Indeed, it all sorted itself out in the end. Our winery is finally almost ready and we have just rounded off our best harvest ever. As they say in Spain, everything sorts itself out.
At the eleventh hour, we found a builder who was prepared to take on the project and promised us that it would be ready in July, one month before harvesting. It was an extremely tight time frame. By the end of August, the winery was sufficiently completed to enable us to process the grapes we harvested this year. It wasn’t until the day before the authorities shut down for the holiday period that all the many necessary permits had been secured.
Harvesting began in the last week of august just as we received the final permit from the authorities. It was such a relief when the first load of grapes arrived. The winery had reached a stage of completion that allowed us to process the first grapes. Things went well, but it was really chaotic. There were 10 or so of us from Bell Cros taking care of the grapes and almost as many from the equipment suppliers showing us how the new machinery works. And the builders were there too, forging ahead with the construction work. A fantastically chaotic hive of activity and noise everywhere.
On 28 September, we had successfully wrapped up our first harvest in the new winery. The crop yielded 60,000 kg of high quality grapes (about 55,000 bottles), which is the same amount as last year. Since then, the vineyard has expanded by another two hectares, but the grapes were smaller because of the hot, dry summer. The yield was down by about 10-15% per hectare.
We are immensely pleased with the results. It has been a challenging year. We’re putting the construction project on hold for a few months now so that we can recharge our batteries. We’ll return with renewed energy and get the rest of the work completed at the beginning of next year. In spite of these uncertain and challenging times, we are pleased to report that we have a state-of-the-art winery and a strong foundation for taking our wines to the next level. It bodes well for the future.
Thank you everyone for all your hard work. You’ve made it possible!
In the previous blog, I mentioned that things have been up and down, like a rollercoaster ride. That we’re starting at full tilt with our project of converting a warehouse into a state-of-the-art winery. Despite the tight time frame, the plan was to have a fully functional winery ready for the next harvest in September/October 2022. We were so happy that the project was at last under way after all these years of planning that we also decided to renovate a small stone building on our land and make it a boutique winery for natural wines.
But in Spain, things seldom go as you’d hoped and planned. It is often a struggle against time, red tape and authorities. I have managed companies in many European countries and worked with exports my entire life. In my experience and opinion, Spain is the country where it is, or has been, most difficult to run a business. I admire everyone in Spain who runs a business.
That said, it has been confirmed since our “new start” in November 2021 that we are not eligible to apply for EU funding, as is customary in this industry, for our project. Obviously, this has a serious impact on the project. It would have been such fun to have a boutique winery for natural wines, but we are having to shelve those plans. Other cost adjustments are also necessary to keep the project within budget constraints.
All the wine production equipment has been ordered. The final cost is higher than estimated and we have been told to expect some delays. The situation is not improved by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic with sharp price increases and a weaker Swedish krona. The pandemic has also made it extremely difficult to find any building company that has the time or inclination to take on the project. At the time of writing, we still haven’t managed to engage any builders.
What I’ve written here in this blog might sound pessimistic. I’ve been debating for some time whether to publish it or not. But we want to be transparent and tell you honestly that the wine business is not always as romantic as it might seem. Hoping you’ll forgive me for being a bit despondent. Nevertheless, we are battling on and it remains to be seen if we will have a fully functional winery in place for our harvest in September/October 2022.
In hindsight it was a good decision not to build our romantic winery in the middle of our vineyards. Since my last blog post a couple of months ago, the construction costs have rocketed due to the Covid pandemic. We now feel that deciding to go with our “budget solution” of renovating a warehouse and transforming it into a modern winery was exactly the right thing to do.
So we’ve had an intense period of planning the winery, obtaining quotes for all the equipment and negotiating with building companies. The deadline to apply for EU funding for the project was 31 January 2022. We’ve had an extremely tight schedule for this project, about one month of effective work because of the time lost over the Christmas period. The application has now been submitted. ?
It will be a modern winery with the best possible equipment to make superior quality wines. The facility will have the capacity for about 75,000 bottles and be certified organic. Bell Cros is aiming to be one of the top five wineries in DO Montsant. This is one of the steps on the journey towards that goal.
We have made several natural wines as part of our “ONE OFF” line of wines that we produce just once in limited quantities. Combining natural wine production with conventional wine production in the same area is not a particularly good idea. There is always a risk of contamination in the winery where natural wines are made because no Sulphites are added during the production process. This got us thinking why not set up a winery for natural wines in one of the many small buildings that are scattered around our vineyards. So as we were frantically trying to get our application for EU funding ready to send in, we started up a small side project. We are going to lovingly renovate one of the old buildings out in the vineyards and turn it into a small Boutique Winery for natural wines. It is a small building, about 30 square metres of floor space, and we’ll be producing about 5,000 bottles of wine there. In some magical way, we’ve managed to conjure up the energy to get this really fun and exciting project off the ground.
Our goal is to have the main winery fully up and running in time for the harvest in September/October 2022. We are on a tight schedule with a lot of hard work ahead of us. So to help us achieve this goal, we have employed Albert Peris Barceló who has more than 20 years of experience of wine production. Albert previously worked at Terroir Al Límit and Mas Martinet in Priorat. He will be responsible for the new winery and otherwise ensure that our operations run smoothly.
Things have been up and down, like a helter skelter ride. It’s almost three years since we started on our dream project of building a new winery on a hill with a terrific view of our entire vineyard. Today we finally decided not to make that dream come true. Basically there have been too many obstacles along the way and we have been forced to accept that it’s not a good idea to push ahead with the project.
Last summer, we were granted preliminary approval to build the winery, with a heavy 800-page application for planning permission. That was definitely a major step in the right direction, but it’s of no use now. Since we began our vineyard project in the summer of 2017, the grape harvests have not been what we expected. In the last week of June 2018, large areas of Europe were gripped by a heatwave with temperatures hitting 45°C. The heat scorched and killed half of our grapes. In 2019, we lost two-thirds of our crop to grey mould. Then the pandemic hit… and as we were finally about to press GO, we discovered that construction costs have soared since we began this project, due to the pandemic.
The long and short of it is that we’re putting this project behind us. The romantic dream of our winery lives on. However, we still need a new winery so that we can continue developing our wines and their quality. This week, we launched a new project. We’re leasing a large warehouse in the centre of Falset, which is the “capital” of the Priorat and not far from our vineyard, about 7 minutes away. Logistically this is an excellent location for our business. Our goal is to have a fully functional winery with the capacity for about 75,000 bottles ready for the next harvest in September/October 2022. This new project has put the smile back on our faces and we’re giving it our all.
Try stopping us now!!!
By the way, this year’s harvest went really well, despite a very complicated and long, drawn-out harvest due to grey mould, which affected the area just before harvest-time. We harvested the quantities that we were hoping for. ?
We are proud and hamble that eight of our eight wines that where qualifying for the La Guia de Vins de Catalunya 2022 are winners. It means that these wines have scored equal to or more than 9.50 points, a benchmark for quality.
“La Guia de Vins de Catalunya” is one of the most important and prestigious wine guides in Catalonia, Spain and organizes every year a festival to bring together the professional sector (sommeliers, restaurateurs, press …) with the best wines of the edition. Only those wineries and wines that have scored equal to or more than 9.50 points can attend. Our eight wines presented:
La Figaflor / 2020
El Cami 2018
El Mirador / 2018
El Tracte / 2017
L’ Addició / 2018
L’Amic / 2020
ONE OFF #2 / 2019
ONE OFF #3 / 2020
We look forward to seeing you at Parc del Fòrum (Barcelona) on 18th November 2021.
It’s been ages since my last blog post. Hopefully that will change now. The Covid-19 pandemic is ebbing and there’s a general feeling that people are starting to look and plan ahead again. That’s definitely the case for Bell Cros.
We’re full of hope and expectation. We finally returned to Montsant a couple of weeks ago, after being away since harvest time in September 2020. Imagine how good it feels! On our return, we welcomed the first visitors to our vineyard. The team from Muxinach, our distributor for the region of Barcelona, came and spent the day with us. It was perfect weather for a great day outdoors. The visit began with a tour of the vineyard, guided by our winemaker Joan Asens. Our vineyard has received a lot of attention this winter. New vines have been planted, a new vine support system has been set up, new irrigation has been installed, sexual confusion (female pheromones) has been introduced as an organic pest control method, etc. All done by our new team member, Andreu Toldra, who is now in charge of the day-to-day work in the vineyard. Wonderful Baltasar Vendrell has left Bell Cros to return to work on his family vineyard.
The tour concluded at our small stone house in the middle of the vineyard, where Ramon Roset was waiting for us with cheese and wine tasting. We sampled various cheeses both on their own and in combination with wine. It’s fascinating how the combination of cheese and wine brings out the flavours of both the cheese and the wine. Personally, I was very excited to sample four completely different white wines from Bell Cros together with the cheeses. It makes us so proud and happy to see what we, “Team Bell Cros”, have managed to achieve! I have to tell you about the white/orange Brisat wine ONE OFF #3, made entirely from the Garnacha Blanca grape, which has been macerated for one month and then left to age in an egg-shaped granite vessel. The wine has a complex and lingering taste that simply develops in the mouth.
The day would have ended at this point if not Miguel Figini had fired up the barbecue and started to grill different meats in true Argentinian style for our guests. And there was another treat in store! Joan Asens picked out a selection of red wines, some already available on the market and others yet to be launched, to accompany the meal.
Anne and Ann then served everyone with a slice of Daim almond cake, purchased from IKEA, to perfectly round off the enjoyable six-hour visit. It goes without saying that this called for yet another new wine, a sparkling Ancestral wine (Pet Nat), which some of our guests were allowed to disgorge themselves.
Six hours simply flew by and afterwards we realized something that we had almost forgotten… how much fun it is to have a vineyard.
We’re hoping 2021 will be a Happy New Year. It could hardly be worse than 2020.
However, 2020 got off to a really good start. We began by launching Bell Cros in Spain and Sweden and the plentiful rainfall in Montsant early in the year raised hopes of a record harvest. But Covid happened instead. This meant we had to cancel all launch events and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, we lost about two-thirds of the crop due to grey mildew in our vineyard. The rest is history…..
We’re continuing to work with positivity and enthusiasm. This project is such fun. We’re all prepared and looking forward to welcoming visitors when conditions allow and it is safe to travel again. We miss meeting wine enthusiasts, showing them around our vineyard and talking about wine.
We have lots of exciting projects on the go. As well as expanding our standard range with some new wines this year, we’ll be releasing three new wines as part of our “ONE OFF” line. “ONE OFF” are wines that we produce just once in very limited quantities. The first wine this year, ONE OFF #2, is a natural wine made exclusively from Garnacha Blanca grapes in a limited edition of just 493 bottles. ONE OFF #3 and #4 are also natural wines, an orange wine (Brisat, as it is known locally) and a sparkling Ancestral wine (PetNat).
Now we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that life will return to “normal” again. ?
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, www.astadvingard.se . 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.
We are proud and delighted that four of our five wines have been awarded 90 points or more in the Guía Peñín 2021 wine guide within our first year of launching wines. The Guía Peñín is one of the most important and prestigious wine guides in Spain and, for many wine lovers and professionals in the world of wine, it is a benchmark for quality. When a wine is awarded 90 points or more, it is considered to be better than normal and comes into the “excellent wines” category.
The Guía Peñín has tasted over 10,000 wines this year. Wine producers that are awarded 90 points or above for one or more of their wines are invited to attend the prestigious event for the best wines in Spain, the “ los Mejores Vinos de España”.
We look forward to seeing you at IFEMA (Madrid) on 26th and 27th October 2020.
A newspaper needed just a picture to go with the article it had written about our new wine. Of course we could take a photo. We didn’t have that particular wine at home with us in Sweden. The travel restrictions made it impossible for us to get to Spain. It’s not easy for Swedes to travel at the moment, as most countries still have a ban in place on travellers from Sweden and a few other countries.
So it had to be solved remotely with the help of our Spanish friends. It began with an email from us asking for help to take a photo. Next we had a video meeting, more people got involved, new Zoom meetings, and so on. How did we manage without Zoom before? ? By this stage, there were so many people involved that the one photo was starting to get expensive. So we figured we might as well take photos of all the products. Great idea, things were starting to get serious now, which I like. We brought in a professional stylist to arrange the photos. More Zoom meetings followed. A moodboard was created for inspiration and to guide us through the photoshoot.
We decided that different backgrounds were needed to bring variation to the photos. So we contacted Brichs Restaurant in Falset, which has a setting that matches Bell Cros’ image very well. It also serves excellent food and is definitely worth visiting. The photos that were to be more funky and/or in a traditional setting were taken at Mas Ardèvol in Falset-Porrera, a rustic and colourful country house offering accommodation, perfect for wine tourism.
Finally, we also needed help with the lighting. You can see some of the results and background materials here. All the photos are in the gallery on our website. By the end, between 5 and 10 people had been involved in the project. We hope you like the photos. We were really just to take a picture. ?