Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August 21, 2011

We spent all day Monday celebrating the Vendimia of Rivero-Gonzales.  The morning was to begin with a tour of Parras which I thought would be interesting.  After living here six years, I am quite sure there are still wonderful little hidden secrets of which we are still unaware. 

We showed up at the appointed hour, 11:00 AM  only to learn that the tour bus was late.  It was a good opportunity to do some intense people watching.  The gentleman above was a visitor from Jalisco.  He was part of a group that was to perform in the plaza later that afternoon.  I couldn't resist a picture.

An hour later, we learned that the bus was incapacitated and would not be coming.  So . . . instead of the narrated bus tour, we took a stroll around the plaza, did some grocery shopping, and came home.
 From left to right:  The information booth for Parras, Pueblo Magico; the clock tower (I draw your attention to the fact that it shows the correct time!); and a map to guide you around the historical landmarks.  Unfortunately, it is orientated with North to the bottom which makes it terribly confusing.
The central church in Parras, Santa Maria de las Parras, St. Mary of the Grapevines. The inside was lovingly decorated in her honor.

Tragically, the fountain adorned with all the grape motif has not worked a single day since we arrived.  The Plaza de Armas has a lovely bandstand, and peeking between the tall palms, you can see Santo Madero Chapel in the distance.

Back home, we took care of some mundane chores, took a nap, and were ready to party at 6:00. 
We did not attend the mass for the blessing of the vendimia.  Past experience has taught us that it can be very tedious, long, and somewhat boring.  We waited outside and listened to NPR on the XM Radio.  As mass ended, the matachines from Santo Madero performed in front of the church.
Their presentation was quite different than anything we had seen.

Jose Antonio Rivero (lower left) is the owner of Buena Fe, home of Rivero-Gonzales vineyards and winery.  We followed him from the church to the vineyard and he gave us a quick personal tour.  Buena Fe is a lovely, lovely place, but it wasn't always so lush.  He told us it was pure desert when he bought the land.  Isn't it remarkable what time, hard work, and money can accomplish?!?
A large tent was set up as a gathering place.  A bevy of waiters patrolled the area laden with trays of cocktails and beautiful finger foods.  I was enchanted with the decorations and the music.
As the crowd gathered, we were invited to walk to the garden for the Cata de Vinos or Wine Tasting.  Maria, one of the wine-makers, led us through the tasting of two premium wines from Rivero-Gonzales.  The first was a 2009 Scielo Tinto, a beautiful blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  The second was a 2007 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both of them were excellent.
A stroll along rock paths through the vineyard took us to the bodega where dinner was served under the stars.  We had a great table with old friends like Ernesto (at the end of the table in the top picture), Ferdi, (seated by Stanley), Rafi (at the end of the table in the bottom photo), and new acquaintances in between.  Again, the decorations were lovely, this time large bowls of white dendrobium orchids. 

The menu consisted of warm nopales salad; braised lamb with a reduction sauce of chilies served with rice seasoned with camino and manchego cheese; and a dessert of three kinds of ice cream in a tulip shaped cup made primarily with crushed pecans.  This was all accompanied by three kinds of wine.  The taste was fabulous and the presentation was amazing.

After dinner, a group of Mariachis entertained us.  This wasn't our local group.  I don't know where they were from, but they were excellent.

As if we needed anything more, at midnight the fireworks exploded in the sky right over an almost full moon.  That's the moon near the bottom center of the picture.  It was quite a show! 

Our thanks to Sr. Rivero for the opportunity to celebrate the vendimia with him.  We wish him continued success for many, many years!

I spent most of the day Tuesday working on the blog posting of our own vendimia, and quite frankly, I needed a little rest!  All this party, party, party was beginning to tell on me.

Wednesday morning, we were back up bright and early to press the Sangiovese we had fermenting on the skins.  We got about 16 gallons of wine. 
The very last of the pressing.  Moments after I took this photo, the 'cake' was broken up and the clean-up started.  Everything had to be scrubbed down, but the press wasn't put away.  It had one more job to do.

News from Parras: 

A new friend and a great resource.  Chano Sosa built and repaired barrels for Casa Madero for 50 years.  When he retired, he opened his own shop and is happy making and repairing barrels for the public - in addition to great barrel art. 

For those who need a translation, the barrel on the right says that a barrel of wine makes more miracles than a church full of saints.  I think that pretty much reflects his attitude about all things grape/wine and especially all things barrel. 
On Saturday, Stanley stayed at home to take care of some manly stuff while I took the press to Estela's house to press her grapes.  She came out with about 26 gallons of wine.  Thankfully, her cousin came by and helped out.  Do I look grateful, or what?  Now, the press was ready to be scrubbed and put away!

On Saturday afternoon, we added some new friends to our list:  Gustavo and Ana are the parents of two of the cutest little boys on the planet.  Ana is Ferdi's daughter.  They came to Parras for a day and we were pleased to join them for an impromptu picnic.
I love these pictures of Ferdi with his grandsons. 
Now, this is something you don't see everyday!
The next day they came to Perote.  Things are a little bit rustic here.  That little guy had so much fun playing in the dirt.  Precious!

Sunday was incredibly busy!  We started the day with Birthday Breakfast for Nacho, our patron.  After breakfast Ferdi and his family came to visit the vineyard.  At the same time, Antonio came to get instructions about topping-up the barrels.  Lupita came to wish us safe journey.  Maggie came by later to talk cameras.  I'm ready to up-grade.  All this in addition to the long list of chores associated with being away from home for two months.

From the Insect World:
The Beauties, and
The Beasts

From the Bird World
The Orchard Oriole, our latest criminal grape thief.  Isn't he beautiful?  Not too smart though . . . there were only half dozen bunches of grapes left in the vineyard!
A new photo of our resident wren. 

Sad news from the vegetable garden:

A whole array of peppers and a new crop of eggplant were left on the plants for Ramon, Maggie, Clara, and Antonio.  In spite of my best efforts to get them ripe before we left, it just wasn't in the cards.  I demand reports regarding their level of deliciousness. 

From the Heavens:

Some lovely evening shots.
On Monday, we traveled by bus to McAllen, TX.  An uneventful trip - the best kind. 

That wraps up our summer in Parras de la Fuente.  It's been great.  The wine is all in barrels and tanks.  Our good friend Antonio has promised to top-up the barrels every couple weeks while we are gone. 

As always, it was a bit sad to leave Perote and Solo Vino and my new baby eggplant, to say nothing of the peppers that were just getting ripe.  On the other hand, we're ready for a new adventure. 

May we never get too old to appreciate the familiar or yearn for adventure!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

La Primera Fiesta de Vendimia

A good friend took this picture when he first arrived Saturday night.  He sent it to us the next day.  This is what he wrote:

Congratulations on your first vendimia.
Here you can see two snowbirds, one summer bird and four local fledglings....

What a wonderful start to a beautiful experience!  Thanks, Ernesto!
However, before the festivities began, there were hours of preparation!
Season meat.  Peel and chop vegetables.  Decorate carriage.  Peel and chop more vegetables.  Stop just a moment for photo op. 
Wash dishes.  Peel and chop a mountain of jicama.  Fill wine barrel.  Make sauce.  Peel and chop more vegetables. 
Decorate.  Decorate.  Decorate.  Fill baskets with grapes for centerpieces.  Climb a tree.  Hang the sign.  Roast the lamb.
Additionally:  Make pesto.  Prepare pasta.  Make salad.  And a long, long, list of other tasks, ending with:  Appear at the party, all dolled up, looking as if someone else had done everything.  
My  thanks and appreciation to
who worked to make the fiesta happen. 
Tables were arranged on the south side of the pool under the trees at Jardin Botanico.  Across the pool, the stage was set for the evening's entertainment. 
As people arrived, Pablo began his performance.  Lovely music.  Quiet.  Just right!
Eduardo began his welcome, and who should arrive?  Baco and the Festival Queen.  She gave a very sweet, short talk about the Grape/Wine Festival of Parras, thanking us for our participation and welcoming the guests.  It was easy to see why she was elected queen.
 Performers began appearing on the stage area.  First las vendimiadoras, then the drummers and last of all Las Pudencianas.  And here, we need a brief explanation.  One of Eduardo's great-grandmothers was named Pudenciana.  He thought it interesting that no one in the family had given that name to any of the girl children in spite of the fact that other great-grandmothers had seen their names passed to many daughters, granddaughters, and now great-granddaughters.  He decided to rescue the name and give it to his winery making all his daughters and nieces Las Pudencianas.  He thinks it is very clever and girls are sweet enough to go along with it.
Baco raised his glass, grapes were poured into the stomping barrel and Las Pudencianas began the process of making wine.  They took turns - two at a time - and ended the crush with all four of them dancing inside the barrel in a tight circle. 
Just in case you think there is something a bit phony about this, I submit the photo above as proof.  The fourth girl had already gone inside to wash her feet.
 Las vendimiadoras, and Las Pudencianas were quickly replaced with an indigenous dancing group.  These are not the matachines who are usually sponsored by a Catholic parish.  I am still not sure exactly how they differ, but I will let you know when I get it figured out.  Meanwhile, I can report that the dancing was energetic, mystic, and complete with incense and conch shells.
This little dancer almost stole the show.  What a cutie!
As the dancers moved away from the stage, Pablo began a slow, soft waltz.  You might know we couldn't resist being part of the show.  Dancing around the pool on uneven tile was quite a challenge for me.  It was the first time I had danced in public since my back surgery, but I only fell out of step once and I even managed a turn!

Dinner was served.  It was delicious!  Wine bottles were emptied.  Wine bottles were filled.  Jokes were told.  Stories related.  Grape harvests exaggerated.  Everybody had a good time.

We had so much fun with Baco.  Is this a job or what?
As the night wore on, I'm afraid some of my pictures got a little fuzzy, but of the 70 guests, I managed to capture a few.   What a fabulous group!
Oh, my friend Eduardo.  Without you and your enthusiasm for all things fun, this would not have happened.  We thank you for the experience; it was wonderful!  Now . . . put some net over your vines so we have more wine to share next year!  We can't allow the birds to feast on those good grapes any longer!

And for all of you who were not here, remember the Grape/Wine Festival is held every year at this time.  I can promise you a wonderful experience!  Make your plans now to come down next August!

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 14, 2011 - What a Week!

I can see the possibility of things getting complicated here, so here is a brief introduction.   The man in the yellow shirt is Eduardo Narro.

Two years ago, Eduardo, owner of Jardin Botanico, approached us with the idea of forming a cooperative.  He would supply all the labor we needed at harvest and we would crush and press his grapes.  Stanley would be available for technical support; I would be available for moral support; Eduardo would provide humor and a centuries old connection through his family to the wine industry. 

Last year, he planted his grapes.  The plants did well and set a good crop this spring.  Two weeks ago, I wrote in this blog that the birds had eaten all of Antonio's grapes.  This was really a mis-speak on my part. The grapes belong to Eduardo.  However, we only see him once or twice a year when he visits Parras from his home in Mexico City.  Antonio, his foreman, is the man who takes responsibility for the grapes and we see him several times a week.  You can see how this confusion came about.  

On Monday Eduardo and a large contingent of family arrived - just in time for our harvest.  First, there was a lesson in measuring the sugar content of grapes - Brix.  Then group pictures and finally . . . 
 time for a little fun and some serious planning!

 On Tuesday morning, twelve people showed up to pick grapes.  We only had nine cutters so some of them had to share.  No labor shortage here.  (Note to self:  Buy more cutters for next year!)  It was such a beautiful day!  Partly cloudy - just enough to keep the sun at bay - cool temperature, and bone dry. Perfect weather for a grape harvest.
This is going to be the best wine ever!  The grapes were picked with so much laughter and so many smiles . . . it's got to be good.

At one point, Narro thought discipline was a little too lenient, but with a bit of flogging, he had the work force back in order. 
They even smiled all the way through the clean-up.

That night we had a huge rain . . . over 4 inches in less than an hour.  The water poured over our patio and was only about an inch from the bottom of our front door when it finally started receding.  The flood waters wiped out Stanley's berm AGAIN!  Four times he has built that berm, and four times it's been washed away.  We've got to have a better plan!

We were so grateful to have almost all our grapes in the fermenters when this happened.  Only a few had been left to ripen a bit more.  Fortunately, those few grapes we left were not damaged, but the next morning, the ground was littered with shredded leaves.

On Wednesday morning, we went to town to watch the parade.
 First, Baco and the Festival Queen . . .
Then, the charros . . . 
Pretty girls on horseback - always a crowd pleaser . . .

And finally, the matachines, indigenous dancers - a hallmark of Parras pride.  This year, for the first time in many years, our local association of grape growers sponsored a contest with enough prize money to make it worth while.  Wednesday's parade was just a warm-up.

After the parade, we came home to clean up the mess from the rain the night before.  The mud was so thick and so sticky, we found the hoe was the best cleaning devise.  When most of the mud was scraped off, it still took gallons of water and hours of sweeping to get the floor clean!  Yuck!

On Thursday morning, I woke up determined to design a label for our wine.  We had decided on the name long ago - Hecho a Mano (Made by Hand).  Our ideas for a design were very elaborate and would require the assistance of a professional designer.  Well, I decided that something simpler was far better than nothing at all. 

Ferdi and Lucy are always great hosts and Thursday's picnic was no exception.  As always, the guests were interesting, the food, delicious.

Pre-lunch entertainment was a visit to the horses at the south end of the ranch.  Big-eyed baby horses are almost as irrestable to young women as puppies. 
 Two lambs!
 Some of my favorite people.
And Lucy, a woman who knows what's good!
Friday was fairly low key until that evening.  We went downtown for the first part of the matachines dancing contest.  What fun!  Taking pictures at night isn't that easy, but  neon colored feathers glowing in the light of a huge fire creates a feel very different than the bright sunlight of mid-day.  
It was impossible not to get into the spirit of the pounding drums!
Saturday was our first vendimia fiesta.  That's the topic of the next posting.  It was very exciting!
On Sunday morning, despite slight hangovers, we were in the vineyard bright and early.  We picked all the remaining grapes.  As of noon August 14th, the 2011 harvest was complete.  An hour later, the crusher/destemmer had been washed and put in winter storage.  Read all about the harvest at http://www.donamakeswine.blogspot.com/
In other news . . . from the insect world . . .

From the bird world . . .

From the garden . . . the very last of the summer roses. 

And, from the Heavens . . . another beautiful sunset.
My friend Lucy sent me a message on her way back to her home in Torreon.  "Fue demasiado fiesta."  Yeah!  Too much fiesta, but it only happens once a year. 
I'll have the posting of the vendimia celebration published as soon as possible. 

Have a great week!