Thursday, March 01, 2018

Vintage 2018 Continues (Tempranillo Harvest)

The Tempranillo was harvested on a cool sunny day with 99.9% of the fruit in excellent condition.
We also added in the minuscule crop of Pinot Noir which wasn't worth processing by itself.
After crushing and destemming, we ended up with 110L of must.
Baume: 12.5°
pH: 3.5
We added DAP and an excess amount of yeast culture. Wild yeast fermentation was evident soon after crushing finished so we added the extra yeast to overcome any problems associated with that.
Wild yeast fermentation is a legitimate process in wine making but we were not willing to risk it this time around. More on this in a later post.

We have quite a range of insects in the vineyard, the majority of which are 'good guys' who feed on and keep the 'bad guys' away. Therefore we have never sprayed insecticide in any of the blocks.
The colony includes many spiders of different types which spin their webs across the rows. We have to clear the rows of these before working down them. This causes the residents to retreat to the vine foliage.
I must have caught one spider between my head and the netting while picking as I felt a searing sting and brushed a big one onto the ground.
Funnel Web Spider

Was it a nasty or not? We do have the lethal funnel web spider here but they live in the ground. If you get bitten by one of these it is a rush to the hospital for anti venom.
But the culprit was light brown not black and I wasn't feeling unwell so decided I was going to live.
But it did leave an itchy lump.
Back in 'the winery', rapid fermentation began within 12 hours and we are now in the process of punching the cap down every four hours or so.

When fermentation is finished we will let the wine sit on the skins for another week to extract as much colour as possible and hopefully go through malolactic fermentation before pressing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Vintage 2018 Begins (Semillon Harvest)

There was prediction of some rain on the Wednesday, not much, up to 15mm.
I thought that may be just enough to cause some problems with the Semillon, now unprotected due to the 14 day post spray withholding period (WHP) before harvest, as anything >10mm over 24hours is a trigger for mildews.
So did a more intensive ripeness test on the Monday afternoon which showed 12.5° Baume, which was good enough. Most of the bunches were in great condition.
Ok, decision made...good to go on Thursday with equipment clean up and other preparation during the two lead up days,
However on Monday night the heavens opened up and by Tuesday morning we had received over 60mm. The rain continued all morning.
And its was only our small area in the whole state copping it.

There is of course a conflict of interest here. We have been experiencing a substantial period of green drought; somewhat good for grape growing, not so good for the pasture and cattle. Our creek has not run for months and some of our smaller dams are dry. The main dam is at a very low level.
The 70mm from the Tuesday 'wet' should have helped a little in this situation. But the next day was 37°C (98°F) with hot westerly winds so any soil moisture evaporated. And the smaller dams remained dry.
Small pot dam is dry as a bone

But back to harvest.
In the lead up we cleaned the tanks, tested and repaired one of the floating lids. There was an air leak in the pump tubing.
And all the lab equipment was cleaned and organized and the chemicals sorted out.
We harvested around 170kg (375lb) of Semillon on the Thursday. Most was in prime condition with only a small incidence of botrytis and some powdery mildew.
Baume was 12.0°
pH was 3.3
We crushed and destemmed the fruit and then drained the resultant juice through the press. As we had an abundance of fruit this year we decided to go with free run juice only and no pressings.

Sulphur dioxide and ascorbic acid were added at the crusher.
DAP, PVPP and finally the yeast culture were added to the juice after it had been transferred to the tank.
We had to wait a little longer than normal for fermentation to begin, almost 3 days (too much initial sulphur?), which caused a little worry but all is good now. Fermentation is in full swing.
The Tempranillo harvest will follow in a week or two.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Eating Out

We ate at the new Japanese restaurant, Tanoshi, in town the other day. It was excellent and great value.
Got me thinking how far we had come in our small town, food wise, since I arrived down here nearly three decades ago.
Then we had the basic Greek cafe, which was ubiquitous in most country towns, serving simple meals for breakfast (a fry up), lunch and dinner (meat and three veg) as well as take away hamburgers especially ones with the lot *, fish and chips and rotisserie chicken. There were two Chinese restaurants, again normal for most country towns, a few fish and chips places and a couple of Italian trattorias/pizza joints that catered to the large Italian population (we were a busy fishing port then).

And of course the three pubs as well as the service, golf and bowling clubs served cheap meals.
Posh eating out was limited to The Harbourside (now a less than stellar asian restaurant) and Millards Cottage (now  a real estate office) and Tory's, a very expensive seafood restaurant (now a leveled weed infested block of land waiting for a building development that never eventuates).
Of course there were small cafes and other takeaways including bakeries and pie shops (meat pies are a staple lunch 'to go').
Gradually other cuisines started to infiltrate, some with success, others not so much.
I remember an Indian restaurant stayed for quite a while, lost favour and then mysteriously caught fire one night. There was also a longish term Vietnamese restaurant that did well but is now gone and an Australianised Thai that was very popular until they moved a little way out of town. A Stone Grill also came and went.

Fast food chains began taking an interest in the town. McDonalds and KFC began sniffing around. The community was very anti these companies as they had a reputation of forcing local small cafes to close in areas where they became established. It took many years before these two were granted permission by Council to operate and indeed they caused, for a time, the negative result on local businesses we all dreaded. Since then the Domino Pizza and Subway chains have also moved in.
A momentous culinary event was when Rick Stein of TV chef fame opened a restaurant here. The tourists love it but I think many locals have been stung a little too often by the really high prices for what is basically still fish and chips.
A few other upmarket places have followed but most seem to have a big white plate/small serving philosophy plus exorbitant wine prices.
The clubs have tried to go a little upmarket as well with, in our view, limited success.
We stick to places like the Japanese mentioned above, an excellent genuine Thai,Yes I Am (get it?) and Milkhaus for their 'out there' menu. All are BYO (bring your own wine).
Both our town and our sister town, Milton, 6 km up the road, are chocked full of coffee shops some serving excellent food at very reasonable prices.
Our favourites are Brown Sugar, The Treehouse and the vegetarian Pilgrims. There is also an excellent wood fired pizza place that has been there for ever (still cash only; no cards).
The co driver is a Mavericks affectionado. They roast their own coffee on site.

How so many manage to survive given the relative small market ( the two towns plus surrounding area's population is around 15000) is always a mystery to me. Perhaps they make hay while the sun shines when our population quadruples during the 6 week summer holiday period as well as other holiday periods eg. Easter.
*Now what is hamburger with with the lot?
Not as easy to find these days (thanks McDonalds and Hungry Jacks! not) but are still around.
A meal in a bun.

And they taste as good as they look.
But not so easy to eat.
And the golden rule is never eat one wearing white. The beetroot will get you every time!

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Determining Grape Ripeness

This time of year, as harvest approaches, we need to assess the ripeness of the grapes.
There are a number of ways of doing this.
The most obvious criteria is sugar ripeness. The amount of sugar in the grape juice determines approximately the alcoholic content of the finished wine.
Lower sugar content eg. around 11% maybe suitable for delicate white wines eg. Semillon but totally unsuitable for full bodied whites like wooded Chardonnay and reds which need to be around 14%.
We determine sugar content by use of a refractometer.
Juice, squeezed on the instrument, is read via a scale. We use the Baume scale where 13° Baume would equal 13% sugar. Other scales in use are Brix and Oechsle.
Hydrometers can also be used but we find this instrument better for tracking the decreasing sugar content of the fermenting juice.
Initially grapes are tested randomly during walks through the vineyard.
But when things start to get serious, a more formal approach is needed to determine the ripeness of the whole vineyard.
pH meter, Hydrometer, Refractometer

Obviously the ripeness of the grapes throughout the vineyard will vary according to environmental factors and when the bunch was formed after bud burst. There are ways of ensuring an even bud burst by applying a chemical eg. Dormex, but not here.
Even grapes berries within a bunch will have varying sugar levels.
So our method is to ignore end of row vines (they tend to be the ripest) and take grape berry samples from two to three bunches of every third vine. Grapes are taken from the bottom, top, outside and inside of each bunch. They are then combined, crushed and the juice left to settle. We then determine the sugar level from the clarified juice. Rule of thumb is the result will be approximately one degree higher than that of the actual harvest.
We also look for pH and titratable acid (TA) levels. As grapes ripen, pH rises and acid content drops. Both together give us an idea of the wine’s acidity which is important from a processing and taste point of view. But, as we can adjust this during the wine making process, it is not too important at this stage.
Refractometer with scale showing juice at 12° Baume (21° Brix)

But there are also other non scientific methods to be used in conjunction with sugar ripeness.
The colour of the bunch stems and grape seeds change as ripeness progresses turning from green to brown.
The berries will plump up as sugars increase and will be easier to pull from bunches the riper they get.
The grape seeds are easily chewable when ripe.
Ripe grapes are sweet, with no hint of bitterness in the flesh or seeds.
Also, experienced winemakers will look for the ultimate “varietal” flavors to start showing through during taste testing.
It all might sound a little complicated but it isn't.

We find the most difficult thing is weather related. When substantial rain over a few days is predicted, do we harvest when ripeness is not at a premium or do we wait and take the risk that juice dilution, fruit splitting and subsequent disease may result in reducing yield and quality.
In our warm maritime climate (where the harvest months, February, March and April, on average are some of the wettest of the year) this is a decision we have to make almost every vintage.
Sometimes we have won, other times not.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Australia Day 2018

Today is Australia Day.
Commemorating the landing of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the day continues to become more controversial as time goes on.
The original Australians, along with many others, see this as 'invasion day' and instead of uniting the country it increasingly divides us.
Indeed it is pretty hard to find another country in the world that celebrates its national day on the date a foreign power arrives on its shores and takes over.
Some local councils have refused to take part in any celebrations this year much to the chagrin of the federal government.
Whether a new national day is possible is in the lap of the gods.
The 1st of January 1901 was Federation (the day Australia actually became a nation) but any celebration on that date would conflict with New Years Day.
Some have suggested 9th May, the anniversary of the day in 1901 when the new nation took practical form with the first sitting of the federal parliament in Melbourne, again in 1927, when the Parliament moved to the new capital, Canberra and finally in 1988, when the current Parliament House was opened.
Works for me.
Talking of things Australian, I had a number of inquiries about the song sung by the public gallery in Parliament after the passing of the SSM Bill in my 1st January post.
Was it the Australian national anthem?
No, but some think it should be.
It is called I am Australian co written by Bruce Woodley of The Seekers fame and Dobe Newton of The Bushwackers, an Australian folk and country music band or, more colloquially, a bush band.
Advance Australia Fair, the current national anthem, was written by Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878 and was selected to replace God Save the Queen (King) in 1984.
The words have been changed a number of times in an attempt to modernize it, but the terrible 'Our home is girt by sea' line seems to thwart all efforts. Girt? How awful is that!
The one criticism that resonates with me is "AAF is so boring that the nation risks singing itself to sleep, with boring music and words impossible to understand."
Compared with so many stirring national anthems around the world, ours is somewhat embarrassing.
There was one version, however, that shows what can be done with the song. That was at the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. No rendition has ever reached such heights since.
There are a few other songs which people think could be more appropriate eg. Waltzing Matilda but a song about sheep stealing is not for the national stage. I Still Call Australia Home by Peter Allen always tugs at the heartstrings but again, maybe not serious enough.
I think we are stuck with the current dirge for some time to come.

Talk of becoming a Republic raised its head again. After the success of the SSM postal survey the Prime Minister suggested that might be a good way of assessing the public's interest in changing our status. The monarchists among us immediately started pooping corgis and the PM's thought bubble was quickly dismissed.
However the reality is the Queen is getting on (91 years old) and it has been generally accepted that the end of her reign as Queen of Australia would be a good time to completely break our British ties. Whether this will come to fruition who knows but the Labor Party now in opposition has promised to hold a compulsory plebiscite on the issue if (or more likely, when) they come into power next election in 2019.
After the defeat of the Republic Referendum in 1999 (55:45), I accepted I would never see it happen in my lifetime but there just could be light at the end of the tunnel.
Perhaps the anniversary of our becoming a republic could then be our national day.
It might also be a good opportunity to change the flag and get rid of the British Union Jack in the corner to make severing of our colonial ties complete.
Update 27\1\18: Unprecedented protest rallies against Australia Day across the country yesterday.
Reports here and here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vintage 2018 / Update 2

Weather over the summer so far has been a strange mixture of blazing hot and very cool.
Rain has come in downpours generated by some pretty severe thunderstorms. It hasn't been unusual to get 25mm in an hour.
We have also had some very strong winds but no vine damage, just some net tearing.
Having said all that we haven't been under too much disease pressure within the vineyards.
We have been able to spray at suitable intervals and have only used a downy mildew curative once, as a 'just in case'.
There has been no insect pests as usual. Kangaroos remain a problem.

Yields on the Semillon, Tempranillo and non kangaroo eaten Cabernet Sauvignon are excellent while the Pinot Noir is very poor ie. lots of leaves, no fruit.
That could just be caused by the location of the block which is somewhat partially shaded during the day and maybe fruit initiation the previous season was poor because of that.
We will have to wait until next year to see if a similar situation occurs.
I deliberately planted the block in a cooler part of the property to try to get the best out of this cool climate variety. The rows are also orientated east/west instead of the preferred north/south.
Both decisions could have been a mistake.
They are already harvesting Semillon in the Hunter Valley, 350km to the north of us, which has a very similar warm maritime climate. But tests on our fruit have shown low Baume readings so far.
I guess the warmer weather around the Hunter this year has caused this early ripening.
I will wait until I hear that our local premium Semillon producer, Coolangatta Estate, has started their harvest before I do more intensive sugar level testing.

The Tempranillo bud burst was a bit uneven this year so bunches are maturing at varying times. Luckily there is plenty of foliage on the vines so the 'younger' fruit should reach suitable maturity before we run into shrivel problems with the 'older' bunches.
Of course we always run the danger at this time of year of increased rain activity.
This could cause increased disease pressure, fruit splitting and juice dilution.
But we have to live with that in the Shoalhaven.

Monday, January 01, 2018

2017 ∕ That Was the Year That Was

A Happy New Year to all my readers!
The first half of 2017 was a relatively busy time for us.
We had an extended trip to the USA visiting New York and South Dakota as well as a short road trip through western Iowa.
May June seems a good time to go to the USA as all the bad winter weather has gone and the worst of the summer weather is yet to happen.
Our next trip is planned for 2019.
The co driver continued on with her quilting having success in the local show with a number of awards, ending up most successful exhibitor.
Vintage 2017 was a mixed success with the Semillon being very drinkable and in much demand from neighbours and friends.
The reds were a bit of a disappointment.
So far, the 2018 vintage is looking reasonable.

Politically, our conservative government blundered along getting little done. A major distraction was finding numerous members of the upper and lower houses were dual citizens which is illegal under the constitution. Even the deputy prime minister was involved. This lead to resignations and by elections.
The same sex marriage debate took over the country during the last quarter. The Marriage Act had been changed under the Howard government in 2004 preventing this.
It would have been easy enough to change it back in about 30 minutes but the conservative right as part of a delaying tactic insisted first on a plebiscite (which was never going to happen), finally relenting to a non binding postal vote costing the tax payers $115 million. 80% of the population took part with the result 60% for, 40% against.
The Parliament finally did the right thing, with only 5 dissenters and a small number of abstainers, and legalized SSM to unprecedented scenes both on the floor and in the public galleries of the lower house.

Meanwhile our treatment of refugees confined to offshore facilities continues to be a stain on this country's reputation.
When Donald Trump praises our PM for doing well in that area it just shows how bad the situation is.
Another blot on our landscape was the resultant report following the wind up of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
This inquiry had lasted 5 years. 16,953 people who were within the Terms of Reference contacted the Commission. They heard from 7,981 survivors of child sexual abuse in 8,013 private sessions.
Unfortunately our major religious institutions did not fare well under the microscope.
But they were not the only ones who should hang their heads in shame.
2,562 matters have been referred to police.
In sport our national Rugby team ran hot and cold, our cricket team as usual did well 'at home' but not away. At least they already have regained the Ashes from England in the current test series which will run into 2018,
Locally our Rugby team, the Waratahs, were just awful. But we will persevere again next season.
We enjoyed watching the WSL from many of the great surfing spots around the world with a local woman, Tyler Wright from just up the coast becoming world champion the second time in a row.
No big celebrations from us as usual this year. Our valley is quiet as a mouse.
So it's a warm welcome to 2018.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Friday, December 01, 2017

Vintage 2018 Update 1

The weather has still been fairly dry but we have finally had a day or two of some decent rain.
You wouldn't have known it though on the following days as it had soaked completely into the puddles on our road and our creek is still not running. The water table must be extremely low.
It is also spring storm season. Warm humid days can produce afternoon thunderstorms which form out west and head for the coast. I get severe storm warnings on my phone and by email from my home insurance company which I can then monitor on the weather bureau's radar site.
Mostly they don't make it over the mountains or deteriorate into drizzle by the time they get here.
But the other afternoon one big one did. We had simultaneous lightning and thunder and it began to hail which is a grape grower's nightmare. The hailstones got bigger and bigger as the storm got wilder. Then suddenly it turned into torrential rain. We got a welcome 25mm in 30 minutes and thankfully no vine damage.
And our tanks are again full.

We have been protective spraying for downy and powdery mildews as well as botrytis but, due to the drier weather, disease pressure is low. There is no apparent pest problem either.
Plenty of fruit is forming on the Semillon and Tempranillo but the Pinot Noir is light on for some reason. The Cabernet suffered a little as the kangaroos managed to get themselves through the netting to eat the new shoots.
Due to the dry weather they have come in from the bush to feed on fresh spring pasture. I stopped counting when I got to 40 animals feeding in my neighbour's paddock the other afternoon. I have reinforced the bottom of my netting with some wire netting to try to thwart them.
That is where they normally get in. When stretching up to get shoots growing through the netting, their feet tear big holes which they can then crawl through.
So far so good but a cull would be a better solution. Sometimes one thinks it's a pity that is illegal.

I came across զuite a big snake around one of the vine blocks and have seen a couple sunning themselves on our road near the bridge. Our neighbour had one in his backyard so the season has begun. I will be keeping a closer eye out from now on and wearing boots.
In other farm news, Stirls came down for a few days working bee. We dismantled a superfluous round yard and recycled some of the timber posts and rails from it into cattle yard repairs. The rest will be cut up for firewood.
There were also some fences that needed repairing as well as good food needing eating and a few bottles of special wine that needed drinking, He enjoyed his three days here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A.J. Langguth (1933 - 2014)

My first visit to the USA was in 1969 as a tourist on the way back to Australia from a business trip to Germany. This was followed by sporadic business trips, mainly to Pittsburgh PA, up until the early 1990s.
About 17 years ago I started visiting the USA on a regular basis for extended periods for personal reasons.
Seeing I was now mixing with the general population and getting immersed in day to day living there, I thought I'd better get to know the country a bit better than what we were taught at school ie. the basic Columbus, Pilgrims, War of Independence, Civil War stuff.
I went looking for some history books.
Among the many I came across one called Patriots, The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A.J.Langguth
Here was a book written about the American Revolution through the eyes of the people who were part of it: George Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry.
I liked the author's style and sought more by him.
Arthur John Langguth was an author, journalist and educator, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 
A graduate of  Harvard College, he was South East Asian correspondent and Saigon bureau chief for The New York Times during the Vietnam war.

He joined the journalism faculty at USC in 1976 eventually achieving the post of Professor Emeritus of the Annenberg School for Communications School of Journalism at that institution. 
He retired from active teaching at USC in 2003. 
He was the author of satirical novels as well as more importantly, for me, American history.
We corresponded by email occasionally about his work and what was in his writing pipeline. He had an affection for Australians due to his time in Vietnam and had visited Sydney on one occasion.
He had dedicated one of his books, Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975, to Neil Davis who was an Australian combat cameraman recognized for his work as a photojournalist during the Vietnam War and other conflicts in the region. He was killed in Bangkok in 1985, while filming a minor Thai coup attempt.
I was Googling the other day to find out if there was another book of his published and was  saddened to read of AJL's death a few years ago.
Below is my Langguth reading list. It is recommended for those with an interest in American history who like a novelist style approach to a subject while concentrating on the personalities of the time rather than just dry facts and figures.

  • After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace Simon & Schuster, 2014
  • Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War Simon & Schuster, 2010
  • Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence Simon & Schuster, 2006
  • Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975 (Simon & Schuster, 2000), Touchstone Press (paper), 2002
  • Patriots, The Men Who Started the American Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 1988); Touchstone Press (paper), 1989, 2002

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Batemans Bay / A Birthday Date Day

Batemans Bay is about a 25 minute drive to the south of us. It sits at the mouth of the Clyde River which flows down from the Budawang Mountains in Great Dividing Range into the Tasman Sea.
It is famous for its delicious Sydney rock oysters.
The town is a larger centre than ours and is developing quickly as retiring baby boomers head for a sea change from Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
An institution there is the Innes Boatshed. It sits over the water and serves, in our opinion, the best fish and chips in the country. No table service, paper plates, plastic cutlery and you clean up after yourself. You line up to order and wait for it to be cooked before taking it to your table. They have only recently succumbed to the pressure of the 21st century and accepted card payment.
It used to be cash only.

The Innesses are an old fishing family in the Bay and still have a boat that brings in a local catch.
There was a time when the Boatshed was under threat from developers and the building was to be torn down and replaced by a modern aluminium and glass monstrosity. The town had numerous petitions going to save it but the council at the time was unmoved.
Luckily the GFC sent the developer broke and the old boatshed building remains and is more popular than ever.
We had flake, chips (fries) and potato scallops. The latter we found out at the Minnesota State Fair are called Australian battered potatoes in the USA. Flake is a euphemism for shark. Shark was always a staple for fish and chip shops when I was a kid. It was traditionally gummy shark but as tastes change other types of fish have become more popular for the fish and chip combo.
And there was always the question of the mercury build up in shark to a point where an allowable maximum size for consumption was legislated. I always hang out for flake as you don't see it too often any more.
This flake however was mako shark which the Innes boat had caught that morning. It was very meaty and distinctively different from gummy shark but still pretty good.

The Bay is also home to a 'lift span bridge' that allows Highway 1, the Princes Highway in our part of the world, across the river. When we moved to Brisbane from Melbourne by car in 1956, this river crossing was still by punt. The bridge opened a few months after we had passed through.
But now the old bridge is always causing problems getting stuck in the 'up' position after letting boats through or other failures that can hold up traffic for some time. A concept for a new one has just been announced in the last few days.
How long that will take to build is any one's guess.
The current and the newly proposed bridges

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

WoNS (Weeds of National Significance)

A weed is any plant that requires some form of action to reduce its effect on the economy, the environment as well as human health and amenity.
There are thirty two WoNS on the Australian government's list. Their inclusion is based on their invasiveness, potential for spread and environmental as well as social and economic impacts.
Many plants introduced into Australia in the last 230 years ie since European settlement, are now weeds.
But a native species that colonizes and persists in an ecosystem in which it did not previously exist can also fall into this category. Snakevine (Hibbertia scandens) is a prime example on our property. It grows prolifically here and can cover large areas very quickly taking over productive pasture.

It is sold in local nurseries as a garden plant which I find a little bemusing.
Another is native tussock which I have written about a few times.
Obviously not all of the thirty two WoNS affect all regions of Australia but here are the ones (and their origin) that are listed for our part of the continent.
*Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus) - South Africa
Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera subsp. rotundata) - South Africa
English Broom (Cytisus scoparius) -
Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) -
South America
*Lantana (Lantana camara) - Central and South America
Gorse (Ulex europaeus) - Western Europe and UK
*Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis) -
Madagascar and southern Africa
*Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) -
Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp) - North and South America
*Serrated Tussock (Nassella trichotoma) - South America
Chilean Needle Grass (Nassella neesiana) - South America
African Boxthorn (Lycium ferocissimum) - South Africa
The ones that we are most concerned with here are noted with a * with three being a particular problem.

              Blackberry                 Fireweed                  Giant Parramatta Grass

States and local councils also have weed lists which contain many more than thirty two. Our state list has over 300.
We got a visit from the local council 'weed lady' the other day who inspected our property for any 'nasties'.
She was looking for those on our *list plus Giant Parramatta Grass (Sporobolus fertilis)
We are continually battling Blackberry and have had one small out break of Fireweed many years ago which we got under control eventually completely eliminating it.
Our neighbours have had Giant Parramatta Grass on their properties and it also grows on many public road verges in the vicinity. I have never seen any here.
However nothing reportable was found during the inspection which is good. I really try to keep things under control weed wise.
She however did notice some wild tobacco (Solanum mauritianum) seedlings which are poisonous to cattle.

This is a long-lived (ie. perennial) shrub or small branching tree usually growing 1.5-4 m tall, but capable of reaching up to 10 m in height. I have been aware of this problem and spray them off when doing other weed remedial work.
So I will be on the lookout for this one when recommencing my battle with the tussock and bracken next autumn.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Some Birds of Our Area

Being rural and almost surrounded by National Parks, we get a lot of native birds in our vicinity.
Most are welcome, a few are not.
So here's a rundown on some we encounter.
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo,  Galah

The sulphur crested cockatoos usually arrive in flocks and are very interested in our lemons which they devour in quantity. They like the unripe plums, peaches and pears too. We have plenty of lemons and have given up trying to protect the other fruit so they are not a problem.
The black cockatoos have adapted to eating the newly formed cones on the exotic radiata pine trees that are grown in Australia in plantations for cheap timber and paper pulp. They arrive in very noisy screeching flocks into our pine tree at that time of the year. Unfortunately it grows next to our studio and they drop the partially eaten cones on the corrugated iron roof which sounds like someone is shooting at us.
Galah can also be an Australian slang word for a stupid person. It is apt as these birds carry on in their flocks in quite crazy ways. They are grass seed eaters.
Gang Gang                                           Corella
Very occasionally we get a visit from pairs of gang gangs and the odd flock of corellas.
Even more colourful are the Rosellas and King parrots. The former like the native flowers for nectar. The latter only seem to come when our catoneasta has its berries ripe. They are usually in pairs and the female is much duller than the male.
Crimson Rosella                Eastern Rosella               King Parrot
Then there are the Rainbow Lorikeets. They swarm in in great numbers when the native and exotic trees are in flower. Noisily screeching and bickering with each other, they are regular welcome visitors. But in many parts of the country they are pests and can decimate fruit crops very quickly. I know if I didn't have the grapes netted they might not be so welcome.

Regular visitors are Kookaburras. They are a member of the kingfisher family and are carnivorous. They eat worms, lizards and even small snakes. They stalk their prey, catch it and then dispatch it by hitting it on a hard surface before swallowing.

They can become very tame and people regularly feed them meat scraps etc. We have resisted doing this to keep them wild and non dependent.
I have experienced them stealing sausages off Bar B Qs and people's plates during park picnics.
Their call (or laugh) is considered the sound of the Australian bush but they are just marking out their territories.
And finally a not so welcome visitor.
The dreaded Koel.
The Common Koel is a large migratory cuckoo which flies to Australia from New Guinea, Indonesia and possibly the Philippines arriving usually in September. It breeds mostly in Queensland and NSW as far south as our area. They remain until March or April, when they return to their non-breeding grounds.
It has the most annoyingly loud call which can go on for hours and hours from VERY early morning to dark.
I don't know anyone who eventually doesn't want to throttle this bird.
So there you have some of our feathered friends.
There are many more but will leave that for another time.

Monday, October 09, 2017

ARTfest '17

When I moved down here permanently in 1991(has it really been THAT long?), there was little arts' activity.
There was the occasional live show at the Milton theater and small artists, pottery, photography and literary groups.
Live entertainment was provided mainly by the local clubs (RSL, bowls, golf) who tapped into the regional transient entertainers circuit, usually past their prime comedians and singers or tribute artists.
But as baby boomers retired and moved from Sydney and Canberra for their 'sea change', interest in the arts scene increased.
The current Artfest had its genesis in 1999 with the Tabula Rasa Contemporary Arts Festival staged during the winter months with the aim of showcasing local artists of all genres.

It has gone through a number rebirths since and the Escape ARTfest is now a two-week celebration of all things artistic in the Milton-Ulladulla district running from late September to early October.
In 2010, Rick Stein of TV chef fame (he has a very expensive fish and chip restaurant in town) and his wife came on board as the official patrons of the ARTfest. Their support has substantially increased its profile both regionally and state wide.
2017 features close to 100 individual events with over 40 art exhibitions, concerts, performances, authors' luncheons, workshops, films, digital installations and pop up community events. A children's orientated program is also a feature.
We decided to do a pottery workshop.
It was an all day affair where we hand built 'totems' under the watchful and helpful eye of two instructors.

We had a lot of fun doing it. Our 'masterpieces' needed to dry for a few weeks and then were bisque fired. When this was done they were glazed before a final firing.
Update: 5th November.
Here is the final result.
The pottery group running the workshop offers six week beginners' classes during the year so I guess this may have been in part a recruiting exercise. Whether we will continue on with this activity is still being cussed and discussed given we didn't last too long at art classes..
On another day we drove out to a lovely property behind Milton where, as part of ARTfest, an exhibition of the owners' wood fired ceramic sculptures and pieces as well as bonsai and textiles had been organized. 
We missed the opening of the wood-fired train kiln but the results looked great. 
I liked the somewhat free form and 'primitive' style pottery.
There was also a huge permaculture garden full of vegetables and numerous fruit trees, not to mention a large stand of bunya pines.
The house must have been well over a hundred years old and built in that late 1800s colonial style, many of which still remain standing in our area.

Then it was to the Milkhaus for lunch.
Situated in the old Cheese Factory at Woodstock, this establishment is a wholefoods cafe that "aims to deliver fresh, honest, simple fare, free of toxins, preservatives and anything artificial."

The menu can be unusual (and sometimes a bit challenging) and changes on a regular basis eg. crispy spiced cauliflower tacos with cabbage slaw, avocado salsa, shallots, coriander and chilli with tahini yoghurt. 
The place was jumping and all the (communal) tables were filled up. Plenty of kids too as it was still school holiday time. There is no kids' menu so I wondered how some would cope with the 'strange' food. A family at a table near us with five pre teen girls didn't seem to be having any problem.
A totally enjoyable day and a great way to end our small participation in ARTfest '17.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sulphur Dioxide in Wine / A Revisit

I have discussed the use of sulphites in wine in 2009 and 2015.
There is an increasing tendency in Australia to reduce the usage of SO2 (Preservative 220) as much as possible due to concerns about allergic reactions to the chemical by consumers.
The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) is the Australian grape and wine industry’s research organization which supports the grape and wine industry through  research, practical solutions and knowledge transfer.
They have recently 'revisited' sulphur dioxide use because their "problem-solving" service has recently seen a number of wine samples submitted with issues apparently related to insufficient use of the preservative.
These samples have presented with a range of ‘symptoms', including sensory deterioration, premature oxidation, microbial spoilage and high concentrations of volatile acidity (VA).
All have been traced back to reveal insufficient SO2 at bottling as a major contributing factor.
So to recap, sulphur dioxide is an extremely effective antioxidant and antimicrobial agent when added in very small amounts to wine. The maximum allowable in Australia for a dry wines is 250mg/L although I doubt this level is ever reached.
It is introduced into wine a number of times during processing generally in the form of potassium metabisulphite (KMS) which produces approximately half its weight as SO2.
In the wine, two forms of SO2 then exist ie.bound and free. It is the free that 'does the work'. Within the free it is the molecular sulphur that is the 'active agent'.
The amount of SO2 in the free form and its effectiveness ie. molecular sulphur content, depends on the pH of the wine. The higher the pH, the less SO2 will be in the useful free form AND the less effective this free SO2 will be.
Free SO2 levels recommended by Rankine

So with all this well documented and established knowledge why are some winemakers running into trouble?
There are many considerations to take into account when assessing the correct SO2 levels. These include if a wine is intended for short, medium or long term storage, wine clarity and dissolved oxygen pickup at various stages of wine production particularly at bottling. The latter two increase the bound and reduce the free levels of SO2.
With this trend towards the lowest possible additions, it seems multiple small additions of SO2 rather than one equivalent large addition could result in the concentration of free SO2 never reaching a level which produces the desired antioxidant or antimicrobial effect.
Larger less frequent SO2 additions, yielding greater concentrations of free SO2, are therefore considered much more effective in achieving the desired antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.
The AWRI reports: It is apparent that many wines submitted for problem solving investigation are those to which several small SO2 additions have been made, and many of these wines have a comparatively high ratio of bound to free SO2, i.e. the free SO2 concentration being 25% or less of the concentration of total SO2. In most cases this phenomenon is apparently due to products of oxidation and microbiological activity resulting from the low free SO2 concentrations, acting to bind a large proportion of the SO2 that is present.

Measuring free SO2 on a commercial scale requires expensive equipment or a complicated laboratory set up.
There are test kits for the small wine maker but I have found these to be expensive, inaccurate and unreliable.
Some time ago I came across a test system based on the Rankine method in the USA for $100 and brought one home with me. It can be a bit fiddly but I found this to be one of the better wine making investments I have made.
The electric pump required a step down transformer (which we have for our other USA appliances) to cope with our 240V. The test chemicals were easily acquired locally eg. from ANPROS
Performed with care and measuring accuracy, testing using this set up will definitely indicate when free SO2 is present in the wine and, with a simple calculation, the approximate amount.
Now whether this amount is accurate is any one's guess as I have no way of comparing it to a result from an established testing method.
But I have to say so far I have come across none of the low sulphur problems stated above with the white that has been bottled or the reds which are still in the tank.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vintage 2018 Begins

Spring is well and truly here and the early variety grapes, Tempranillo, Semillon and Pinot Noir have sprung into life.
Thankfully there must be some substantial sub soil moisture as we have had virtually no rain for months.
It has been the warmest driest winter on record.
It is already a record breaking warm spring with temperatures in the high 30s in some places.
This is a real concern as early spring is particularly windy. Combined with the high temperatures and the dry this is perfect bush fire weather.
There are 90 fires burning in the state already. The few that are around us are thankfully under control.
We are under a total fire ban here but keep an eye on the Fires Around Us app just in case.
Lightning strikes, carelessness and, sadly, arson can change the situation at any time.
We have been transferring water from our spare tanks to our home tank and are thinking about putting ourselves on restriction now as there is no rain forecast longer term.
There is a long waiting list to get a water delivery and, in any case, we don't particularly want to use chlorinated town water.
Despite the warm winter we had an inordinate number of frosts which have killed off the pasture much earlier than normal. There has been no spring regrowth due to the lack of rain so we are still feeding the cattle. Hay prices have gone through the roof due to the dry.
All in all not a good situation.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Feral Animals in Australia / Part 3

Continuing on with our list of feral animals:
-Water Buffalo
Between 1825 and 1843, about 80 water buffalo were brought to Melville Island and the Cobourg Peninsula (now in the Northern Territory) as a meat supply.
When these settlements were abandoned in the mid 1900s, the buffalo soon colonized the swamps and freshwater springs of this part of  the 'Top End'.
Despite harvesting them for meat, hides and as hunters’ trophies, feral buffalo spread across the northern floodplains. There are two types; the river type from western Asia, with curled horns, and the swamp type from eastern Asia, with swept back horns.
Prior to extensive culling in the 1980s, the population was estimated at around 350 000. Numbers dropped dramatically as a result of the campaign but have since recovered to an estimated 150 000 animals across northern Australia in 2008.

The feral buffalo grossly altered the character of the northern floodplains.
With its wallows, trails, dung, trampling and disturbance, it caused soil erosion, channelling of flood waters, increased intrusion of salt water into freshwater habitats and destruction of wetland vegetation.
They can carry important diseases of cattle, particularly tuberculosis and brucellosis.
A number of small scale industries involving the buffaloes remaining have developed eg.meat for human consumption (local and international), pet meat, hides, horns, animals for live export and game for hunters.
Some Aboriginal communities depend on the buffalo as a food source and have negotiated
permission to maintain a domesticated herd.
Farming of re-domesticated herds is also increasing.
-Wild Goats
Goats came to Australia with the first fleet in 1788.
During the 19th century, sailors released goats onto islands and some areas of the mainland for
emergency food. Cashmere goats were brought into South Australia in 1837. In the 1860s, angora and cashmere goats were imported from Asia to start a goat fibre industry. Some herds were set free when the industry collapsed in the 1920s. More recently, goats have been used to keep plantation forests and inland pastoral land free of weeds.

The current feral goat population in Australia represents a mixture of all these origins.
There are at least 2.6 million feral goats but numbers fluctuate enormously with drought, management programs and high fertility so it is very difficult to accurately assess numbers.
They are considered a significant agricultural and environmental pest.
They have been estimated to cause losses to livestock farming of $25 million per year.
The goats also negatively affect conservation values and biological diversity by damaging the vegetation and competing with native animals.
Control of feral goats is a complex issue. While they are a major environmental and agricultural
pest, they also have some commercial value and are used as a game species by recreational hunters.
We don't have wild goats around here. Well, not the four legged variety anyway.
-Wild Pigs
The first recorded release of pigs in Australia was made by Captain James Cook at Adventure Bay, Bruny Island (just off what is now Tasmania) in 1777. This was part of his policy of introducing animals and plants to newly discovered countries (Thanks, Jim!). 
However today's problems with feral pigs really started when domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) were first introduced into Australia by the First Fleet in May 1788. Then 49 pigs were brought to Sydney as a food source and were subsequently allowed to roam.
By the 1880s they had run wild in New South Wales.
They now have declared pest status country wide.

Agriculturally they reduce crop yields by consuming or trampling plants. Fences and water sources can be damaged. Dams and waterholes are fouled through wallowing and defecation. They also compete with livestock for pasture and damage pasture by up-rooting vegetation.
Environmentally they disturb natural habitats by rooting up soils, grasslands and forest litter and consuming a range of native plants. They also eat a range of live native animals including earthworms, beetles, centipedes, amphipods, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles and their eggs and small ground-nesting birds and their eggs.
Feral pigs can be hosts or vectors of a number of endemic parasites and diseases, some of which can affect other animals or people eg. leptospirosis.
Control methods include aerial and ground shooting as well as trapping and strategic poisoning.
Deer were introduced into Australia from Europe in the 19th century as game animals.
There are now six species in various parts of the country: fallow, red, chital, hog, rusa and sambar.
They are a major emerging pest problem, causing damage both to the natural environment and agricultural businesses. Populations are expanding and deer are invading new areas.
They destroy native vegetation by trampling plants, grazing, and ring-barking young trees, fouling waterholes, causing soil erosion, spreading weeds and potentially transmitting diseases.
The most common control measure is shooting by recreational hunters and sometimes by professional marksmen.
Another control approach is prevention of the escape of farmed deer so that they do not create new wild populations or bolster existing wild populations.

We do not have a problem with them around here but they are in plague proportions in the Royal National Park on Sydney's southern outskirts. It's a bit strange for us to see road signs warning about deer rather than kangaroos.
-Wild Horses (Brumbies)
The first horses, around seven of them, arrived in Australia with the first British colonists, in January 1788.
They became essential to the development of the nation’s pastoral, farming, mining and timber-getting industries and for decades were the main means for moving goods, supplies, mail and passengers between towns and around cities.
Today, horses have been replaced by technology but thousands of Australians continue to share deep connections with their animals, from outback stockmen, to racing, pony clubs and weekend riders.
In the meantime many horses have gone wild. In the more environmentally sensitive places like the Alpine regions eg. the so called 'high country' of Victoria and New South Wales much of which is national park, they are causing damage.

Authorities are calling for their removal wanting the elimination of 90 per cent of the estimated 6000 wild horses over 20 years in the Kosciusko National Park alone.
Aerial and land culling were suggested as the preferred options.
This is very controversial.
The brumby is ingrained in our culture. Many think they should be valued for the historical links to early settlers and popular legends such as The Man From Snowy River and military roles such as the Light Horse Brigade.
Others think it is more important to stop the degradation of the wetlands in the Australian Alps and protect critically endangered species such as the corroboree frog, alpine water skink, and the broad-toothed rat.