 11 varietals: the main two this harvest are Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc but they also produce Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Muscat, Albariño and Petit Verdot.  For the second year in a row the vineyard has been hit hard in its maturation stage by hail.  This has been so devastating not only for their production but also for the owners and Mireia.  I can see it in her face as we walk through the vineyards.  The site and grapes hold so much potential but certain blocks, ie Cabernet Franc, have been completely wiped out with nothing to harvest.

The hail completely annihilates a vineyard.  It dehydrates it, puts it in a state of shock, shreds apart its leaves and impales its berries.  While the leaves protect the grapes from the sun and dehydration they also feed the grapes their proper nutrients, without the proper canopy, or should i say without a canopy, the fruit is left to fend for itself and the following year becomes in danger.  The result is that a retardation occurs in the vine and the grape will rot. The fruit that is not as badly damaged and could be used nearly in whole are the most northern blocks of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.  The vines and fruit are beautiful with hardly any leaf or berry damage.  It is amazing to think of what this winery could produce if it were to have a year with out hail.

As i return to the winery and winemaking after a 2 month hiatus i can feel it in my muscles and bones.  My body though sometimes sore or tired from working and standing all day is feeling rejuvenated.  I start my mornings in the vineyards pulling samples for analysis.  I begin when it is still dark to ensure i can finish before the heat changes the samples analysis.  As the sun rises over the vineyard and almost becomes parallel with the horizon and peeking out to say good morning to the still hanging moon I can feel my confidence in the vineyard increasing.  I no longer worry about what i might be stepping on or what could possibly be in the vine as i reach my hand in to search for grapes.  By the time that I am finished I have sweat dripping down my back and my hands are sticky and drenched with juice from the grapes.

At the winery we have been comparing kinetic analysis of grape samples to see the maturation changes in the grapes over time.  It is fantastic to see that despite the hail the grapes are maturing at a constant rate and are similar to the previous years.

We are now preparing the winery for harvest which will begin at the end of this week for the Pinot Noir.  Cleaning tanks, adding SO2 to barrels, bottling last years wine and sampling and tasting grapes everyday.  More updates on harvest as it comes!

Encus Winery

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~ by tymaripaige on September 5, 2010.

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