Friday, June 19, 2009

The Long Lunch

I met Rosie at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga during our residential schools when we were both studying for our viticulture/oenology degrees in the late 1990's. In fact it was only after a year or two, that we first found out that we lived within 20km or so of each other.
Rosie and her husband Grif owned a pub so they were hospitality industry orientated. But is was always Rosie's dream to own a vineyard, winery and restaurant and do these things in the French way. She is a self confessed Francophile and ran horticultural/garden/wine tours to France for many years. And she is no mean slouch at the language either.
So when they sold the business, they invested in a large tract of land overlooking Burrill Lake with Pigeon House Mountain dominating in the distant Budawang range. This old dairy farm was a perfect setting. Rolling green hills with good soil and drainage, an old farm house suitable for renovating into a B&B and a 1840's stone creamery just right to convert into a tasting room and attach a restaurant to.
They planted 4ha (10 acres) of grapes of mixed variety in various blocks and set about building the restaurant with a huge cellar and winery underneath. The complex was designed so the grapes are processed separately above ground and the juice is gravity fed into tanks and barrels in the cellar below. No pumping needed.
We were there from day one helping to plant thousands of grapevines and at midday sitting in the shade for a lunch of good food and wine. There was always talk then of a time when we could all be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labours. Long lunches and their wine on the veranda watching the world go by.
But as with many dreams it has not been like that. Instead, for them, it has been years of 18 hour days and lots of hard work. The vineyard was planted at the beginning of a five year drought and, anxious to get things started, the best viticultural practices were not always followed. This meant slow vineyard development and initial low yields.
The lack of grapes was no deterrent for Rosie however. Deep down I think she has always been more interested in making wine than growing grapes and her solution was to buy parcels of the best fruit from some of the better vineyard areas in eastern Australia.
This has probably been a blessing in disguise for the business. The chance to use cool climate fruit (as opposed to warm climate in our area) has allowed the production of some excellent wine from a diverse selection of varieties.
I have been 'responsible' over the years for the training and pruning of two blocks of vines, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, that surround the restaurant. These might be considered to be showcase blocks so in true French style they needed to be head trained and cane pruned (double Guyot system) rather than the simpler permanent cordon spur pruned technique. These two blocks are now producing well and as it's winter it is time for pruning. So I spend a few hours a day doing my thing as well as training one of their workers in the 'fine art' of cane pruning. He is a quick learner and hopefully he will be able to take over completely next year.
The other day Rosie was excited to show me and the co driver (who sometimes comes with me and sits in the sun reading while I work) her newest wines plus those that had been maturing for the last year or so. These included straight varietal whites, blended whites, rose's and reds. To me there is nothing better than tasting tank and barrel samples, some only a few months old and unclarified, and discussing the pros, cons and any perceived faults in them one by one , not to mention fruit, tannin and acid levels. These discussions can be quite robust and we are not expected to hold back with any criticism or comment.
So I left my student in full control of the vineyard and we headed for the cellar at 12pm. A few hours later after much sniffing, swirling and tasting and even a little on the spot blending we had finished. Then it was upstairs for lunch and a taste of another group of bottled wines that have just been released for sale.
So this was a long lunch realised.
At 4:30pm, I downed my last drop of cappo and we decided it was time to head home.
A precautionary blow into the breathalyser I keep in the glove box of the car for such occasions showed a reading of 0.054
OOOOPS! Just over the legal limit.
The co driver did the same and was well under. The keys were handed over.
The Cupitt's have worked hard to develop a premium tourist attraction in the area. Nothing has been spared in a effort to make it a state of the art boutique winery, innovative restaurant and informative wine tasting experience. Theirs is a popular venue for locals and visitors for tastings, dinners and lunches, weddings and special celebrations. It's been fun to be part of it all.
Find out more about the winery on their website.

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