Tag Archives: Spain

From the bunch to the stem

We have already spoken about the advantages of the mechanical harvest. Its benefits are related to time-saving, harvesting costs, better precision, and the improvement of the quality of the grape. As you can imagine, turning the bunch into a stem in record time and with all the guarantees is another of the great advantages of the mechanical process. Have you ever asked how destemming of the berry from its “skeleton’” is done? Well, let me enlighten you right away. As you already know, the harvesting machine works as it straddles on every row of the vines. It shakes the bunch of grapes vigorously with a kind of “beater bars”. Thanks to the vibratory movements, berries come out of the bunch easily and fall into a conveyor belt housed inside the machine. This method is so effective, that 80% of the bunch – of course, empty – remains on the vine.

But, what happens with the stems that, inevitably, come into the machine? A built-in stalk remover, inside the machine, takes care of it. It is so efficient, that it manages to remove them immediately before the berries enter the hopper. In so doing, the berries are completely free from stems avoiding any foreign object, which could infuse the must with undesired bitter flavours, to come into the press. As you can imagine, destemming is an essential process. Not only removes the berry from the stem, but also many other plant residues, such as leaves and small vine shoots.

In the case of Cuatro Rayas Winery, another advantage of the mechanical destemming is that we do it in the field, making sure that the grapes that go into the winery are completely free of those residues. However, the whole process, which we have just explained finishes with a final check in the cellar, once the trailer comes with the grape load.

Bodega Cuatro Rayas indigenous yeasts

It is not always easy to understand some terms related to the winemaking process. We often hear about yeasts, which are nothing but a microscopic fungus, and are in charge of the alcoholic fermentation when they enter in contact with the must. This is a key process in winemaking. However, not all the yeasts are the same: there are many kinds and species. This time, we will focus on the indigenous yeasts, namely, those that can be found naturally in the grape, without human intervention.

But let’s go one step at a time. Laboratories select commercial yeasts that come from different parts of the world; they are dehydrated products that we add to the must. But indigenous yeasts are a completely different thing; you can imagine how we obtain them with this example: if we go to the vineyard, and we crush a bunch of grapes to obtain the must –and we leave it in a container– after a few days, must fermentation will take place spontaneously through the action of lots of yeasts attached to the skin of the grape. Those are the indigenous yeasts.

Each region, even each vineyard, has its own indigenous yeasts. They are essential because, when performing the alcoholic fermentation, they pass on their distinct character to the wine. This is a part of what we call ‘terroir’, making that wine different to other produced wines, even with the same variety. However, a wine produced like this doesn’t behave in the same way every year, since it won’t develop the same yeasts because the development of the so-called ‘microbial flora’ depends on the weather and environmental conditions and the usage of phytosanitary products. Furthermore, some of these yeasts won’t be able to carry out the alcoholic fermentation completely, or even they could transmit bad aromas and undesired flavours to the wine. For this reason, the vast majority of the wineries use commercial yeasts to carry out a controlled alcoholic fermentation.

In Bodega Cuatro Rayas, we have been performing a selection process of our indigenous yeasts since 2012 vintage, in a project developed with the support of LEW 2050, a company related to the Universidad of Navarra. The Department of Oenology at Bodega Cuatro Rayas is the responsible for this, selecting the most suitable yeasts, among all spontaneous fermentation yeasts, to transmit our wines the character of the vineyards of our region. In this way, using our yeasts, we make wines with character and a particular authenticity.

Century Old Vines, historical and human heritage of the winery

Beyond sentimental value, an old photograph provides extremely valuable information. Even though the passage of time has slightly faded it or despite the poor quality of the image, the fact is that to behold such a flash of the past is like holding a small treasure. The picture we want to show you today was taken almost 80 years ago in the same place where the participants in the next video are having a chat: José Martín del Campo, vineyard technical director at Cuatro Rayas, and two of the members of the winery, Carlos Gómez Sanz and Alfredo Barreras Agüero. These latter two have a lot to do with the picture since some of their close family members appear in the black and white photograph. In this historical harvest-season setting, children, parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents pose next to pack animals, baskets, carts and large grape bunchs. Although 80 years have passed, the vines were there long before that.

 

 

Now, this group picture comes out from this family photo album becoming a documentary source, as the vines behind the image are the same that nowadays remain in the vineyard –where our three guests are sitting– in the municipal district of Aldeanueva del Codonal, Segovia. In fact, this area preserves the largest amount of century-old vines, since they were uprooted in many neighbouring villages. Locals have always referred to this area as Las Viñas Viejas (“The Old Vines”); even though only this small parcel of land remains, the entire vineyard used to stretch back to the pine forests that stand today at the far edge of the landscape. Bodega Cuatro Rayas owns a century-old vineyard in this area, including 10 hectares of pre-phylloxera vines without rootstock. Likewise, some members of the winery own a large area of vineyards, which apparently were planted 80 years ago. In other words, a great richness that some of the Bodega Cuatro Rayas members treasure since they decided to keep these small vineyards in the plots that some of their ancestors planted. They are true hidden treasures and their grapes, the most coveted fruit. Nowadays, they cherish these vine plants as their elder ones, because they bear little fruit, but what they do produce is of outstanding quality.

We also brought to the estate two of the wines made with these century-old grapes from this type of plots. Our guests hold in their hands two of Bodega Cuatro Rayas’ gems: Amador Díez (Verdejo Cuvée) of the 2015 vintage and Cuatro Rayas Viñedos Centenarios, a white Verdejo of the 2016 vintage. From this old picture to the modern wines, only 80 vegetative cycles have passed, and many more still to be harvested, bunch by bunch.

The Lab team: The sentinels of Cuatro Rayas

The Lab team at Bodega Cuatro Rayas moves with ease among hydrometers, beakers, flasks, test tubes, pipettes and distillation equipment. Equipment set up every day to ensure the wine quality and all the parameters related to it. The team works closely with the other departments, but especially with winemaking, as the winemaker will depend on their analysis to take the right decisions.

In charge of the Lab at Cuatro Rayas is Juncal Gonzalez, who is supported by the assistant Rubén Navarro, two professionals who know not only the ins and outs of their department, but also the wine process in its broadest sense, from the vine to the bottle. Their tasks focus on the analysis of numerous parameters, long before the cork finally closes the bottle. Their work starts at harvest, collecting grape samples, analyzing ripeness indices to determine when harvest can be started. All the grapes from each plot literally pass through their hands, so they can usually be seen alongside the scales when the grapes enter the cellar, testing the sanitary condition of the grapes thanks to their Lab being equipped with infrared technology.

The Lab is the team of sentinels at Cuatro Rayas. All musts coming out of the press are monitored in detail, as are fermentations, measuring the densities and temperatures daily. They also control the condition of the wines from the moment they enter the vats unfiltered, until they end up going through the process of stabilization, before bottling. Precisely this latter process of bottling is where they dedicate a large part of their efforts, since in the final section important parameters such as the fill level volumes of the bottles and the acidity are controlled.

Undoubtedly the work of the quality control Lab is as important as bottling control, the final part of a long process that seeks wine excellence, with rigor, detail and professionalism.

Vineyard Technical Department: professionals down on the vineyard

They are specialists in winegrowing and have a perfect understanding of the vegetative cycle of all varieties. They also understand soil types, the morphology of the vines, sensory analysis of grapes and all the cultural practices needed by the vineyard throughout the year. They are able to make a brief note about pruning, while handling the powerful database that records every detail of their co-op growers’ plots. Through their hands pass the control of a vineyard where Bodega Cuatro Rayas reaches 2,500 hectares, 20% of those registered in the Rueda Designation of Origin. Not only do they patrol the vineyards, but they also serve a membership base of 300 winegrowers: the most powerful cog in the machine at Bodega Cuatro Rayas.

The Technical Vineyard Department at Cuatro Rayas comprises the technical vineyard director, José Martín; in addition to technicians Enrique González, Rebeca Altable and Mercedes Bragado. They work down on the vineyard with a refractometer and are also glued to the computer, monitoring the winegrowing registers and the condition of the vineyard in all seasons. Their duties include such important tasks as the control of the vineyard for all the cooperative members (advisory service in the area of vineyard tasks or treatments, management of new plantations, field notebooks and agricultural insurance) and plot monitoring throughout the growth cycle, from pruning operations to post-harvest.

 

The Technical Vineyard Department also deals with administrative issues related to cooperative members, manages export aid and third countries, as well as organizing such delicate tasks as harvesting, which during the campaign mobilizes the entire department, even doubling it on occasions, until such time as the last grape is harvested and brought into the winery.

Natural, synthetic or screw cap? The cork revolution

When a bottle is placed on a table, the ritual of serving the wine begins. While the uncorking releases it from its container and allows us to taste it, rarely do we look at the type of material used to close the bottle. Let’s talk about cork, the material that seals most of the wine bottles produced in the world. However, when closing a bottle, new materials are sometimes as versatile as they are unknown. Undoubtedly, there are significant differences between them, so today we are going to explain their characteristics and common applications.

Generally, there are three types of stoppers: cork, synthetic and natural. Cuatro Rayas uses all of them in their bottling, but always chooses the one that best fits the needs of each wine: it all depends on how we want it to evolve once bottled. Until not long ago, cork was the only option to stop a bottle. There are four types: natural (extracted from a single piece of cork oak); the so-called ‘colmated’ stopper (also extracted from a piece of cork, but lower quality); the agglomerated cork (manufactured with cork granules or chips); and ‘technical’ stoppers (with an agglomerate body, but natural disks). What are their advantages? Cork is a light, elastic, porous and resilient product. It also facilitates the conservation and evolution of a wine and allows a small amount of oxygen to pass through its pores. Among the disadvantages are the feared TCA, i.e., tainted cork aromas, which sometimes occur in the wine.

Synthetic stoppers do not come from the cork oak bark. They are made from ‘thermoplastic elastomers’, i.e., plastic materials with elastic properties. Synthetic stoppers are either made by extrusion or injection (two terms which only determine how they are manufactured) and figuring among their advantages is that do not give any TCA problems, offer a wide range of colors and allow the uncorking ritual to continue. Their drawbacks are reflected in the preservation of wine, since they allow hardly any oxygen through, preventing that the wines evolve in the bottle.

There is a third option: the screw cap. It is made with aluminum coated with different materials. Technically the perfect closure. In addition, it is very handy. However, it does not allow any oxygen through and, of course, no uncorking takes place as it is opened by turning the cap on the bottle mouth.