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Harvest and a Reluctant Goodbye

I am happy to say harvest has began!  We are just starting to pick the White varieties and the reds for rosé. They are maturing quite quickly now that the heat has really come on.  The nights don’t cool down much like they do in California and I think this makes them ripen faster. An important job during harvest season is to test the maturity of the grapes in order to know when to harvest which parcels.  To do this we take Berry samples from all 20 parcels.  We bring them back to the lab and count out 300 of each bag.  We weigh the 300 berries before squishing them into a pulp.  The juice is then filtered from the pulp and seeds.  The sugar content is measured with a density measure.  The more dense the juice, the more sugar content the juice has.  Then we measure total acidity and pH.  The data is recorded and compared to last year’s data from the same exact date.  It was very interesting because this year the grapes are considerably less mature on this date.  The sugars are lower and This is probably because the summer has been milder and with more rain.  Seed samples are also taken from the grape crush to analyze their maturity. Looking at all of the little labeled piles of seeds from different varieties really shows the difference between them. The red varieties had larger greener seeds that the White varieties.  It is typical for whites to ripen earlier and this was clear from the more shriveled and darker Brown seeds.  In addition we tasted the seeds and crunched them up in our mouths.  The acidity of the Green seeds was much higher than the drier more Brown seeds.  The berry samples and tests are done once each week to study the maturation and to know when to expect to harvest.   Whites will likely be finished by the end of August and reds will begin in mid September through October.

Our creative way to count 300 grapes

Nuria sorting seeds

All in a days work









Red harvested for Rosé

The harvesting system is much different than what I am used to.  At home a crew comes in to harvest and they are paid per bin they pick.  The workers run quickly up and down the rows to dump the grapes at the tractor.  Here in Spain the crew is paid hourly which changes the system completely.  There is much less rushing and they day in general is more relaxed.  In the morning the bins are placed in the rows so they are all ready to go.  The crew comes in and picks into the bins which are then picked up by the tractor.

When the grapes are brought to the winery they are immediately crushed.  There are 2 large presses that are up high so that gravity can help us and carry the juice to the tanks below.  A couple of times we used the small hydraulic press for small batches of grapes.  This was much for fun for me because I got to climb into the press and stomp the grapes, “I Love Lucy”- style, as they loaded it up.  The juice goes directly into temperature-controlled tanks to wait for fermentation.  The first tank took about 3 or 4 days to start.  You can tell very easily when it starts because the top gets covered in a layer of white sparkly foam.  It’s very pretty.



The Real Press

Harvest is still continuing but unfortunately I had to come back home.  School starts soon so I won’t be able to stay for the harvest of the reds.  I pretty bummed but that just means I will have to come back to Spain one day!  I really had a fabulous time here and will never forget the hospitality that Casa Sicilia showed me.  They welcomed me as one of the family and I am so happy to know that I will always have a home here in Novelda.  It is hard to say adios but this semester is looking promising.  I have wine lab in the shiny new Stocking Hall winery and labs!

I can’t sign off without a little shoutout to my friends in Novelda and my dear Spanglish group.  I call them the coffee clan because we met for coffee almost every afternoon, and then filled every weekend with lots of adventures.  They helped me so much with learning Spanish and really made my time unforgettable. I dearly hope that one day one of them will show up on my doorstep to visit back in the states.   “Spanglish” was also filled with unforgettable people, Spanish and English alike.  We got together twice a week and had a great time practicing our languages and laughing…a lot.  I can’t wait for the day when one of them calls me in the U.S so I can give back some of the hospitality they showed me.

Heretat de Cecilia

Hasta luego España, nunca te olvidaré.

Ciao! -Brooke

Embolsando…Grape Bagging

Here in this region of Alicante there is a special tradition with the table grapes.  It’s called ‘embolsando’ or the bagging of the clusters.  At Casa Sicilia we primarily have wine grapes but also about 25 hectares of table grapes.  The farms in this region cultivate a variety of table grape called Aledo, which is only grown here in Novelda and its surrounding towns.  This variety is special because it is harvested in November and December and there is a tradition with this specific grape at the end of the year.  Each person has toe at 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year in order to have good luck the following year. Almost all of Spain eats the grapes from here in Alicante on this night.

Aledo Table Grapes

Why do we have to but bags on all of the grapes? We put them on each cluster to make sure they are protected and look absolutely perfect by the time they are harvested in December.  I have never seen anything like the embolsano.  The rows and rows of grapes are full of White bags tied with string, it looks pretty weird if you don’t know what it’s for. The bags protect the grapes from bird damage, insects, and the sun.  When the clusters are big, but not ye tripe, they put one bag on each cluster.  It is a job but a lot of people from the town help in the farms during the weeks of embolsando.  This week I helped and woke up each day at 6 to start with the team at 7.  We work until 10 for a break and then continue until 2 in the afternoon.

The farm pays per thousand bags you put, so everyone Works very quickly in order to use as many bags as possible in a day.  It is very impressive to watch how fast some of the workers go.  The best ones can put 2 thousand in one day.

Embolsando Contest

This Sunday was the embolsando contest of Novelda here in the farm that I work at.  All of the fasted “bag-tyers” came and competed.  It was a really fun event with music and tapas.  There were 20 contestents and a lot of people to cheer them on.  They had to put 200 bags and the winner did it in 26 minutes. Which is actually crazy fast, I put 1000 in a total of 7 hours.  It was really cool to see how the whole town comes together to help with the grape bagging.

That’s all for now, Hasta Luego!



Aquí en esta zona hay una tradición muy especial en la uva de mesa.  La ocurra cada año durante el mes de julio.  Se llama el embolsado, y nunca he visto nada como este antes. Las filas de la uva son llenas de bolsos con hilo.  Las fincas en este región cultivan una variedad de uva de mesa que se llama Aledo y está solo aquí en Novelda y los alrededores.  La uva es especial porque la vendimia es en noviembre y diciembre y hay una tradición con esta uva particular en el fin del año. Hay que comer 12 uvas en los 12 últimos segundos del año a dar suerte.  Casi todo España come la uva de aquí en esta noche.

Porque tenemos que poner los bolsos? Porque quieren que en diciembre la uva estará perfecta y los bolso protegen de todo, los insectos, los pájaros, y el daño del sol.  Ponen un bolso cada racimo cuando están grandes pero no maduras. Es un trabajo muy pesado pero mucha gente del pueblo ayuda en las fincas.  Esta semana he participado en el embolsado de la uva.  Me desperté a las seis a empezar con el equipo al las siete.  Trabajamos hasta diez a almorzarnos y después continuamos hasta las dos.

La finca te paga cada mil bolso que pones y por eso los trabajadores van muy rápido. Es muy impresionante a ver que rápido mueven las manos.  Ponen un saco en cada racimo y hacen un nudo con hilo.  Los mejores pueden poner dos mil en un día.

Este domingo fue el concurso de embolsado aquí en la finca donde trabajo yo.  Había 20 concursantes y mucha gente a aclamarlos. Tuvieron que poner dos cientos bolsos y el hombre que acabó primero puso los dos cientos sacos en 27 minutos.  Fue un evento muy divertido con bebida, tapas, y música.   Fue muy chulo a ver como todo el pueblo ayuda con la uva durante este mes.

Working in the Vineyards

Cincaut vine

The past couple of weeks have been very exciting, filled with lots of traveling, interesting work at Casa Sicilia, and fun adventures in Novelda! Recently I have been working a lot in the vineyards.  I work with two other permanent vineyard workers.  This week we completed an entire parcel forming the baby vines.  It is an important job because the vine will keep this shape for the rest of its life.  The vines have been grafted onto American rootstock, which are resistant to the pest, Phylloxera.  The graft is a couple inches under the ground so the entire top part is the variety that they want.

Cutting away excess shoots

This is a red variety is called Cinsaut that the wine maker is going to experiment with in the Celcilia Rosé.  It is a very heat resistant variety and is used in blends to add spice and aromatics.  It would be good for a rosé because it has very little tannins but is very aromatic. In order to form the vines we find the straightest shoot and cut away the others.  If there is any American vines that are growing from the bottom graft, we pull them out by their roots so they don’t grow back.  Then we move the stake as close to the shoot as possible to make sure it will grow straight.  We tie the shoot to the stake on the right hand side so that later when it is taller we can bend it over to form the cordon.

Moving the stake

All done! vine tied to stake













By the end of eight hours my legs hurt like crazy because we are squatting and standing and squatting and standing a million times. After a week of this I will have legs of steel! But it always feels good to look back on a completed row and see how perfect all of the  straight little vines are! Outside of work I have gotten to tour a lot of Spain. During the weekend I visited some friends in Madrid and toured the city. It is HUGE but very cool. OH AND I have been converted into a coffee drinker!  Most afternoons I go to a park in Novelda with a group of  Spanish friends from Novelda that have adopted me this summer.  They can’t really get through the day without their afternoon coffee. Anyways that is a little about what I have been up to.  Adiós for now!

Español y Alaliticas


Estoy aprendiendo mucho español y espero que estoy mejorando. La gente habla muy MUY rápida, y claro ellos nunca hablan más lento cuando habla conmigo lol.

Este semana aprendí como a hacer analíticas de vino.  Es un serie de 5 pruebas : pH, acides volítales,  acides total, sulfuroso, y alcohol.  Me siento como estoy en clase de química otra vez pero esto vez es un montón más interesante porque la pruebas son con vino!  Hoy hizo cuatro vinos diferentes, dos tintos, un blanco y un rosado.

-pH: Es importante a un vino porque lo indica si el vino es más seco o dulce.  Normalmente blancos tienen pHs más bajo y tintos tienen pHs más alto.   El blanco que hice, tuvo 3.6 y los tintos 3.8.

-Acides: Los acides afecta el pH del vino y son importante para el sabor del vino, como te siente en la boca, y también a mantener estabilidad del vino.  A mayoría de bacterias no pueden vivir en acide y por eso un vino puedo vivir por años y años.

Heats the wine and collects the volatiles in the tube.

-Sulfuroso:  Todos vinos tienen sulfuroso natural pero a veces añadimos sulfuroso a ayudar el preservación del vino.  No quieres mucho sulfuroso porque lo afecta el sabor y color.

-Alcohol:  La ultima prueba es alcohol. Un vino normal tiene un alcohol entre 12 y 15%.  Muchos vinos dulces tienen más y a veces blancos tienen menos.

Measures boiling point of wine which is used to calculate % alcohol.

Este noche me voy con Sebastein y Pascual, el otro intern, a una fería de todos el vinos en el región de Alicante.  Estoy emocionada a saber los vinos diferentes en el región.  Estará divertido!

Debo decirte un poco sobre las otras cosas que he hecho!  Si estás en España necesitas ir a Valencia.  Es una ciudad muy bonita con mucha historia pero muchas cosas nuevas también.  Fui el fin de semana pasado y dormí en mi primero hostal! Estaba sorprendida a ver como limpia y moderna lo fue y conocí estudiantes de todo el mundo .  El mercado central era mi lugar favorito.  Tiene toda la fruta, verduras, carne, queso, y pescado fresco te gustarían! Era mi cielo.


Mercado Central, Valencia

También fui en tours de la ciudad de arte y ciencia con otros estudiantes de mi hostal.  Es en el parque grande que va por el centro de la ciudad en una línea.  Es en una línea porque es donde el rio era antes de la ciudad movieron la dirección del rio 30 años pasado.  El parque es 9 kilometres largo.  Hay campos de futbol, jardines, y estos nuevos edificios que se llama la ciudad de arte y ciencia.

My favorite building. Designed to look like an eye and the center is a theater!

Me gusta Valencia mucho. Comí el mejor paella he comido (con conejo!), vi muchos edificios espectaculares, y conocí buena gente.

Bueno, hasta pronto!



I am learning a lot of Spanish and I hope I am improving.  The people speak very very fast and of course never slow down when they talk to me!

This week I learned how to do analytics of wine.  It is a series of 5 tests: pH, volatile acids, total acids, sulfites, and alcohol.  I feel like I am in chemistry class again but it is much more interesting this time because all the experiments are with wine.  Today I tested 4 different wines, 2 reds, one White, and one rosé.

pH: It is important to a wine because it indicates if the wine is more dry or sweet.  Normally White wines have lower pH and reds have higher pHs.  The White wine I tested was 3.6 and the reds were 3.8.

Acids: The acids affect the pH of the wine, the flavor, mouthfeel, and also maintain the stability of the wine. Most bacteria can’t live in acidic environments and because of this a wine can last for years and years.

Sulfites:  All wines have natural sulfites but sometimes we add them to help the preservation of the wine.  You don’t want too much because it can affect the taste.

Alcohol:  The last test is alcohol.  Most wines have an alcohol between 12 and 16%.  Sometimes dessert wines have more and White wines have less.

            Tonight I am going to an Alicante wine fair with Sebastian and Pascual, the other intern.  It will have all of the wines or the región, including Casa Sicilia.  I am very excited to see what it is like! It should be fun.

            I should also tell you a few of the other things I have been up to!  If you are ever in Spain you have to go to Valencia!  I went last weekend and stayed in my first youth hostel!  I was surpised at how modern and clean it was, and I met a lot of students from all over the world.  The central Market of Valencia was definintely my favorite place.  It has every fruit, vegetable, cheese, meat, and fresh fish you could ever want.  So pretty!

I also went on a tour of the city of arts and sciences with other people from my hostel.  It is a section of Valencia that is in a really long park that weaves through the center of the city.  It is shaped like this because it is where the river used to flow before they redirected it about 30 years ago.  There are a lot of different sections with soccer fields, gardens and really modern buildings, which is called the city of arts and sciences.

I loved Valencia, I had the best paella I have ever eated (with rabbit!), saw some pretty cool buildings, and met nice people.

 Well, That’s all for now!  Until next time.


España Wine and Vines

I don’t know where this week has gone! I have been in Spain for a week and a half and if feels like just yesterday that I arrived. I have learned so much, met a million people, and am learning to adapt to the crazy Spanish schedule. 

Welcome to Casa Sicilia!  This is where I will be working for the next 3 months of summer.  It is a gorgeous winery in the small town of Novleda, Spain.  The farm was started in 1707 and currently has 80 hectares of  a mix of wine and table grapes.  They grow a mixture of  Spanish varieties including Macabeo, Muscatel, Tempranillo, and Monastrel as well as more traditional varieties, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Syrah.   Sebastian is the wine maker and winery director, and is originally from France.  I am very grateful to have him as a boss, he has a great passion for what he does and has an incredible knowledge of viticulture and wine making.  He and his family are the best hosts I could ever ask for. The only downside is that it is pretty difficult to learn Spanish from people who speak with a French accent!

Casa Sicilia  is named after the house that was built in 1707 in the center of the farm.  Since then it has been renovated. On the first floor is a restaurant, tasting room, and wine shop.  Attached is a large ballroom for hosting weddings and other events.  I live on the second floor of the house.  I won’t lie, it was pretty scary that first night but (knock on wood) I haven’t seen any ghosts yet.

Casa Sicilia ~ Built in 1707

Guest Entrance

I work mainly in the bodega (winery), but also in the campo (vineyards) and a little in the tienda (store).  Earlier this week I worked with Pascual, the Spanish enology intern, recording the floration  stages of all of the vineyard parcels. Right now most have very few flowers left and the berries are developing.  In the winery we have been busy mixing depositos (tanks) to create the coupage for the red wine.  Here in Spain almost all of the wines are a blend of different varieties to make vino tintos and vino blanco.  Yesterday we did a tasting of 13 different barrels the check their maturation and flavor.  I learned that the barrel has a huge effect on the taste of the wine.  There are barrels with the same wine but with different toasts and from various parts of France and they each tasted different.  Some of my other jobs have been labeling bottles and moving wires in the vineyard.  (Thank you mom and dad; who would have guessed that all of those days moving wires would have come in handy, I can keep up with any Española trabajadoro.)  I have been very busy, but also had  some time for sight seeing with Sebastian and his family. I learned a lot in the winery and will post more throughout the summer about all of the happenings in Casa Sicilia and España!


Making the “coupage”



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