Friday, May 29, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 3

The sun rose into a clear sky and all looked promising for a nice day so we prepared to head north for another coastal exploration. But soon dark clouds started to gather and showers were showing up on the weather radar by 9am. The weather bureau also changed its forecast to "occasional showers". So we decided to still head north but only as far as town with the intention of exploring the north and south heads of Ulladulla Harbour.
On the north head is One Track for All, with its four lookouts providing spectacular views of the coast and harbour. It is a cultural trail with the stories of southern Shoalhaven Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal history, told from an Aboriginal prospective, illustrated through many relief carvings and paintings placed around the two loops of the 2km track. This is the work of local Aboriginal, Noel Butler, who sees it as a tool for linking indigenous culture with white history.
Before white settlement this land was occupied by the Budawang tribe, who spoke the Dhurga language, for probably around 20,000 years. They were the first indigenous Australians to be sighted by Captain James Cook, during the first recorded European exploration of the east coast of Australia in 1770, on Koorbrua beach at Murramarang. The tribal area of the Budawang lies from Conjola in the north, Lake George in the West and the Moruya (Deua) River in the south.
The first of the two loops circled north with wonderful views over the harbour entrance to the south point, Warden Head, with the lighthouse prominent.
As with our previous trips I had to do some research on shipwrecks of the area. Despite the fact that Ulladulla is a very safe harbour, the entrance to it is fraught with danger with reefs both to the north and south as well as at Warden Head. Four wrecks were noted. The "Susan" in 1849, the "Currency Lass" in 1851, the "Medina" in 1852 and the "Alfred Edward" in 1882. No loss of life was recorded for any.
A little further on, the view to the north towards Mollymook and Jervis Bay in the distance was just as fascinating . And we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins surfing the rolling waves into the rocky shoreline, just pulling out at the last minute to avoid disaster.
As on our other walks, I was interested in the plant life. The north head was covered in a extremely dense growth of stunted mallee like Casuarinas or She-oaks. This genus has a large number of species ranging from small shrubs to 20m high trees. What these were exactly, I was not sure. The foliage consisted of small branchlets with leaves reduced to rings of small triangular scales. Some were in flower with their tiny red spikey blooms.

In the clearings were native grasses, a few Banksias species and plenty of Coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) which was also in flower.

And in a "soak", I came across the rare Christmas bell (Blandfordia nobilis) which was in full flower. Very unusual for this time of year.

The southern loop with views over the harbour and the town contained even more wooden carvings and paintings. Some were sadly faded and in need of restoration. We were informed by a lady, who suddenly appeared out of the bush with a survey form of questions about our opinion of the walk, that plans to do this work were well in hand.
I particularly liked the lookout with its carved balustrade of fish species that swim in the surrounding waters.
And then, as suddenly as we had left it, we were back in 'civilisation' with a great view over the Ulladulla breakwater and the town centre.

With even darker clouds gathering and the odd spit of rain, we decided to throw caution to the wind and head for the north or Warden Head to another nature walk. Here the lighthouse overlooks the ocean from its place high on the vertical cliffs with the surf pounding on the rocks and surging on the hidden reefs below. This a favorite haunt of whale watchers during the seasonal migration both up and down the coast. They should have been around heading north for the winter but it's early in the season and we unfortunately didn't see any.

The lighthouse was built in 1873 and was originally located at the entrance to the harbour.
It was relocated to Warden's Head in 1889.
The light is now battery operated and float charged from 240v mains supply.

(Photograph: Milton Ulladulla and District Historical Society)
This track was not as developed as the others we had been on but some effort had been put into constructing look outs from the steep cliffs over the ocean as well as board walks over the more environmentally fragile areas. To my surprise the vegetation on south head was completely different to that on the north. Here initially it was more like the the coastal heath country that we saw around Jervis Bay.

Many different Banksias and Acacias as well as Hakea were present. Then suddenly after we crossed a small bridge across what is now a dry stream, the country changed again into almost the same type of forest we were in at Monument Beach. Here we found great examples of old man banksia (Banksia serrata)and their seed cones that inspired the Bad Banksia Men in May Gibb's children's stories.
So with rain beginning to fall, we headed back into town for lunch after another successful day's exploration. And this time right on our doorstep.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Geographical Indications (GI)

In 1935, the French initiated the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AC or AOC) system as a way of protecting winemakers, vineyards, and areas from unscrupulous producers who were taking advantage of the better-known names in that country. Although the French AC system can't guarantee the quality of wine, it can control most of the elements that go into making it. This is achieved by applying strict criteria necessary for qualifying as an AC.
These criteria involve the following categories:
- Geographic limits of the production area
- Density of planting
- Pruning style and standards
- Yield per hectare
- Mandatory tasting by a certification panel
- Allowed grape varieties
- Minimum alcohol levels
- Trellis systems
- Vineyard practices
- Winemaking techniques
- Laboratory analysis standards
Wines that meet these criteria are allowed to use the phrase Appellation Contrôlée on their labels while those not following these regulations are prevented from using AC status.
Multiple AC’s can exist within a geographic area of a larger AC. For example, the Pauillac AC is within the Haut-Medoc AC which in turn is within the Bordeaux AC.
The categories below Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée in descending order of quality are vin délimité de qualité supérieure, vin de pays and vin de table.
This ‘French System’ is in place in some form in other countries but so far none seem to be as successful. These include the AVA in the USA, the DOC in Italy, the DOC in Portugal and the DO in Spain.

In Australia we have the GI or Geographic Indication system. A Geographical Indication is an official description of an Australian wine zone, region or sub-region designed to protect the use of the regional name under international law. A GI is similar to the Appellation naming system used in Europe but less restrictive in terms of viticultural and winemaking practices. In fact the only restriction is that wine which carries the GI must include at least 85% fruit from that region.
A zone is an area of land, without any particular qualifying attributes.
A region must be a single tract of land, comprising at least five independently owned wine grape vineyards of at least five hectares each and usually producing five hundred tonnes of wine grapes in a year. A region is required to be measurably discrete from adjoining regions and have measurable homogeneity in grape growing attributes over its area.
A sub-region also must be a single tract of land, comprising at least five independently owned wine grape vineyards of at least five hectares each and usually produce five hundred tonnes of wine grapes in a year. However, a sub-region is required to be substantially discrete within the region and have substantial homogeneity in grape growing attributes over the area.

Our Shoalhaven Coast Wine Region lies in the South Wine Zone a position we share with the Southern Highlands Wine Region to the west. The two areas are climatically different. The Shoalhaven Coast experiences a warm maritime climate while the Southern Highlands is more cool moderately continental due to its higher altitude and distance from the coast. So although in general the same grape varieties are grown in both regions , the wines produced from them can be completely different.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 2

It was a perfect late autumn morning with a high blue sky and a light offshore breeze as we set off on the 40 minutes drive north to the southern end of Conjola National Park and the Bendelong Point area. I have to admit that although I have lived in the area for 20 years this was the first time I had been to this part of the coast since visiting on a surfing safari from Brisbane on the way to Bells Beach, Victoria with some mates back in 1968!

The park contains a variety of plant habitats including woodlands, heath, tall forest and freshwater swamps. Bendelong is a sleepy little village on the coast and, as holiday homes predominate, is mostly deserted this time of year. We headed for Monument Beach and walked from the car park along a well defined track through predominantly Bangalay sand forest to the beach
A distinguishing feature here were the scribbly gums. The larvae of a very small moth is the culprit producing the markings on the bark of the gumtrees (Eucalyptus sp.) and it is known that there are at least six types of scribble, at least 20 species of eucalypts with scribbles and that there are several species of moths producing scribbles. There are probably many more to be discovered.
Compared to the profusion of wild flowers in bloom in the Jervis Bay coastal heath country we visited a few weeks before (see Part 1), this area was virtually devoid of any color apart from a few Banksia species and the occasional Acacia. Spring is the season for wild flowers in this particular eco system.
However we did come across a most unusual tree which appeared to be in full bloom just outside the local caravan park on the way into town.
Once on the beach we trudged our way north along the undulating and soft sand hills due to a particularly high tide which had taken over most of the walkable sand. In the distance we could see the south head of Jervis Bay and the town of Sussex Inlet glistening in that special autumn sunlight that only seems to occur this time of year. These places are also on our agenda for future exploration.
Our destination this day however was the monument commemorating the wreck of the wooden clipper ship Walter Hood constructed many moons ago out in the middle of nowhere. As with our last trip, it appears that a good shipwreck is an essential part of our adventure. So again we leave it to the NSW Heritage Office to tell the story.
"The Walter Hood left London on 22 January 1870 carrying beer, iron bars, railway irons, cork, cement, wine, salt and theatrical costumes and a large quantity of tiles. It has been suggested that these were replacement tiles for Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral, burnt down in 1865 though there has been no confirmation of this connection to date.
The vessel encountered a heavy storm when turning up the eastern coast of Australia. The gale stripped the vessel of sails and carried away Wilkie, a seaman who was to be the first of many casualties. On Tuesday 26 April, land was sighted amidst mountainous seas. The Walter Hood, in a crippled state, did not have enough canvas left to beat out to sea.
The Walter Hood struck a reef in Wreck Bay and immediately began to break up. Captain Latto was hit by a large wave which swept him to the side of the ship breaking some of his ribs. The Captain was taken to his cabin with the rest of the crew to weather the first of four terrible nights.

Early next morning, the cabin began to fill with incoming seas and the crew were compelled to leave the Captain below and cling to the raised poop deck. The masts soon went over the side as cargo began flooding out of the shattered hull. Fearing certain death on the collapsing deck, members of the crew attempted to swim to the shore. Those remaining on the wreck, many of whom could not swim, watched helplessly as their companions drowned. While some eventually made it to the shore, others died from exposure on the hull. Captain Latto was washed out of his cabin and drowned amidst the wreckage of his ship.
On Friday morning, with the seas abating, some others managed to reach the shore in an exhausted state. The thirteen remaining on the exposed stern had now been without food for three days and nights. In desperation they killed a small dog belonging to their dead Captain, ate its flesh raw and drank the blood.
The passing steamer Illalong was directed to the scene and arrived alongside on Saturday. The 13 survivors were recovered in a desperate state. The bodies of those drowned washed ashore and were buried in a suitably marked spot in the bush. Spectators arrived and fought over the most costly articles of wreckage. It was alleged that the bodies of the drowned were robbed. Casks and bottles of alcohol were stoved in and consumed, adding to the mayhem. Of the 35 hands on board the Walter Hood there were 23 survivors."
Despite this rather sad history, the beach itself was quite beautiful with a wide stretch of sand and a small coastal lake nestled in behind the dunes. But it was obvious from watching the ocean that it was quite a treacherous part of the coastline with submerged reefs creating all sort of currents and sudden wave upsurges even on a day when the swell was not that big.
Back to the car and we stopped off to explore Dee and Washerwoman Beaches as well as the main beach at Bendelong Point, Boat Harbour. All very beautiful, with their own unique features, especially Flat Rock Beach with its tassellated rock shelf formation. And all were deserted.
A few kilometres to the south lies the town of Manyana. Originally called Red Head (a much nicer name), this holiday and residential township sits on two magnificent beaches, Inyadda and Manyana, the latter stretching into the distance to Cunjurong Point and Green Island.

At Cunjurong Point we walked through a very small remnant of littoral rain forest thicket to the lookout with its wonderful view over Green Island, one of Australia's great surfing locations where a long peeling lefthander that can hold considerable size works best in big NE and SE swells. But not today.

On the western side of the headland lies Lake Conjola and its shifting bar where it empties out into the sea. Here we found a very pleasant picnic spot with all the facilities needed to finish a very rewarding and relaxing day of exploration.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A May Update

Winter is well on its way. The days are certainly shorter since daylight saving time ended and the nights and early mornings are decidedly cooler. We have been enjoying a fire every night since the beginning of the month. The vines are losing their leaves and some of the exotic trees planted around us have changed colour.
We will be looking to begin pruning in a few weeks.
Our exploration of the coast line was put on hold due to a long lingering bout of influenza in the camp but we hope to resume that activity soon.
The Semillon has been bottled (and is drinking well) and the Tempranillo was blended with the Cabernet due to a lack of any perceivable quality other than great colour. This year's Cabernet has been racked off the fermentation lees and has just completed malolactic fermentation. It has been treated it with egg white to begin the fining process. The Pinot Noir has taken on a extremely unusual taste. Now this could be because the taster's palate has been shot to bits by the 'flu and as a result the '08 Cabernet bottling has been postponed until this clears up and the last minute acid adjustments can be made with some confidence.

The cattle seem fat and happy but now is the time the grass stops growing and the pressure of reduced feed becomes a reality as the cold season progresses. Luckily we have a good supply of lucerne (alfalfa) hay on hand to see us over the lean time. This situation is complicated by the fact that despite good rain over the year there have been little sustained heavy downfalls resulting in run off and the dams are looking a little empty right now. We can divert our house water into drinking troughs if the need be but we have never had to do this before.
Plans for our short holiday to Hong Kong are progressing and we have mapped out a preliminary sight seeing itinerary that involves outlying islands as well as the city. Hopefully A(H1N1) won't put a dampener on our party. That area has been relatively free of any of the current problems but their experience with SARS has made the Chinese administration a little jumpy and their flu prevention/control measures are quite severe. They quarantined a whole hotel with its 200 guests for a week in early May because one of the guests (from Mexico) presented to a local hospital with swine flu symptoms which were later confirmed.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sulphites in Wine

Most wine labels contain the words "contains sulphites" or "preservative 220 added".
Most people know that this means that sulphur in some form has been added to the wine and some controversy surrounds this. Many suggest they are allergic to this particular chemical and look for preservative free wine.
But there is not a great understanding about the use of sulphur or more properly, sulphur dioxide (SO2), in wine.
Let’s start by saying sulphur was used by the Romans as a wine preservative. It is also a natural by-product of fermentation and wine will always contain some, albeit in its "bound" form, a term we will come to later.
But why add SO2?
Quite simply it has both antibacterial and antioxidant properties, is relatively non toxic and its excess can be detected by smell.
In other words, SO2 can be used in very small quantities to reduce oxidation of grape juice during wine production and to inhibit oxidative and bacterial spoilage of wine during storage.
In Australia the maximum legal addition limit in dry wines is 250 parts per million (ppm) or 250mg per litre of wine. Therefore at its maximum usage a bottle of wine would contain 0.1875g of SO2.

SO2 is generally added to wine in the form of potassium or sodium metabisulphite.
Both these chemicals produce approximately 50% by weight of SO2 in a solution.
In wine it exists in two forms, free and bound ie. some becomes bound to phenolics eg. anthocyanins (wine pigments), flavour compounds and tannins, and some remains unbound ie. free.
The free form is the more effective component.
In turn, the free form consists of molecular (unionised) sulphur dioxide, the bisulphite anion and the sulphite anion with the proportions of these depending mainly on the pH of the wine.
Molecular SO2 is the most germicidal.
The more acid the wine the higher the proportion of molecular sulphur dioxide.
It has been shown that a level of at least 0.8mg/L of molecular SO2 is required in white wine to inhibit oxidation and bacterial growth. To achieve this it is necessary to maintain varying levels of free SO2 not only according to pH but also alcohol content. The higher the alcohol content of a wine the less molecular SO2 is required.
So, as an example, to maintain a 0.8ppm molecular SO2 level in a 12% alcohol white wine of pH 3.4 requires a free content of 32ppm.
SO2 is added on a continual basis throughout the wine’s production, bulk storage and bottling phases so it is necessary to continually monitor the free SO2 level.

In the ‘old days’ we used the ‘Rankine’ or Oxidative/Aspiration Method of determining free, bound and total SO2 but now relatively cheap laboratory machines automatically do it for you.
Now to red wine. As mentioned SO2 binds to phenolics such a wine pigments and tannins. Obviously red wine has a high concentration of these compounds and a considerable amount of SO2 is bound. Measurement of free SO2 in red wine is virtually impossible due to the aspiration of bound SO2 during analysis giving false high readings. Instead recommended SO2 levels for red wine are given as 50-150 ppm of total SO2, depending on circumstances and the pH of the wine.

Sometimes too much SO2 can be added by mistake (believe me this can happen!) and it needs to be removed. This is done by the addition of hydrogen peroxide in very minute quantities. The reaction is the same as that used in the Rankine/Aspiration method for determining sulphur dioxide levels ie. the hydrogen peroxide oxidises the sulphur dioxide to form sulphate and hydrogen ions: H2O2 + SO2 => 2H+ + SO4=
To calculate the required volume of hydrogen peroxide, you have to first determine the reduction in total sulphur dioxide required. The volume H2O2 required is related to the strength of the peroxide solution, which is typically 35%, therefore this must be known. Finally, the volume of juice/wine must be determined. The volume of Z %w/w hydrogen peroxide (in mL) required to reduce the sulphur level by the required amount in (mg/L) in a given volume of wine (L) is calculated as follows: Volume H2O2 = 0.049/Z x (SO2 reduction) x (Volume juice/wine). So that's your wine chemistry fix for the month and maybe even for the year!