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Spanish Secrets: The Indispensables

"A passion for tending grapes and producing fine wine means far more than mere science and chemistry,'' writes Craig Briggs.

Viticulture - n the science of grapes and grape-growing.

That clinical, cold-hearted definition doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For most viticulturists, the true meaning is one of love, devotion, hard work and comradeship. A passion for tending grapes and producing fine wine means far more than mere science and chemistry.

As work in the vineyard draws to a close, the focus of my attention will soon switch to the bodega (wine cellar). Only one task now remains: deciding on a date for the vendimia (grape harvest).

In theory, choosing when to harvest the grapes is quite straightforward: the science is clear about that. There are three main elements to consider when determining ripeness.

1. Sweetness or brix,
2. Acidity or pH
3. The level of tartaric acid or TA.

Depending on the variety, each grape has an optimum level for each element.

For example, the optimum levels for a good red wine are:
Brix of 22
pH of 3.4
TA in the range 0.6 to 0.8

What could be simpler?

Once a week, for the past four weeks, I have carefully analysed a sample batch of each grape variety and studiously recorded the results. Long, hot, sunny days have seen the sugar level and pH slowly rise, while at the same time the amount of tartaric acid has slowly dropped.

Reaching the optimum levels for all three elements is very unlikely; striking a balanced compromise is part and parcel of the viticulturist’s art. In a mildly satisfying way, it seems fitting that science can only take us so far.

But there’s one more important factor in determining which day to pick. Reassuringly, the final decision remains in the hands of Mother Nature.

‘It’s looking like this Thursday,’ I announce, after completing my regular Sunday tests, ‘I’ll just look at the weather forecast.’

A quick check on the internet reveals devastating news: Thursday, 80% chance of rain, and Friday through to the following Sunday, 100% chance of rain with the possibility of violent thunderstorms.

‘The forecast is dreadful. We’re going to have to start picking tomorrow.’

Organising the harvest is like planning a military operation. Behind every successful vendimia is a committed and hardworking team.

When Hollywood looks for a group of action heroes it turns to ‘The Expendables’. On harvest day, I turn to my team of heroes, ‘The Indispensables’.

Armed with nothing more than a pair of razor sharp secateurs, this fearless band of brothers set about their task with energy and drive. Oblivious to the dangers, they snip away, stripping the vines of their treasured load. Once the objective is secured, they haul heavy crates of grapes up steep sided vineyards without a thought for their own personal safety. Hour after hour of backbreaking, skin-stripping, nail-breaking labours to rescue the precious fruits ahead of the gathering clouds.

After three days of blood, sweat, and terribly stained fingernails, victory is ours.

With our objectives achieved, we hand control back to the science. From now on, chemistry will rule.

Craig has written a book, Journey To A Dream, a vivid and entertaining account of how he came to live in Spain.

It is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Journey-To-Dream-discovery-industrial/dp/1480254932/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374567185&sr=8-1&keywords=craig+briggs

Do visit Craig's Web site


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