Monday, October 20, 2008

Wine Shows

The 10th annual South Coast Wine Show will take place on the 23rd January 2009. Preparations are well in hand and publicity for the event is underway. Details are available on:
But what is a wine show and what happens there?
Simply put, a wine show is an opportunity for wine producers to submit their wines for evaluation by experienced judges.
The wines are divided into various sections and classes eg. variety, style, blend, age etc. and are then given a score, usually out of 20 according to a number of criteria, 3 points for colour, 7 for nose and 10 for palate by each judge. Depending on the average of those scores, medals as well as trophies are awarded.
Gold medal 18.5 – 20.0 points
Silver medal 17.0 – 18.4 points
Bronze medal 15.5 – 16.9 points
These shows can be all encompassing ie. international, national or state, or regional, like ours, where only wines made from grapes of a particular region are eligible.
Wine shows can also be variety driven eg. the Canberra International Riesling Challenge as well as having other restrictions eg. winery size, with the Australian Small Winemakers Show (ASWS)
being a prime example.
Wine shows are held under guidelines developed by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology. Specific details can be found at:
Wines submitted to the organizing committee are sorted into the various classes pre show and each wine in that class is given a specific number.
On show day, tables are set up with numbered white tasting boards on white table cloths. White assists in color evaluation. Samples of each wine in a class are then poured, in order of their catalogued number, into glasses placed on the numbered board, one glass per judge. They then proceed to evaluate each wine by swirling it around the mouth and spitting out (no swallowing!), making notes and finally giving each wine a score on a sheet numbered according to its place on the board. Under this system, each wine is completely anonymous.
Discussion about results, especially those that indicate a medal possibility, then take place under the control of the chief judge. If any descrepancies or great differences of opinion are evident, a re tasting and reevaluation may take place. When the results are finalised these judging sheets are passed onto the collator who processes them.
The judges then move onto the next class at another table which has been organised during the intervening period.
The used glasses are removed, replaced with clean ones, and the process continues class by class.
The judges usually, but not always, like to taste in a specific order eg. whites, older whites, sweet whites, roses and light reds, reds, older reds and finally fortified wines.
In our show, around 170 wines are judged. This takes all day taking into account lunch and other breaks.
Looking more closely at the three criterea;
Colour means hue, color density and clarity. White wines range from water white to a deep straw yellow or maybe amber depending on the grape variety, age, vinification process and condition. Red wines range from purple to brownish. Density can vary from light through to medium and dense. Clarity ranges from brilliant through bright to hazy. Any turbidity can indicate poor wine condition.
Tilting the wine glass over a white surface and looking at the "rim" is the best way of evaluating color. Swirling the wine around the glass allows the wine to open up and release it's subtle aromas and possible flavors in preparation for the next step of smelling the wine. How the wine drips back down the side of the glass are called the wine's "tears" or "legs." This gives an indication of how much alcohol is in the wine - the more alcohol, the more legs or tears.
Nose means the aroma (smell related to the grape) and bouquet (smell related to the vinification process and aging). This gives the taster an indication of the flavours to come as well as a number of possible wine faults. Any "off aromas" eg. oxidation or corking will result in a loss of points. Some of the nose descriptors include floral, grassy, melon, spicy, earthy, berry, leafy.
Palate means the taste and the "feel" of the wine in the mouth and involves the combination of textures, flavors, weight and overall structure. The wine's balance is the combination of sweetness, acidity and fruit flavours. Structure involves weight, astringency (tannins) and texture which is basically a "feel" or a tactile sensation rather than a flavour.
Judges are also looking for varietal flavour in young wines, complexity of developed flavours and texture in aged wines, how all these continue on the middle palate and finally how long all these sensations last ie. the length of finish.
And they are looking for wine faults.
What are wine faults?
Well, that's a subject for a whole new blog entry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Echidna

The co driver saw what she said was a "very strange animal" down by the vineyard.
When we got down there to have a look, we saw that it was an echidna or spiny anteater. They are somewhat rare around here and, together with the platypus, are the world's only monotremes, or egg-laying mammals.
They produce young from eggs which are hatched outside their body, in the same way as birds and most reptiles. During the breeding season, a female echidna develops a simple pouch into which she lays a single egg. The egg takes about 10 days to hatch, producing a young animal which measures around 1.45 cm and weighs as little as 380 milligrams. The young echidna is carried around in its mother's pouch for about three months.
By the time the infant leaves the pouch, its spines have started to develop, but it still stays close to its mother and continues to suckle milk through specialised pores in the skin inside her pouch. Although they begin to eat termites and ants soon after leaving the pouch, young echidnas are often not fully weaned until they are several months old.
Adults vary in size, from 35 to 53 cm. Males weigh about 6 kilograms, while females weigh about 4.5 kilograms.
When frightened they curl into a ball, with snout and legs tucked beneath and sharp spines sticking out or they will burrow straight down into soft soil to escape predators.
When he saw us he tried the latter.
Unfortunately he got tangled in the netting and was unable to dig very deep.
Extricating him was a delicate job as those spines are very sharp. Trying to wrap him in just one towel was not that easy either. So by the time I had got him out of the netting and went to find more protection for myself, he had already begun to dig into the ground.
The only way we could get him up was to dig quickly under him with a shovel.

Finally we had him in our grasp.
Apart from the spines and very big claws, they have very cute faces with long noses.
So after a photo shoot, I took him down to the bush and set him free.

Our good deed for the day.

Friday, October 03, 2008

USA 2008 / Heading Home

The Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River through the scenic Wapiti Valley from the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Cody. This route has quite amazing scenery with very beautiful river views on one side and rugged canyons and contorted rock formations on the other. Obviously this is a very popular area for outdoor recreation given the numerous camping grounds along the river and the number of dude ranches offering accommodation in the hills.
Six miles west of Cody the highway skirts the huge Buffalo Bill Reservoir and, after travelling through the mountains via some fairly long tunnels at the spillway end, you arrive in the town.
Cody is a happening place with a lively main street and a "good feel".

Named after Buffalo Bill Cody, who helped create the original town, they rely pretty heavily on his legend and the "wild west" in general.
The Buffalo Bill Historical Centre is a popular large museum located near the town center and contains large collections of western memorabilia. During the summer, a re-enactment of a wild-west shoot-out takes place next to the Irma Hotel which is an historical site still open for business. This landmark hotel was actually built by William Cody and named after his daughter Irma Cody.
We were persuaded to go to the shoot-out. It was, in a word "hokey", but so bad it was good.
Cody calls itself the "Rodeo Capital of the World" and there is an amateur rodeo every night for the 3 months of summer. It also hosts the Cody Stampede Rodeo over the Independence day holiday which is one of the biggest rodeos in the USA. And as a bit of added trivia the town is also the birthplace of Jackson Pollock.
We opted for a bit of luxury for our one night stay at Chamberlin Inn and it was worth every dollar.
They recommended the Wyoming Rib and Chop House which turned out to be the gastronomic find of the trip. A huge wine list and a great menu, basically meat, but with some interesting starters. I tried fried green tomatoes for the first time. Wonderful! Judging by the crowd waiting for tables (luckily we booked) it has a formidable reputation.
Next morning we headed further east and over the Bighorn Mountains via Granite Pass but not before visiting a large quilt shop in the one main street of Greybull (pop: 1800). The co driver has a preference for these out of the way quilt businesses. How they survive in these very small towns always amazes me. This one does by means of a world wide on line trade with much merchandise being sent to Australia.
The 2715m pass is located on the Bighorn Scenic Byway and at its base Shell Creek has formed a canyon of shimmering pink granite. The rocks here are between 2.5 and 2.9 billion years old and are amongst the oldest in the world. The climb up was pretty spectacular and the view over the prairies on the other side just as so.
We were tailgated a long way down the other side by an elderly impatient old fart until we managed to let him get by. As karma would have it, 20 miles further on we passed him by the side of the road being booked by the Highway Patrol so it was waves and high fives all round.
Back on the flat rolling prairie and the I90 we gunned it towards Rapid City in the Black Hills.
But first a small detour to the Devils Tower near Sundance. We were in two minds whether to do this due to the long distance already travelled. But it was worth it.
The Tower is a volcanic neck which stands alone 386m high in the northern region of the Black Hills. It was the USA's first national monument and has great cultural significance to many American native tribes including Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota and Shoshone.
After another shopping spree at Rapid City's newly opened Cabelas where there were more than a few bargains to be had, dinner at the Outback Restaurant and an overnight at the local Holiday Inn Express we set on a our last 6 hour leg back to Sioux Falls.
Then it was another few days in town until it was time to say my goodbyes and head home via Denver and Los Angeles with United. I upgraded to Economy Plus this time and the little bit extra leg room made the flight a lot more comfortable. The movie program had not changed and the inevitable crying baby was on board (when will they introduce adults only flights????) but I slept from Hawaii to Fiji and was soon in Sydney.
There was the smell of Spring in the air on landing which indicated that the season's work with the grapevines was about to begin. And sure enough, on arrival home, I could see that bud burst was well under way with quite substantial shoot growth already on the Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Yellowstone National Park

Let's get rid of a few facts to start. Yellowstone NP was the world's first national park established on 1st March 1872. Most of it lies in north west Wyoming and covers an area of 8987 of which 80% is forest. It is basically an active volcano with one of the world's largest calderas, an explosion crater, covering 3500 in the centre. It has about 10,000 thermal features and around 300 active geysers. The area experiences 2000 earthquakes a year. The last major 'quake was 640,000 years ago and spewed out 240 cubic miles of debris forming the current caldera. So the clock is ticking!

We stayed at the Yellowstone Village Inn in Gardiner just outside the northern entrance to the park with its famous gate.
This was a quiet little town that basically caters for tourists and we were able to stock up our cooler with ice and goodies at the local supermarket each day for our excursions into the park.
Our first day was spend travelling down the western road to the shores of Lake Yellowstone .
First stop was the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces

These step-like terraces are formed as heated water moves along the Norris-Mammoth Fault. The hot water carries dissolved calcium and bicarbonate to the surface of the terraces where pressure lessens. Carbon dioxide then escapes as gas and the carbonate combines with calcium to precipitate as travertine.
The Terraces are constantly changing shape and color. Springs which were once active may become dry and lifeless but activity can later resume. Along with changes of thermal activity come changes in color. Fresh travertine is bright white in color and on weathering changes to gray. Bright colored cyanobacteria and algae mats which are dependent upon a stable temperature and a flow of water also change as the microorganisms die creating a bleaker landscape.

One feature of this area was the Liberty Cap, a dormant hot spring cone.
It was formed from a steady flow of hot water emerging from a single source, depositing dense layers of travertine and continued to grow while there was a source of water. Either the hot water spring found a more convenient underground channel to escape through or the orifice became sealed by travertine deposits, so it is now an inactive spring.

We were not specifically looking for animal sightings as we were more interested in the geography but we ran across most on the list except bears and moose. Most elk and mule deer were concentrated around Mammoth Hot Springs township and on our hotel lawn.

We also saw bighorn sheep on the cliffs leading into the park, a lone pronghorn crossed the road in front of us, a small pack of wolves and the odd lonely bull buffalo that seem to take much pleasure in crossing the road halfway and standing there, holding up traffic. We were constantly amused by the large number animal enthusiasts who would miraculously appear at such times with cameras with huge lenses (lens envy was a constant companion in our car) and snap away.
We did however see large herds of bison on the Yellowstone River flats the following day which gave us only a little idea of what things may have been like two centuries ago.

Then we travelled further south past Roaring Mountain (which actually was), to the very edge of the caldera and the Norris geyser basin.
This area is divided into the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin. The former was our favorite thermal area in the park. A boardwalk traversed the whole area and we were able to walk passed roaring steam vents, gushing geysers, bubbling crystal clear blue pools, rivers of steaming water colored by algae as well as hot springs.
Many of Norris thermal activities release acidic water. Living organisms thrive in the extreme environments of these acid hot springs and the overflow channels of geysers and hot springs are often brightly colored with minerals and microscopic life forms. Hardy, microscopic, lime-green Cyanidium algae thrives in these warm acid waters. Orange cyanobacteria can be found in the runoff streams in Porcelain Basin. From a distance these bacteria look like rusty, iron-rich mineral deposits
Then it was into the caldera where the Gibbon River falls 26m over its edge on the way to meet the Yellowstone and onto the Old Faithful thermal region.
This was the major disappointment of our trip. The area's commercial development and acres of car park are really a blot on the landscape. The old boy himself must have had prostate problems on the day we were there as his 'performance' was pretty mediocre. You got the feeling that the crowd of around 500 gathered on the bleachers for the "show" were as underwhelmed as we were. This must be one of the world's most over rated tourist icons. We couldn't get out of the area quickly enough.
We had a picnic lunch at Scaup Lake surrounded by the ubiquitous lodgepole pine forest with yours truly sitting with his back to the trees pretending to be quite oblivious to the potential for a bear attack. I had left the car unlocked and the escape route mapped out in my mind, however, just in case. It didn't help that the co driver was continually asking "what's that noise?" while looking out into the bush. She will pay.....later!
Then it was over the 2500m Craig Pass and onto the shore of Lake Yellowstone. This is a really beautiful area with the azure blue lake dominating the landscape.

Time to turn around and head back to Gardiner, calling into all the detours we had noticed on the way down including Kepler Cascades, the Firehole River Canyon and Firehole Lake Drive with its many geysers and the amazingly blue and bubbling Firehole Spring.

After a very early dinner we fell into bed exhausted and wondering what tomorrow would bring.
Next morning dawned bright and clear. I should point out here we had taken our winter clothes and an ice scraper as we had been warned of the possibility of fickle autumn weather in the area.
Well it was in the high 20's/low 30's after a fairly cool start most of the time so our winter gear was definitely excess baggage. The Aspens must have known things would be ok. They hadn't even bothered to start to change color yet.
This time we headed down the east road to Tower Fall.

We took what was described as an incredibly rough (read: normal Australian country road) detour on the Blacktail Plateau Drive in the hope of seeing a bear or two. Others had the same idea. I guess the convoy scared off any wild life. We did see a petrified redwood though, the remnant of a time past when the area was sub tropical and before a huge volcanic eruption turned it to stone 50 million years ago.
After viewing the falls (there are 290 in the park) we climbed back over the caldera via the 2700m Dunraven Pass and headed for Canyon Village.
Here the Yellowstone River drops down into the the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone first via the 33m upper falls, then the 94m lower falls. Your first stop is right on top of the upper falls to watch it go over the precipice. The noise is deafening.

Then across the river you can get a more conventional view. We walked down part of Uncle Toms Trail to get a view of the canyon itself. The trail goes onto the bottom of the lower falls but the signs warning of the difficulty of the climb put us off a bit.

So instead we headed off to Artists Point for what is considered the classic view of the lower falls and the canyon.
We were not disappointed.

From here we drove along the Hayden Valley where the Yellowstone meanders quietly through meadow like terrain after leaving its source lake. Plenty of buffalo and the odd wolf were to be seen.
Then we came across another thermal area. This one had boiling mud pools and sulphur cauldrons which not only were hot but had a pH of 1.0. Falling in would not have been pleasant. You could even see thermal activity in the river that flowed below us.

Arriving at the lake we turned east and followed the shore for quite a way until we started the climb over the Sylvan Pass and exited the park through the East Entrance. From there it was quite a pleasant drive east to Cody.
Our Yellowstone adventure was over.