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Archive for September, 2011

Michael Bosc Slides in from Spain to Guest with Mike Angley

MA: Michael Bosc is living in Spain on a finca growing olives and almonds. He was born in London during the second world war when V1s and Land Mines were falling on the houses. He served nine years in the RAF and is married with two grown up children.

Learning to sail in his mid forties, he sailed across the channel on many occasions visiting the Normandy coast from Cherbourg to Fecamp where English Kings are buried. Michael has always had an interest in history and found it relaxing writing an adventure story set in the latter stages of the American War of Independence: A Soldiers Wind.

His second book, A Loving Son, echoes back to his earlier life just after the war and the East end criminals, with the gangs growing, the East End criminals were finding their feet, this was Stanley’s training ground…

Interesting life story, Michael, and welcome to my blog. How did you get into the world of writing?

MB: I am retired and had been thinking of writing for some time. However, until I moved to Spain I never had the time, with sailing and other activities. But when my father-in-law died and we went back to England, I picked up the Sunday Telegraph and in there was an article by a lady reviewer. She was saying how all the books she had reviewed although good, did not contain enough sex, it was a bit like waves crashing on the beach. It was not necessary to be explicit but we all like to read about sex, so being a normal health male I thought, why not?

MA: (Chuckling) I understand it was your personal interests that drew you to the specific ideas you had for a novel. Tell us about that.

MB: My interest is in Naval History, British or otherwise, so when I read that I thought, I could write something along those lines, after all I sailed for over 20 years. I mentioned this to my wife who said go for it, and A Soldiers Wind was born.

A year later my mother-in-law was seriously ill and whilst in England (again) I decided to write about Stanley Saunders, an East end boy growing up in London after WW2, whose mother was a prostitute who set up an escort agency. It tells of Stanley’s maturing and how whilst protecting his mother from the villains, he hones his skills as a killer, an assassin; thus A Loving Son was born.

MA: Did your personal life’s story influence your writing – any real-life East enders as characters?

MB: No, apart from the fact of my birth-date 21st October (Trafalgar Day) plus my love of history and reading naval books, no. Not even the gangs of East London were close contacts however at that time in history it was a well documented fact that bodies were dumped in the marshes or were propping up bridges.

MA: Tell us about your novels.

MB: A Loving Son was supposed to be the first novel out, but Authorhouse were reluctant to publish at first as Stanley and Gillian were under 18yrs. Unfortunately, the difference between the USA and England was around 2 years, but after re-writing a few bits Stanley was published. I think I am more in tune with A Loving Son because of its setting in the period of time I grew up in. There was an awful lot of bent police, gang killings, and general dodgy goings on.

For a woman to set up a business in that atmosphere at that time was very bold. If the police were not wanting a cut to turn a blind eye to what was going on then the gangs wanted protection money so she could continue. Diane, although a prostitute, was a loving mother very fond of her only son and very protective towards him. She had her head on right and saved money to buy a house so they had somewhere to live. There is a lot more to her than you first see.

I took the memories of how hard it was in London immediately after the war, with rationing, food shortages etc., and then put Stanley in the role of protector of his mother. Strange as it may seem, once I had done that and given him a name, Stanley appeared and started to tell his story; once begun it just went from logical reactions to logical actions. What I did learn was that to Stanley there was no grey area, only black and white.

MA: Tell us more about Stanley’s character.
MB: He is honest in his way, does not think about when he kills, looks at it as a job pure and simple. But he does care about his mother and the girls. He is fond of them and looks after them like his family. However after a kill he needs sex…

MA: Oh my! Are you planning more stories in the future?

MB: I have the sequels to both books ready to go to print, and I am working on the next ones. Plus I am putting together a wine book with a difference. I write blogs on the local ‘Cellers’ here and the superb wines they produce, but I also add their history to the story. I am not a wine snob, I say what we like and don’t like but then most people can do that. I try to say something about the people, the village or the countryside. There is so much more than opening a bottle, tasting and writing. These blogs can also be found on Southwest Wines site, where they have been kind enough to give me my own page.

MA: Thanks, Michael. I appreciate you stopping by and visiting with me. I know my readers will want to learn more about you, too. Please visit Michael’s blog for more information: https://asoldierswind.wordpress.com/

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A Mother´s Thoughts

A Mother´s Thoughts.

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It has been a strange day, although it started out quite normal. Today was our paella day at petanca so an early start was called for. Up by 7am so we could get ourselves and our things ready and make sure we were there by 8.30 for the traditional breakfast of a boccadillo, black olives and red wine, which proceeds all the festivities.  When we arrived we saw many old friends who had been busy with harvests of various kinds all summer so lots of jokes and commiserations to be shared.

After breakfast came the competition.  For this everyone is given a number. This is drawn from a bingo style cage with each number being written down against a name on the entrance list. Next starting in numerical order from 1 to 28 the names are made up into teams of either 3 or 2.  We then play a knockout style of games and the top teams play each other for 1st, 2nd, 3rd place and so on.  Today I was paired with Pilla and we came top, beating everyone, we each won a leg of dried Hammon, whilst my wife and her partner Salu came 4th and won a dried hand of Hammon so we will eat well this winter.

Whilst all this was going on the men who were not playing began to make the paella, which being inland is made from meat, fresh herbs, rice, chicken stock and saffron cooked over two large gas BBQ’s.  We took our own wine, salad, olives and melon but you end up sharing it with friends and the coffee and whisky do the rounds along with liqueurs.  Then after everything was packed away there were a few more games of petanca before we all drifted home. Wonderful!

But! we found the strangest thing today was not easily answered.   When we looked out of our kitchen window this morning we saw a Storm Trouper standing sentinel like on the south field.

Then we remembered the ‘satellite’ that NASA said had come down, but claimed they did not know where. We all know these storm troopers are tricky people, so I wondered if there are two lost androids wandering around out there and if the ‘satellite’ was in fact an escape pod!!!!!

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Making Water

Making Water.

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If you are visiting or have a few days free take a look at this:

The Bridge All Saints (November 1) invite you to savor the essence of Priorat in 4 days, walking around and exploring the country in an easy rhythm, from the beginning, to the monastery of Scala Dei to the ‘encinglerada Siurana, passing the Natural Park of the Serra de Montsant. Taste the Priorat wines tasting and enjoying the company of its main protagonists, the winemakers, who will open the doors to its wineries, history and family tradition. A new experience Trekking & Wine, a perfect combination of pleasure to walk the old paths and the discovery of the Priorat wines, which have captivated the world. For 4 days and just over 60 km, see the vines grown on hills and slopes impossible slate, we endisarem in the history of the monastery of Scala Dei, Priorat wine cradle, climb the Natural Park of Sierra de Montsant imposing hidden natural treasures and we will see the …

This walk is well worth the time and the hospitality of the vinters is well known you can reach the site on http://www.elbroget.com/

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Well it had to happen sooner or later, I finally got to use…. ‘The Chainsaw’. da da daaaa.

It all started yesterday with the hunters and some very large gusts of wind. We were woken by the sound of vehicles and dog bells which herald the start of the hunting season.  The day was fine but cloudy  with the sun hazily peeping through, however by midday it had gone completely.  So we decided to do some of the odd jobs that we have been putting off.   It is surprising how good you feel when you tidy up the yard, but as the clouds got denser – and no, we did not get any rain – the wind picked up again.  Strong gusts blew through the yard making me wonder if the shed roof would blow off again.

Around this time I decided I should go and watch the Moto GP which was I discovered just up the road in Aragon, only to find that I had missed most of it so ended up watching Midsummer Murders oh well.

Then the sun came out, it warmed up so we decided to go and fetch the house water from the Hermitage at St. Jerome, so we loaded up the car with containers and set off. Halfway down the track we came off the riverbed – it’s been dry for a very long time – to find that the wind had brought down 4 fir trees.  This was too good to miss, I got out of the car took a look and decided these were destined for the wood pile.  I had been meaning to start on that wood pile for a long time, but since the incident with the ham knife and my finger http://bit.ly/mZJKlg,  my wife has not let me near the chainsaw.  But not today, this was a job for the morning, so I turned the car round and we drove up the valley to the ridge along that into Mora, found the garage bought some wine to celebrate finding the trees then went to collect the water.

There is a spring at St. Jerome which everyone uses for drinking water so we all fill up containers there.  To get there it is up hill again so our new fun is free wheeling down to the town. You can’t go fast because of the water ‘bumps’ these are placed across the road so that rain water (when it rains) can run off into the fields, they are not small or gentle so you have to break when you get to them. Anyway home we trundled happy in the thought of cutting wood. ‘Are you going to use a hand saw or ……..’THE CHAINSAW’?.  I’ll decide in the morning…….

I woke early, today was the day – Chainsaw Day!!!  I got up changed the chain, got fuel, oil and mask I was ready.   I drove us to where the trees were, turned the car round and took the ‘beast’ from the car.  The trees had been broken and fallen on to each other, so I managed to get the smallest one on to the track tied it to the towbar and got my wife to drag it back to the Finca. Before leaving me she handed me my phone ‘just incase’ oh ye of little faith I can master the beast.

When she had gone I turned my attention to the other three.  They were laying on top of each other sawing them from stumps was not the problem, it was the small branches which were problem.  They could spring back and catch me,  and yes one did. It was only a scratch, but it did hurt. By the time my wife got back I had finished cutting them from their stumps, and they were lying in the road.  I had just wandered down to the corner when the car hurtled round the bend my wife had arrived!

She was not the only one. After she’d had turned and backed the car up the slope, been pleased that I had cut the trees free without a mishap a 4×4 trundled on to the scene.  It was the boys from Garcia, come to move the trees.  They were first a little surprised, but after I said we were collecting them for firewood, I think they were glad that the ‘mad English’ were doing it for them. It was nice to think that they would have moved them for us but we got there first……

So we dragged the trees back to the farm for cutting up later.  It was warm so we decided to go shopping so went into town.  We got back around mid afternoon, and after something to eat it was… fun time.  It was a joy to cut the wood, making sure that nothing could fall on me, I dispatched the trees…I’m a lumber jack and that’s ok……

The final act of the day was to take the wood to the wood pile and then have a coffee on the patio looking at the stars.

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“The two tractors pulled up side by side, two elderly farmers discussing the harvest, and the effect of the weather on the grapes.  Their trailers, one full, one empty, who’s grapes were already being crushed and filtered finished their conversation and departed on their John Deer tractors.  Now is the important time of year, grapes picked by hand under a relentless sun, the pickers sweat flowing into the dry soil, this is harvest Catalan style, this is what makes such excellent wine.”

We arrived at El Masroig Celler to be greeted by Eulalia, a cheerful young lady who is in charge of the marketing for the Celler and a daughter of one of the growers. She told us she had been helping her father with the harvest on her day off, something she has been doing for a long time.

We started our tour with a visit to farmer Josep Tost and his son Marc who were busy picking Syrah grapes in the traditional method – by hand.  When we arrived the sun was beating down, but these cheery hardworking farmers along side their pickers were working away.  Their grapes were also suffering from the lack of water, it has not rained since the middle of July, normally we have a few storms in late August early September  but this year nothing.  But the grapes were sweet and yes the wine will be of good but short on moisture. The people here are very aware of their heritage and traditions and the land dictates that these will survive.

 

When we returned to the Celler we were introduced to the Wine Maker Carles, who was a mine of information on both the wine and history of the Co-operativa.

Masroig is in some ways a microcosm of Spain, during the Civil War there were two Co-operativa’s, some were supporters of the Republicans others of the Nationalists.  Nothing is ever clear-cut always a mixture, then the two Co-operativa’s joined together, a small village re-uniting, coming together again. They decided to use one of the Cellers for production and the other for storing the barrels whilst the wine was maturing and ageing. Working together they have invested and grown, no grand Cathedral of Wine here, but every few years, as they have grown so they have built another section.

This year 2011 they will open the latest, a large bulk storage and bottling plant. It is a new modern building which looks rather strange beside the original ones, but inside there are concrete vats beneath the ground, traditional techniques are still being used. As well as modern stainless steel vats, are French Oak Barrels,   seeing the creamy coloured barrels in this setting looks somehow comforting even though they are brand new.

So it is the 14th of September, 11.00am and we are now going to take you on a journey as we see exactly how the grapes are processed.

We started the tour where the tractors bring in the grapes. First they drive their trailers to a small platform. Here a young man took a long metal pole with a juice sampler on the end, and plunged it into the grapes.  He turned it then took it out, then plunged it in again, this was done several times. He then took the liquid to a table where it was analysed, showing the sugar content and likely alcohol level.

Next the tractor and trailer are driven onto the ‘weigh bridge’ where the weight is noted, the farmer has to stay on the tractor whilst this is done, he then drives the trailer to one of the hoppers.  There are three of these: one for the Carbonic Maceration process, the other two are for the traditional method where the stalks are separated and taken for fertilizer.

There were two trailers waiting to unload their grapes. One was at the hopper on its way to the traditional processing the other was at the hopper for Carbonic Maceration, so I will start there.

First Carbonic Maceration:

At the hopper the grapes, complete with stalks, are emptied onto a conveyor belt which takes them to the large rocker tanks. When these are half full they are sealed and CO2 is pumped in removing all the oxygen.

These vats lie on their side with a motorised chain attached which rocks them back and forth while the alcohol ferments inside the grapes.  When they start to burst the vats are emptied into a conveyor which carries grapes and juice to the press.  Here the skins are removed, and the juice pumped into the underground concrete vats to mature, whilst the skins are conveyed to a large container which once full is loaded onto a lorry and sent for recycling into alcohol.


The traditional method:

Here the hopper was full of the Grenache grape with another trailer waiting to unload.  The hopper is started and two screws push the grapes into the crushing chamber where the stalks and grapes part company.  From here the Wine Maker sends the grapes down long plastic tubes to either the large cooled vats for fermentation, or to the open top vats.

Open top method:

This is something new to the Celler, but it is also a traditional way of fermentation, those familiar with the Australian way of wine making will recognise it.  The grapes once crushed, are placed in an open topped vat which is kept cold by a water jacket and left to ferment. The skins float to the top and forms a ‘crust or lid’ which keeps out bacteria preventing them from going off.  Every so often they are sprayed so that the grapes on top are dampened down preventing bacteria from breaking through. This process takes around 10 days, then the juice is transferred to barrels for maturing and ageing.

The main grape here is the Carignan then comes Grenache and Syrah with small amounts of others. The fields we visited were growing Syrah.

The red wine is aged for between 12 to 15 months depending on the type of wine being made. The white wine made from the Grenache grape is matured in French Oak barrels for around 6 months.  Personally I prefer what we refer to as Vino Tinto which is a red wine slightly lighter than a Negre which has a deeper colour and more body. I have two favourites from the Celler:

Tinto Joven: This is a pleasant young red, smooth with a cherry colour with a hint of soft fruits. It is made from carignan, grenache and tempranillo grapes, and the process used is 80% traditional fermentation and 20% carbonic maceration.

Tinto de Crianza: This wine has a deeper colour, and I find this a full flavoured wine to drink, with for me, a smoothness that I am sure comes from maturing in oak barrels.  It is made from carignan and red grenache grapes, and the process used is 100% traditional.

My wife likes the white wine made from the grenache grape which spends 6months maturing in the barrels.

There are a lot more wines from this Celler as I mentioned in my last article ‘An Age of Wine’, if, like me, you would like to try some, and I  can recommend their Cava, you can contact Eulalia on celler@cellermasroig.com you will not be disappointed.

I would like to say thank you Eulalia, Carles and the staff of El Masroig for taking the time to show how their wine is made and to Josep for letting us interrupt his harvest.  I hope you have enjoyed the tour as much as we did, and gained a small insight into the fascinating world of wine making.

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