Bodegas Bentomiz reports on their busiest time of year.
August: the harvest begins. Grapes, at each vineyard that supplies the winery, are tested for sugar content daily; we only harvest when they exactly suit the wines requirements.
This year the grapes in one Cómpeta vineyard were ready to harvest for our dry white as early as the eight! Each day is busy, each day different. Harvest is an organic process as the grapes ripen at their own pace, depending on the altitude, the inclination (of the field...and maybe the grapes, too!) the heat, the breezes and a dozen other factors!
People don't realise what hard work grape-farming is here. The bush-vines are not a sign of backwards methods but of practicality. Most of Europe bind the vines on wires to get more sun: we have so much we need the low bush of leaves to shelter the grapes. It makes life hard for harvesters, who cannot drive through broad avenues of vines with a mechanical picker, but toil over the steep, gritty slopes in the hottest month of the year, bending again and again to cut each bunch by hand and then lifting the crates to their shoulders or their heads to carry to the stacks.
When we harvest our own vineyard the Bodegas' cats watch us work.
Shy Pinot hides under a bush; Bobal chases the crickets we disturb.
“But that was in August,” you object. Well, the harvest lasts more than two weeks! Bearing in mind that the later in the year the sweeter the grapes, that you pick at different times for white and red wines, and for dry and sweet wines, and that it takes a lot of grapes to fill a bottle, let alone a tank this fact is no surprise. We started harvesting in August, we are harvesting now and we may still be harvesting in October!
The picked grapes must be processed. All the machinery has to be prepared: put in position, connected, spotlessly cleaned. Yes, we use machinery: it's not practical to produce 100,000 bottles of high quality wine pressing the grapes underfoot! Each crate – carefully picked, stacked and transported – is unloaded. The grapes are selected then de-stemmed by machine, each crate tipped in manually. Some are piped direct to the waiting tanks, without pressing: those for reds, because the skin gives the wine colour, and those for our rosé, though it only needs 2 ½ hours contact between juice and grape skins to give that subtle pink blush. The noise of the machinery, the noise of trucks arriving full of crates of grapes, the bustle of people working hard, going from the brilliant white sunshine into the dark cool of the production room, setting the strong clean tubing to pump the must (pulped grapes) through, all this is as much a part of harvest for us as the long days cutting the bunches.
Too much fuss, thinks Bobal, and curls up in the coolest place. Pinot hides behind the curtain.
Our sweet wine grapes are given a little extra sun; that is traditional here, except that we lay them, not only on the earth floor of white-walled paseros, but also on racks that let the air underneath. Every bunch must be placed and turned by hand and according to the weather, as cooler or hotter, bright or cloudy, windy or still, it all makes a difference. Another complex, labour-intensive process.
Bobal, looking on from a nearby wall, yawns.
We have orders to process as well, as our distributors review their stock with an eye on Christmas. So a morning in the fields, on our vineyard or a supplier's; a long afternoon working on the processing, managing the tanks, testing, checking the musts, testing, adding yeasts. A little extra work packaging and labelling an order and arranging transport. Then in the evening we host a tour.
We run the Tours and Tastings right through the summer. Why? Because they are a pleasure. Visitors know they are seeing the vineyards at their peak: they understand immediately the relevance of the machinery and discover which tanks are full and why. They grasp the complexity of the process, the physically demanding nature of the harvest, the intensity of the work, as it is all about them, along with the heat, the heady fruit smell of must, the stunning beauty of the location. And then they enjoy, on a shady terrace, the wines they have seen being made: fresh, personal, elegant, subtle. Our visitors come from many countries and many walks of life, from amateur wine-lovers to connoisseurs, but most are courteous, interested, and delighted with our wines. It is, naturally, a pleasure to drink with them. It makes the Tours, the third shift this time of year, worthwhile!
I stretch out. It has been a long day.
Pinots saunters over to a nearby chair. Bobal curls up, contentedly on my feet...