Vendemia at Finca Collado


Vendemia at Finca Collado.
 
7.00 am yesterday 25 August and picking the chardonnay crop promptly commenced  at Finca Collado in Salinas, DO Alicante. Driving through the valleys on the way from Valencia, early morning cloud sat on the mountain and hill tops shrouding them, with just the castle’s turrets sticking above as if from a magical childrens story book. Today  was my first opportunity to attend the picking and observe the harvest activity in the bodega.
 
The harvest has started some ten days later this year due to the wetter weather, later flowering and a cooler snap last week. However the onset of very hot weather this week, coupled with unusually warm nights as well, quickly brought the maturity up to the required level and Joan, the enologist gave the go ahead to pick. The grapes are very healthy, clean and no treatment had been necessary in the last two weeks.
 
 
Picking the Chardonnay.
 
The bodega expects to pick the moscatel on Saturday and commence the reds in 7-10 days for the merlot and around three weeks for the Cabernet Sauvignon which by yesterday had good colour. The chardonnay this year has slightly less sugar than previously but acidity remains good. The crop is larger than expected.
 
The grapes are all hand picked and first selection takes place here in the vineyard where unwanted or unhealthy grapes are left on the vine. Small buckets of grapes are transferred to the back of a trailer and transported the half kilometre to the hopper outside the bodega. Here 2-3 trailer loads accumulate before processing commences.
 
 
The trailer with a cargo of grapes for the hopper.
 
Once through the hopper  the grapes are de-stalked and passed through the chiller machine. This helps to extract as much of the aromatic flavours from the skins as possible. Thence the grapes are pumped to the press and the must to deposit where it will sit chilled for a few days before temperature controlled fermentation commences.
 
 
Ths bunches pass through the de-stalking machine.
 
Miraculously it was time for almuerzo and before the press was diassembled for emptying and cleaning after the first load we decamped to Mari Carmen and Guillermo´s apartment in the renovated bodega for breakfast. Mari Carmen is a generous host who has the easy touch of making simple fare look superb in the manner of Spanish women well used to entertaining a houseful of guests as if it were nothing. She had plates of cold meats, sausages, cheeses, tomatos, bread, jamon and a guacamole  ready for the team all to be washed down with the either cerveza or the 2009 chardonnay/moscatel blend which is Finca Collado Blanco and coffee to finish!
 
 
Guillermo, standing, Joan the enologist (2nd left)and the team enjoy almuerzo.
 
After chatting to Joan the enologist who has worked with Daniel Belda,  I joined Guillermo on the tractor for a lift up to the vineyard where he was supervising the pickers and relaying the loads of grapes to the hopper. Meanwhile the bodega team  cleaned the press and reassembled it ready for the next load.
 
 
Removing the plug of crushed skins from the base of the press.
 
Disassembling and reassembling the press after cleaning is made simpler by not tightening the staves completely but instead wrapping the exterior with giant rolls of cling film! The grapes are then pumped in from the top and spread evenly whilst some of the stalks are added back. Once the press is full the grapes are gently pressed to extract the juice.
 
 
Filling the press.
 
From the bottom of the press the must flows through a strainer and into a hose which pumps it into the deposits where it will undergo first fermentation. After this the second fermentation will take place in another deposit and the wine will then be moved to oak barrels for ageing for a short period before the moscatel is blended, usually 50-50, before another short period in deposit and then bottling.
 
 
The must pours from the press on its way to the deposit.
 
The crop is picked, pressed and sent to  deposit in a day. This seems relatively quick compared to the mountain of paperwork bodegas are required to process and the information required by civil servants to record every last litre of alcohol held in the bodega, the alcohol content and even every last bottle broken has to be recorded before the tax and other payments have to be made. Mari Carmen showed me how many forms there were to keep her busy. Fortunately for her, the book in which bulk sales are recorded has only one entry and such sales are a rarity due to the reputation the Finca has quickly established for its quality wines. This reputation will be tested later when the bodega hopes to add to the current range of a blanco and a tinto by introducing a monovarietal merlot from a cask currently maturing in the bodega. It is to be hoped the distributors grasp the opportunity of another quality product and do not rub their hands in despair at having to market it.
 
 
The must in glass.
 
The must itself was an intense lime green, cloudy and with a hugely grassy nose, sweet and grapey. On the palate immense natural sugar with a good acidity and huge depth of flavour and body. It will be interesting to see how this baby develops over the next few months before its release onto the market. 
 
 Later some visitors arrived to buy some wine and were greeted by Mari Carmen with a `welcome on the best day of the year!´
 
 
Mari Carmen catching up with messages.
 
A  magical day all round was topped by lunch to which the bodega’s owners Amparo and Paco came as well.  Mari Carmen had prepared further plates of meats and sausages, an authentic gazpacho andaluz  as well as cooking tortillas with courgettes and peppers from the garden and conejo frito, ( also called conejo al ajillo or rabbit cooked with garlic). The conversation flowed easily as everyone was caught up in the happy family atmosphere which is and sums up Finca Collado nicely. This was no doubt aided by the excellent 2007 Tinto, still relatively youthful and from the outset displaying the terroir which makes up the vineyard, an eclectic mix of three soils in a small area. Paco beamed with joy at the wine. This is a wine which will keep for several years and at 6€ a bottle is one to add to any cellar if you want to observe how a good wine develops!
 
This magical day during which I was made to feel  I had become one of the extended family all too soon came to an end but I have no doubt there will be many more visits to Finca Collado with friends over the years. Once again my thanks go to Guillermo and Mari Carmen for the invitation to a special occasion.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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