Tuesday, December 14, 2004

December...so far

We have a busy few weeks. A trip to Sydney doubled as a Christmas shopping excursion and a new car pickup. We also enjoyed a Thai meal with family in the shadows of the Sydney Harbour Bridge at Milsons Point. It is a very crowded and noisy restuarant that spills out onto the street but the food is excellent and there is a excellent wine shop next door. The 2004 Giesen Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ is a wonderful wine to try and goes well with Asian food.
The new car is great. It is very comfortable to drive and has lots of "goodies" to play with. I have to be careful with the speed however. It does tend to get away from me. Guess that's what happens when you suddenly have a motor double the capacity you are used to.

Subaru Forester 2.5 X
We have had weeks of rain and thunderstorms. So far the grapes have remained disease free. This is not the case with a lot of vineyards in the area. Downy mildew is such a problem there is a shortage of chemicals to deal with it. No one expected such a prolonged rain event. The Cabernet Sauvignon has set its fruit and bunch sizes seem bigger than usual.

New Bunches on Cabernet Sauvignon
In the new block, the Semillon is being trained along the cordon wire. Almost 80% are at this stage. The rest are catching up. The Tempranillo have put on a spurt and may not be the problem first thought. In the meantime we continue to help out in the Milton vineyard. We estimate that we must be at least to 50% of planting. That's 7500 vines! It should be all downhill from here.

Semillon Trained Along Cordon Wire
The farm is looking good. Dams are full and the grass is green and lush. The cattle are taking advantage of the good feed and are looking fatter. The calves are doing well and it may soon be time to wean them which is always a noisy time.
The downside of the humid weather is the huge tick population explosion. They are annoying not only the cattle and the horse but us humans as well. We have to be sure to be wearing insect repellent any time we spend a lot of time in the paddocks. Their bites can be quite nasty if you are allergic and of course there is always the danger of Lyme Disease.

The Calves
The horse should be sprayed with insecticide. But as she hates this I have to wash her with it. This is always fun! I have found a "pour on" for the cattle which will not only deal with the ticks but also with internal worms, lice and even liver fluke. This beats oral administration any day. So I guess we will be rounding them up any day now and doing the job on them.
In the meantime we are enjoying our fresh peaches from the orchard and our fresh lettuce, rocket and herbs from the vege garden.

Monday, November 29, 2004

November Vineyard Update

Weather conditions have been perfect for vine growth. The pattern seems to be a day of rain followed up by a week of sunshine. Sub soil moisture is now at optimum level. Weeds in the interrows have been successfully sprayed off. There has been no evidence of disease or insect attack. The antifungal spray program against powdery and downy mildew continues on an 8 -14 day cycle depending on the intensity of rain events.

Cabernet Sauvignon in November
The Cabernet Sauvignon is in flower. Each individual flower loses its “cap”, which, unusually, are the flower petals joined at the top. Because domesticated grapevines have perfect flowers ie. they contain both male and female parts, five stamens and a pistil are exposed. This enables grapevines to be self-pollinating. The stamens contain the pollen and the pistil contains the ovary.

Cabernet Sauvignon in Flower
Pollination usually occurs by wind distribution together with some help of insects. Heavy wind conditions and rain hinder pollination however. It will be some time until we know how many of the flowers have been successfully fertilised and what the resultant level of fruit set will be. This will then determine the size of the bunches. Each flower represents one potential grape berry.
It will be soon be time to spray the vines, or more specifically the newly forming bunches against the fungal disease, botrytis (grey mould). This is done at 80% capfall (and again before bunch closure). The spores of this particular fungus lodge within the inflorescences and can lie dormant until bunches are well developed before conditions encourage mould growth. Then it is too late to spray.

New Semillon Block in November
The new Semillon continues to grow well. Many of the vines are reaching the stage when the main vertical shoot needs to be cut (topped) to promote the growth of two upper lateral shoots that will eventually become the permanent arms (cordon) of the vine. The vine is cut through a node just above or below the cordon wire. Then it is attached by string from this cut node to a foliage wire in a continued effort to keep the developing trunk straight.

Semillon Grown to Foliage Wire
All but the top 2 laterals are then removed. Due to the apical dominance of grapevines, these two laterals will begin to grow quite vigorously and will be eventually trained along the cordon wire. It is important that these two shoots are between 10cm and 15cm below the cordon wire so that the angle between the trunk and the cordon is sufficient to provide strength for the arms to support the weight of shoots and fruit in the coming years.

Semillon "Topped" and Tied
The Tempranillo is disappointingly slow in growth. Despite the good conditions and the application of nitrogen fertiliser only a few have reached the top of the vineguards. It is possible that two years of drought and their resultant longer than normal stay in the seedbed has negatively affected them. It is a matter of wait and see.
The same cannot be said for the Pinot Noir. After a slow start many of the vines are at the top of the vineguards and it may be time to think about a wallaby fence to protect them.
In the meantime I have been in the process of buying a new car. Instead of running around dealers trying to get the “best” deal, I used a broker via the internet for the first time. It appears that I have saved about $A3000 off the recommended retail price by doing this. The Subaru Forester, red of course, will be ready for delivery sometime this week.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Creating a New Vineyard from Scratch

Friends of ours have purchased an old dairy farm near the historic town of Milton.
Of the 72ha (180acres), 4ha (10acres) will be initially set aside for grapes. There will be four separate blocks in various parts of the property to take advantage of the best aspect, slope, soil and microclimate for grape growing.
The varieties selected include Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Voignier, Verdelho, Arneis, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.
The first step in developing a vineyard, after site selection, is deciding on row length, spacing, and orientation as well as headland dimensions and positioning of access roads and drainage systems. Then it is a matter of marking out the rows, spraying off the grass cover with a herbicide and cultivating by ripping, discing and rotary hoeing.

Cultivated Rows
This is also the time that the soil can be ameliorated (eg. lime) and nutrients (N, P, K etc.) added according to the results of previous soil tests. Generally a pre-emergent herbicide is incorporated in the prepared soil during the last of these operations. This prevents weeds competing with the new vines for nutrients and moisture.
Then the end assemblies for the trellises are installed along with the intermediate posts. This involves accurate marking then mechanically driving the posts a minimum of a metre (3ft) into the ground.

"Sharpened" End Posts Ready for Driving
The end assemblies have to take quite a deal of strain once the wires are installed and tightened and the grapevines are growing on them. There are many designs of end assemblies that perform successfully. In our case, wooden end posts of a larger diameter than the intermediate posts have been used and are supported by a strut that is chocked by the first intermediate post in the row.

Driving the Posts
A properly designed and installed end post reduces the instance of breakage and pull out. CCA treated pine posts have been selected for this vineyard. They are strong as well as being rot and termite resistant.

Completed End Assemblies
We have become involved with planting. At a row spacing of 2.2m and a vine spacing of 1.2m, this involves a total of approximately 15000 vines for the vineyard.
The new vines are delivered as one-year-old bare rooted rootlings that have been kept in cold storage to prevent them shooting or banded vines which are already growing in degradable pots. The former have to be removed from cold storage and hydrated for 24 hours before planting while the latter is gradually exposed to their new environment on delivery and kept well watered.
In the vineyard, the position of each individual vine has to be marked ie. at the correct spacing directly under where the cordon wire will eventually be. This is done with a line and a spray can of marking paint. Then a hole is dug at a spade’s width and depth.
The rootling or a banded vine is placed in the hole, covered with soil and firmed down.

The final step in the process is watering. This will settle the earth around the roots and prevent them from drying out. Each new vine should receive 3-5L.
We have found that a team of one marker (who becomes a planter/waterer after that job is finished), two diggers, one planter and one waterer can get around 600 vines into the ground in a day.
15000 divided by 600 equals……………….. too much work to contemplate.

It’s hot work under the blazing summer sun but there is a sense of achievement when at the end of the day you look back along the rows at the “sticks” that will eventually burst into leaf and grow into the walls of green.
And you get to touch up your suntan as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


A weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it. In many cases, somebody’s weed is another’s botanical specimen.
The recent rain has brought a burst of weed growth on the farm. There are two categories, vineyard row weeds and pasture weeds. You cannot leave them uncontrolled. They need to be dealt with before they seed. As the old saying goes “one years seeds is seven years weeds”.
Vineyard row weeds are a diverse collection of plants that grow easily in the rows as these are kept bare soil most of the growing season and wind blown seeds lodge there in autumn to germinate the following spring. They are easily disposed of spraying with a systemic herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup® or a cheaper generic). Care must be taken not to let any over-spray get to the green parts of the growing vines as this chemical is non specific and will kill or severely retard most anything it settles on. I use an upside down plastic bucket slotted over the spray head to stop drift.
Pasture weeds are usually endemic to the region and are spread by seed, rhizomes or by suckering. The very low grass cover at the end of winter aids germination of the first type.
The main problem in this area is the native poa tussock. It grows into huge clumps that the cattle won’t eat, retards grass growth and eventually will take over a pasture if not controlled. It is also a great harbour for rabbits and their burrows and warrens.

Poa Tussock
I spray each individual tussock with glyphosate using a conical nozzle on the sprayer to limit over-spray. This took considerable time initially, over a year, to reduce the huge numbers over the 10.5ha (25acres). However, since these first treatments killed off the vast majority of the plants, seed production and hence new growth have been considerably reduced. Annual follow up before seeding (early summer) is purely a maintenance task.
Another problem weed germinating from wind blown seed is the thistle. It usually grows in the bare soil that results from tussock treatment. Despite its pretty purple flower, it has very prickly foliage and can grow to over a metre in height. It seeds prolifically and will spread quite rapidly making wide tracts of pasture unproductive. It can be controlled by physically removing it by hoeing or by herbicide spray.

Scotch Thistle
Bracken fern is a native plant that grows in open pasture and under light tree cover. It can be toxic to animals and reduces pasture growth by competing for light, nutrients and moisture. It can also take over large tracts of land. It grows from an extensive network of underground rhizomes. While winter frosts kill old annual growth, new ferns appear in great numbers early in spring. To kill this plant it is necessary to use a bracken specific chemical that is systemic and translocates into the rhizomes.

Bracken Fern
Brushoff® is such a product and has worked well on the farm. It took months of spraying the mature bracken to get control and now annual maintenance is all that is needed.
Blackberries are an imported curse. They spread from seed dropped by birds and from horizontal roots as well as from roots formed on the growing tip of the plant that makes contact with the ground. It really needs to be controlled. Apart from being a legal requirement, it can reduce pasture use and harbour rabbits.

Young Blackberry Bush
Brushoff® is the best product for use against blackberries. But no matter how much you spray, every year new growth appears somewhere on the property. It’s an ongoing battle to control this brute of a plant.
Another problem here is the snake vine, a native ground cover with attractive foliage and large yellow flowers.

Snake Vine
It grows in large clumps, is very prolific and reduces pasture growth. Spraying with glyphosate together with a wetting agent to penetrate the waxy leaves works well. The other alternative is to dig it up and sell it to nurseries. They get $15 a pot for these plants to be used in domestic gardens !!!!!!!!

Snake Vine Infestation
As I said, somebody’s weed…………….

A Trip North

Last week we headed for Sydney to catch up with family to celebrate my birthday.
My daughter had organised a few games of ten-pin bowling at a retro alley where you stepped back in time at least 30 years. Lots of memorabilia and great music.
We had a fun time. It was a laugh a minute. It had been at least 20 years since I had bowled and I managed to score over 100 both games. The others? Well………
We then drove to Norton St. Leichhardt, which is the Italian part of Sydney for a cheap and cheerful meal which turned out to be excellent.
Next morning we headed into the Sydney CBD and did a few bookshops as well as the Dupane photographic exhibition at the Museum of Sydney.
We also caught a movie, “The Anchorman”. Don’t bother, it’s really awful.
After dinner at Wagamammas, a Japanese noodle bar, the ladies headed off for a Dido concert while I settled for another movie. It was an Australian production “A Man’s Got to Know” which turned out to be very funny in a quirky sort of way.
Next morning we set off for the Hunter Valley, about 160km (100mi) north of Sydney to visit some wineries, to do some tasting and to buy some wine to replenish the stock that had greatly diminished over the last few months. The region grows most grape varieties but because of its maritime climate, the most successful are Semillon and Shiraz. It also appears that Verdelho will be a variety that will perform well in this difficult climate.
It was a warm sunny day and surprisingly there were very few people in the area. This allowed the winery staff more time to talk about their wines as well as offer a few specials not normally available.
At Margan Family Wines we bought some of their ’04 Semillon and Verdelho as well as their Saignee Shiraz Rose’. This winery continually produces high quality wines at reasonable prices and the 2004 vintage is no exception.
At Oakvale Wines we bought some older Semillon which had developed nicely in the bottle as well as their most recent Verdelho which in fact may be better than the Margan.
Then it was time for lunch at the Enzo Café at the Pepper Tree Winery complex where I had a great smoked salmon salad and shared a couple of nice glasses of wine. The chicken Caesar salad across the table looked good too. It was a very pleasant hour sitting outside in the sun listening to a “best of” Dixie Chicks album and relaxing before the wine buying frenzy continued.
At Tullochs we bought 3 bottles of their top of the range Hector 1999 Shiraz for special occasions.
Then finally, we ended up at a new winery, Iron Gate Wines. There we bought some of their Semillon as well as a range of their Shiraz. The Reserve Shiraz comes in at a whopping 15.6% alcohol. That will definitely be a non-driving dinner when we open that one.
So all in all it was a successful day. It’s always nice to visit a few new places as well as the tested and true in the Hunter Valley. The fact that I got a call on my mobile phone from the security department of my credit card company while on the way home asking whether I still had possession of my card because the abnormal number of purchases in a day is neither here nor there.
We stayed overnight with a friend in the Gosford area just north of Sydney and tried some of our purchases with a great meal of bar b q’d whole fillet steak, baked potato and salad.
But now it is back to the grind!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Spring Still Dominates, Summer Struggles

The weather is still typical Spring, warm one day, cold the next. And the rain persists. We have had another 50mm (2in) since the last report. It looks as though the area to the south of us which has been in drought for three years is finally getting some relief. They do not get the same high falls as we do being in the shadow of the Snowy Mountains but they have had sufficient to revive the pasture and give some hope to the farmers there who have in most cases sold off all their stock to survive.
Our garden looks good. All the exotic trees are in leaf and the orchard is full of developing apples, plums, peaches, pears, nectarines and nashis. Whether all will survive the usual bird life enslaught, mainly parrots, is another question. We have netted the early ripening peaches in the vain hope we will be allowed to share.
All the native trees are in bloom, especially the bottle brush, grevilleas and the black wattles.

The Biggest Bottlebrush Tree in the World?
The bottlebrush in the backyard is a huge tree. It is a "weeping" variety that continues to get bigger every year. The tree is covered in red brushes and is a haven to parrots, honeyeaters and other birdlife.

Bottlebrush Flower
Most of the grapes continue to do well. I have started a fertilizer program for the new plantings now that the roots have started to grow. Will be giving them a feed of nitogren via urea applications of 2 x 3g each a month until well into next year. Hopefully this will push along the slower varieties.
The infloresences in the cabernet have separated and flowering cannot be too far away. This is the first time you really see evidence of the upcoming grape crop.

Cabernet Sauvignon Inflorescences
There was some excitement in the backyard the other afternoon when quite a large red bellied black snake decided to visit.
While I leave them alone in the bottom paddocks, and it is illegal to kill them, they are not welcome around the house. So a chase with my weapon of choice, a hoe, ensued. But he was quite quick to move and stayed close to the house so it was hard to get a good shot. After some abortive swipes, he managed to hide in some thick bush in the garden....minus a few cm of his tail. Hopefully this encounter will send him looking for greener pastures. The sharpened hoe is now at the ready by the back door for the summer season just in case he or any of his mates return.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A Vineyard Update

All has quietened down weather wise.
There was not a lot of wind damage to the Cabernet Sauvignon and all looks well in that block. We have finally picked up all the cuttings and they are ready for burning. Am waiting for a windless day to spray off the vine rows with herbicide. The recent rain has produced a spate of weed growth.

New Shoots on Cabernet Sauvignon
Most of the Semillon has reached the top of the vineguards. A few are lagging but it’s still early in the season. String has been attached from the fruiting wire to a foliage wire to help guide the growing shoot. It is important at this stage to make sure that this shoot, which will eventually be the trunk of the vine, is straight.

A Semillon Shoot Emerging from a Vineguard
The Tempranillo is not doing so well. Growth is particularly slow. There may need to be replacements made from the spares in the “greentop” nursery where the same variety is doing much better. But maybe I am being impatient and not taking into consideration the transplant shock factor.
So far it appears that the wallaby fence is doing its job as far as that pest is concerned. Finger crossed!

The Wallaby Fence
However the rabbits are not being hindered. Some vines left unprotected after the wind took away the vineguards were eaten overnight. Will eventually have to go hunting for the burrows (they cannot be far away) and apply the necessary gassing treatment.
The Pinot Noir is also slow which is typical. Growing this variety requires a lot of patience.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Flood, Tempest and Fire

It’s been a very eventful week. During the “big wet” we received 137mm (5.5 ins) of drenching rain. The dams filled and so did the creek for the first time in three years. In fact late afternoon Thursday, it broke its banks and flooded across the lower paddock. We had a brief respite on Saturday when the sun shone and the sky was deep blue. But on Saturday night back came the rain until early Monday morning. We received another 25mm (1.0ins). I think we can safely say that the drought has broken on the South Coast. The grass has turned a bright green and is growing furiously. I will not need any more hay this season. So now all the animals are on their own.

Although the ground is quite soggy it will only take a week or so for the surface to dry out. I think we have sufficient sub soil moisture now for the growing season.

Murray Grey and Calf
Then today, we experienced extremely high winds from the west, gale force at times.
We lost power at one stage and then, to our horror, we saw smoke billowing from our lower paddock. The wind had brought down power lines and started a bush fire. I called the RFS but someone had already notified them (a passing motorist?) and the bush fire brigade was soon there and had everything under control. It burnt out about 0.5ha. in my and my neighbour’s land and had made its way into the trees by the side of the road. Luckily the wind was blowing away from us and the undergrowth was still quite damp. However if it had jumped the road and gone into the National Park there could have been some serious consequences.
There is quite some damage to the power lines and although the power company was quickly on site I think it will be some time until electricity is restored. This means no water (pump!), no light and no cooking. Guess we will have to go to town for dinner and find some candles to read by.
In the meantime, we have completed the electric fence around the Semillon and Tempranillo vineyard to deter the wallabies. A search of the web found some interesting designs for that type of fencing. Contrary to my thoughts, a fence does not have to be high to keep out wallabies. Research has shown it needs to be multi-stranded with a number of closely spaced low wires complimented with a few wider spaced higher ones. Apparently they graze up to a fence and when confronted with a few thousand volts turn away. No attempt is made then to jump the fence, they prefer to try to get under it. DUH! You learn something every day!
So we constructed a fence with electric tape at 12cm, 18cm, 24cm, 32cm, and 55cm spacings, attached to the trellis end assemblies and some supplementary stakes by over 100 insulators. That’s a lot of hammering! We then connected the energiser and battery and turned the whole thing on. When we attached the tester we were pleased to find 4500-5000 volts flowing through the whole structure. The lower wire may even keep the rabbits out!
Needless to say the strong winds caused havoc with the vine guards. I think once the wind drops it will be an evening of retrieving them from the extremities of the property and reattaching them to the wires.
In the meantime we just have to hope that damage to the new vines as well as to the new shoots on the Cabernet will be minimal.
Work on redecorating the bedroom continues. The ceiling is finished and the woodwork is waiting for a second coat. Then it will be crunch time to see if the selected colour for the walls is what we envisaged!

Thursday, October 21, 2004


What a great start to the growing season. Another 25mm overnight and it is still raining. Good steady soaking rain, not the damaging torrential downpours.
Luckily I had been able to spray the grapes a few days ago so hopefully they are well enough protected. This type of weather is extremely conducive to fungus development, particularly downy mildew.
With some of the grapevines already to the top of the vineguards, it is time to think about the wallaby proof electrical fence.
Have bought a new energiser and battery which will serve up around 6000 volts. I think it will need a four strand high "hot tape" about 45-60cm apart to keep the little fellas out. As soon as the rain stops this will be a a major project.
Have planted herbs (basil, thyme, parsley, sage) as well as a selection of lettuce in the vege garden. Also planted some rocket seeds.
The redecoration of the main bedroom has begun. The walls have been demoulded. Painting is on hold due to the wet weather so this will allow more time for a thorough preparation.
As I type, the wind has increased in velocity an the rain in intensity.
It looks like a really wet day ahead. The BOM radar indicates a lot more to come. There is already water lying in the bottom paddocks and the dams are filling!!!!!

Monday, October 18, 2004


It was good to get away for the weekend. Brisbane is my home town. Well, sort of. I was born in Melbourne but "escaped" to Queensland at the age of ten.
We caught up with old friends, ate a lot, drank a lot and had a lot of laughs.
I toured around my old haunts of Ascot/Hamilton/Clayfield. A lot of the graceful old Queenslander homes still exist. Sadly some have sold off some of their original huge blocks of land and have been built out by what is now considered to be acceptable modern architecture. Some of these edifices are appalling in their bad taste and demonstration of wealth. The "pile" that has replaced "Mayfield" in Windermere Road is a prime example of how bad things can be. Even Walt Disney could not have designed something so horrific.
The Breakfast Creek Hotel still cooks the best steak in town. The Rivercat into the city along the Brisbane River is one of the great ferry rides in Australia and you can buy some of the freshest and most varied seafood in the world.

The Brisbane River Cat
We will be returning for some house sitting duties in January 2005 so am looking forward to that.
It was raining we we returned to Sydney and has continued for the next 24 hours.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Is Summer Here Already?

Yesterday was the hottest October day on record. It reached 37C (99F) and was accompanied by gusty dry westerly winds.
Needless to say evaporation rates were high and the benefits of the rain a week or so ago would have been somewhat negated if this weather pattern had continued.
Lucklily around 6pm the predicted southerly change came in and the temperature dropped to 19C in an hour. Humidity increased by 200%.
I watered the most susceptible young vines by hand well into the evening.
This morning I checked all the newly planted vines. There was some evidence of scorch but it was minimal. There were no fatalities despite some vineguard damage.
Decided to hand water the entire vineyard which took some hours.
Also reduced some of the stronger Semillon vines to one shoot as growth in the last two weeks had been quite substantial.
These shoots will eventually form the main trunk of the established vine.
None of the Tempranillo are advanced enough yet for this procedure.
Rain was predicted for the following few days so sprayed a combination of sulphur (against powdery mildew) and copper (against downy mildew) on all vines. Both are "preventative" sprays.
Unfortunately some rain has come earlier than expected and it may be that due to the lack of rain fastness of the two chemicals applied (min. 6 hours) efficacy may have been reduced.
As we are travelling to Brisbane tomorrow for the weekend, reapplication may be necessary next week in combination with a "curative" spray.
The established Cabernet continues to demonstrate quite dynamic shoot growth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Spring Is Here

Our daily routine has been interrupted for 2 or so weeks by overseas visitors.
We did the tour guide and entertainment director thing.
The weather was kind except for 4 days of beautiful soaking rain. They may not have enjoyed it but we certainly did. 125mm built up the sub soil moisture, almost filled the dams and certainly filled the water tanks.
It was amazing to see the country turn green almost over night. Not exactly drought breaking but a positive step forward.
The grapevines, both old and new, responded well with accelerated bud burst and shoot growth.
We took the visitors to many of our beaches and although the water is still quite cool enjoyed a swim and a lie in the Spring sun. Despite the school holidays many of the beaches were basically deserted. This will certainly change as the Christmas holidays approach. It was also great that plenty of wild life showed up to keep the visitors entertained. Lots of parrots and kangaroos. We even came across a red bellied black snake sunning itself by one of the dams.

A Visitor
We fished in the surf off the beach a lot but were not too successful. A few salmon and a couple of small flathead were the only prizes. We also took a deep sea fishing trip about two miles off shore from Batemans Bay. It was a great sunny day with not too big a swell running. Again not a lot of fish were caught. The highlight of the morning was the arrival of a whale and calf, both of which came right up to the side of the boat to have a look at us. They stayed quite a while before continuing their journey south.
We also visited Canberra to see the War Memorial and the Australian National Museum.

On their last weekend we visited Sydney where we spent time in the Rocks at the weekend markets as well as few of the old pubs.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge from The Rocks
We then took the ferry to Manly for lunch out of Circular Quay past the famous Opera House.

The Sydney Opera House
So now it's time to get back to work.
The Cabernet needs shoot thinning. The new plantings need to be monitored for shoot growth and eventually the weakest thinned out leaving one to form the trunk.
The cattle are beginning to look better now that there is some grass growth. Their feed continues to be supplemented by hay.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Pinot Noir: The King of Winegrapes

We have started planting the Pinot Noir. There is some budswell and even budburst on some of rootlings so we have to be careful not to knock the emerging shoots off while planting. The soil in this block is quite moist and not as sandy as in the Semillon block. The down side was the number of rock floaters. We came across them in nearly every hole dug so was quite an effort to get them out. Elbow grease and a crow bar do wonders.
Spacing within the row is 1m. This is very close on a high potential site. But I am experimenting with close planting to see if competition between vines will reduce any potentially unwanted vigor.

Pinot Noir Block
Pinot Noir is very sensitive to crop load and any overcropping reduces flavor intensity. So hopefully the vines will be balanced (vegetative growth /fruit load ratio) under this system and the resultant wine will have some typical varietal properties.
This is NOT the climate for Pinot Noir ( too warm!) but it is a challenge to try to grow some of reasonable quality. OK, it's a whim!
Opened a bottle of my 2004 rose' made from Cabernet Sauvignon last night. I was pleasantly surprised. The wine was a vibrant pink with no indication of oxidization and dry, in the Rioja style it was made, but still fruity and with some residual spritz. Will be great with lunch (prawns!) during those upcoming hot summer days.
Pity there is not much of it.
With the pending growth of Tempranillo as well Pinot Noir in 2006 there is some potential to increase rose' production. It's a much maligned and forgotten wine style in Australia which is a shame.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Vineyard Work Continues

All the Tempranillo is now planted.

The Semillon/Tempranillo Block
But today we have extremely strong westerly winds which are causing some damage to the block.
Vineguards are being ripped from the wires and young shoots are being knocked off the vines. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to prevent this. Luckily I have retained some spare rootlings of both Semillon and Tempranillo in case of such an event. This would mean planting the replacements as "green tops" when the time comes ie. after the threat of strong Spring winds is over. There is some risk of vine mortality using this method but it can generally be done safely with a little care.
Now attention will turn to planting the Pinot Noir. As soon as the winds abate this will get done.
Almost all the Cabernet Sauvignon has been pruned. One row to go.

Pruned Cabernet Sauvignon Block
Have been able to begin to replace some of the cordons that succumbed to the last years of drought. Have also been a little ruthless cutting out old spurs, mainly those that are too high on the cordon and those that cause shoot crowding during the growing season. Hopefully this reduction in bud numbers won't cause a a lot of watershoot production during the season. I also hope that the fruit gets better exposure with resultant better colour and sugar levels. The vines are planted on a high potential site at a 1.5m spacing. Experience has shown that maybe 2.0m would have been better to allow the vines to be better balanced. A radical move would be to grub out every second vine but this is a little too traumatic for me to do after nursing this vineyard along for the last 10 years.

Spur Pruned Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2004 wine needs to be racked one last time and sulphur level adjusted. Then it will be ready for bottling.

Friday, September 03, 2004

In the Vineyard

I pruned a few rows of Cabernet Sauvignon. There is some evidence of "bleeding" so the sap is running but there is no sign of budswell as yet. This allows me to concentrate on the new vineyard block where the Semillon is showing some sign of budswell and the Tempranillo in the seed bed is already in bud burst.
The first job was to eliminate the poor Semillon performers from the previous season and replace them with good "spares" grown in the same block. This poor performance can be blamed almost exlusively on the soil environment where there is inadequate moisture retention. This is due to the soil structure (sandy), the lack of organic matter and the proximity of some large trees which take all available soil water.
Current drought conditions have exacerbated this problem.
The row positions of the bad performers were noted and the poor soil environment will either be ameliorated with the addition of organic compost (1:1) and/or the application of additional water during the growing season.
This transfer of vines took two days to complete but we should now have four good rows of Semillon ready for growing season. The first crop is expected in 2006, albeit a small one.
Despite the hard work it was nice to be in the warm sun under a bright blue sky, sans shirt, for a few hours of the day. Spring is well and truly here. A number of species of wattle trees (acacia sp.) are in full bloom and looking good.
My attention has now turned to planting four rows of Tempranillo. This has to be done urgently before bud burst progresses much further. One down, three to go! A row a day seems to be the limit.
Of concern is evidence of rabbit activity as well as that of wallabies in the vineyard area. We have been free of rabbits for quite some time now due to the calici virus but obviously resistance is building and new warrens are being established. Vineguards will protect the new vine growth from the rabbits but it will soon be time to seek out their habitats and apply the usual poison to keep numbers down. The wallabies are more of a problem. The vineyard will need to be protected by a sophisticated electric fence system. But as they will only be a nuisance once vine growth emerges from the guards, I have time to think about how the fence needs to be configured.
In the meantime, the cattle have started to improve in condition due to the additional hay ration. All have obviously begun to put on some weight and produce additional milk for their calves. Milton continues to be hand fed once a day and is looking fine.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


The first thing I noticed as I drove south was how dry the country was.
Drought is still with us on the coast. This is the third year in a row.
The bad situation was confirmed as I drove in through the front gate of the property.
Apart from the brown grass, my top dam was bone dry and both bottom dams were less than half full.
Luckily my house tanks are almost full from the little bit of rain that has fallen in the last 3 months. My visitors did a good job of water conservation during their house sitting duties.
I have had an increase in my cattle population while I was away.
Four new calves, two bulls and two heifers.
Unfortunately one of the cows had died shortly afer giving birth. It is a bit sad as she was one of my orginal breeders but guess she was getting on and may have been in bad condition due to the poor weather conditions and a lack of good feed. This is the first fatality I have had in 12 years of breeding so guess that is not too bad a record.
Her calf is fine but has to be hand fed. Thankfully my neighbor was a dairy farmer in a past life and knew exactly how to handle the situation.
I have now taken over the feeding with 4L of warm (he doesn't like it cold) milk formula a day. He is also eating hay so is loooking quite healthy. He goes by the name of Milton.
The cows are being "dragged down" by their calves and were looking a bit poor. My neighbor had been rationing the hay due to a shortage of feed in the district generally but increasing the portion as winter went on. I ordered another 10 bales despite the high price and have decided to feed them twice a day in order to get them in better condition so they can look after their offsprings better. Hopefully with a bit of rain the pasture will start to grow again and reduce the dependance on "imported" feed. But the weather forecast is not encouraging. Dry and warm is the prognosis.
The grapevines all looked fine. Of course they have been dormant during winter.
I need to prune the Cabernet Sauvignon soon as well as replant some Semillon. I also have to plant out the Tempranillo from the seed bed. Then there is the Pinot Noir!
The weather is warm and this with bring on bud burst prematurely so need to do these tasks urgently. In fact this has been the second warmest winter on record.
So I am fighting jet lag and trying to get chores done.
Life wasn't meant to be easy!

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Trip Home

The night before departure I found out that my early morning flight had been delayed by over 2 hours. This would make local connections very tight and I didn't want to miss my flight home out of Los Angeles (LAX). If I did, it would mean a 24 hour wait for another.
So United Airlines changed some bookings and I felt confident that if I could get my baggage checked through to Sydney I would have a good chance of maintaining my schedule.
I turned up to Minneapolis Airport early next morning to check in and make sure the baggage situation could be settled. Sure enough my bags were booked through to Sydney, one of the advantages of flying with Star Alliance members. The reason for the delay was that the plane had arrived late the previous evening due to bad weather in the Chicago area. As the same crew was rostered for the next morning, rest period regulations prevented an on time departure. We boarded the plane on time but then just sat there. The captain had decided we hadn't enough fuel and was topping up. This delay caused us to miss our "spot" so we sat in a queue of planes waiting for take off. Another hour's delay!!!!!!!!
As a result, our arrival in Denver was very late and, yes, I had missed my revised connection. In fact "my" plane was pulling out as we were pulling in. A quick trip to a service agent got me another boarding pass for the next LAX flight which was leaving in 10 minutes. So it was quite a rush from one end of Denver's terminal 2 to the other but I made it. Once in LAX, I had an hour to make my international flight. It was another rush from United's terminal 7 to Tom Bradley International, over a mile. Luckily I got there in time and fought through the scrum that is the TBI to get checked in. Eventually I settled into my seat for the 12 hour flight to Seoul, hot, sweaty, stressed and thinking I was too old for all this. But I quickly fell asleep and later enjoyed a few good movies and some nice food.
I spent a few quiet hours at the wonderful Seoul airport relaxing in the Asiana lounge before another 12 hours to Sydney. Asiana Airlines is great to fly with. They have excellent service both on the ground and in the air and despite the extra time it takes to get to/from the USA via Seoul it is worth it. And you rack up extra flyer points as well.
In Sydney I was surprised to see my bags come out of the shute as soon as the belt started. Considering the very short transit times I had experienced en route, I was amazed my baggage even arrived in Sydney on the same flight.
So that was that!
Well, almost. I still had a 3 hour drive to get to the farm.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Last Few Days in the USA

The last week was quieter than normal. I guess the Olympic Games took up a fair bit of time. We have had good coverage here via seven tv channels of which we get four via cable. A lot of the minor sports are shown live but the vast majority is packaged and shown delayed at prime time from 7-11pm. As expected they concentrate on American performances but if an Aussie is in the same heat you obviously get to see them. They show all finals whether Americans are in them or not.
On Saturday we went to a Vietnamese wedding. The father of the bride was a boat person all those years ago. He was interesting to talk to. There were about 180 people there. It was a combination of western and Vietnamese traditions and was a very pleasant evening. The food was great, basically Chinese, with a lot of seafood. The curried lobster was terrific. I will never know how you get the meat out of the shell with chopsticks so reverted to a fork. American wedding cakes are never
fruit cakes. This one was a strawberry and cream sponge even though it looked like "the real thing".
On Sunday we went on our Mississippi River cruise. Unfortunately we didn't get to go through the upper locks to St. Anthony Falls due to traffic restrictions but instead headed down river. There was not a lot to see except a few bridges, tree lined banks and the odd sandy "beach" with a few sunbakers. No one was swimming. I think the coliform count would be quite high. But the boat was really luxurious, it was a great sunny day and they served an ok brunch buffet.
So now it's time to think about coming home. All my flights have been confirmed and it will be an early 4 am start
for me on Thursday. Then it's 33 hours of travel with four connecting flights home via Seoul.
With all the cooking utensils packed up it's great excuse to eat out for the rest of the week. So we are going back to "THE" steak restaurant as well as some other favorites.
It's been an interesting 3 months living like a resident rather than a tourist. Life here is not too much different to that at home. Sure, some attitudes and cultural things differ but in the end Australians and Americans are very much alike, in the mid west, anyway.
There will be things I will miss and those I won't.
To close this adventure, here is a list of those things in no particular order.
MISS: decent roads
            lots of clean toilets
            great medium priced restaurants
            Caribou coffee
            great customer service
            obscene desserts*
            the city grid system
            decent public transport
            being allowed to turn right after stopping at red traffic lights
            cheap gas....ooooops, petrol
            pancake sandwiches
             Byerlies supermarket
             cheap cherries
             Culvers frozen custard (chocolate)
             wild salmon
             great mex

WON"T MISS: upside down light switches
                      power plugs with no switches
                      driving on the right hand side
                      being allowed to do u turns at traffic lights
                      the search for the closest parking place.
                      obscene desserts*
                      Fox News
                      reality tv
                      the arby glove (little turd!)
                      not being understood
                       "hanging on" to your knives and forks in some restaurants
                       24 hour parking meters
                       the indeterminate number of salad dressing choices
                       Bush and Kerry television advertisements

Talk to you next from home!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

More Doings in Minnesota

Last weekend we went downriver to Red Wing for a bit of a family gathering. It turned out not to be the cutsie village we first thought. Red Wing is quite a big town with a lot of industrialisation along the river bank. We stayed in an old Victorian house in a nice "burb". Downtown was was ok too with lots of shops and places to eat. They were having a river festival so there were lots of things going on and the place was full of people.
The "girls" went shopping on Saturday while the "boys" did a bit of a bar crawl around the small towns surrounding the area. It was great to finally see some hills being in the Mississippi Valley. The rest of southern Minnesota is SO flat. This meant the corn and bean fields were in a minority while cattle and horses predominated. I saw some really nice wooded areas and small farms on the backroads. We also went to a car show on the river bank. There were nice old cars from 60's and 70's in addition to the really old ones. Rain set in for the day so we went to the movies, Tom Cruise in "Collateral". DON'T BOTHER! It started ok but got really silly and lots of violence too.
We went to a store (it's a chain) that sells uncooked pizzas. Just like Pizza Hut you get to order what combination you want but they give it to you "raw" so you can cook it at home. I have never seen these at home but it is a good idea. Then we played poker until 1am! There were not a lot of hands played. It was more drinking and laughing. Needless to say I only brought home 4 of the dozen bottles of wine I took.
The next morning, after pancakes, bacon and eggs we crossed over into Wisconsin and came home up the Mississippi Valley to MSP via Hudson where we stopped for Caribou coffee....the best in the world!!! This chain puts Starbucks to shame. Pity they are so localised but I am bringing some of their beans home. They make great blueberry muffins too.
During the week we went to see a surf movie. "Riding Giants" was great. Awesome tow in waves at the end. There was a history of surfing as well with some great grainy old film which brought back the good ol' days together with some funny stuff.
We followed up this with dinner at an Italian restaurant, Campiello, which we had come across during our last visit to uptown. It was great too. I had roasted mussels for appetiser, not entree, and spit roasted chicken and spinach rissoto as entree, not main (you gotta get these expressions right or else) washed down with a very expensive bottle of chianti which was really wonderful. No room for sweets, even though the Coldstone Icecreamery is virtually next door.
Later that week I went back to the science museum in St.Paul specifically to see the Lewis and Clark movie on the surround screen.
It was a great day, sunny and cool, just like our winter. In fact this has been the coldest August on record in Minnesota! It was great to walk around this nice city. The outside cafes were doing a roaring trade at lunch time.
I got to the museum early so decided to "do" the exhibits. Am glad I did. The upper Mississippi exhibit was interesting as were the dinosauers. They had a heap of hands on things in the biology and weather rooms but it's school holidays and the place was packed with kids.
In biology they had a complete slice of a man and a women, the real thing incased in huge glass or plastic slides, head to foot, mid region. After you got over the initial shock they were fascinating to look at.
The movie was great with spectacular scenery from a helicopter which fitted the medium so well. I had read their actual diaries last year so it was nice to see an abridged pictorial version. They sure did it tough for the two and half years they were on the move up the Missouri, over the Rockies to the Pacific and back again. At one stage they were down to eating tree bark and candles. They only lost one expedition member (ruptured appendix) and 2 native Americans (self defence) were killed. They did so much good scientific work and surveying as well as building relations with the Indians. It is a pity it turned out to be the beginning of the end for native Americans, not that that was any fault of Lewis or Clark. It's a great story, like Charles Sturt or Bourke and Wills et al. The adventure is well worth reading about. I think SBS ran a doco a few years ago. It was made by Ken Burns who made the Civil War series. Ihave tried to buy the dvd but it's not available for our region.
I caught the express bus home. It runs down the interstate using the breakdown lane to avoid the slow traffic that always exists between the twin cities. The driver was a black female michael schumacher clone. Formula 1 in a rattly old bus was an experience.
This Saturday we went shopping and then headed for Hudson and a night out.We went to a new wine bar in town. It was very trendy with a good selection! Then to a Carribean influenced restaurant where I again had spicy fish. After dinner it was out into the sticks to the Willow Creek saloon, a country bar where everyone knew one another or maybe they were all related. The band played the theme from "Deliverance" which I thought was appropriate. We drank beer and people watched and didn't get to bed until well after 1am. We got up early next morning and we went out onto our host's boat from a trip down the St. Croix River after grabbing take out coffee at Caribou. It's a tributary of the Mississsippi and joins up with her 10 miles down stream. The river is very wide at Hudson, at least 500m, but can be shallow in some spots, 1m, due to shifting sand bars.The scenery is lovely with very green forests coming right down to the banks where there are lots of sandy beaches. There are also amazing houses but they are well hidden among the trees. We saw deer and eagles and where in the hell did the seagulls come from????????
While we were out there, Steve got a call on his cell from his son in Baghdad. Talk about the wonderful world of communications. Here we were sitting in peace and quiet on a cool summer morning while he was in a 130 deg F hell hole with the possibility of getting shot at. I think the river would get very busy later on in the day as there were hundreds of boats moored everywhere. The river freezes over in winter and all those boats have to be lifted at the beginning of October. Then it was back to our hosts' home for brunch. I sat on the deck and watched the squirrels and chipmunks feeding on seed they had left. We had biscuits (scones) and gravy which is not at all as bad as it sounds, bacon, pancakes and juice. All great!
Then home to watch the Olympics and to start some cleaning up and organization for our imminent departure in just under two weeks.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Eatathon Continues

This report is going to sound like a restaurant review. Seems we did a lot of eating out over the last few weeks.
We went to another Fuddruckers hamburger "palace" but unfortunately this franchisee didn't have his act together or was just having a bad day. Nothing was good about this visit. We wont be going back, to this branch of Fuddruckers anyway.
We had found a part of town during one of our "where the hell are we" excursions when we tried to take a short cut home. Called Uptown it is near the city centre and has heaps of restaurants and bars. So we went back to do mex and indulge in another Coldstone Icecreamery experience. Walking around we found a Carribean restaurant so mex got the chop for that night. What a great place! Chilli crab cakes followed up by fish with herbs, ginger and some sort of curry rice all baked in a banana leaf in a wood fired oven and washed down with, dare i say it, chardonnay!
I just managed to fit in the ice cream later ie. a medium serve of dark chocolate mixed in with chocolate brownies, chocolate chips and chocolate fudge!!!!! Wonder why i had trouble sleeping that night?
The next night we went to a German restaurant. The Gasthof zur Gemuetlichkeit has quite a reputation in Minneapolis. It is the centre of Oktoberfest celebrations in Minnesota. The place is large but was nice, just like a proper German pub. The beer was great. Warsteiner was so fresh! We shared a 2L boot.The atmosphere was Disneyland Deutschland with a lot of pseudo Bavarian bravado. I could have killed the accordian player by the end of the evening. You can hear "Roll Out the Barrel" just so many times. The food bore little resemblance to the real thing but was passable. The main thing was we had a lot of fun.
The culinary highlight of the week and maybe the trip, so far, had to be dinner at a well known Minneapolis steakhouse.
It was fantastic.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is part of a huge chain of American steakhouses. Great steak! No, absolutely wonderful steak with all the fixin's and not too bad a Cabernet to go with it. The cheesecake was to die for, not to mention the chocolate cake that I managed to have a few bites of. Servings as usual were huge. They have 40oz t bone! I had the large filet which was 12 oz and 3 inches thick and cooked to perfection.
We think we might go there again for our "farewell" dinner.
This weekend we left for Sioux Falls on Saturday morning but not too early this time. We had a good run or maybe the trip seems shorter now after doing it a few times.
We did butter burgers and frozen chocolate custard at Culvers for lunch and then headed for Trent. From there we went out to dinner with some friends to a Chinese BBQ. You select all sorts of self serve meats, seafood, noodles, vegetables and sauces which they cook on a huge hot plate. It was really nice although I overdid the chilli a bit. My use of chopsticks seemed to be a novelty for the table. Then we went back to their place for more of a chat while we watched the storms roll on by. It was really loud and lightning was everywhere. There were tornado warnings but nothing happened, so we made a run for it inbetween the downpours.
I have mentioned before going into decision crises brought on by the list of specials and salad dressings at restaurants etc., not to mention the vast selection of goods at supermarkets. You would have thought you would be safe at a car wash.
Not so!
We got confronted by the attendant with a long list of wash options not to mention an equally long list of the car deodorants available, from cinnamon to vanilla. The latter broke me up.
That night around 2am more storms hit Trent. It was like being in a war. Great claps of thunder and continuous lightning with lots of wind. Hardly any rain though. We had to get up and turn on the TV to check out the tornado alerts but there was nothing. There were a heap of branches down next morning.
On Monday we drove back to Minneapolis, stopping at a huge sporting goods and clothes store, Cabelas, on the way. I bought some new pants and a few shirts. For some reason my current wardrobe doesn't seem to fit as well as it did in Australia. Must be the laundry detergent here.
Other than the above, the main action here has been the Democratic Party Convention and the nomination of John Kerry as presidential candidate. The event was given wall to wall media coverage. Hopefully our election campaigns never get to this level of hoopla but I have a feeling we are already heading that way. However I did like delegates' orchestrated hysteria not to mention the balloon and confetti finale. There seems to be an unhealthy concentration on the personality and background of the candidates and their wives rather than on the policies but guess we are into that as well these days. No one is willing to call the result in November with it split right down the middle. I noticed there was no heckling at the public meetings of either Bush or Kerry. Apparently it is not the done thing, being a manners' issue. You can degrade, defame and humiliate politicians in the media, impeach them on trumped up charges and even assassinate them, just don't yell at them at public meetings.
We went to the local wine shop's wine sale. The place was a madhouse. Cart, sorry, trolley rage was just bubbling below the surface. Who says wine is not popular in the USA? Lots of bargains.....but not enough time to drink them all. I bought Australian Rieslings (CHEAP!), Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs, some generic Bordeaux and some Loire Valley wines, Pouilly Fume and Sancerre. The latter are completely different to the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and not to my taste. I must be a French wine philistine!
Another thing I have found to be different here is the postal service. Post office shops are in supermarkets and are open 8am - 9pm every day. There are even mail deliveries on Saturday!!!! You can leave your stamped mail in your mail box to be picked up rather than making a trip to the post office (so that's what that little flag on the post boxes is for).
I also found out that health insurance can cost up to $US9000 a year, so no more whinges about Medibank or MBF!!!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Out and About in Minnesota.

We went out Friday night to a great Mexican restauarant with some friends. For once the waitress had no trouble understanding me. Turned out she had been in Australia for a while last year and said she recognised the accent straight away. Anyway, this couple had been together for 7 years but married only a few months. They were runners, half marathons etc. In a mad anerobic moment during a race in Arizona he had asked her to marry her. She said yes, and next day they were in Las Vegas to tie the knot. He had to go out into the street and pay some passer-by $5 to be a witness. I have always wanted to meet a Las Vegas spur of the moment wedding couple. Mission accomplished!
On Saturday we headed off into the country to Morgan via New Ulm and Sleepy Eye (what a great name for a town!). I wanted to visit a vineyard, Fieldstone, that I had called in on a couple of years ago.
It was just in the development stage then but the owner and I had kept up email contact and he has now 2 vintages under his belt, It's funny to see this small vineyard tucked away at the back of beyond in amongst the corn and bean fields. But he wanted to diversify and had got some like minded farmers in the area to plant grapes as well. He developed an old barn into a winery, tasting room and reception centre. It all looks great and the wine, made from native grapes or hybrids, is not too bad. One of his reds had won medals in a major American show. He also has fruit wines but they were pretty sweet. He made us taste them all and I ended up with a few bottles of Seyval Blanc and Frontinac rose.
New Ulm is the centre of the German American community and they have all sorts of German festivals there during the year. In fact they play up the German heritage thing outrageously. The architecture all over town is very Germanic. There was hardly an anglo name in the cemetery.
We then headed to another vineyard, Morgan Creek. The wines there were, in a word, awful! Most were sweet or semi sweet, even the reds. They had a mixture of vinifera and labrusca based wines. Their top red at $20 a bottle was obviously oxidised, the Gewuerztraminer had been pressed to an inch of its life with a resultant tannic finish. This didn't seem to stop the crowd that was there from buying though. The place was packed. I think they need to apply a strict winery hygiene regime, if not to improve the quality, to at least get rid of the wine faults!
So then it was home via some very scenic roads. We try to keep off the state highways and interstates. By the way, if you ever see a just run over skunk ahead of you on the road, roll up the windows or turn off the air conditioning real quick. It's the most obnoxious smell ever invented and it lingers for what seems forever.
Sunday was a lazy day. We went out for a late breakfast, did some window shopping in a great cooking supplies store and hit a midday movie.
"The Notebook" is a very sappy version of a Nicholas Sparkes' book about alzheimers. It has a 2 boxes of Kleenex rating. Then we did the groceries at Byerlies and found....VEGEMITE! I have had the cravings for a few weeks now but was fighting them off. Now the withdrawals will stop.
I see that winter has finally arrived down home. Looks like an inch of rain so far. Hopefully there was not much wind damage in the region where winds reached 80km/h. Here it's warm and humid in the mid 80's with light winds.
I bought a filet of fresh wild Alaskan sockeye salmon for dinner the other night. Quite different from the farmed salmon. Very red in color, firm flesh and tasted a bit vegetative like trout. Will get some more!
The fish was washed down with a bottle of Chablis. Not the most expensive bottle in the world but have to say that if that was white burgundy, give me Australian Chardonnay any time. And this from a member of the ABC* club too!!!!!
The Australian women's soccer team is playing the USA here on Wednesday night. There is a lot of hoopla about the game. Apparently the USA think they have a chance of a gold medal at the Olympics and the Aussies are considered easy pickings. We shall see! 10,000 expected at the game.

* ABC = anything but chardonnay.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

More Minneapolis Musings

Life was a bit less hectic the last week or so it seems. Last wednesday we went out to a fondue restaurant which was really nice but expensive for what is really a cook your own. But they even had lobster and prawns to "boil up". There was a huge wine list but it took five goes to find something they had in stock. After dipping out on chianti's and rioja's we had to settle for an Oregon Pinot Noir. It was suggested that they might be trying to up sell us but i managed to keep within the wine "budget". I asked if I got to 10 would the 11th be free? They didn't seem amused or they didn't understand what I said which is always a possibility. On the weekend we headed again for Sioux Falls. It was an early start at 4 am and there was no traffic on the road but we had fog most of the way.Visibility got down to 50-100 m in some parts.
Once there we prepared for the engagement party. This involved a pig roast (pork loin bar b q) with the traditional home made baked beans and salad followed up by cherry or lemon cake.
Thirty five turned up for a fun evening. The more energetic played volley ball until the light failed around 10 pm. The more sensible sat and drank wine. South Dakota has the slowest flying mosquitos in the world. It must be the easy going country lifestyle or they may have been designed by Boeing. They are easy prey for an Aussie swatter used to South Coast midget dive bombers.
We stayed in Aurora that night which is a little bigger than Trent but is still out in the sticks and surrounded by bean and corn fields. The town has the largest ethanol plant in the state which uses corn as its raw material. The town's other claim to fame is a strip joint, The Pound, which is very risque for this part of the midwest. We went passed the establishment at
midnight. There didn't seem to be too many customers. Maybe the management provides discrete parking.
Sunday was uneventful apart from a visit to Culvers, the home of the butter burger and more importantly, frozen custard, on the way home. A supersize chocolate would be the way to go....but I resisted! I had the smaller olympic swimming pool size.
We discovered another restaurant/bar in our block. The Town Hall Brewery makes their own beer and has a koelsch on the list. It is a copy of the well known Cologne beer. It wasn't too bad, being just a little sweeter than the original. They also have a copy of a wheat beer (wiess) which I also used to drink in Germany, so will try that next time.
Now its time for some humble pie. I may have been a bit tough on Minneapolis a few reports ago calling it dull and grim.
But further investigations have proven me wrong.
It seems that the eventual arrival of summer has brought out the street cafes and the outdoor entertainment. The city has a traffic free mall running through it which is a hive of activity. The main thing which I didn't realise at first is that all the city blocks are connected by skyways. This allows the population to move around the city "inside" avoiding the winter cold and, it seems, the summer heat. So all the eating and drinking places are incorporated into the retail and office buildings. There are some really nice shops and all the brand name boutiques are there too. A lot of the buildings have huge atriums that let the sun stream while you eat and shop in air conditioned comfort.
Now here are some comparisons with home.
The USA must have the cleanest and highest tech rest rooms in the world. From the swishest store to the lowly
interstate highway rest area, they never rate lower than 8/10.
The service level is very high in most places. No Myer indifference here in the stores. The sales staff is always
visible and they actually know something about what they are selling.
The restaurant service level may be a bit over the top for Australians but you get used to it. The "how is your meal" thing has been supplemented with the "how were the first few bites" thing which can be annoying as is the "hi, my name is brad and i will be your server for the evening. the specials today are (add 1000 items here)". The latter is about as eye glazing as the list of salad dressings. but when things need fixing they get fixed fast. You hardly ever have to wait for your bill.
I guess this is a result of the huge competition for restaurant business as well as tips being the main source of income for staff. Tipping here is a given with 15 % minimum expected. Some places even calculate it for you on your bill. One even had 20 and 25% (you're dreamin') calculations as well. It's something you really have to budget for if planning a holiday here.
As far as prices are concerned, what we pay in ausdol you usually pay here in usdol. So that makes it around 40% dearer. But some things are cheaper, petrol for instance. I am paying around the equivalent of $A0.65L. and the locals are complaining about the recent price hikes!!!!! But seeing the size of the cars, 4wd's and SUV's that are driven I guess the mpg or L/100km factor evens things up a bit.
Other cheap items are books, cd's, dvd's, going to the movies, fast food, public transport ($A2 anywhere in Minneapolis with unlimited transfers in a 3 hour period), car parking are a few I have noticed.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The 4th of July

So the independence day long weekend has come and gone with lots of fireworks, lots of nationalism and lots of fun. The Saturday was very wet and stormy so we headed over to the Mall of America, supposedly one of the biggest shopping centres in the world. It has 520 stores plus 60 restaurants, a 14 screen theatre and an amusement park, Camp Snoopy, with 30 rides all under one roof. It is considered a potential terrorist target but security seemed to be minimal. However road rage associated with parking places appears to be the major problem. A couple was stabbed there on Monday in a fight over a spot when apparently the 4th July sales caused a shortage of parking. But this could have been caused by the American phobia of never walking anywhere. These car parks are huge and usually have plenty of room but people seem to drive around and around and.....until they find a spot right at the door. God forbid you have to walk 50m!
We went to see "The Terminal" starring Tom Hanks which was a very funny movie.
Had dinner again at "Tejas", the south west style restaurant in Edina. They had changed the menu but it was just as good as last time. My Mexican duck (yes, really!) was to die for.
Next day we drove into St Paul for "Taste of Minnesota" which was a disappointment food wise. Fried food and food on a stick was the order of the day....basically carnival food. There was only beer, no wine. but the setting was nice on the river and all the paddlewheelers had arrived from down river to add a bit of "color and movement". Also lots of commercial booths selling everything from dating services to health insurance (perhaps because of the high cholesterol content of the food available), amusement rides and musical entertainment. I managed to find a great bratwurst stall that even supplied sauerkraut, pickles and mustard, just like in Germany! Tasted as good as it sounded. Huge crowds (you get used to that) were in attendance and the fashion police could have made many arrests if they hadn't obviously been on leave. The American flag was desecrated in so many ways....from jewelry, to shirts to ties to headbands etc.
MSP is the birthplace of Charles M Schulz so they celebrate Charlie Brown with statues of Snoopy all over town. I took a few pics of those but you could have taken one of them all, if you are a Snoopy fan that is. St Paul seems to be more open that Minneapolis and is nicer to walk around with more parks and many trees. They had decorated all the light poles with hanging baskets of flowers which was a nice touch.
Although summer has not arrived as yet (well it came and went!), it soon became obvious to us that the heat and humidity required us to move onto better climes. That we found at the Green Mill Brewery.
God bless America and air conditioning!
This chain of "pubs" brew their own range of beer in on site micro breweries. The Coors equivalent was great. So was the food. There is definitely a move towards "real" Asian here. Makes a change from the burgers, and I got fresh fruit with my shrimp, read prawn, wrap instead of fries.
So by the time we had eaten dessert and had a coffee at the bookstore chain of Barnes and Noble, it was time to hit the sack. We were woken later by the Minneapolis fireworks plus some residents of the apartment block with their own show. So we did really see 4th July fireworks!
Now I am going to have a whinge! Americans and Australians may say the same words but we don't speak the same language! I have never had so much trouble ordering a meal or drink. Take the word "beer" for instance. a simple one syllable word that has international meaning you would think? Not so! Well, not here anyway. I am thinking of getting cards written so I can just show the servers....would save a heap of time and reduce the ribbing I get from a certain person. There! that is off my chest.
For dinner went to a relation's new home in Hudson over the border in Wisconsin. Well it was supposed to be a light snack....nachos. But they were not like the nachos I had ever seen. Was more like a 5 course feast. They are a nice couple. She is an artist and has lots of her own work hung around the house. Some I like, some I don't. She was very adventurous with the internal color scheme of the house. Bold strong colors, yellows, greens and tans....but it all works.
He has a son in Iraq. No matter what you think about USA/Aus policy in Iraq, the anguish of the average citizen who has family in the conflict zone makes you less concerned with the politics of the situation. As usual it's the man in the street that bears the brunt of the politicians' ego based decisions.

Out and About

This weekend was busy. On Saturday we went to St. Paul for breakfast (blueberry pancakes), followed up by a visit to the science museum to see a film on volanoes, tornados and earthquakes much in the vein of the discovery channel et al. But the medium was quite unique. The seats in the theatre lay right back and before the movie started, a huge dome screen came down over us and we were surrounded. We were then in the centre of things as the movie rolled. It was a matter of hanging on, especially as the helicopter as it flew into the volcano.
Had a nice lunch at a soup and salad cafe after. Yes, this is a food and wine tour of the mid west!
That night went downstairs to one of the local bars. It was warm enough to be outside and watch the passing parade.
A bus load of young "ladies' turned up. It was obviously a hen's night. The bride to be was wearing a huge penis hat.
They came, they drank, they made lots of noise, they left.
Next morning went down to the stone arch bridge across the Mississippi and walked to a craft fair in the river park that had lots of creative things. The bridge used to be a railway bridge with 87 train crossings a day! But is now part of a heritage walk around and over the river. It crosses where St. Anthony falls used to be but man's use of the river over the last 200 years has turned the falls into a weir, with a lock system to get the boats up and down.
There sure is a lot of water coming down the river. In the past, this area used the river to power flour and timber mills etc. There is still small hydro electric station working there. The whole area was obviously run down but they are doing up all the old mills and factories as apartments and I think it will be nice in a few years. They have reclaimed the river bank and it's now a long park area on both sides with lots of trees, cycling tracks and seating. The view looking back over the city is spectacular.
We went to lunch...el fresco in a nice place with great food but strange licensing laws. You can drink outside but they can't leave the bottle on the table. They have to take it inside and race out every time you want your glass filled. So that means at a bar with outside seating you can have a beer in a glass, but you can't drink one straight from the bottle. Also bottle shops are not open on Sunday.
The following weekend we had a good time in Sioux Falls or rather Trent which is about 45 minutes further on. It's potentially a long drive for us not used to the freeway system, 250 miles or so but on the interstate you can sit on 75-80mph for most of the way so you get there fast, apart from the frustrations of several construction zones, known to us as roadworks.
It was nice to get back into the country again after a few weeks in a city. Our hosts live on a few acres surrounded by corn and soy bean fields. They are agisting a few Angus cows with their calves. The grass was over the cows bellies. It would be nice to see that sort of growth at home sometimes.
We had nice barbie the night we arrived and then went to Dell Rapids, the major town in the area, the next morning for "quarry days", the local festival. The main industry, apart from growing corn and beans, is quarrying pink stone, a really hard pink granite which is used for building, roads, etc. They had the parade down the main street, just like you see in the movies with fire engines, cheerleaders, festival queen etc. It seemed to go on for a long time for a small town. I thought they may have gone around the block and started again. They had all sorts of sporting contests on as well as an vintage car show and the ubiquitous tractor pull.
That night we had another great barbie, this time with more of the family. There was lots of talk and fun.
The following day was a family reunion picnic which I think is a great tradition. Sadly because of the younger generation's lack of commitment to such celebrations, these gatherings are in danger of dying out.
Then it was back to Minneapolis......exhausted!


Friday, July 02, 2004

Life in Minneapolis, MN

It is the end of the third week in the USA. I have explored Minneapolis and St.Paul a little more. Downtown Minneapolis is a little drab but some of the suburbs are quite nice. I like the huge old houses and the graceful wide streets with the gigantic old trees in the obviously "moneyed" areas. However, within a street or two this wealth can change into poorer accommodation which seems to be the lot of the black and Hispanic population. The middle class suburbs dominate however and houses/cottages have that typical mid west architectural style with well kept gardens and street trees.
Downtown St. Paul is a little more welcoming. It seems to be less cavenous and there are more trees in the streets as well as open areas and parks. The old houses of Summit Ave. are some of the grandest I have seen and I will make a point of walking and picture taking in that area.
I have become used to the metro transport system which seems to have a wide coverage and is cheap and very efficient. I like travelling the bus. It is here you see the real population. However my normal route has been changed on the weekend with the introduction of the light rail system. Am looking forward to riding that some time soon.
The Mississippi dominates both cities. It's a mighty river even this far upstream. The cities have done well to give the population access to the river, reclaiming the banks for public space and redeveloping the inevitable industrial areas that in the past have utilized and degraded this natural asset.
I am looking forward to the 4th of July celebrations much of which is centred around the river.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

In the USA

I have been in the USA for a week now. It was a long flight to Minneapolis via Seoul and LA. I don't particularly like the hustle and bustle of airports any more. Since 9/11 the increased security has intensified the airport experience. But apart from a small delay in Denver caused by bad weather arrived at my destination without much drama.
Minneapolis seems a nice city but have not had a chance to have a close look yet. Have done a little exploring in the countryside and of course found a winery. Alexis Bailly Wines in Hastings presented a full tasting of their range during their season opening on the weekend.
The wines are all made from American grapes or their hybrids so to one used to wine made from European grapes the "foxiness" of the wines stood out at first. But I have to say that after a while that characteristic disappeared into the background. I liked the reds. Easy drinking, soft and fruity. Not long termers by any stretch of the imagination but nice examples of what can be done with vitis labrusca.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Travel Plans

I have trawled through all the internet travel agent sites and found a relatively cheap fare to the USA. Internal flights in the USA were more of a problem. They generally only accepted credit cards issued by American banks. Guess that is a security measure.
Luckily United Airlines has an international site and flights were booked through them.
So now I am in the process of "mothballing" the house in preparation for a 3 month absence. My neighbors are more than happy to keep an eye on things as well as feed the animals as winter progresses. Also some friends will be coming down from Sydney on a few weekends.
I had a huge load of hay and horse feed delivered. God! hay is expensive. $17.50 a bale! used to be $5-$7 before the drought! I guess it will never return to those days.
The other main project is to repair a fence on the cattle yards. I will need to sell a few young bulls before I leave and they need to be drenched and tagged.
So it will be all "go" over the next week.
6th June is departure date!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Days of Winter

Winter is a time of relative rest for a grapegrower.
The vines are in the process of shutting down. Green leaves are turning into their Autumn tonings and the vineyard is awash with color.
Once leaf drop is complete and the sap has stopped running it will be time to prune.
But that is some months off.
Wine from this year's vintage is in the tanks.
Malolactic fermentation is complete and the acid level has been finally adjusted.
It's just a matter of time now to let the oak staves do their work and for the wine to clarify.
Bottling is a long way off.....September maybe.
So it's time for me to plan my USA holiday.