There’s not a lot going on these days, except for us all keeping well both financially and spiritually, oh and of course physically. There are no good lunches to go to, there are no wine tastings anywhere on the planet, dinners out are a distant dream away. Well okay, except now we can enjoy (members only sorry about that) 67PM Zoombuster wine interviews (and tastings if you can get their kit) which are absolutely fabulous! We have had Jasper M MW on Burgundy, more than once. We had Jane A on Bordeaux and there was Marc H all the way from Ch.Musar, on his Lebanese wines and this afternoon Demetri W MW on everything Madeira. Outstanding, all of them but I do think we can all pretty much agree that the liquidity party is now over. The big banks might not collapse this time round, fingers crossed, as being very well capitalised after the 2008 financial crash, of which dear reader I had absolutely no idea about as I was living on top of a mountain just a little south of Bolivia at the time. I know these days, Covids, that the banks remain hesitant about lending, and a lot of businesses are going under already (March-April 2020) or will of course fall victim to bigger, better-capitalised rivals, especially in what I believe is still called the tech-sector. As for our restaurant, wine and gastro-nomic-sector, as the clever old accountant from Nebraska (Warren B) once said, ”when the tide goes out, that’s when you find out who’s wearing the swimming trunks.” Of course I have already heard about restaurant closures, huge staff lay-offs and pub/bar closures all over the globe. Empty hotels and clubs, planes grounded and we have just bottomed out of the all previously terrifying stagnation, and sunk to the bottom of the well. So fingers crossed again, as you know we are going to need a lot of luck these days, and over the coming weeks to find the will forces and the spirit to start breathing the air again. They`ll be hiring again soon, I promise you that.
Now, a wise man once told me two things, and free of charge thank goodness. One was, never turn down the opportunity to appear on the television, and the other piece of advice was never turn down an invitation go to bed with a woman. In what I am now being told daily are `strange-times` that we are living in, I don`t believe a word of it, so I have a third piece of advice to offer you, my dear reader, and having taken the two pieces of wisdom word for word, at some stage during my little old life, this time, the advice, well it comes from me to you, and is wisely free of charge!
If you ever get the opportunity to make a wine, please just get on with it and do it. Ask questions later, or during of course, it is a process, not unlike life itself of course. It probably goes down in the annals of plant a tree, have a child and write a book. But seriously, there is little that can beat it, especially when of course you have the time, imagination, the sponsor and the space and love to make it happen. So, as we have time these days to reflect a little and it seems that it could be vaguely interesting, I want to share a story with you that begins in 2004. For reasons almost too long and hazy for me to go into right now, I found my self living in a little `adobe` (made of earth) house with a hectare of land up in the mountain at 3,000 metres above sea level. The valley is called Quebrada de Humauacha and you can see it here on the map in the northern province of Argentina. This province, which I love a lot, goes by the name of Jujuy (in their local dialect Xuxuy) and for those of you phonetically induced, it sounds like `Who-who-eY`.
On this little plot of land there was very little water to be found, the soil was good and stoney, and what water did arrive to feed the plants, and us, came from the mountain`s daily ice-melt, high high above in Los Andes. The water would trickle down to us after midday, or when the sun had melted the snow on top of the moutain. We had one rather feeble cable of electricity that more or less lit the night-light. We planted vegetables for the kitchen and we inherited four, more than 100 year old, tree like vines very well established on our land. I was actually up there, in Jujuy, to grow little mountain potatoes (in those days there were maybe 750 different varieties). It was a SLOW food project and yet each year when I was up there, these grape trees, totally unpruned and almost with the appearance of ancient olive grove, would produce quite a healthy amount of red grapes. I would sell the fruit in boxes to the lorry drivers as they passed through on the only main road that linked Bolivia to Argentina. They sold for twenty-five pesos a box, just enough to fill the fuel tank with petrol to get home again in one piece. When it came to the harvest in the year 2008, the abundance of red grape was so much that I asked the family, living on the other-side of the valley from us, if they would come over and help me pick the grapes. We picked away, 3 or 4 of us, and placed the harvested red grapes on mats lying flat on the ground, so that I could begin the process of making a wine. The mats turned out to be a blue tarpaulin, not those lovely straw mats I once saw in Verona where they make the famous Recioto della Valpolicella and Amarone wines, but here we have to use only what is available to us, and there were also two large blue plastic drums that I used for the fermentation, and to finish the wine. Not a lot to go by, but perfectly adequate for our needs, and the filter I used was a large collinder just to keep out the skins, stems and larger floaters.
With love, `manos de obra`, good lunches (siestas of course) and a lot of laughs we managed the vintage well. We lay the bunches seperatley on the mats, in full sunlight. At 3,000 plus metres above sea level the intensity of the sun is quite unbelievably strong, so what would normally take a week or so to dry out the grapes a little in the Jura and in northern Italy, here my judgement made it that 48 hours was sufficient. I must remind you that at this stage, I have of course never done this before. All done on pure instinct, and at night I would cover the grapes with another mat, in a sense, to protect them from the onslaught of the burning sun the next morning. It worked. They dried sufficiently with the correct amount of beautiful raisiny juice left for me to work with. At this altitude we do not have insects, at all or any fungus to deal with, it is pure and clean, albeit thin, air. I crushed the grapes by hand only, and with the help of uncle Zebedi who lives across the way, we managed to squeeze close to 450 litres of juice. The dear fellow had been working down in the mines up on the Chilean frontier for most of his life until the mine closed, and so he had been out of work for many years. This was his first taste of a job, of course I paid him for his efforts in good old peso cash-walla. When it came to bottling the wines, all of it was done by hand, his! or should I say by his very strong thumb. Amazingly, each cork was driven home perfectly into the neck of the bottle by the strength of just his right thumb. It makes me almost want to weep when I think back to the vision of me handing him a full bottle of the wine ready to be corked, he grabbing the bottle from me and as if handling putty would squeeze the cork into the bottle neck. We did this close to 600 times over a few days, and we went late into the nights. Full of barbeque meat and full of wine, not ours of course but in those days a decent enough bodega from the province of Catamarca, life really could not have been better. With no TV, no interent and a small battery powered radio that only picked up local police chatter, I was oblivious to the rest of the world`s economic woes. Even when we transported the bottles to a village near Salta to be labelled, capsuled and cased up, I do not think I ever got a whiff that banks, businesses and insurance companies where all going bellyuP. Maybe being in Argentina and having experienced the famed 2001/02 cri$i$ there, it did not really make the headlines or much difference to our way of life. I suppose living in the mountain and the desert of northern Argentina it would come as no surprise that news does not reach that far. I wonder if they have even heard, these days, about the superbug-19? I kind of have a feeling, No!
Some months later I came up with a label design (a style rather similar to a classy expensive Bordeaux to give our wine some clout) and found a project that would benefit some lovely people that I knew well in La Mantanza (Buenos Aires). This family did not necesarilly need my help, or anyone elses for that matter, but they where more than happy to receive the funds that came from selling the wine. We had a plan to secure a small piece of land and a shack in the near by neighborhood where the rest of the family lived. We planned a sustainable kind of eco-village. I called the wine Oro Verde. Two reasons. One, it was the name of the little area that the family lived in, and the second reason was that as I used no chemical or mechanical tools to make the wine, it must not only be one of the highest altitude wines made and bottled in the world, but also one of the original non-intervention reds made since the beginning of 20th century. So, all very greeny green (Verde) indeed. As for the Gold (Oro) bit. Well we packed up quite a few cases of six bottles and sent them down in a wagon to be auctioned off, in the Capital Federal, with no `reserve` on them, at the famous auction house of JC Naon & CIA . The house of Naon have been auctioning off Art, antique furntiture and all sorts of goodies for over 200 years now, and with their Christie`s connection I thought this was the best route to go. As 2008 Oro Verde had never been heard of, let alone sold before I thought it best to leave the team at Naon to use their judgement and to put the price guide, which of course they did and I agreed to a no reserve on the lot, just in case. One bottle went onto Lot 411, amongst some of the local classics from Mendoza. The bottle estimate: U$20-30, wau! that was a suprise to me. There where full cases lying in their warehouse, out back, available should anyone want to buy some on the day. Frenzied bidding went on as it always does in the Argentine auction scene, with not just wine here but with everything. It`s like being at a knacker`s sale in Ireland. Screechy microphone and an almost impossible tempo to keep up with as the auctioneer speeds his way through the lots as if he wants to get home just as quickly as possible and leave us all in the room not just a little out of breath, but also a little confused, out of pocket and sometimes a little bewildered when the hammer finally comes down. !Bang! went the hammer on Lot 411, and some dear chap paid U$25 for the bottle plus JC Naon`s commission + IVA (In those days it all came to A$111 a bottle, or almost a week`s rent back then). Fortunately the same buyer then went on to buy case quantities at the same price. I was thrilled to pieces of course. We finally had a bottled and labelled wine from Jujuy to show, and it now even had a bottle/market value.
When we sent the bottles to the bodega near Salta for verification, labeling and capsuling, they told me that the grape was a Cabernet Sauvignon. Between you and me, I am really not so sure that 100 year old vine-trees high up in the Andes would ever produce Cab-Sauv grapes, but I did agree with them that it was the closest grape-wine profile that they and I could come up with. Definitley not a Malbec, and probably something the locals would have called Criolla.
Well there we go, that`s the story of my one and only wine vintage, and winemaking experience of Oro Verde `Garage` Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. I hope you enjoyed it and the photographs as well. In those days it was an old Canon camera that did the clicking, no chip and very few photos I could find. We where too busy living the life than to take photographs, unlike today. I really hope that once the silly business of this 2020 flu-bug’19 thingy gets sorted out either by various Govts or by Scientists or maybe even the grubby little bug itself, and then we can finally give up the ghost on it, and we can all get on with a healthy life, good work and luncheon with chums again.
Before I leave, I have managed to destroy the best part of my ‘private cellar’ over the last weeks (months?) here, sorry I have lost count of the days, but if anyone out there wants to sell some decent kit that’s in good shape, preferably some top white, and some not too ropey red, I am of course a buyer. Duty paid or Under Bond! just let me know please.
Bug free Email to receive offers, wine orders of course, and any good news: firstname.lastname@example.org