Friday, August 28, 2009


Well what an afternoon and evening this has been! I spoke too soon in the last post about the bushfire behind us being under control.
This fire which had been burning for a week and was supposedly put out a few days ago, suddenly sprang back to life and headed our way. About 3pm the sky turned dark red and the smoke billowed black and I knew we were in trouble. This was confirmed when kangaroos and wallabies came bounding out of the bush heading east.

So I began to pack up the essentials while the co driver raced home from town.
The fire engines arrived, all 5 of them, and went at first to protect the two houses up the road behind us. The fire roared out of the northwest pushed along by a pretty stiff wind just past our back neighbour's house and headed in our direction. The fire engines and the co driver arrived at our place at the same time so while we were busy throwing stuff in the car, they got to work rolling out hoses etc.

They said it should just miss us and we didn't need to leave but all of a sudden it was in the bush on our western boundary sounding like a jet plane. Luckily it decided to shoot down the creek gully and the firemen got to work keeping it in the bush and away from the house. It burnt across the south west corner of our property and headed for another neighbour. Meanwhile a secondary fire started on our southern boundary and was burning east through some pretty thick undergrowth and trees. Luckily it didn't get to far before it was brought under control.
The main fire just missed our southern neighbour and jumped the highway into the national park and headed for the coast. At 9:45pm, we could see a huge red glow in the sky to the east. We guessed it was time for the people at Bawley Point to be worried.

The firemen (and women) spent a few hours mopping up and putting out the inevitable spot fires and burning logs. All the time you could hear tree crashing down around us in the forest. The firemen call them widow makers.
So they left us breathing a little easier. Well as easy as the copious residual smoke allowed.
After a snack and some wind down time, we went to bed but I was feeling uneasy so got up to check around and found the fire down in the creek had flared up again and was heading up hill against the wind towards the house.
Luckily the firees were still mopping up around the homes behind us and they sent 2 trucks down immediately to deal with my new fire. It is now out but there are so many smouldering logs in the bush and the wind refuses to drop and embers are spraying out everywhere. So I won't be going back to bed tonight. It is now 2am. Added to that there is still a big fire just across the highway in the NP. Luckily the wind is blowing it away from us. It has all been a bit scary. This was my second bad fire here and it's not the best experience!

I will checking for fence damage at sunrise. I managed to get the cattle into the yards early in the piece so they wont be able to wander off if any of the fences are gone....and i think there would have to be some destroyed.
So we are now all hoping for some decent rain to put all the burning logs and stumps out.
To be threatened by fire in winter is something we have never considered a possibility.
The only positive is now we have a huge fire break around us for the summer period.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An August Update

Pruning is finished and the task of burning the cuttings off continues.
Some people just run their slasher over the cuttings or maybe use a side cast slasher mower which throws the chopped up canes onto the row as mulch.

I don't particularly like this method as I am concerned that any residual disease remaining on the canes could flourish next season. Fungus spores are very hardy and a bit of warmth and moisture in Spring will have them starting the growth cycle all over again.
We have to get all burning off done usually by the end of August, including that on other parts of the property eg. hazard reduction burns, because of fire restrictions that come on early Spring. The Rural Fire Brigade monitors the situation very closely and although permits can be obtained out of season, any illegal fires, apart from causing potentially property damage and even death, can land you a heavy fine or even a jail sentence. Certainly we would never want to see a repeat of the disaster that happened in Victoria earlier this year.
Other vineyard duties include spraying off winter weeds, tying down replacement cordon arms, monitoring and spraying for scale if necessary and repairing torn netting. The new vine shoots will be very attractive to the local kangaroo and wallaby population so the nets really need to be secure at ground level. The drought seems to have brought in additional numbers of these animals, some of them quite large, so we are paying special attention to keeping them out of the vineyard. A property just down the road seems to have inherited about fifty which have taken up residence in one of the paddocks and are visible most mornings. The Rural Lands Protection Board and National Parks have discussed a culling program but whether that happens this year is not clear. They are concentrating on getting rid of the feral dogs at the moment which are causing a few problems with new born calves and lambs.

The feed situation for the cattle is now critical as it is at this time every year. We have increased the level of hand feeding to get them through until September when the grass usually starts growing again. A 'by product' of this situation is that the cattle put a lot of pressure on the boundary fences looking for feed. This not only can upset the neighbours if they suddenly see a herd of strange cattle in their back yard, but any escape onto the busy highway would not bear thinking about. This means a constant vigil on boundary fence condition and monitoring of additional electric fences in the more critical areas. Trees and branches down over fence wires or the electric tape is a constant problem. August and September are our windiest months.
We also have to make sure electric fence batteries are well charged. I use heavy duty 12V car batteries which with the help of an energizer can put 5000 to 6000 volts down the line. This is usually enough to deter the most determined bull. Having being zapped a few times by accident (or carelessness) and nursed a sore arm as a result for a few days I can sympathize.
For the first winter ever we have not been troubled by mice in the house. We had baited substantially outside this year in Autumn but I think there is another reason. Winning trainer Bob, our neighbour (now known to some as seldom winning trainer Bob, as his success with his stable of horses at the track lately is minimal) has a farm cat who lives in his barn. She has taken to visiting our place on a regular basis having probably diminished the rodent population at home and in our stables. The few times I have been in charge of feeding her when Bob has been away, she has always lashed out and has clawed me a few times. I had christened her 'Horrible' because of her attitude problem much to the bemusement of both Bob and Judy. But it would seem she has redeemed herself somewhat this year. But not enough for a name change.

And talking of bush fires, one has burnt out about 220ha (600acres) of rugged mountain terrain about 4km (2miles) behind us. We had thought it might have been a National Parks controlled hazard reduction burn getting away from them but apparently it was deliberately lit. The fire has been pushed along by 40-60km hour westerly winds during one of the warmest, driest Augusts in history. We had three days of water bombing helicopters overhead plus lots of smoke.
It seems to be under control now. But it is worrying that we have had a fire threat this early in the year. It doesn't auger well for the summer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Grog Shop Visit Brings Back Some Memories

The local supermarket, one of the two major chains in town, has a bottle shop (liquor store) attached. They generally sell run of the mill wines with a few specialties so it’s not the place I usually go looking for wine on a regular basis. Occasionally they will have some decent specials, two for the price of one, 10% off six bottles or a really cheap range of cleanskins. I was there last Sunday giving it my monthly once over when I was told that all red wines were 30% off if I bought six. That sounded a good bargain to me so while the co driver cooled her heels people watching outside (what I do during quilt shop visits, so it's fair), I did a slow wander up and down the rows. I came across a bottle of Wynns Coonawarra Shiraz. That brought back a flood of memories.
My parents were always wine drinkers at mealtime. This was unusual for an Australian family in the 1950’s as most people either drank beer with food and fortified wines eg. sherry, port, muscat, after.
I was allowed my first sip at around 12 years old, a small glass of red wine diluted with 50% water. When we moved to Brisbane from Melbourne we ate out a lot. Something to do with the tropical climate and hot kitchens, I believe. My parent’s favourite restaurant was on Wickham Terrace and was called Chez Tessa. The menu contained some of the standard 1960’s fare eg. Chicken Maryland, Carpetbag Steak, Steak Diane and Coq au Vin were a few I remember. And of course there was always Bombe Alaska as a dessert. And they had a pretty substantial wine list which I think was a major attraction from my parent’s point of view. The 1960's had seen a major shift in wine production in Australia from fortifieds to sweet and sparkling table wines (Barossa Pearl, Sparkling Rhinegold, Starwine) and later in the decade to a preference for red wines of the fuller bodied Bordeaux style. This boom in red wines was sparked by a large increase in immigration particularly from Italy and Greece as well as a strong economy.

We went to Chez Tessa for my 16th birthday and I was allowed my first glass of undiluted red wine, Wynns Coonawarra Hermitage. Hermitage was the old name for Shiraz then, mirroring the use of the Shiraz grape in wines of the Hermitage Region of the Rhone in France. So that was the beginning for me of a life long love affair with wine. And nearly 50 years on I now had a bottle of the same brand to reminisce with over dinner.
Tasting Notes from Wynns: Wynns Coonawarra Estate winery is located on the world famous strip of 'Terra Rossa' soil that produces fruit with exceptional quality. Launched in 1952 as Coonawarra Estate Claret, this wine has long upheld Wynns Coonawarra Estate's reputation as a producer of premium Coonawarra Shiraz.
Typically the Wynns Coonawarra Estate Shiraz has aromas reminiscent of ground black pepper, mulberry and raspberry, through to blackberry at the riper end of the spectrum. Oak is used to mature and increase the wine's complexity, without dominating its distinctive cool-climate character. A medium bodied wine with a lengthy finish that will age gracefully in the tradition of the original Wynns Hermitage.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Screw Cap Update

Back in early 2008, I wrote about the popularity of the screw cap in the Australian wine industry and the storage/maturation trials that were in progress using this closure particularly in the high end red wine market.
Today I read that Henschke Wines conducted a trial on their top end 'Hill of Grace' wine in 2002. Positive results have convinced the company to put 100% of the 2005 vintage of this wine under screw cap.
Current vintage 'Hill of Grace' sells for around $A560 a bottle.
Management said that 95% of customer complaints were cork related and the decision to make the move would end this situation.
They said " Classic cork is history. There is no place for it in the wine industry due to its inconsistency and unreliability. The screw cap will be the way of the wine closure until better ones are developed. We will be using them on all our top-end wines"
The trials revealed that the aroma, flavour, balance and structure were significantly better under screw cap compared to cork.

In another development, Australian bottle manufacturers have started to discontinue production of many lines of bottles with a cork mouth finish due to a lack of demand. This is forcing some wineries who are persisting with cork to look overseas for supplies. However the cork industry is trying to fight back. A major Portuguese manufacturer has released a certified organic cork which is produced in a process of washing and disinfection that is 100% chemical free and is claimed to give TCA levels (the corking "culprit") which are below 1Ng/l. Too late, I fear.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Exploring the Shoalhaven Coast / Part 4

Continuing the exploration of our local area, we headed north on a cool, dullish day to Sussex Inlet, a small coastal township situated beside a narrow winding stretch of water that connects the Tasman Sea (Pacific Ocean) to St George's Basin, one of the area's largest coastal lakes (407 sq. km). A population of more than 4,000 permanent residents lives in the town and the adjoining areas of Berrara, Cudmirrah and Swanhaven to the south.
With its long beaches, lakes and waterways the area is a popular tourist centre with the main activities being swimming, fishing and boating.

Once occupied by the Dhurga Aborigines, the first European settler was Jacob Ellmoos, a migrant from Schleswig-Holstein in Prussia. Ellmoos arrived in Sydney in 1878 then sailed and fished his way south. During one fishing excursion he came across Sussex Inlet and was impressed by the combination of plentiful fish stocks and the beautiful and peaceful area. After being granted 40 ha (100 acres) of land on the eastern side of the Inlet, he proceeded to bring out his parents and siblings.
The family erected a guest house, 'Christian's Minde' in 1896, the only one of its kind between Port Hacking, at the southern end of Sydney, and Eden at Twofold Bay. The name means 'Christian's Rest' after Jacob's brother, Christian, who died of pneumonia after surviving several hours in the water when his boat overturned in St George's Basin.
After lunch of a great open hamburger (with the lot) and chips at Joannies Cafe' in the one and only main street, we set off exploring. On the inlet itself we found a few areas suitable for fishing and plenty of places to launch boats for the trip upstream to the Basin. There was a lot of bird life around too. At one place there were a few friendly pelicans who came to visit. Obviously they knew where to be. There was a set of fish cleaning tables on the water's edge next to the boat ramp. No wonder they looked so healthy. I think they were a bit disappointed we didn't have anything to offer.

We were thwarted in our efforts to get to the southern shore of the Basin ( I don't think there is any access by public road) so drove south to the smaller satellite communities on the coast. Here the beaches were all but deserted. Much of the area is in the northern part of the Conjola National Park and there was definitely a hint of Spring in the air with some of the native wildflowers coming into bloom including Banksia, Wattles (Acacia sp.) and Tea tree(Leptospermum sp.).

But is was disappointing to see amongst the ground cover some domestic garden "escapees", like the purple Pig Face (Carpobrotus rossii), in a National Park. Even more concerning was a thriving group of the dreaded daisy like Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis). Originally from Madagascar, Fireweed is an invasive plant, quickly colonising heavily grazed or neglected pastures as well as cultivated or disturbed land during the autumn to spring period. It competes strongly with existing plants for light, moisture and soil nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. Fireweed can sometimes be poisonous to livestock, particularly cattle and horses.
This scourge is gradually creeping south from the Hunter Valley. I had an outbreak a few years ago (probably came in in some hay) and it took some effort to eliminate it. Even this year I found one lone plant growing near one of my dams. With each plant capable of producing 25,000 to 30,000 seeds in a single growing season and its ability to propagate vegetatively, it is important to get rid of it as soon as possible. It has been declared a noxious weed in New South Wales so I have reported my discovery to the 'powers that be'. Will be interesting to see if I hear back.
Driving further south past another inland coastal waterway, Swan Lake, we came to the end of the road at Berrara with a nice view looking back along the beach towards Bendalong and Pigeon House Mountain (Didhol) in the background. And even more amazing to see were two whales about 200m offshore lazily playing together, slapping the water with their huge fins and slowing raising their heads to blow out a stream of spray. We waited expectantly for a long time, camera at the ready, for a breach or at least a tail slap or two but unfortunately nothing.
So I guess that just about finishes this winter's exploration of our area. There are a few more places to see, especially around the southern shores of Jervis Bay as well as closer to home but maybe we will leave those until next year.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Ampelography is the identification and classification of grapevines, Vitis sp. by comparing the shape and colour of the vine leaves and grape berries. Up until the World War 2, ampelography had been an art rather than a science. Then Pierre Galet of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier devised a systematic assembly of criteria for the identification of vines. The Galet system was based on the shape and contours of the leaves, the characteristics of growing shoots, shoot tips, petioles, the sex of the flowers, the shape of the grape bunches and the colour, size and pips of the grapes themselves.
Galet then published the definitive book, Ampélographie Pratique, in 1952, featuring 9600 types of vine. This work was translated into English in 1979, and was updated in 2000.
Grapevines came to Australia with the first white settlers in 1788. After that, vineyards sprang up in many of the new colonies across the country. The source of vines was diverse eg. Brazil, South Africa, Spain and France.
In those days variety identification was not a strong point and it seems sure that a single variety could have been introduced under a number of names or the same name could have been used for a number of different varieties.
This has lead to a lot of confusion about the various grape varieties growing in Australia.
In 1976 M. Paul Truel, curator of the INRA grape germplasm at Vassal, France was invited out to sort out the confusion. He found that most of the major wine grape varieties had been generally correctly identified.
But some minor ones in some plantings hadn’t eg. Riesling was called Semillon, Chenin Blanc called Semillon or Chardonnay etc.
In the 1980’s it was decided that a uniform approach to the description of the morphological characteristics of grapevines was needed. This resulted in the OIV (International Office for Grape and Wine) List which contained descriptors for 128 characteristics of shoots, inflorescences, leaves, bunches and berries as well as seeds and dormant canes. This was later modified to a list of 41 characteristics and will probably become the standard system.
However in the past decades, a method of genetic identification has been developed that has become known as DNA "fingerprinting." This technique relies on characteristic patterns in a plants genetic material or DNA. This new technology has proven so particularly accurate that it is now commonly used not only to establish the true identity of grapevines but also their parentage.

But why bring this rather dry subject up?
Wine grape varieties planted in Australia have all come originally from the CSIRO’s plant collection in the recently closed Merbein Research Station and have been thought to be true to type. Last year a visiting French ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot suggested that vines in a leading vine nursery considered to be Albarino were in fact Savignin Blanc (a member of the Traminer family). Albarino is mainly grown in Galicia (northwest Spain) and Monção (northwest Portugal), where it is used to make varietal white wines.
DNA testing subsequently proved this true!
The CSIRO had in fact imported the wrongly identified material from the Spanish National Vine Collection in 1989.
It is estimated that around 100ha of the wrongly identified vine material has been planted.
Is this a problem?
Well, yes, it is for those who have planted it.
The variety has shown great promise, has demonstrated good drought resistance and produced some outstanding dry white wines. Those who have planted it have had great success with this wine and have naturally used the Albarino name as a marketing tool to differentiate their product.
But now they will not be allowed to sell the product under the Albarino label due to AWBC (Wine Australia) regulations.
They are concerned that marketing under the label Savignin Blanc will cause confusion with the similarly named Sauvignon Blanc.
Do they grub out the current plantings and replace them with properly identified material (an 8 year wait until wine will be produced) or do they start a new marketing campaign with the renamed variety?
The general consensus is that they do the latter.
Very embarrassing for Australia’s leading scientific research organisation and a tiny bit of a scandal. But looking on the upside, Australia has a new grape variety which adapts well to our environment and makes a good wine, no matter what its name is.