On Sunday evening, Mother Nature treated the residents of Canabal to a magnificent display of light and sound. The performance lasted well over an hour, in which time barely a spot of rain fell on the spellbound audience.
For the residents of Canabal, this year’s vendimia (grape harvest) was a none event, three days of heavy frost at the end of April saw to that. The cold snap decimated the young grapes wiping out entire vineyards. Fortunately, the nearby region of El Bierzo was not affected. Following a telephone call to a local wholesaler, we agreed to purchase 350 kilos at a cost of 80 cents per kilo. The red, mencia grapes were the same variety we would have grown had Jack Frost not intervened.
After the official weigh-in, work began in earnest. Tradition is one thing but if you’d ever smelt my wife’s feet, you’d know why investing in a modern crusher was worth its weight in gold.
The crusher removes the stems making this part of the process quick and efficient.
A shower of grape must tumbles into a waiting bucket.
From bucket to vat in a continuous stream. This is where a willing labourer comes in handy. Having sampled the fruits of our efforts, Melanie is only too happy to lend a hand.
The first day’s work draws to a close. While the willing worker cleans the equipment, the vinatero (me) takes precise measurements and calculates the must’s properties using mystical formulas. A specific gravity of 1105 indicates an alcohol content of 14% by volume – perfect.
The addition of potassium metabisulfite stuns the natural yeast and helps protect the must from unwelcome bacteria. Enzymes assist the breakdown of the grape pulp to ensure maximum juice extraction.
After resting quietly for a day, a starter yeast is added to the must. The next twenty-four hours are critical. If the fermentation fails to start, it’s back to the drawing board. Thankfully, we had no such problem and the miracle of turning grapes into wine began.
Four days in; the fermentation was two-thirds complete. Time to separate the liquid from the solids.
Once the young wine has been transferred from the fermenting vat into the storage vat. The solids: grape skins, seeds, and anything else unfortunate enough to have fallen into the crusher, can be removed.
To make sure every last drop of wine is extracted the must is pressed.
Pressing grape must is a great way to build up a thirst.
The result is a weighty cake of pressed skins and seeds which makes great fertilizer but is more commonly used to make aguardiente, the local firewater.
The end result is a 250-litre vat, full to the brim with red wine. All we have to do now is wait six months, hope for the best and fingers crossed.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES ...
Book four in ‘The Journey’ series is available to pre-order from today but who exactly is Craig Briggs?
Life began on the 12th of July 1962, in St. Luke’s hospital, Huddersfield: Craig was the second child, and only son, of Donald and Glenys. Donald was a humble lathe operator working for one of the town’s largest employers. A telephone call from the hospital informed him of the new arrival but all was not as expected. Young Craig was not a ‘normal’ baby. He was born with congenital feet deformities: I cannot imagine a crueller phone call.
On my first birthday, I received a gift that would change my life forever. A unique present that gave me what the Vespa had given to the youth of the 1950s; freedom and independence. As you can see from the photo, my first shoe wasn’t quite as stylish as the Italian built scooter but from now on, Master Briggs was on the move.
Over the next five years a series of surgical procedures changed the way I moved. Early recollections are few but these infant experiences undoubtedly coloured my future life. In the 1960’s NHS visits were restricted to one person for one hour per day. The anguish of a young mother listening to the tortured screams of her young son begging her to stay are unimaginable – it wasn’t much fun for me either.
When the time came, mum walked me to school like any other proud mother and Dad gave me his first and only piece of worldly advice. ‘If anyone hits you, hit em back’. With one exception, my mind was sharper than my boxing prowess. School life and education didn’t really do it for me; I found it difficult to concentrate on anything that didn’t interest me.
I left comprehensive school with mediocre exam results and drifted aimlessly to sixth form college. In May 1980, my education came to an end and I entered the employment market. At the time, Margaret Thatcher was busy dismantling British industry and unemployment was running at a post war record high. I signed on and spent the summer lounging around the house watching the Wimbledon tennis finals on telly. In September that year, during one of my many visits to the job centre, a notice caught my eye, ‘Wanted trainee retail managers’. The idea of becoming a manager sounded quite appealing so I applied.
There were 560 applicants chasing 6 places. I pleaded my case and found myself one of the lucky half dozen. After a two-week training course in the seaside town of Southport, I passed with honours achieving the rank of assistant manager. When asked where I’d like to apply my new-found retail skills, I chose London – the city paved with gold.
I left Huddersfield a naïve child and returned three and a half years later a wiser and more mature young man. A brief period of letting my hair down followed, catching up for lost time and lost youth. During these wild and hedonistic few months, I won the greatest prize of all - love. After weeks of persistent pestering, the young barmaid at my local pub finally agreed to a date, a date that changed my life forever. That beautiful young barmaid was Melanie.
My career in retail lasted six and a half years. On turning 26 I decided to go it alone and resigned. My ambition of owning my own shop came to an abrupt end when the bank refused to fund my plan. That disappointment led me to reinvent myself as a self-employed financial consultant. My, ‘Big Break’ came two years into my life as a death insurance salesman. I stumbled across two young men running an ailing printing business. They needed financial support and asked if I was interested in joining them. Against all professional advice I jumped at the chance, re-mortgaged the house and bought an equal share.
Finally, I’d found my true vocation. The business was losing money hand over fist; the bank had taken a second charge on each partners home and called in the overdraft. Whilst others worried about our impending doom, I applied myself to resolving the problems. We weathered the storm but casualties were high. After 13 years of blood, sweat and holding back the tears, I ended up owning and running a modestly successful business. Later that year a chance remark to the company accountant led to discussions about a buyout, the opportunity to realise my dream finally presented itself.
On the 6th of May 2002, with the car laden to capacity, me, Melanie and our dog Jazz set off for Galicia in the northwest corner of Spain. The contrast between our lives in England and our new life here couldn’t have been greater. We’d leapt into the unknown and in our wildest dreams could not have imagined the rewards.
Our new life wasn’t without its challenges but we met them together and gradually settled in to our new surroundings. Two years into our new life I started writing about our experiences for an online magazine. Several years later I began writing my first travel memoir ‘Journey To A Dream’ which was published in 2013. The latest book in The Journey series ‘Opportunities Ahead’ continues that story.
To thank everyone who’s been following our story and to encourage those who’ve yet to start, I’m offering my new book ‘Opportunities Ahead’ at half price but hurry, this is a limited time offer which ends on the 15th of September.