La Vendimia with Covijerez

covi-vedimia

salva-martaI have learned over the years that the best experiences often happen when they aren’t planned. When I first planned my Sherry Odyssey in 2015, I never expected I would have met one of the key players in the sherry industry. At that time, I only knew Salvador Espinosa as the president of Covijerez and the man who let me sign my first sherry barrel.

These days, he’s wearing several hats at not only the cooperative, but in his vineyards, at Bodegas Diez Mérito, in his role at the Consejo Regulador, and most recently as one of the Magi on Three Kings Day. (For those of us in the US, it’s like Santa Claus only on a much grander, festive scale!) What’s humbling for me is that he always has time to be my friend. Salvador has offered me opportunities in my sherry exploration and education that I wouldn’t have created or planned otherwise! Let me share one of them with you from my most recent trip in September.

covijerez1I wanted to go back to Covijerez to see it in full swing during harvest! This is where the majority of grapes are trucked in and processed for press and often for the first stages of fermentation. This is the perfect resource of modern technology to help when harvest has to happen quickly to maintain standards set by the Consejo Regulador. Most wineries transfer their bulk grapes in dumper trucks, which are weighed before pressing to monitor the yield requirements set by the Consejo for quality control purposes.

sheldonI met Salvador in the morning and the temperatures were already rising quickly into the upper 90’s (I think that day it got to 104F (40C). We piled into his brother’s car with Sheldon, the happiest dog in Jerez, and headed to Caribe Vineyard. Salvador’s family has been working to restore Bodegas Diez Mérito to its prestige. This vineyard is one of the oldest and provides the must for the Bertola sherry series. The older the vineyard the better the grapes!

After a quick morning coffee and toast and chat with locals, we met up with those already hard at work hand-cutting baskets full of Palomino grapes. Though I appreciated my quick lesson, even with my best effort I was too slow, my hip protested immediately with all the squats and I couldn’t lift more than a half-full basket. I have so much appreciation for the human-power that goes into harvesting the Sherry Triangle!

Back at Covijerez, it was the same guided-tour as the year before, only with the machinery and workers in full swing! Non-stop truckloads were dumping tons of fruit and juice moving them all along. The byproduct of skins, seeds and stems looked almost like ginormous cow pies. The noise of it all made it difficult to really understand the details of what was happening. I was thankful for Salvador’s use of English.

Inside the lab, he offered me the refractometer to see how they make sure the sugar levels stay within range. Here, they measure by BaumĂ©, which will indicate the alcoholic strength that will be reached after fortification. 10.5 % is the goal for the best sugar potential for alcohol. They also analyze the health of the grapes for proper fermentation – 0.8 or higher isn’t healthy for fermentation.

Across the way, we walked to check on the fermentation tanks. Not very many bodegas ferment in barrels anymore. Tank systems help maintain consistency. Covijerez has two types of tank systems here. The older is La Ducha – a shower system where cold water cools the outside of the tank. The newer tanks are Camisas, a cold water insulation system. It’s amazing the heat that fermentation can generate! The circulating cold water helps control the fermentation in a consistent, non-aggressive way. I’m glad I didn’t have a fear of heights as we climbed a good 15 meters up to monitor the tanks. The smells were strong and I was firmly reminded not to breathe in when looking into the bubbling liquid.

fermentationThe fermentation takes 14 days and is complete once the bubbles have stopped and all the sugar has been consumed. Everything settles throughout the fall and the base liquid must, or mosto, is sold right around the end of November. Creating the best mosto is crutial for the initial aging and maturing process of sherry, either biologically as a Fino or traditionally as Oloroso. Julien Jeffs said it best, “The must is the life blood of the bodegas; it is continually examined and checked, as everything depends on it.”

Despite being pulled in many directions, Salvador Espinosa is kind, generous and down to earth. He has taught me so much about the importance of making mosto. If you fall in love with sherry as I have, and visit Jerez, I really hope you and he cross paths!

sherrysips

La Vendimia Pt. 1 – Back to Spirit Sherry

 

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It’s hard to believe, as I huddle inside my Portland home from the snowy exterior that only four months ago I was sweating through the days of harvest in Jerez. Even more surprising is el mosto, the juice that was pressed and fermented at harvest, is officially ready to be fortified to continue the blending process of the soleras. Where did the time fly?

After the success of my first Sherry Odyssey in the spring of 2015, I knew I must come back at harvest. I wanted to understand sherry from grape to glass. Yet by the end of my first visit, apart from seeing the vines, I primarily visited bodegas, enjoying copious amounts of the finished product. This time around, I went back to two of my favorite locations to really get a feel for both traditional and modern harvest methods.

Spirit Sherry

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My first visit to Spirit Sherry was an instant connection of friendship and I could not wait to go back! Last year they were at La Zarzuela vineyards, but have moved to another location close by, appropriately named La Hija de la Z. It’s much more rustic with a gorgeous view, and the perfect experience to step back in time.

Eduardo picked me up in Jerez first thing in the morning. The temperatures were rapidly rising to well over 100˚F. (I think that day it got to 41˚C.) Two other young ladies joined me, ready for some harvest fun! I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew I would be cutting grapes, then stomping them. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have a lot of fun, or if I was setting myself up to be like Lucille Ball stomping grapes in Italy, ending in a wrestling match.

Before we began, Eduardo and Cecilia gave us a little lesson on the regulations in place to ensure harvest is successful. Sugars ferment and convert to alcohol. Palomino grapes require a minimum of 10.5% to be able to reach the alcoholic strength, as well as the right acidity levels to keep from going through malolactic fermentation. When these levels are perfect, THAT is when harvest is permitted. Every vineyard harvests at the same time.

 

The health of the grape is also very important. This year the weather created several challenges for the grapes, especially in the case of mildew. Fortunately, the solera blending process makes up for when there’s a bad harvest, even though it still presents a challenge when the majority of the grapes are still being handpicked.

Spirit Sherry experiences are fun and educational! We weren’t expected to harvest for the entire day, let alone an entire row. For hand cutting, everyone worked on the same line, taking the cluster and cutting it close to the top where the stalk meets the supporting branch. Sometimes it was hard to find the main stock, since the grapes wind and tangle around each other.

After each of us filled our own basket, we helped carry them back to a shaded area and lined them up in a row on the ground. Ana, Marta and I were instructed to take off our shoes and socks and step right into the buckets, while holding each other’s shoulders for support. With a little help of some salsa music, we stomped the grapes to the beat. After many giggles and sloshing, we each cleaned off then took our buckets over to a table where we macerated the rest with our hands through a sieve.

Spirit Sherry is all about tradition. The must from Palomino grapes was poured into a glass jars to ferment. Because of the low acidity, Eduardo added tartaric acid to aid the fermentation process. Rather than blending our must into a solera, Spirit Sherry uses it for their delicious table wine.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the shade of a tree eating delicious tapas and pastries with glasses of sherry. It’s moments like these when I’m glad my Spanish is just good enough to catch most of the jokes and local gossip. Despite the heat, despite the flies, despite even the sad, feral dogs that roam the vineyard, I felt at home and was proud to play a part in making something that will be enjoyed later in the years to come.

Stay tuned next week for part 2 – my return visit to Covijerez to see their mass mosto production!

A Look Inside COVIJEREZ ~ Where the Mosto Happens

La Cooperativa VitivinĂ­cola Ntra. Sra. de las Angustias COVIJEREZAs harvest in the sherry region is in full swing and the Vendimia festival is around the corner, I think about my friends at Covijerez.

La Cooperativa Vitivinícola Ntra. Sra. de las Angustias COVIJEREZ was not even on my radar when I came to Jerez. Upon my arrival, I came across a new sherry bar advertising 1€ glasses. I asked the bartender which bodega was on tap. Since the bottles were unmarked growlers, he said he was pretty sure it was Las Angustias. He let me sample them all. They had such a unique citrus finish to them that I really enjoyed.

I went online to seek them out. I found their Facebook page and sent a message explaining I’m a sherry blogger visiting from the US, found their sherry at Bar Camachuelo and would be interested in visiting their winery. The reply came from Salvador Espinosa, the coop’s president, stating he was not familiar with Camachuelo nor was he certain they carried his wines, but would love to invite me to the bodega.

Suddenly I had second thoughts about reaching out to someone I didn’t know. I even dodged his messages a couple times before he finally convinced me that my travels had already taken me to the vineyard and to several bodegas large and small, but I was missing a key piece of the process. I needed to see where they made the mosto.

This wine cooperative was established as a partnership between winemakers and their farmers. Essentially, if you have grapes to press into must, this is the place to have it done! I met with Salvador and Gonzalo Monje, the capataz who led the visit.

They took me through the grounds showing me the huge machinery needed to process truckloads of grapes. They get crushed, filtered, and eventually put in tanks to start fermentation. Thank God I’m not afraid of heights as they took me up to the catwalk to get a bird’s eye view of the empty tanks waiting for this year’s harvest. They have large AC units to keep the rooms cool during process. Off in one wing is the small bottling room and a storage area for casks prepped for whiskey.

After we left the main building, I was led into their wine cellar to sample from their barrels: Fino en Rama, Palo Cortado, Amontillado VORS and Oloroso. Then Salvador led me into their sacristia – the special tasting room full of old photos and memorabilia.

As I was looking around, I turned to see Salvador holding out a piece of chalk to me. To sign a barrel is a total honor for someone like me who still feels like a total nobody in the sherry world! My mind went completely blank. He took a video, as I tried to remember the date or even how to spell correctly. I was overjoyed!

As I left the Coop, Gonzalo handed me a beautiful gift box with three of their sherries to take home: The Sin Pecado Fino en Rama, the Oloroso and their Pedro Ximenez, which is by far my favorite when it comes to PX styles. Unlike others that are too thick and sweet to my liking, this one converted me with its lighter body, pure raisin flavor and orange blossom finish. I’ve been pouring it on all my desserts this summer!

I truly hope I’ll be able to return in the near future to share harvest with this group of the sweetest people who made me feel like royalty!

If you are interested in visiting the vineyards or winery, don’t hesitate to contact them by email at visitasangustias@covijerez.es or by phone at +34 617 229 782. You can also click here for the Turismo Jerez website.

Si estáis interesados en realizar una visita a nuestros viñedos y a nuestra bodega no dudéis en poneros en contacto con nosotros mediante email a visitasangustias@covijerez.es o por teléfono al numero 617 229 782.

Aquí tenéis el enlace de la web municipal de turismo para ampliar información.

gifts from Covijerez