Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 In Retrospect

It’s been a relatively quiet year for us.
There was no international travel but we had a few weeks away locally with one trip to Melbourne in Victoria and another to Orange via Canberra in New South Wales.
It was good to explore some wine regions (and quilt shops) in those places and en route.
Plenty of trips to Sydney as well for family and medical reasons. As far as the latter is concerned all was good.
On the sporting front we enjoyed the London Olympic Games immensely. Our satellite TV coverage was excellent and it was great to see the best, instead of just Australian performances which seem to be the focus of the free to air channels.
Rugby was another matter. Our local state team, the Waratahs, played very badly all year and the Australian Wallabies weren’t much better. The former team will have a new coach in 2013 but regrettably  the latter won’t. Australia is stuck with the incumbent New Zealander! Could be more of the same for the national team in the upcoming season and with the British and Irish Lions Tour looming this is not a good thing to contemplate.
Our national cricket team has had a patchy year in all forms (Test, One Day, T20) of the game. But they are in rebuilding mode. In 2013 we again face the poms in England in a test series which is always a good battle.
Life on the farm has not been too fraught with problems. The 2012 vintage was a disaster. Continual wet weather hampered all efforts to keep the fungus out of the grapes. We eventually threw in the towel and decided not to harvest. Things are looking better for 2013.


We had a good calf drop in spring but sadly have lost two so far. It’s been a very bad year for ticks (wet weather related) and vets in the area have been aware they are taking their toll on new born farm animals including cattle, alpacas and goats. Nothing much can be done against this apparently. The paralysis tick is also particularly fatal for dogs and cats so lots of pour on and tick collars being sold.
As you can see from our wine list, a considerable range was consumed this year. Not too many bad ones.
The highlights this year were the wines out of the Orange wine region, the Hunter Valley Semillons and Verdelhos , the Clare Valley Rieslings as well as the Victorian Pinot Noirs. We are so spoilt for choice both from a local and imported point of view. And prices are still very good. The strong Australian dollar has hampered exports so suppliers are trying to get rid of excess stocks on the local market. For the same reason, imported wine has never been so cheap.
We shall continue our evaluation into 2013. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.
So that's another year gone.
We look forward to the new one.
All the best to my readers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas 2012

Obviously the world didn’t end on the 21st so we shall continue on with life on the beautiful south coast of New South Wales.
Our Christmas this year will be, as usual, minimalist.
We have planned a seafood lunch with a couple of really good bottles. When there are just the two of us I can access my secret stash! The only concession to a traditional Christmas lunch will be a big slice of plum pudding for me. The co driver still thinks of that as poison especially when slathered in custard.
Prawns, oysters, scallops and mussels (with some old Hunter Valley Semillon or maybe a nice sparkling Tasmanian Chardonnay/Pinot Noir .....or both) and maybe a piece of salmon from the BBQ (with a Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley Pinot Noir) might be on the menu. And just maybe a small glass of sticky with the pud.
We are lucky to have a really good fish shop in town called, you guessed it, “Lucky’s”. After all, Ulladulla was once a major fishing port. He has the freshest and best all year 'round. Getting into the shop on Christmas Eve can be bedlam with queues forming outside at 6am. We go late the day before.
 "Mate, it's the same stuff you will get the next day" says Lucky who makes a fortune at this time of year but can never come to grips with the mentality of the last minute rush.

We had the annual valley party last weekend at one of the neighbour’s places. It was, as always, a fun evening with good food, a little bit of wine and lots of laughter. The evening started off pretty hot and humid, typical December weather, but the southerly, known as ‘the doctor’ around here, came in after about an hour and the temperature dropped 10 degC which made for an even more pleasant evening.
The forecast for Christmas day is not that good with cloud and showers predicted, minimum 17 degC maximum 23 degC. However this is better than being below zero and up to our necks in snow like other places we know.
We were going to hit the beach early for a swim before the hordes arrive and then retire to the peace and quiet of home. We shall see.
A happy Christmas to all my readers.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Grapevine Growth

It's amazing how fast grapevines grow.
From the pictures below you can see their development from early September to early December.
This year the Pinot Noir seems to have developed much larger leaves than normal and certainly more vigorous shoot growth. This may be the result of our wet spring and plenty of residual soil moisture.
We have been green pruning fairly severely already in order to thin out the fruitless shoots. This allows more air circulation around and through the canopy to help prevent fungus.
A less dense canopy also allows better spray penetration.
In addition it also prevents shading ie. allows more sunlight onto the leaves and bunches to assist in the ripening process. This means increased sugar levels (higher resultant wine alcohol), increased colour in red grapes, increased tartaric acidity and overall better varietal flavour.

Meanwhile the Pinot Noir bunches are developing. They have reached the 31st stage according to the Eichhorn and Lorenz system ie. berries pea size, bunches hanging down. The berries will continue to 'swell' until they are touching. This is known as bunch closure. Some varieties 'close' more than others. Chardonnay for instance has very tight bunches while those of Cabernet Sauvignon are more open. Tight bunches always have problems with botrytis in wet conditions and it is always essential to get a preventative spray on before bunch closure as a follow up to the first at 80% cap fall.

              Grape berries follow a double sigmoid growth curve. The initial phase of growth results from cell division and expansion. Then the growth slows. This  is known as the lag phase. This is not a physiological growth stage, but an artificial designation between the two growth periods of the berry, the second of which is ripening. This is signalled by veraison or colour change.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A November Update

Summer is here on some days, not on others.
But the few hot and muggy days remind us what is ahead over the next three to four months.
We are just waiting for the ocean to warm up a bit before we start our daily surfing adventures.
The grapes are all growing well. We have managed to keep the spray program to schedule with no thanks to the weather bureau's forecasts. I can't think of another period where they have been so consistently wrong.
Working under the increased net height has been a godsend so all the work involved with that was worth it. And the power sprayer is also proving to be a great investment.
I am a bit surprised at the lack of fruit on the Tempranillo and the Pinot Noir. Maybe that has something to do with the poor season we had last year which may have caused the lack of initiation of fruitful shoots. I need to go back into the text books to find out for sure but what is there is there.
We may have to produce a Pinot/Tempranillo blend this year to get a reasonable quantity of wine from these two varieties.
On the other hand the Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with flowering bunches. Let's hope the fruit set is good.
I had pruned them really hard this year to increase spur spacing in an effort to decrease quantity and improve quality. This has resulted in an explosion of shoots other than the two required on each spur which has necessitated a fair amount of shoot removal work.

It is interesting to watch our small resident kangaroo family attempting to get under the nets to get at the fresh green grass shoots of the inter-rows as well as the grapevine shoots. They move along the row ends using their noses to try and lift the netting which this year is securely pinned into the ground. The buck is small but quite powerfully built and I don’t think he would have much trouble ripping the nets with his very long sharp claws but they never seem to try this.
We had a bit of drama with the white newborn calf. She suddenly became quite sick and I found quite a number of paralysis ticks on her. She displayed the same symptoms as dogs and cats when they succumb to this parasite ie. back leg paralysis. The vet said she had had a few calves and alpacas go down this year from ticks and it has been a very bad year for them. The only thing they could do would be to give the calf some tick anti venom at $500 a dose and even then they could not guarantee survival. So Doctor Bob and I began hand feeding her 4 times a day with her mother’s milk to prevent dehydration but she got weaker and weaker and eventually died. Sad for us and sad for the cow which has been mooing plaintively for the last two days. But as Farmer/Doctor/Trainer Bob said “that’s life on the land.” The other four calves are doing very well.
The Suspected Culprit

We are gearing up for the tourist season. It was reported today in our local paper the population of the Shoalhaven Council area is expected to increase from 97,000 to about 320,000 from Boxing Day and will probably be at that level for the following 4 weeks.
I am not going to have my annual whinge about the ‘touros’ but as usual we will be glad when we get our beaches, town and roads back in February.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More Books

It's not often I abandon a book half way through but Steve Job's biography is one.
It is an interesting enough history of Apple but the repetitive description of Job's manic and self obsessed behavior wears a little thin after a few hundred pages.

                         "Flight 32" is the absorbing story of a QANTAS Airbus A380 flight from Singapore to Sydney that suffered an almost catastrophic engine explosion a few minutes after departure.
Written by the flight's captain, it is a detailed story of how the crew kept the plane in the air and eventually landed safely without injury to anyone on board. Some people on the ground in Indonesia were hurt by falling debris.
It will either put you off flying for life or give you additional confidence in the air crews who pilot us around the world, usually without incident, on a daily basis.
It has a six degrees of separation element for us. Stirl's nephew was cabin crew on that flight. A little known fact is that after a few days rest and recovery in Singapore, the crew was put on another flight which also had to return to Singapore with mechanical problems.
The nephew is still flying.

George Smith is one of Australia's all time great Rugby players.
He played 110 times for his country as well as numerous Super Rugby games for the Canberra Brumbies.
Raised in a large Tongan family on the northern beaches of Sydney, he had a checked youth, falling in with the wrong crowd and getting expelled from school.
But Rugby saved him from an uncertain future.
An interesting biography from a social and sporting point of view but really one for the Rugby tragic only, one of whom resides in this house.

"Revolutionaries" is a detailed account of both the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War concentrating on those who went into battle, those who kept the country running during the conflict and drew up the states' and national constitutions (and subsequent amendments), the diplomats seeking foreign support abroad, the treaty makers and those who took up the challenges, political, social and economic, of making a success out of a newly formed nation.
A lot of well known names and some not so well known. For a change this book delves into their personalities, motivations and private lives, not just their actions.
Hard going in a lot of places, especially when it comes to constitutional matters, but rewarding in the end.
Definitely one for American history buffs only.

My daughter bought me a Kindle for my birthday.
Takes a bit of getting used to but I am warming to it.
Lots of free books available as well as latest releases.
We buy most of our books from Amazon USA and even with freight added they are about 50% of the prices in Australian book stores.

So with a book being downloaded within a few seconds, we will now be saving the freight costs.
The upshot of all this is my 'reviews' may now be minus a cover shot although I have a lot of real books stacked up to read. Hopefully I can work my way through them all during summer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Calves! And More Calves

Obviously the bull we sold back in June had had one last fling with his girls.
The first calf appeared a few weeks ago.
And then another a little later.
And one last week.
Last night we had two.
One of those had to be helped a little. It was the mother's first and she was struggling a bit.
Neighbour Bob (a cow man from way back) thought it was good idea to do 'a pull'.
So we did.

A bit of a struggle at first but finally with our help she pushed out a very healthy looking bull calf.
Mother was exhausted and it took some expert wrangling to get her to her feet. Bob could also be a rodeo star!
Another one born a week or so ago wasn't looking that good so we have kept her and her mother up around the house paddock to could keep an eye on her. The two have bonded well and now the calf seems to be out of the woods.

Neighbour Bob has been promoted to Doctor Bob......for a little while anyway.
We wish him well with his horse which is racing today up at Nowra as part of the Australia wide racing carnival based around the Melbourne Cup, a famous race run on the first Tuesday of November at the Flemington racecourse. Today is the 152nd time the race has been run.
And seeing we have just touched on gambling, the Oz Lotto draw tonight is worth $100 million.
You have to be in it to win it!
7th November Update: Bob's horse ran 6th. So it's back to Seldom Winning Trainer Bob. The Melbourne Cup was won by 19-1 outsider Green Moon.
And the $100 million OzLotto was shared between four. Sadly, we weren't one of those.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sculpture by the Sea

There is a wonderful walk along the coast line of Sydney's eastern suburbs from southern Bondi Beach to Coogee and on to Maroubra
The first part covers about 6 km and winds its way around rugged headlands, down to some of the city surf  beaches and past some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
You can stop for a coffee or a meal at the many beach side restaurants, cool off with a swim in the surf or an ocean pool or just sit and people watch.

Every year on the Bondi to Tamarama section they hold a 'Sculpture by the Sea' exhibition.
It is very popular and gets really crowded especially at weekends.
We had to go to Sydney for an overnighter and decided to see if the parking fairy would be with us in the area.
We were in luck! We managed a spot just a short walk away.
Bondi Beach from Marks Park

It was a perfect day with the crowd at a minimum, the sea blue as blue and the sun shining in a cloudless sky.
Really the star of the show is the walk itself but some of the work on display was interesting.
Our favourite was a collection of 222 bamboo poles with wind driven fans on top. These were attached to a clapper which hit the poles, each of which had been cut to a certain length, to produce a different tone.
It is a memorial to the 222 victims of the two Bali bombings nearly a decade ago.
The stiff northerly breeze produced waves of Indonesian sound and it was a weird sensation to walk through.

A close second for me was a man made completely out of staples.
We spend a couple of hours there enjoying the view and starting our summer tan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Refrigeration in the Wine Industry

No, not getting the bottle of white wine cold before drinking but keeping the juice (must) and wine cool during the production process ie. grape delivery, crushing, fermentation, pressing, transfer, storage.
Modern wineries use refrigeration units to keep their white fermenting musts cool.
This encourages desirable aroma and flavour compounds. The target is usually between 10°C and 16°C.
The temperature of grapes coming in from the vineyard during harvest in summer can be a lot higher than this, so cooling is almost always necessary.
But what about the more primitive 'Vin de Garage' operations like mine?
How do I keep the ferment cool without going to a huge (and unwarranted) equipment expenditure?
Adding dry ice has been suggested. This would have the additional advantage of adding carbon dioxide as an oxidizing protectant but it always involve the danger of taste taint and it is not the safest thing to handle (burns and asphyxiation).
Putting a small tank inside a larger one and filling the void with an ice or ice/salt mix has been suggested together with insulating the outside tank with a flexible foam sleeve. Logistically all possible but no real temperature control.
Adding ice in containers to the actual must is another suggestion. This could be viable as long as the containers were sanitized and secure so any melt water did not get into the wine.
Searching on the net I found plenty of information on the affects of ice addition to water and the resultant cooling affect.
One formula was able to calculate final temperature based on original weight and temperature of water and weight of ice added.

I decided to test this out. So I added a specific amount of ice (1000g) contained in a sealed mineral water bottle to a specified amount of water (6000g) and noted the temperature drop. It fell 6°C in one hour and remained there for about 3 hours before starting to rise.
The result was considerably higher than the formula predicted . I guess ambient conditions were to blame.
However this method is indeed worth pursuing and I will try a full scale experiment with water in a wine tank soon.
Temperature could be adjusted by the addition and removal of bottles. Maintenance of the required temperature would depend on the number of bottles required. That is the great unknown at this stage.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Unseasonal Weather Event

We had 24 hours warning that an intense low pressure system was forming off the coast and that there would be torrential rain and gale force winds.
So we spent the day battening down, cleaning out gutters and putting things away.
And wooooosh......... in it came!
Over 300mm (12inches) of rain in 36 hours accompanied by 95km/hr wind gusts.
In a tropical zone it would have been a category 1 cyclone (hurricane).
Our creek soon broke its banks and flooded the bottom paddock. Some trees came down.
The surf was huge.
Up in the mountains there was snow down to 700m. Some roads were closed.
But it went as quickly as it came.
And amongst it all a new calf was welcomed into the world. Mother and son are both doing well.
Back to typical spring weather now, sunny, warm and humid.
It's a bit soggy around here but won't take long to dry out.

                      All the grapes needed respraying after all the rain including the Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time.
Again with copper and sulphur but this time with a downy mildew curative in combination just in case.
I use phosphorous acid (Agri-fos 6oo) as a downy mildew curative. It is the world’s only fully systemic downy fungicide, moving easily up and down in the vascular fluid of the vine after rapidly moving away from sprayed tissue.
PA is usually not used in commercial vineyards which export wine. Most countries have a strict MRL (maximum residue limit) which can be met with proper applications but both China and Canada have a no tolerance level. Keeping grapes separate for different wine export markets is almost impossible so it's easier not to apply the chemical at all.
It's a very effective fungicide and the Australian wine industry is working with both countries to have reasonable MRLs introduced. I believe they are making some headway.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Even More Spring Flowers





Wednesday, October 03, 2012


There are four species of Waratah. They belong to the Proteaceae family which is a group of flowering plants found in the southern hemisphere. Members of that family native to Australia include Banksias, Grevilleas and the Macadamia nut.
The Protea from South Africa is also a member.
The best known Waratah is probably Telopia speciosissima which is the state flower of New South Wales.

                  They grow wild on 3m high shrubs with typical leathery leaves in the sand stone gullies around Sydney.
They are very sought after as cut flowers with prices reaching $20 a stem.
For that reason, they are now hard to find in the wild due to poaching. Even plants growing in private gardens have flowers stolen off them.
Stealing flowers in the wild threatens the survival of some populations. If Waratahs are torn off, they will not flower through the next season and seeds are prevented from returning to the bushland, They take five years to flower from seedlings. The species has already disappeared from some of the more 'rural' suburbs.

Our vineyard friends down the road have one shrub. This year it has been flowering profusely.
Telopia means 'seen from afar' and speciosissima means 'beautiful'.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Vintage 2013 Continues

Warm weather and some sporadic rain have encouraged pretty rapid shoot growth of the Pinot Noir.
In viticulture talk it had reached growth stage E-L 12 ie. five to six leaves unfolded with inflorescence clearly visible.
The E-L system designates the phenological stages of grapevine development described by Eichhorn and Lorenz and there are 47 of them.
A simpler system is the modified Baggiolini one which is limited to 15 stages ie. A to O.
In that case the Pinot Noir was at F
It was time for the first spraying.
In my opinion it is essential in the early stages of growth to protect the vines from both downy and powdery mildew, especially in a warm maritime climate like ours.
Then again there is another school of thought that believes only curative sprays should be applied ie. spray only after a weather event that would be conducive to the development of those diseases. However while there are suitable curative sprays for downy mildew, there are none that are really effective for powdery mildew.
After last year's disaster with a modified version of a curative spray program, it was a no brainer to apply protective sprays this season.

Against downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola), I use the copper based spray copper oxychloride. The dried copper spray droplets sit on the leaf surface and slowly release a supply of cupric ions.
These are picked up by the fungus spores and travel through their cell walls to eventually disrupt cellular enzyme activity. Copper sprays are not systemic ie. they don't get into the plant's sap system and get translocated around the plant. They are surface sprays. Droplets remain static so as the vine grows, additional sprays must be applied to protect new growth as well as replenishing the already sprayed areas. Under normal circumstances this is done approximately every two weeks. Rain events shorten the spray intervals.
Against powdery mildew (Uncinula necator), I use a micronised wettable sulphur powder.
Despite sulphur usage dating back some 180 years the mode of action still remains unclear.
Actual contact of the sulfur particle with the fungus is necessary before fungicidal action can occur. There is some debate as to whether vapour inhibits spore germination. The jury is still out on that one.

                      A sulphur spray forms a protective barrier on the plant surfaces. This barrier kills fungi by interfering with cellular respiration preventing it from accumulating the materials and energy it needs to survive.
Sulphur also keeps the vines clear of blister mites (Colomerus vitis). Although I have never seen them here, they are in the area.
Blister mites feed on the under-surface of leaves and cause very obvious blisters on the upper surface of leaves and white or brown hairy growths within the raised blisters on the lower surface of leaves.
Damage by the mite is more unsightly than economically consequential.
As with copper, sulphur sprays need to be reapplied on a regular basis.
Both copper and sulphur can be mixed and applied at the same time.
A little care has to be taken with sulphur sprays. Application at temperatures above 30C and high humidity can lead to phytotoxicity problems on young growth.
As far as shoot development is concerned, the Semillon is a little behind the Pinot Noir and the Tempranillo slightly behind the Semillon.
We are just now getting Cabernet Sauvignon bud burst.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pikes Wines Come to Town

A few years ago we visited the Clare Valley in South Australia and enjoyed the wines there.
The Clare is a cool climate area and is famous for its white wines, especially Riesling.
One of the wineries that took our fancy was Pikes. While there we joined their wine club to take advantage of specials offered during the year together with free freight and have been buying their Rieslings, including some excellent clean skins, and Pinot Gris ever since.
To celebrate the release of their 2012 wines they took their tasting room 'on the road' and we were invited to join them at Revisi's Hotel at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach.

It was a nice venue and I guess around 50 people turned up to taste the new vintage whites as well as some older wines including their reserve reds.
And they served some pretty good canapes during the night as well.
The 2012 "Traditionale" Riesling was of the usual high standard. The reserve "Merle" Riesling, while typically steely dry, seemed to lack something on the middle palate compared to previous years. But this is a very young wine just out of the tank and initial impressions can be deceiving.
The Pinot Gris was also of high standard.

             We have never ventured much into Pike's range of reds although the Clare can produce some good ones as we found out on our 2010 trip.
We thought the reserve Sangiovese and Shiraz particularly tempting and with the rather large discount and free delivery on offer for this night only, we succumbed to ordering a few bottles.
I am happy to say that my wine budget so far this year has not been exceeded.
Am still well within my end 2019 limit.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Some Occupational Hazards of the Vineyard

Working in and around the vineyard can have its wildlife problems.
I am ever on the watch for snakes. There are red belly blacks around and while quite timid they can become aggressive when cornered or trodden on early in the season when they are a bit slow getting out of the way.
We had the first of the season in our back yard the other morning, a big one, about 2m long. A bite from them is an immediate emergency drive to the hospital.
Also ticks, leeches and wasps can be a bit of a nuisance.
It's only when you are doing some digging that another danger becomes apparent.

                     I found a suspicious hole the other day when doing some remedial work on the post stays and poured some dilute acid down. This morning I found a dead spider by the hole.
It was either the really venomous funnel web spider or perhaps a mouse spider. It's hard to tell the difference.
Both can give you a nasty bite and the funnel web is renowned for its highly toxic and fast acting venom.

The male of Atrax robustus, the Sydney Funnel-web Spider, is probably responsible for all recorded deaths (13) and many medically serious bites. However no deaths have been recorded since the introduction of an anti venom in 1981. In the picture below you can see the quite large fangs.

Some mouse spiders have a very toxic venom too and a bite can be potentially as dangerous as that of the funnel web. Fortunately funnel-web spider anti venom has proven effective in cases of mouse spider bite.
We are aware that the antivenin is carried by our local hospital.
A further inspection found a few more holes around the place so really it is a matter now of being a little bit vigilant and wearing gloves when working around the places where they may live.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bud Burst / Vintage 2013 Begins

With Spring in the air the early grape varieties have stirred into action.
Bud swell (woolly bud) is the first thing you notice and then bud burst.
The Pinot Noir is followed by the Semillon with the Tempranillo close behind.
The later variety Cabernet Sauvignon is a few weeks behind those.
Over the years this event  has been getting earlier and earlier.


I estimate that in the 15 years I have grapes in the ground, bud burst is now 3 weeks earlier than  it originally was ie.irrefutable evidence of climate change.
September is usually our windiest month. The westerlies can howl for days on end. Father's Day 2010 was the worst we have had with gusts up to 120km/hr.
This year however is not far behind. One week in and we have had days where winds have gusted to 70km/hr plus.
This can damage or blow the new shoots right off the vine.

But so far so good.
When the shoots are around 10cm long it will be time for the first fungicide spray.
Then the work will start in earnest.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012