Saturday, April 25, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 1

I have lived in the Shoalhaven region for twenty years, the co driver for about eight. We came across a book called Beaches of Jervis Bay and the Shoalhaven (Hymans Publishing, 2006) some years ago and realised how little we had actually seen of our coast line. So we decided last year that we would put one day a week aside during our Autumn/Winter to do some exploring. Sad to say this plan has only just now come to fruition. Well we are pretty busy, you know.

The Shoalhaven begins just south of Gerroa and extends almost to Batemans Bay in the south a distance of some 100 km (62 miles) as the crow flies. Road distances are a lot more due to terrain which on the coast consists of long beaches, lakes, bays and inlets . The regional name was given to the area by explorer George Bass in 1797 when he described the sandy shoals at the mouth of the river of the same name. White settlement of the area began in 1822 when Alexander Berry was granted land on the river.

Our first trip was into the Jervis Bay National Park about an hour and a half drive north of us, more specifically to the small holiday township of Currarong which lies on the ocean side of the north head (Beecroft Peninsula) of Jervis Bay.
National Parks have developed a number of well signed and maintained walking tracks within the peninsula called Abrahams Bosom Reserve. We left the carpark and headed into what became typical sandstone coastal heath country similar to that around the southern Sydney area within Royal National Park. There is almost impenetrable head high bush consisting of Banksia, Hakea and may other native plants and trees bordering the track until it comes out onto the coast, Wilsons Beach, a small stretch of sand protected by Whale Point to the west and Honeysuckle Point to the east.
In 1928, the coastal steamer "SS Merimbula" ran aground on Whale Point.
Here is a report on the incident from the NSW Government Heritage Office.
"At 1 a.m. on the morning of 27 March, the 13 passengers on board were awoken by the grinding impact of the vessel driving onto Beecroft Peninsula.
In heavy rain, the engines were stopped and everybody arrived on deck. The crew battled to free the lifeboats which had become stuck. Rescue rockets were fired but failed to attract attention. The Captain believed the vessel was in no immediate danger and sent the passengers back to the lounge, still with their lifejackets on. There they spent the remainder of the night drinking coffee and eating sandwiches.
Rain continued the following morning as the lifeboats were lowered. The passengers were rowed across to the mouth of Currarong Creek where they found shelter in a fisherman's hut.
Captain O'Connor walked across Beecroft Peninsula to the lighthouse at Point Perpendicular. He then telephoned the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Company in Sydney to advise them of the grounding. Marine assessors arrived at the wreck site on 28 March and concluded that there was a remote chance of refloating the Merimbula. A salvage vessel was chartered for the operation, however, the Merimbula began to sink on the following day and the attempt was cancelled. The remains eventually slid completely into the sea, only the bow section remaining up on the rocks."
We explored what was left of this bow section and then continued west.

Along the track, the first of the autumn wild flowers were beginning to bloom particularly Banksias with three or four main varieties present.
Among them was Banksia ericafolia
and Banksia serrata (Old Man Banksia). To many Australians, Old Man Banksia is best known as the bad Banksia Man in May Gibbs' stories of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie which were standard reading for us as children.
Even when we grow up, we still look at Old Man Banksia cones a little warily.

There were also a few Mountain Devils, Lambertia formosa, named after the woody fruit they bear (see foreground of picture below) in flower

Next stop was Lobster Bay, a spectacular inlet with a pretty beach and quite a big surf running.
I noticed one lone surfer out on the point. Not what you would consider the safest situation to be in due to the spot's remoteness but some people will do anything to get a wave to themselves.
The track continued on a big loop around the headland or we had the option of returning to the carpark via another track from here. We could both hear the water bottle calling so made the obvious decision, keeping in mind to be better prepared (take food and water!) when we set off on the next leg of our adventure.

On our way back we came across a stand of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea sp.), some of which were in flower and showing off their spectacular spikes.
These remarkable plants have a lifespan of 600 years and are very slow-growing. The trunk takes a decade to form initially and then it's a further 20 years or more before the mass of thin, linear leaves rises above it. From then on, it grows only about 1-2cm (0.4-0.8in) in height per year.
The plant grows to a height of over 4 metres and often has branches. However, the flowering stalk grows at a rate of 2 – 3 cm per day reaching to a height of over 3 metres. Mature plants will result in flowering every 2 – 3 years.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

An April Update

We had been waiting longer than usual to pick the Cabernet Sauvignon to get it a little riper.
This grape variety always produces a fairly "thin" wine on the South Coast due to our maritime climate and an increased alcohol level seems to offset this a little.
Everyone else in the district had picked theirs a week or two before.
Our main 'enemy' in this endeavour is the weather. Any big rain event increases the possibility of fungal disease, particularly botrytis.
Sure enough on the weekend we had over 50mm of rain.
And the first signs of botrytis began to show within 48 hours.

So we picked on Wednesday. Fruit quality was excellent despite a small amount of shrivel from vines at the shallower soil end of the block.
Juice was at 12.8 deg Baume and pH 3.5 which is a great result.
The harvest was quickly crushed and yeast, MLF culture and oak staves added.
Fermentation did not start until 12 hours later.
I guess this is due to the cooler overnight temperatures that are now in single digit figures.
Autumn is obviously just around the corner.
The Semillon is almost ready for bottling, the Tempranillo is still settling out and the Pinot Noir is doing its thing. Last year's Cabernet Sauvignon is ready for bottling to make way for this years.

Other than that, the Grange co-owner and I did some heavy work during his stay repairing some sections of the cattle yards and removing quite a number of newly growing trees from grazing pasture. However we left quite a number along the creek banks as part of the creation of a wider riparian zone on the property.
Sadly we lost a calf. It was Stretch's mother's second one. I found it in a very bad way after noticing the mother had not moved from the same spot for over 12 hours. The young one had scoured badly and was foaming at the mouth. I think it was snake bite. We did all we could to revive her but to no avail.
A few days later another calf arrived. I watched from a distance. The birth was quick and uneventful.
Another bull!!!!!!
He is already part of the herd. The mother didn't bother hiding him away for the mandatory two weeks.
So the next months will see the continuation of the long term weed eradication program, fence repairing, wine monitoring, a short holiday trip to Hong Kong in June and then pruning.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Back in 1950, Penfold's chief wine maker, Max Schubert, travelled to Europe on a wine study tour. During his time in Bordeaux, he discovered the the magic of that region's red wines and how well they aged, some for 40 or 50 years and more.
At that time the Australian wine market consumed less than 10% table wine with the majority being sherry and port.
He returned to Australia determined to make a Bordeaux style table wine that would age gracefully.

Practicality dictated he use Shiraz rather than Cabernet Sauvignon and American oak instead of French for maturation. That affinity between Shiraz and American oak began an Australian school of winemaking which continues today.
He also used a primitive form of refrigeration to mimic the slow fermentation that was typical of a Bordeaux winery in October but definitely not that of an Australian winery in late summer.
In late 1956, a tasting was arranged of the first six vintages of the wine for the Penfold's board, senior management and wine identities in Sydney.
It was a disaster.
The Grange Hermitage (named after the French Region where Shiraz (Syrah) dominates) was ridiculed and its maker humiliated. Prevailing opinion was that it was too extracted and 'big', like a dry port. With a cellarful of what management considered unsaleable wine, Schubert was ordered to cease production just before the 1957 vintage.
But Schubert was determined to prove his critics wrong, and decided to keep making Grange in defiance of Penfold's directive. The 1957, 1958 and 1959 vintages are the so-called "hidden" Granges, made in secret, without new oak as its purchase would have exposed his subterfuge.
When the 1955 won Grange's first gold medal in 1962 the wine was set on its path to Australian and world-wide recognition.
Little more than a year after his death, U.S. Wine Spectator magazine also recognized Grange, naming the 1990 vintage its 1995 Wine of the Year and in 1999 including Grange in its top 12 wines of the 20th century.
For a more detailed account of the Grange story click:
Shiraz has had its ups and downs in Australia, but Schubert demonstrated convincingly with Grange that this variety is the most natural red-grape companion to the South Australian climate. In every vintage, no matter how difficult, Penfold's winemakers can find enough Shiraz of the right style and quality to make a commercial quantity of Grange.
The "Hermitage" nomenclature was dropped after the 1989 vintage as part of the Australian wine industry's compliance with EU law not to use names describing local wines with a foreign regional connotation.

Today a bottle of 1951 Grange, if you can find one as only 1800 bottles were made, will set you back $A55,000. A vertical tasting selection from 1951 to 2003 recently sold for $A185,000. Back in the late 1960's and early 1970's I saved up and bought one bottle of Grange a year until buying houses and raising a family took priority. Then it cost about 25% of a weekly wage. It still does today. But most people buy it for investment rather than drinking and this inflates the price of some older vintages outrageously. Over the years I have drunk all mine and determined in my old age that I would rather buy 15 bottles of $20 wine than one $300 bottle. But for my 50th birthday a good friend bought me a bottle of the 1990 vintage. We sort of assumed co ownership and have discussed a few times in the last year or two whether we should send it to auction. Indications are we would get around $600! But with the co driver's 50th birthday in April along with the 63rd of the co owner, we decided to drink it!!!!!! This is from the current Penfold's tasting notes: History will record 1990 as one of the great Australian vintages of our generation.The 1990 Penfolds Grange is one of the best yet, with the potential to eventually rival the classic vintages of 1955, 1962 and 1971. Sourced from premium vineyards in South Australia, the 1990 Penfolds Grange is predominantly Shiraz (Hermitage) with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. With its solid structure and strength of character it will age gracefully and should be carefully cellared for a bare minimum of 10 years, and preferably 25 to 30. Medium-full red/purple colour. It is a beautifully weighted and concentrated wine combining very intense, ripe plummy aromas with smoky vanillin oak. Already, the wine is supremely complex and harmonious, with ripe plum and coffee-like luscious fruit, integrated oak, fine tannins and excellent length. Alc/Vol: 13.5%.

And from Robert Parker in 1995: The 1990 is the greatest, most complete and richest Grange since the monumental 1986. It rivals the 1986, 1982, 1981, and 1980 as the finest "young" Grange. The wine's opaque purple color is followed by a sweet nose of jammy black-raspberry and cassis fruit intermingled with scents of minerals, licorice, and toasty oak. Extremely full-bodied, with that layered, multi-dimensional feel that sets a truly profound Grange apart from just an outstanding one, the wine is fabulously concentrated, unctuous, and with a finish that lasts over 50 seconds. It is oh, so young, and in need of 5-10 years of cellaring. It should last through the first two decades of the 21st century.
The three of us could only concur with the above assessments and agreed it was one of the best red wines we have ever drunk. It went perfectly with a char grilled whole fillet steak (rare) which was then thickly sliced and served with horse radish, potato casserole and slow roasted roma tomatoes garnished with freshly chopped basil.