Checking Sugar Levels of Grapes in Vineyard

From early July we test the sugar levels of the grapes every three days or so. This is done using a refractometer, which measures the grape juice by its refractive index. A shadow line is reflected on a glass plate inside the instrument, which is then viewed through a magnifying eyepiece. We use the Brix scale, where 1 degree Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution and represents the strength of the solution as per cent of weight.

We take samples from every third line and from the same six or so plants in those lines. This enables a good idea of where plants are doing the best and also an overall idea of when the whole vineyard will be ready for harvest. We aim to achieve an average reading of around 24, so using a factor of 0.55, we end up at a wine alcohol of 13-14 degrees. This  is only an estimate of future alcohol level as solids in the juice can change the outcome.

Squeezing a drop of juice onto the bottom plate and then closing the top plate squashes the juice into a thin film which allows light to refract through onto a given and engraved scale. Each harvest is different but you get to know which plants are good and which areas of the vineyard are best.

Some of the bunches are almost perfect, a shame to cut them . . . almost!

We also taste the grapes for sweetness and flavour, chew the skin on the front teeth to get skin tannin taste, make sure the pips are brown for ripeness and feel the grape and skins for firmness and give.

As we get closer to our harvest, to allow maximum sun and ambient heat to increase the sugar levels, we cut away the lower leaves and wait. It is at the end a judgement call as to the actual day of the harvest, how much bird damage, how many grapes turning to raisins, verses ripeness and sugar levels.

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Harvest / Vendimia 2012

The day of the harvest, this year the 27th August, had a feel of excitement like the first day of a holiday. The whole focus of a years work, from cutting and shaping to sulphering gently each plant by hand, culminates in one day. Hundreds of hours working in the vineyard poured into one day’s result. The grapes have been green harvested, any split or diseased grapes cut out, brix sugar levels assessed, grapes tasted, skins chewed and pips checked, all for one reason, a good harvest and then a good wine. That reason and work is tested on harvest day.

So up at 5am and checked that the buckets and containers are clean and ready. The destemmer, or as it is called here a despalilladora takes centre stage with the fermentation tanks at the end.

Our first helpers arrived at 6am and started cutting the lower vineyard, soon the grape containers were full. Just in time the rest of our helpers arrived at 7am and so all our teams were busy. 30 people helped, from cutting and carrying, to sorting and putting good bunches into the hopper of the destemmer.

By 10am we had finished. The 1,000 litre fermantation tank was nearly full and a 700 steel tank, also used for fermentation, was two thirds full, so maybe 1,400 litres of must. Fermentation started within a couple of hours with no added yeast or sugar, just the natural reaction of the fruit sugar with yeasts on the skins.

We cleaned away and set up the long table for a harvest breakfast, washed down with orange juice and cava, while the must burbled away alongside us.

wine fermenting

Thanks to all who helped this year; Adrian & Linda, Becky, Carl & Jill, Carmen, Christine, David & Ros, David & Hilda, David & Helen and sons Harry & Matthew, Geoff & Fee, Ikuku, Jenn & Steve, John & Linda, John & Sharon and son Alex, Julia, Maurice & Gloria, Stuart, Thiery & Breda and daughter Alannah.

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Secret pools of Genal River at Venta San Juan

I am going to tell you about a secret place. It is a place of laughter and of splashing and of families eating in dappled light. On a hot summers day this is the place to be.
A crystal clear, unpolluted river running through falls and pools along a perfect picnic bank. Only local folk know of it . . . truly a secret place in a hidden Andalucian valley.

genal_valley_sign

To find this idyllic place turn off the A369 Algeciras to Ronda road at Algatocin and follow the steep winding road signposted to Genalguacil.

Then on through forests of chestnut trees, which give the local villagers their living, until the Genal river is reached. Park alongside the road just before the bridge, or at the venta. Most times it will be quiet, but on weekends the Venta San Juan just across the bridge can be busy. It has great barbequed meat and is the perfect place to have a hearty lunch.

jubrique

There is an information board on the left and right side of the road which gives you information about the rivers life and how the area evolved.

genal_rio_sign

Follow the path just to the left of the bridge going up river, this leads on to smaller inlets and rivers running shallows and knee high pools which have been banked up by accumulated stones and fallen trees. Walking along this path means you get your feet wet so make sure you have suitable shoes.

A number of tempting places alongside the river and pools entice, but ignore these even if the cooler box is heavy, or stop and paddle for a while. Then walk on until a long stretch of the river is reached and the path is no more.

Here under dappled chestnuts is the place to spread the picnic blankets, blow up the floats and relax with cold wine or beers.

genal_rio_beach

 

genal_rio_waterfall

genal_rio_small_waterfall

For the adventurous there are long stretches of crystal clear water to paddle along. Possibly to find out what is making that constant splashing sound in the distance.
Or just to find absolute privacy and quiet.

Further up river you will find more falls and pools which could lead you on along the whole length of the river if you had time. The high mountain walls alongside the river hem it in but slope out from it, so they do not make it feel oppressive.

So . . . the secret is disclosed, I hope the locals don’t find out I have told you!

genal_rio_people

genal_rio_close

genal_flowers

 

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Long lunch at Estacion San Pablo de Buceite

A long lunch at a railway station restaurant with trains passing by every hour or so may not be at the top of most people’s list. However this restaurant is different and a long lunch here is a joy.

barra2

Quite how different may be seen by how the owner reckons that, if you are on the train, you can ask the conductor to stop at the normally not-stopping station, and once you finish lunch you can signal the returning train to stop and pick you up!

entrance

The hours of the restaurant are posted at the doorway, but can change.

opening hours

The train times are posted on the outside terrace of the restaurant but no instructions of how actually to hail the train to pick you up!

timetable

The outside terrace is the old platform and is covered for shade and the odd splash of rain. A shaded lawn garden surrounds the restaurant, with cats and birds vying for crumbs.

platform restaurant outside

As the long lunch takes its course the odd train will pass by, from the new local bullet nosed ones to the long distance Talgo’s on their way to Madrid. Adding to the ‘sleepy station being passed by’ feel to the place.

san pablo train

The food is excellent and presented on the plate in a very attractive way. All courses have wide choices and are changed often. The service is good and not rushed.
A favourite place of ours to eat, not least for its quirkiness as an old railway station, complete with a station masters uniform and hat on the wall.

The link to their website is at: http://laestacion.sanpablodebuceite.com

liqueur cappuccino

dessert osborne bullstation cat

 

 

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Cake making day – for a change


I decided to make some cakes today because I had all the right ingredients in my fridge and store cupboard and we had run out of biscuits to have with our tea!

The recipe I followed was from the website: www.ivillage.co.uk.

Everything worked out fine but I had much more mixture so I put the leftover amount into a small tin, lined with greaseproof paper. It worked well and when it was cooked made a small oblong sandwich cake. The cakes took a little longer to cook but I always feel that oven cooking times can vary so much that you have to use your own judgment.

As you can see from the photo, I went one step further. My butterfly cakes are delicious. I scooped out the middle bit from the each cake and put a dollop of butter-cream icing (75g butter & 150g sifted icing sugar beaten with just a little milk at the end for a better consistency) and a little bit of homemade plum jam on half the cakes and homemade nectarine jam on the other half.

Mmmmmm! . . . simply delicious and reminded me of when my children were young and I used to bake fairy cakes. It was a fight between all three of them as to who was going to lick the bowl, beaters and spoons!

Basic recipe for fairy cakes

Makes 24 mini cakes or 12 larger ones

For mini cakes you will need a 12 hole tartlet tin (these are 5cm at the rim and 1½ cm deep) and you will need to use it twice. For larger fairy cakes use a 12-hole bun tin (these are 6½ cm at the rim and 2cm deep). You can use the little paper cases according to the size tin you have. If not, butter the base and sides of the holes before filling with the mixture.

Ingredients: 125g/4½ oz softened butter 125g/4½ oz caster sugar 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract 125g/4½ oz self-raising flour 2 tbsp milk

Method: Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas mark 5. Either butter the tin or place the paper cases in the holes (see above). In a mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. You can use an electric whisk or a wooden spoon. Add the beaten egg, a little at a time, whisking to incorporate, then beat in the vanilla. Sift in half of the flour and fold into the mixture. Add the milk and the rest of the flour and fold until well combined. Spoon into the tin and bake for 12 minutes or until risen and golden on top. Allow to cool for ten minutes on a rack before removing from the tin.

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