Thursday, May 27, 2010

Verus Wines 2009 Vintage

We spent yesterday morning with Bozidar Grabovac from Verus tasting through their 2009 wines, along with comparisons from 2008. We import their Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc and both have been praised by various critics including John Wilson of the Irish Times and Jancis Robinson in the Financial Times. In fact, the critical acclaim has led to some allocation issues, but being on the ground here allows us to hassle them that little bit more!

Verus was set up by three friends and ex-employees of the local Jeruzalem-Ormoz co-op – itself a very successful model of a larger scale operation. Having worked there for many years, they knew where the best vineyard sites were in this small region and set out to acquire them and introduce new viticultural and vinification techniques. In a region that delivered the UK’s No. 1 selling wine 25 years ago – millions of litres annually of the slightly sweet Laski Riesling – change has sometimes been slow to come. Verus, along with Miro Munda and a growing number of others, have taken relatively giant leaps in the way they treat their wines – cold maceration, temperature controlled fermentations, minimal use of sulphur, sterile bottling conditions, stelvin closures etc. The results are a range of fresh, clean whites that jump from the glass and display true varietal characteristics combined with the unique regional aspect.

Overall the 2009’s were a pleasure to taste, although they were a little muted compares to the 2008’s we tasted alongside them. Having just been bottled a few weeks before, they were a little coiled and restrained. The 2009 growing season was very challenging – some severe hail storms in early summer decimated much of the crop and alternating hot and wet spells made for irregular growth. By harvest, volumes were down by up to 50%. The upside is that the wines have good concentration and an unusual complexity and minerality to them – unusual since the soil is mostly heavy clay.

We secured our allocations of the Pinot Gris and Sauvignon and plan to ship – and enjoy – them in the Autumn.

The Smell of Cycling

No, not the smell AFTER cycling, but the smells DURING cycling!

Every morning at around 07:00 I try and get out for a 45 minute cycle. You have to go this early to avoid looking like a boiled lobster on wheels later in the heat of the day. Also, it clears the mind before returning to the office and the computer to see what sort of madness is happening with the Bordeaux 2009 campaign or to sort out deliveries that have ended up in Doolin instead of Doonbeg.

Many people rightly equate cycling with exercise and sightseeing – cycling through the vineyards is a great way of looking at all the other vineyards to see what people are doing and what stage of growth they are at. However few consider the olfactory aspect of cycling. Nature is in full flight here – only two months ago there were still sub-zero temperatures – and now everything is happening very rapidly. The array of smells as you cycle around is amazing. In the clean, relatively cool air at 07:00 in the morning, the smells are still very separate before they are muddled by the heat of the day and convection currents. You whiz down hills through pockets of “sweet” and “heavy” air from the smell of animals, climb hills into fragrant and “lights” air from fields of poppies, crash into pollen-laden air from the grain crops – or zoom into the cool air under the trees and avoid mouthfuls of insects and then rush out the other side into a wall of aromas from freshly cut grass. It’s like smelling the individual herbs and spices in a stew before you put it into the oven to cook it all together.

There is one similarity with Ireland through. No matter what direction you go in – and especially up hills – the breeze always seems to be in your face!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Big Dilemma

Just back from a whirlwind week in Ireland – more on that to follow. Straight back into the vineyard to do some de-budding. Sinead was here back in February for some pretty chilling pruning at -10 degrees Celsius and now that the growth spurt is on, the focus has turned to de-budding any excess buds before they grow too much and waste the vine’s energy. At least, that’s the theory.

I had a very interesting conversation with someone outlining a philosophy that no matter what you do, or don’t do, in terms of pruning and de-budding, the vine will ultimately find its own natural equilibrium and only produce the same amount of fruit. Interesting theory, but we’re still at the “tweak the vine” school of approach here. The photo above is a pretty extreme example of a double bud – essentially two shoots that sprout from the same bud. You have to go through the vineyard and check it vine by vine for excess buds. Most are tiny and easily “rubbed” off. Others are bigger and you have to decide which of them offers the best potential for producing the right amount of fruit – a sort of vinous grim Reaper. It’s laborious, slow work and I’d forgotten how heavy your head is if you let it hang over your shoulders bending down for hours on end.

The other dilemma is to make decisions for next year – this viticultural approach works two years in advance – pruning and de-budding for both this year and next year. Back in February two stems will also have been chosen to form the “spurs” for next year that will ultimately produce buds and fruit. Each of these spurs needs to have two shoots so that when it comes to pruning next February, the winemaker will have choices and can determine what is best at that stage. If you knock off a crucial bud at this point (i.e. now), then there isn’t much left to work with next year….. Amazingly you become very aware of what you’re doing very quickly!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Slow, fast, slow......

Slow, fast, slow…. That’s the way the weather impacts on the growing cycle of the vines. This year, after a long cold winter, growth is about 10 days behind normal. However, in the last few days, the vines have really put on a growth spurt! We were amazed to discover that they can grow up to 2cm a day! If you haven’t done the correct pruning by now, it’s all too late as the vine will waste energy on useless shoots.

One interesting thing we noticed this year is the position of the flower/fruit on each shoot. It’s normally after the third leaf, but on many vines, it seems to be after the fifth leaf this year. Depending on who you ask, this is either a major disaster, a sign of global warming, or nothing to worry about at all. It is amazing however that it’s something that is replicated throughout all the vines – Mother Nature moves in uniform ways. What we do know is that the vines were hit by serious hail and storms around this time last year and a lot of damage was done. Maybe the strange flower/fruit position is due to the impact of the storms on the vines and it’s now manifesting itself….

Friday, May 7, 2010

We made it!

Well, we made it!

Three days in a car, three kids, one wife (still!), two ferries, one train and some 2,000km later and we’ve arrived in our little corner of Slovenia. This isn’t supposed to be a travel blog, but there were two important things to note from our journey:

a) You CAN drive a car over 2,000km with a worn rear bearing, but the noise does get quite loud towards the end….even drowns out the kids, and that’s quite an achievement!

b) I’ve never been on a train before where the driver got lost. Honestly. We went to bed somewhere near Neu Isenberg (no I don’t know where it is either) and expected to wake up in Villach at 06:30 the next morning. Instead, we were awoken by the very efficient German train driver telling us that he’d had to take a diversion in the middle of the night due to fallen cables and now we were somewhere in Austria, but he wasn’t sure where….. absolutely true! Since he was also towing a whole load of cars, he couldn’t go through many tunnels and he kept having to change the engine from one end to the other (as obviously trains can’t turn around) but fair play to the guy – he got out a map, figured it out, criss-crossed Austria and got us to Villach – only 8 hours late!

So we’re here for the next 4 months – except for me who will be shuttling backwards and forwards to Ireland (this time by plane) to keep everything moving along on the business side of things. And in between, there are kids to get to school, vines to be planted, vines to be pruned, last year’s wines to be tasted, a mountain of stuff to learn – and all with a few glasses of wine along the way!