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We lost two-thirds of our crop to mildew.

Harvest 2020.

2020 has been a year like no other, except that nature has followed its usual course. The harvest began on 26th August, 1 or 2 weeks earlier than normal.

There is always a sense of anticipation when harvesting gets under way. Before we started to pick the grapes this year, we knew that the yield would be low. We saw a lot of rain in early spring and it looked like we might get a record crop. We increased our winery capacity by purchasing new steel vats and barrels. Unfortunately, it continued to rain when the heat of summer arrived. Like many other growers in the region, our grapes were affected by grey mildew. When we finished harvesting a month later, we knew that we had lost about two-thirds of the yield. In the last week of June last year, large areas of Europe were in the grip of a heatwave with temperatures hitting 45°C. The heat destroyed about 50% of our crop then. We’re at the mercy of the weather.

Because of the pandemic, we hadn’t been in Spain since the end of January. So you can imagine how emotional and happy we were feeling when we finally arrived at the vineyard to assist with the harvest. We are incredibly grateful to have such a fantastic, capable, self-organising team that manages the vineyard in the best possible way.

As well as the vines in our standard BELL CROS range, we made our first wine in the new “ONE OFF” line last year. These are special one-offs that we won’t make again. As a wine producer, we experiment with different wines and wine styles. The wines that we like and believe in will be released in limited quantities and just once. The first wine in the line was ONE OFF #1, an organic wine made exclusively from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. This year, we’ve tried to make two new ONE OFF wines, #2 and #3. A white, sparkling Ancestral wine (Pet-Nat) and an orange wine, Brisat, as it is known locally. We really enjoyed making them. It’s always fun to try something new. These wines are now being vinified and we hope they’ll turn out well so that we can launch them later on.

Otherwise, things have been rather quiet, unfortunately. All the events and fairs have been cancelled. Ours is a new brand and it is important to get as much exposure as possible for our wonderful wines, otherwise it is not easy for the masses to know that Bell Cros exists. We are happy to have entered into partnerships for the distribution of Bell Cros wines with Veneto Vin in Denmark and with Wine Palace, Girona in Spain.

I’ve had the privilege of assisting as a vineyard guide and hosting wine tasting events at one of Sweden’s largest vineyards, Ästad Vineyard, . Surprised that wine is produced in Sweden? There are actually about 35 commercial vineyards in Sweden. They grow grapes that are suited to a cold, damp climate. The most common grape is the green “Solaris” grape. It is a real pleasure to talk about wine, but it is also fascinating to be involved in two wine projects where the conditions are so different, heat and sun in the one place, frost and rain in the other.

Food for thought. Virtually all the organic growers in the region have lost between 50% and 100% of their crops to grey mildew. Growers who use synthetic pesticides have lost 10% to 20% of their crops. If you practise hybrid production, which means the grapes are grown organically but can be sprayed with synthetic pesticides to prevent damage from mildew in years when it is particularly bad, then you are not allowed to certify your vineyard for organic production and label your wines with the EU green leaf. Do consumers know about this? Are they prepared to pay extra for wine that is certified as 100% organic? Is it possible to compensate the price of 100% organically certified wine for this?

Finally, a huge thank you to Team Bell Cros and everyone who helped with the harvest. Particular thanks go to Baltasar who headed and coordinated the work.

Off to Spain, at last.
The green grapes were picked first. Xavi certainly thought they were tasty!
That’s Miguel wearing the hat and mask. He’s fetching dry ice, which is used to prevent the green grapes from oxidizing.
The dry ice produces a rather ghostly white mist when added to the must.
The skins of the fermenting green grapes have formed a thick cap on the surface of the must.
Happily sampling the sweet sticky must.
Ann too!
The sugar content of the must that will become our sparkling Ancestral wine is measured frequently. The must has to contain a small yet exact amount of sugar when bottled.
While we were waiting for the sugar content to drop, we visited Vall Llach in DOQ Priorat. Albert, the owner of this historic winery and a fantastic guide, gave us a tour. Albert is posing here in front of the 100-year-old barrels of Ranci.
At last, Joan bottles the must before it completes fermentation. He fills about 1,000 bottles.
Ann happily taps the corks in with her mallet.
About two weeks into the harvest, it was time to pick the blue Garnacha grapes. Samples are taken. The sugar and acid contents are checked. When the balance is exactly right between the sugar and the acid, it is time to pick the grapes.
Baltasar with the first crate of blue grapes.
They are tipped into the crusher and destemmer.
Joan is pumping the fermented wine into a new vat. The wine is ready for the malolactic conversion process.
David is scraping out the skins.
We had to experiment with different styles before choosing one for our sparkling Ancestral. 😊
Time to relax. Miguel (from Argentina) demonstrates how different types of meat should be cooked. NB. The tables are physically distanced to comply with Covid-19 restrictions. 😊

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