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Spanish Secrets: Keeping It Clean

Water is flowing down rural lanes in Galicia. Huge oaken barrels are being cleansed. This is the season for grape picking and wine making, and Craig Briggs makes you long to be there to join in the age-old traditions.

After a long, hot and very dry summer, the last thing anyone might expect to see here in Galicia, are small streams of water flowing down country streets and lanes. But at this quite special time of year, thatís exactly what greets locals and visitors alike.

Itís as if each house in every small village or tiny hamlet has sprung a leak from a burst pipe. This uncharacteristic abuse of an important natural resource is completely self-induced. By following the damp trail to its source, youíll inevitably find a large oak wine barrel.

This is the season for grape picking, or as the Spanish say, Vendimia!

The wine making process starts a week or so before the actual picking. The remaining dregs of last yearís wine are either bottled or thrown away.

Most family-produced wine is completely natural, with no artificial colouring or preservatives. The locals are particularly proud of that fact. They claim that itís impossible to become hung-over after drinking too much of this naturally produced wine. After living here for three and a half years, I can personally vouch for that fact, albeit on the extremely rare occasions Iíve overindulged.

After the barrels are emptied, they can then be cleaned. Admittedly, I find this part of the process somewhat confusing. Having visited some of the larger wine producing facilities in the area, Iím led to understand from them, that oak barrels have a useful winemaking life of only two crushingís. After this time they are sold to Scottish whisky distilleries where theyíre used for storing maturing malt whiskey.

The huge oak barrels being cleaned in local village houses must be decades old. Cleaning seems a fairly fruitless activity, but tradition is tradition. This activity seems even more fruitless, when the cleaning process involves part-filling the barrel with water, rolling it back and forth through 90 degrees a few times, then pouring the contents down the lane. Itís hardly surprising that most local wines have a very earthy flavour.

The actual grape picking takes place over a two-week period. Almost every vehicle one passes is laden with crates of grapes. After families have picked sufficient for their own wine production, the balance is harvested and sold to bigger producers.

Here in our home village of Canabal, our vendimia is a week after the more prestigious wine zone of Amandi.

Harvesting the grapes is normally a family affair, when distant relatives make their annual pilgrimage to the area to lend a much-needed hand. Coincidentally my sister is making the trip from London to see us. She seemed quite perturbed when I told her to bring a pair of Wellington boots with her. No grape crushing would be complete without a decent pair of Wellies.

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