It's grape-harvest time and here in Hotel Montíboli it is our pleasure to offer you the very best wines.
That is why we are going to tell you this week about how they pick the grapes and transform them into wine in one of the wineries, or in Spanish, bodegas, most dear to us.
And to tell this story, we have gone along to Bodegas Casa Cesilia, undoubtedly one of the most notable wineries in the province of Alicante. At the bodega, we met up with its master winemaker, Francisco Granado. Francisco was kind enough to tell us in some detail about how bodegas manage their day-to-day work of viticulture and how they carry out the grape harvest.
As you know, the grape harvest is the process of picking and collecting grapes to be turned into wine.
The ways in which grapes are harvested vary not only from region to region, but also depending on the type of wine the grapes are to be used for. In our region, the grape harvest usually takes place between July and October. The aim is to pick the grapes at their optimum degree of ripeness. When this is achieved, the ratio of sugars to acids is at exactly the right balance for making the best wines.
In Bodegas Casa Cesilia, grape harvesting starts between 25 July and 5 August. It is a lengthy process, because there are different varieties of grapes and wines and each of these has its own life cycle.
This results in phased harvesting, every step of which is carefully calculated to ensure the optimum picking time for each grape variety.
Among these varieties Moscatel and Macabeo are some of the earliest for white wine, and Merlot for red.
To ensure that the optimum moment is chosen, the grapes are constantly checked for ripeness on the vine.
In Casa Cesilia, all grape picking is done by hand. Although Alicante province produces some of Spain's most characteristic and best-known wines, there are not many large vineyards in the province and, for that reason, there is not much machine harvesting.
That said, since the best results are achieved from putting the most effort into grape selection, harvesting by hand always helps to produce better wine. This makes sense, because the grapes are handled with much more care and even affection, and although hand harvesting increases production costs as it requires more effort from grape pickers, it does lead to a better-quality end product.
Among the many types of grape in Bodegas Casa Cesilia, the goal is always to produce the most complete select wines. To do this, the particular features of each grape variety are used to maximum benefit. And in so doing, the other of Casa Cesilia's objectives is achieved: that of producing more complex wines.
This always involves obtaining the best structure in the mouth and making a wine with body, giving a creamier feel.
Before harvesting, it is crucial to find exactly the right time to prune the vine shoots. To get this right, growers have to watch out for when the plant goes into its dormant period, because it is very important that there is no sap flow when the shoots are pruned on the bunches of grapes.
Laboratory tests are used to determine the ripeness of the grapes. A sample of the grapes is taken and its juice is analysed. The laboratory test looks at a range of factors, such as the amount of sugars and the degree of acidity (pH), to determine if the right time has come to harvest the grapes.
Casa Cesilia grows many grape varieties, although the whites that are native to the region are Moscatel and Malvasía. Historically, both go back a long way in Alicante province, since these are typical Alicante grapes.
As for red wine, the most authentically native would be Monastrell (also very characteristic of the province) while for rosé wines, Merlot takes top honours, French Merlot grapes having been adapted to our soil for many years.
There are many other very characteristic red wine varieties in Bodegas Casa Cesilia, such as Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Graciano and Grenache, called Garnacha in Spanish.
Every year, Bodegas Casa Cesilia produces between 150,000 and 200,000 litres of wine from its grape harvest, depending on how well the crop grew over the year and the weather conditions.
Bodegas Casa Cesilia employs between 10 and 15 people on the various tasks of harvesting and wine -making. It has three or four people working on wine making and it employs another three or four people on its permanent staff working in the vineyards. The rest of the staff are seasonal workers recruited for the harvest season.
The most usual times to work on grape picking vary depending on the weather. And although summers are usually hot, picking tends to start at 8am and end at 6pm unless temperatures are extremely high.
When extreme heat is forecast, picking usually starts at dawn and finishes earlier too. Extremely hot weather makes afternoon work very difficult for everyone involved in the harvest.
Planning is usually done on the fly, with scheduling decided just one day in advance when there is a clearer picture of temperatures for the following day.
The one thing that has the most influence is the raw material, the grape. But the work done in the bodega is also crucial; if it is done with care this always results in best quality wines.
The grapes are always transported from the vineyard to the bodega in boxes on a trailer towed by a tractor.
When they are in the bodega, they are destemmed ready for the selection process that separates out grapes that are not up to standard and chooses those of best quality.
Bodegas Casa Cesilia use pneumatic wine presses to press the grapes to produce must.
There are different processes for white and red wine.
For white wine, after the grapes have been squeezed and pressed, all the juice is extracted. This must is cooled to around 16°C and all remaining solids held in suspension are removed to give a clean liquid.
This liquid is now ready for alcoholic fermentation, which is the process of converting its sugars into alcohol. After that comes lactic acid (or malolactic) fermentation. This process consists of converting malic acid into lactic acid through the action of certain bacteria that make the wine ferment for optimal results.
There is a different process for red wines after fermentation, because the whole grape has to be put to work. When you cut a grape open, the pulp inside it is white and the task now is to obtain a dark colour for red wine. To do this, the grape skins have to be marked so that the colour is extracted from them and transferred to the wine.
Once the desired colour and taste have been achieved, the next stage is ageing, or in Spanish, crianza.
All that now remains is leaving the wine to rest (age) for a period before it goes to market. Another big difference between red and white wine is in their ageing times. Whites and rosés are sold straight away, as these are young wines. But red wine is always left for a period (anything from a few months to many years) before being sold. Cesilia Rose, for example, is always ready for sale at Christmas, shortly after the harvest. Ad Gaude, on the other hand, is always aged for at least four years.
Thus, wines are left in large containers (wooden barrels or stainless steel tanks) and then in bottles. How long a wine is left to age depends on the desired end product, ranging, in order of ageing, from a young wine (vino joven), an aged wine (crianza), a reserva or a gran reserva.
The type of wine also determines the choice of container (stainless steel tanks, tolvas), or French or American oak barrels (barricas) used to age the wine before it is bottled. Once the wine is bottled it is left to age further for a set time before it goes to market and is made available to the public.
Last week, coinciding with a boom in wine tourism, our partner bodega held one of the most celebrated events for wine lovers in Alicante province.
It all happened on Sunday 1 October, when Bodegas Casa Cesilia welcomed the arrival of autumn with its traditional wine harvest festival, the Fiesta de la Vendimia. This is a gathering that takes place every year on the first Sunday in October and which is traditionally very popular with wine buffs, who are treated to an authentic wine tourism experience, accompanied by the very best of Alicante gastronomy.
The day began with a guided tour around the bodega's facilities, through the vineyards and the iconic Casa Labor (House of Work) dating from 1707, where the visitors were given a detailed explanation of the processes in the creation of wine.
They then moved on to the greatly anticipated wine tasting, where they were able to sample the best Casa Cesilia wines.
After the tasting, they were offered an exquisitely paired menu in the bodega restaurant, where great tribute was paid to the grape. The dishes were cooked with the fresh fruit and Casa Cesilia's most outstanding wines.
An unforgettable event that we recommend you experience every year, if you are a connoisseur of good wine.
We look forward to seeing you in Hotel Servigroup Montíboli to toast with us a glass of Casa Cesilia wine.
You will be most welcome to taste the wonderful wines of Alicante.