Facts about our Vineyard

This is just an information sheet to contain the information about our vineyard for internal use.

grape_picking

2013
We start by planting 75 petit verdot on the Era field. There are also a few plants made from cuttings which are white grapes.

2014
Planted 250 new vines on the new field. Half of them Cabernet Sauvignan the other half Bobal.
We did make some wine but it was a mix of our own and some grapes from over the hill.

2015
We made about 40 litres of wine.
The plants were pruned correctly for the first time in October.

2016
We planted 125 Tempranillo and 125 Cabernet Sauvignon

An audit in June by Daniel the Dressing Gown Man states:
There are 660 growing vines.
About 50 did not make it to October.

Harvest:

The harvest happened on the 21st September.
4 crates from new field
3 crates from the Era field
3 crates from down below.
It took about 2 hours with 6 people to do the harvest.

Made about 100 litres of grape must.
About 12% alcohol potential on the light meter.

Pressing:
The pressing happened on 15th of October with the help of Jordan, Pierre, Jane and Caroline the Belgian girl. The wine was quite dry. I estimate that there were about 65 litres.

Notes: Many of the new vines planted were ripped out by foxes searching for insects.
Maybe the goatshit, leaf mold and earth mix should be aged longer before use.

2017
100 bobal ordered. Arrival date 1st April.
 We planted 1 new line and the rest were used to replace dead vines

This time we used the new petrol auger and it took most of the work out of preparing the holes. In August we put the top wires on all the lines.

Harvest:
The team was Sam, Heather, Alex (skateboarder), Phil Kiwi, Nitsan

The harvest happened on the 15th September.
35 crates in total.
18 crates from new field
11 crates from the Era field
It took about 3 hours with 6 people to do the top fields
6 crates from down below this took about 25 minutes

Made about 450 litres of grape must.
About 15% alcohol potential on the light meter.

The pressing happened on 15th of October with the help of Sam, Heather She-Wolf,  Phil Dynes. The time before pressing was much shorter and wine was still sweet. I estimate that there were about 280 litres.

 

Tuesday 12th July 2016

lavender summer cortijoblog
Today was a balmy hot day at the Cortijo and temperatures are abnormally hot for this time of year. The lavender is in full bloom and there are loads of different butterflies and bees collecting pollen from it. One of these days we will have our own colony of bees so that we can reap the benefits of this hive of activity.

There are also some beautiful flowers on the way to the swimming pool:

2016-07-12 12.50.29

2016-07-12 12.51.27

Olive Oil FAQ

Click here if you would like to BUY OUR OLIVE OIL.

OLIVE OIL FAQ

Is oil made from green or black olives?
All green olives eventually go black. The olives in Spain are mostly green in mid November but by January almost all of them have turned black.

Is olive oil made from the stones or the flesh of the olives?
The oil in olives is concentrated in the flesh not in the stones. After milling, the stones are mostly intact. Stones do not make any distinctive contribution to the flavour of the oil and in some extraction techniques the stones are removed.

What is the difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality and most expensive. Extra virgin olive oil must be extracted using only mechanical means without the addition of any solvents and with a temperature of less than 30C.

Extra virgin olive oil must have less than 0.8% free fatty acid because better oils have a low acidity. Each time an olive producer takes a load of olives to the mill, a random sample is taken and this is analysed in a laboratory. The acidity influences the amount that is paid for the olives.

Extra virgin olive oil must have a peroxide value of less than 20. The peroxide level is an indication of how much oxidation has happened, all oils oxidise but excessive oxidation results in rancid flavours.

In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” the oil must also pass an official chemical test in a laboratory and has to be evaluated by a trained tasting panel recognized by the International Olive Council.

What is the basic process of olive oil extraction?
First the olives are ground up into a paste. This was traditionally done with 3 massive heavy conical stones which were dragged around in a circle by a donkey. One of the cooperatives where we take the olives uses a more old-fashioned technique (click here for more info).  Nowadays,  the olives are ground up using electric motors. Traditionally the olive oil paste was then spread out on circular mats which were stacked in a press and pressure applied to squeeze the oil out of the paste. Pressing the olive paste would now be considered an old-fashioned technique and nowadays most oil is extracted in centrifuge-based systems.

Can I use olive oil for frying?
Olive oil is versatile and can be used for roasting, sautéeing, shallow frying, dressing and drizzling. Since it has a high smoking point (210ºC) which is higher than the ideal recommended frying temperature of 180ºC for most foods, it can also be used for deep-fat frying and many chefs recommend it.

Click here if you would like to BUY OUR OLIVE OIL.

Fullfilment by Amazon – Our experience

 

The aim of this blog post is to chart our experience of selling through Amazon by using their “Fulfilment by Amazon” programme.

Rather than representing a profitable, business venture, it was one long saga involving DELAYED DELIVERY, LOST STOCK, HIGH COMMISSIONS and DAMAGED GOODS. Below I will recount our experiences and provide advice and information about selling through Amazon.

SETTING UP AN ACCOUNT
The first step was to set up an account. You can either choose between a business (Professional Merchant) account or a personal (Individual) account. As we wanted to sell olive oil in the food/groceries category, it was necessary to set up a business account. The conditions were a 3-month free trial period followed by a monthly fee of £25 plus Amazon charges per item sent.

As this was an entirely new venture, we decided to take our olive oil with us to England and ship it to the Amazon Fulfilment Centre in Fife.

CREATING YOUR INVENTORY
The second step is to create your inventory. For this, you need photos of the products and it is important to consider Amazon specifications for your photos (no borders, no text, jpg/tif format, well lit, occupying 80% of image area, etc.). You then need to measure and weigh each individual item and each of the boxes to be shipped to Amazon.

For the inventory, you will also need a UPC/EAN barcode number for each product that can be used on Amazon. There are many websites which sell these. You then associate each product with its EAN number.

LABELLING YOUR PRODUCTS
Each product must be labelled before shipment with the correct barcode for tracking purposes within the Amazon fulfilment centre.

The Amazon dashboard is fairly self-explanatory and you can contact their support line at any time. They generally responded quickly either by phone or email.

SHIPPING YOUR PRODUCTS
Using the dashboard, you next need to create a shipping plan, specifying the number of boxes that you want to send. You can either to arrange collection by courier yourself or through Amazon. I arranged it through Amazon so they provide the labels to print for each box. The total price of the shipment for 7 boxes was £25 which was a lot lower than the quotes provided by the same company on their page. The only disadvantage is that Amazon is the shipper and so if something goes wrong they will only act if the parcel is lost or damaged. In my case, the shipment was due to arrive after 24 hours but in fact arrived 42 hours later. According to UPS terms, I should have been eligible for a refund but since Amazon wasn’t willing to fight my corner I wasn’t given one.

LOST STOCK
The next problem was that when the shipment finally did arrive Amazon lost one of the boxes which meant that 9 litres of extra virgin olive oil had gone missing. They apologised and said they would refund the money BUT it would mean that we would have to wait 60 days for them to do so. Taking into account that the trial period last 90 days, this was a substantial part of it. After 60 days, we received a reply from Amazon about the refund: they still hadn’t found the merchandise and would be refunding the total price per unit minus the Amazon fees. This would be acceptable if we were selling the goods on Amazon, but since we would eventually be removing them from the Amazon fulfilment centre, this meant that they had effectively devalued the lost items from £10 to £5.45

FEES
The dashboard provides an estimation of expected fees BUT I was surprised to see that when purchases were made the fees deducted were higher. There was no way of knowing beforehand how much you would be charged per sale as this was calculated according to weight, dimension, etc. In actual fact, what this meant was that Amazon took 45% of the total sale price.

CUSTOMER SERVICE:
Customer service is good and I would normally receive a reply within a couple of hours either by phone or email.

REMOVING UNSOLD MERCHANDISE:
At the end of the trial period, we decided to ship any unsold merchandise to an address in the UK. It is important to be aware that Amazon require 10-15 days for this. If your trial period began on 6th November, then you will start to be charged on the 6th of the month three months later. First create your removal order from a drop-down tab in the inventory section. Then the day before your trial period is due to end, change your account to a personal one. That way, you will still have access to your account and inventory but will not be charged.

REFUND FOR DAMAGED GOODS:
When the goods were returned, each of the 38 metals cans was severely damaged and dented.

It took a lot of fighting with Amazon to get them to reimburse me for the damaged goods. At first they wanted to refund me a paltry £4.50 per can which was what they reckoned the goods were worth based on market prices, etc. but after much arguing, they agreed to give me £5.45 per can which was what they had given me for the items they had lost at their fulfilment centre. Although this was better than their first offer, I was far from happy with the result as this meant that I had still had to pay them their commission of £4.55 per can for each of the damaged items. To add insult to injury, I had then had to fight to get the shipping fees refunded. I reminded them that when the shipment had been delayed, they had said they would only refund costs if the goods had been damaged, something that was clearly the case now. Eventually, they agreed to the refund. 

CONCLUSIONS
Selling on Amazon has not been a success for the following reasons:

1. Amazon charge excessive commissions on each item: by taking up 45% of the retail price to cover storage, postage, labelling, etc., profit margins are small.

2. Excessively long period of time to resolve the issue of lost items: in my opinion 60 days is too long

3. Unfair estimation of replacement value for items lost: when issuing refunds for lost items, Amazon subtracts their commission from the retail price as though the item had been sold on Amazon (even though no expenses such as storage, postage or labelling had been incurred)

4. Goods in the removal order were poorly and inadequately packaged: items were so severely damaged in transit that they were completely unsellable

5. Unfair estimation of replacement value for damaged items: again, when issuing refunds for damaged items, Amazon subtracts their commission from the retail price as though the item had been sold on Amazon

Cortijo de la Plata extra virgin olive oil

harvest1

See this page for more information about our oil and HOW TO BUY IT.

HARVESTING THE OLIVES
Every December we pick our olives at the cortijo and take them to the olive cooperative to be pressed. Olives can be harvested any time between the beginning of December and the end of March and we prefer to pick ours as early as possible to avoid losing the crop to heavy winds or snow.

Large nets are placed on either side of each tree and the olives are knocked down from the higher branches using long, light sticks. The olives on the lower branches are combed off the trees with long-fingered, olive combs. The nets are carefully dragged down from tree to tree and the olives are bagged at the end of each row. It is not necessary to remove all branches and leaves as these removed at the cooperative. We generally take the bags to the cooperative every 3 or 4 days.

Unlike grapes, green and black olives grow on the same tree: the green olive is simply picked earlier in November.

cooperative2PRODUCING THE OIL
There are a large number of oil cooperatives throughout Andalucia, each producing a distinctive oil. When deciding where to take your olives, you will need to taste the oil that each produces to see which one you prefer. The cooperative we use is the Cooperativa Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro in Diezma in the province of Granada. They produce an extra virgin olive oil from early harvest, picual olives using mechanical means. The oil is versatile and can be used for roasting, sautéeing, shallow-frying, dressing and drizzling. It contains no preservatives and is 100% nut free.

cooperative1WHAT HAPPENS AT THE COOPERATIVE
When it’s your turn, you first empty your bags of olives through the metal grid. The leaves and branches are then removed and the olives pass onto a conveyor belt and up to the weighing machine. As the olives proceed along the conveyor belt, a random sample of olives are collected for analysis. These are sent off the laboratory to measure the acidity level and this is used to calculate how many litres of olive oil you will be entitled to. Generally speaking, 5kg of olives produce 1 litre of oil. You can either opt to be paid in oil or in cash.
There are two way of collecting the olives: “vuelo” and “suelo”. The vuelo olives are collected directly from the tree whereas the suelo olives are picked up from the ground. A higher price is paid for the vuelo olives.

WORLD OLIVE OIL PRODUCTION
Spain produces around 50% of total global olive oil production. This is followed by Italy (15%), Greece (13%) and Turkey (5%).
Italy exports more oil than it produces and imports a lot of oil from Spain.

OLIVE OIL FAQ
See these links to BUY OUR OLIVE OIL and for our Olive Oil FAQ.

First figs of the year

first figs of the season

First figs of the season

Today we had our first figs of the season. They were from a tree which doesn’t normally produce the early variety and not many of the later variety in September. This was the first year that the “brevas” (early figs) had grown and we had them for lunch today. They were absolutely delicious and had stayed on the tree long enough to well and truly ripen so that they were soft and sweet.

Wine recipe

Wine stick for mixing wine

Wine stick for mixing wine

Our recipe for making wine was jotted down on a small piece of paper by the man in the shop selling the wine equipment.

wine-recipe

Wine recipe and instructions

The wine is started in four plastic vats, each holding about 150 litres. Because of the possibility of the wine overflowing when it starts to ferment, we decided to use a fourth one. The grapes are first destemmed and crushed by machine and then transferred over into the vats.For each 100ml,1 tablet of Potassium metasulphate is crushed and added to the liquid.

MACERATING THE GRAPES – MACERANDO LAS UVAS
The vats are then left for 7-10 days and  and are mixed three times a day using a wooden pole nailed to a square piece of wood with holes drilled in it so as to thoroughly submerge the grapes that float to the top. This process is know as “punching down the cap”.

MACERATION is the process by which the tannins, colouring agents (or anthocyanins) and flavours of the grape are broken down from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the grape juice or must. Maceration occurs during the first stage of wine-making but also continues throughout the second stage of fermentation.

FERMENTING THE GRAPES – FERMENTANDO LAS UVAS
FIRST FERMENTATION
During the first fermentation, the grape juice is then pressed in a grape press and returned to clean, plastic vats. The vats are left for 30 days.

During FERMENTATION, carbon dioxide is released when the sugar in the must is converted into alcohol. The process of maceration continues during this stage.

SECONDARY FERMENTATION
After 30 days, the liquid is transferred to a stainless steel “always full” vat and left for a further 60 days. The idea of the “always full” vat is that has a lid surrounded by an inflatable tube which adjusts to the diameter of the vat. Whenever liquid is removed from the vat, the lid is then lowered and the tube prevents any air from entering.

The secondary fermentation or ageing process is slower and can take any time from three to six months.

 

 

First viticulture experience: making wine with bought grapes

making wine

Making wine

This year we planted 125 petit verdot vines on the area of land that is to be our vineyard. It will be a good couple of years yet until they are ready for wine-making so we decided to buy some grapes from a local vineyard so that we could get our hand in at wine-making in preparation for when ours are ready.

Vineyard

Vineyard

To all intents and purposes, Petit Verdot is a red grape and good to grow at the cortijo because it is resistant and will put up with extremes of temperatures as well as drought. Although it can be used by itself, it is normally combined with other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Time will tell whether it lives up to its reputation. Originally from Spain, for many years it was grown in the Bordeaux region but it became increasingly unpopular because it ripened later than other grapes.

On Saturday 5th October 2013, we went to a local vineyard to buy some grapes. Generally speaking, you will get a 75% yield of the grapes purchased.Thinking that we would be producing about 400 litres of wine, we therefore bought 600 kilograms of a mixture of Tempranillo and Syrac.

For the records, the grapes weighed in at 670 kilos in 30 crates. So allowing for 2 kilo per crate the net weight was 610kg.

Weighing the grapes

Weighing the grapes

Once the grapes have been cut and loaded into crates on the tractor, they are weighed 5 crates at a time on a traditional balance scales.

We took the grapes home and after lunch we began the second stage of the process:

Mechanical grape crusher/destemmer

Mechanical grape crusher-destemmer

The grapes are passed through the destemmer-crusher twice: first to remove the stems, twigs, leaves and branches and the second, to crush the grapes.

Removed stems

Removed stems

For this amount of grapes, we used 4 large vats (each of 220l), transferring the contents of 7 crates of grapes into each one.

Wine in the vats

Wine in the vats

 

 

Autumn 2012

Still life in those fresh vegetables

This is my favourite time of year. The weather is still good but not too hot and we get to eat all the vegetables that we’ve planted throughout the year. I’ve been meaning to write a list of things that we are/have been self-sufficient in and no longer have/had to buy so here goes:

lettuce, onions, leeks, garlic, potatoes, aubergines, courgettes, marrows, pumpkins, popcorn, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, green cabbage, white cabbage, broccoli, kale, Chinese leaves, radishes, fennel, beetroot, strawberries, figs, apples, quinces, walnuts, almonds, olives (and olive oil), watercress and herbs such as mint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme

Projects for next year include bees so that we can get our own honey.