Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Elkhorn Ferns

Platycerium bifurcatum, the Elkhorn fern, occurs naturally in New Guinea and along the coasts of Queensland and New South Wales.
Platycerium is derived from the Greek words platys meaning "flat" and ceras meaning "a horn", referring to the shape of the fronds.
Bifurcatum means to fork into two branches, again, referring to the shape of the fronds.
The Elkhorn fern is an epiphyte which grows on the trunks and branches of trees.
An epiphyte is a plant that normally grows on another plant for support. It is not parasitic.

Each fern is composed of a mass of plantlets. A plantlet consists of a nest leaf, 12-30 cm wide, lying against the bark of the host tree. The nest leaves of neighbouring plantlets overlap one another and become brown and papery with age.
Fertile fronds 25-90 cm long protrude from each plantlet. Spores are produced on the undersurface of the end segments of each frond with spore producing areas coloured tan brown and have the texture of velvet cloth.
I brought a very small plantlet down from my father's garden about 20 years ago and attached it to a huge silky oak (Grevillea robusta) that grows in our garden. It has certainly has thrived and increased in size since then.
They require a shady area to grow in and need to be kept moist. Thankfully they are not prone to attack from many pests and insects except maybe for scale and mealy bugs. But we don't seem to have a problem with those here. Perhaps this is because we have a huge population of ladybirds living in the area and they are a natural predator. Another major reason for restricting the use of insecticides in the surrounding vine blocks.

This and a close relation, the Staghorn fern (Platycerium superbum) are very popular cultivated garden plants in Australia. There are only two other Platycerium sp. growing in Australia.
Platycerium sp. are subject to special regulations to help protect them in the wild. These laws cover activities such as harvesting, propagating, movement of and trade in whole pants and plant parts. When purchasing the plants in nurseries and elsewhere one has to look for those carrying an official government tag to be sure they have been legally obtained.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vintage 2009 Update

We had picked the Pinot Noir about 10 days ago at 12.5 deg Baume' and 3.6 pH.
Fruit quality was excellent with a minimal amount of botrytis infection which was easily removed.
We did come across a red bellied black snake in the vineyard during picking. He/she was "relocated"...............so to speak.
After open vat fermentation, including second use French oak staves, had just about finished we transferred the wine plus the skins and staves into a sealed stainless steel tank and alcohol macerated for a week under a CO2 "blanket".
This was to try to extract as much colour, natural tannin and fruit and oak flavour as possible.
Warm climate Pinot Noir is notoriously low on the first three components.
The Tempranillo was picked last week at 12.4 deg Baume and pH 3.7.
During the crush, an equipment malfunction caused considerable juice loss but we decided to go ahead with a quick open vat fermentation by adding a fermenter 'accelerator' or yeast nutrient DAP (diammonium phosphate) and a fast yeast culture. This seemed to work and fermentation was extremely rapid.

Yesterday was a busy day.
We racked the Semillon off its fermentation lees and returned it to the tank with an addition of bentonite to begin the clarification process as well as a protective sulphur dose.
Bentonite is a clay that is used in wines as a clarifier. It is possesses a negative electrostatic charge. This attracting charge, along with hydrogen bonding, causes suspended particles in the wine to cling to it as it settles to the bottom of the tank. The clear wine is later racked off the bentonite lees.
We drained and pressed the Pinot Noir and returned the wine to a stainless steel tank with a lactic acid bacteria culture to initiate malolactic fermentation together with a solution of egg white to begin the clarification process.
Malolactic fermentation converts the harsher malic acid in wine to the softer lactic acid. The process also increases the stability of red wine as MLF can occur in the bottle producing an unwanted CO2 "spritz" during storage or worse, "popping" corks and breaking bottles.
Egg white is made into a 10% solution (with a little salt) and is used to clarify red wines.
One egg per 100-200L wine seems to do the trick. The yokes are used for omlettes later.
There are a number of other products which do a similar job eg. milk and casein, PVPP, Kieselsol, gelatin, Isinglass (fish's swim bladder derivative) being the most common. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. We have found that egg white works best for Pinot, not interfering too much with the wine's taste, and it always leaves a hard to disturb deposit on the bottom of the tank which aids the racking process.

We dumped the still fermenting Tempranillo must on top of the Pinot Noir marc and pressed that as well. The result was a dense purple wine due to the very high skin to juice ratio of the must. As expected the pH had risen to 3.9 ( high K+ content of the skins) and this will be adjusted with tartaric acid in due course. This wine will be let finish fermenting and then treated with a MLF cuture and an egg white fining. Whether we let it remain as a stand alone varietal or blend it into our Cabernet Sauvignon is yet to be decided.
Then it was a matter of cleaning up all the containers and equipment and returning the dry pressed skins to the vineyard rows as soil conditioner.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Cleanskins is the name given to unlabelled wine.
According to Wine Australia, "a cleanskin normally is defined as a bottle or other package that does not carry, in any form, a label bearing mandatory information. Unlabelled bottles cannot be sold at retail to the public, but unbroken cartons can be sold if the mandatory information appears on the carton in an acceptable form. Cleanskins cannot be exported."
But it is not unusual now to see individual labelled "cleanskin" bottles specifying the grape variety, vintage and region.
The advantage of buying this class of wine is that it is usually very cheap, up to 75% off the medium wine price bracket, and in many cases it can be of very good quantity.
The disadvantage was that there is always a chance of buying a duffer that has to be poured down the sink. And when you have shelved out for a dozen, the saving all but evaporates. Initially most cleanskin purveyors insisted they sell in dozen lots but market forces have dictated they offer now single bottles for pre bulk purchase evaluation hence the individual bottle labelling. Where do cleanskins come from?

During times of wine glut, many wine companies are over stocked. To reduce stocks but not reduce the value of their branded wine by discounting it, they sell bottles unbranded.
So in fact it is possible to buy top class wines at ridiculously low prices.
This is not a new development. In the hey days of the wine cask (bag in a box / Chateau Cardboard) and wine gluts it was possible to buy wine originally intended for the bottle in this type of container.
The cleanskin market in Australia was quite strong for many years but it seems to have waned a little in the last year or two.
I had read that the Marlborough region of New Zealand, famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, was experiencing over production. This was reflected in many new brands and quite competitive prices in our liquor supply stores. In fact New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is now the biggest selling white wine in Australia finally putting the ubiquitous Chardonnay well and truly in second place after 20 years at the top.
Three of the five top-selling white wines in Australia (of any grape variety) hail from that region. The biggest selling white wine in Australia is Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which has come from nowhere six years ago to about $40 million in retail sales, with 1.7 million litres of the wine poured down Australian throats last year.

The Marlborough 2008 harvest was 195,000 tonnes, up from 121,000 tonnes the previous year. The '09 vintage is on track to set another record.
So I thought that Marlborough cleanskins couldn't be too far away.
And I was right. A few weeks ago in my local wine outlet, there they were, at 50% off branded wines prices.
As you can see from our wine consumption in the side bar we are fans of this region/variety.
So we bought a few bottles to trial.
The result?
Not too bad, but not a real bargain. Better to spend a few dollars more on a known brand on discount!

Sunday, March 08, 2009


There are four main codes of football played in Australia; Australian Rules (AFL), Rugby Union, Rugby League and Soccer (known to the rest of the world as football).
In the past, these games were played on a distinctly state basis, the southern ones dedicated to "Rules" and the northern ones to the two Rugby's. Soccer has struggled over the years. It has been saddled with ethnic tensions and crowd violence due to the game being mostly played by immigrants and their offspring who have brought their prejudices and "old wars" with them. Naming the teams by their ethnicity did not help the situation either. In the 90's the governing body forced teams to rename according to their location but the teams still have specific ethnic supporter bases and some off field problems still occur.
All codes have now become national with most states having at least one team in their respective competitions .

....................................Photo: Getty Images
I was brought up on Australian Rules football and played it at school and for other outside teams until I was about 16. I also was forced to play Rugby Union at my secondary school.
As the years passed my interest in Australian Football waned as rule changes, team mergers and location transfers occurred with monotonous regularity (eg. South Melbourne became the Sydney Swans), decreasing the game's intensity and my passion for it.
I tried to follow Rugby League for a while but again rule changes "spoilt" the game and player transfers made it hard to maintain team loyalty. Also my team, South Sydney (the Rabbits) was always short on cash and lean on decent players so were mostly on the bottom of the competition ladder and getting 'slaughtered' every weekend.
Rugby Union had strong local competitions in both Sydney and Brisbane and the annual grudge match between New South Wales and Queensland was always a good game. Plus there were international matches when the Australian team, the Wallabies, played New Zealand (the All Blacks), England, France etc.
........................................Photo: Getty Images
So I drifted back to Union.
Most people believe rugby started when William Webb-Ellis picked up a football in 1823 and ran with it, at Rugby School, Rugby, England.
The code of football later known as Rugby Union can be traced to three events: the first set of written laws in 1845; the Blackheath Club's decision to leave the The Football Association in 1863 and; the formation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871.
A new Rugby competition, Super 14, was devised some time ago and consists of 4 teams from Australia, 5 teams each from South Africa and New Zealand.
Following this competition we have the Tri Nation Series between Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Then there are various so called Test Matches between other Rugby countries from Europe, South America and the Pacific Islands.
And every four years the Rugby World Cup is up for grabs.
As they say....when too much sport is not nearly enough!
The co driver is not sports orientated at all. And having witnessed what they call football in her home country I don't blame her. It's like watching paint dry.
However she began watching Rugby with me on TV a few seasons ago and now has turned into the most rabid fan. And dare I say she is even more enthusiastic than I am!
..............................Photo: Getty Images
We follow the New South Wales "Waratahs" in the Super 14 competition and have bought partial season tickets for their home games this year.
We went to the first game at the Sydney Football Stadium last weekend and watched the Waratahs play the Queensland Reds along with 28,000 other fans.
And we won......just!
Viewing a game live is much different from watching it on TV. You are further from the action and although you can watch replays on the big screen you can get a feeling of detachment. But the atmosphere in the stadium can't be equalled sitting on the living room couch.
I wondered if the co driver would be disappointed.
She wasn't and is looking forward to the upcoming games.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A March Update

It's calving time on the farm.
The first appeared a few days ago and by the looks of things there are a few more to come.

Stretch's mother could be next so we are keeping a close eye on her in case she runs into trouble like she did last year. Hopefully she will know what is happening this time around and will be able to look after her offspring.

We picked the Semillon on the last day of February.
Fruit quality was quite good with only the slightest hint of botrytis caused by the last few weeks of persistent rain.
Sugar level was 12.0 deg Baume and pH 3.3. And it tasted flavour ripe as well.
Can't ask for much better than that.

The Pinot Noir is not far behind as is the Tempranillo.
Am looking to get the Cabernet Sauvignon a bit riper this year, weather willing, so harvest won't be until April.