Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Big Wet Lingers

They say when you don't have much to talk about there is always the weather.
Weather has dominated the hearts and minds of viticulturists and wine makers in the wine growing regions in the south and east of the country this vintage.
Our region has already recorded a huge 446mm of rain this year over 39 days compared to just 167mm last year. The annual average for this period is 295mm.
More than half of that rain has been recorded since the beginning of March when 242mm fell, including 101mm on 1st March and another 45mm the following day.
The Thursday before last, the region copped another 67mm, and more rain is forecast through the weekend and into the next week.
Our district has also experienced one of its coolest summers on record, with an average temperature of just 22.4 degrees.
Summer got off to a relatively chilly start with the average December temperature reaching just 20.8 degrees.
The January average temperature was a warmer 24 degrees but still well below normal.
February's average temperature was only 22.5 degrees for what is usually one of the hottest months of the year.
From 1st December 2011 until 29th February 2012, the thermometer barely reached 30 degrees, with the mercury peaking at 33.1 degrees on January 30. Really unheard of.
So what does this all mean to the grape growing industry?
Lots of rain is bad news especially at the grape ripening stage.
The vines themselves are subjected to fungal disease pressures such as downy and powdery mildew. This can normally be ameliorated by a regular spray regime. But with continual rain, this can be difficult to organize at the desired time with the rain fastness of sprays as well as their length of effectiveness limited. Also soggy vineyards can limit tractor access.
Vines absorb moisture through their roots and 'pass it on' to the berries. This dilutes the juice and desired levels of ripeness (sugar levels in the grape juice) are hard to achieve. Also grape berries can split from too much moisture encouraging disease eg. botrytis.

Cool temperatures are not such a problem. In fact cool temperatures encourage slower ripening which improves grape juice quality such as varietal flavour development and acid stability.
But in our region cool temperatures usually means cloudy days. Cloudy days mean a lack of photosynthesis and a resultant lack of ripening.
As you have already read in a previous post my tardiness in not tailoring my spray regime to this season's conditions has lead to the loss of the Tempranillo and Semillon crop due to powdery mildew.
It would appear that the Pinot Noir has met the same fate.
The Cabernet Sauvignon however sees to be standing up well against any disease pressure but is not ripening due to the rainfall. Before we headed off to Melbourne it was at 10 deg Baume. Two weeks later it was still 10.
The vines still have plenty of leaf so with a little fine sunny weather we may achieve our target of 12+Baume and be able to pick sometime in April. If not it can always be made into Rose', or even left on the vine.
We live in hope.
(For the metrically challenged, 1inch = 25mm and Deg Celsius can be converted into Fahrenheit here. And Baume = Brix/1.8)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Trip to Melbourne / Part 4

Not having far to go this day, we left Melbourne at a fairly civilized hour and headed down the freeway/tollway towards the Princes Highway which is the coastal route back north.
This was the co driver's quilt shop day (see her detailed report here).
We had sussed out all the possible stops in the Victorian regional towns on the way and there were plenty of them.
First stop Warragul, my mother's birth place, and a thriving West Gippsland town which is in a major dairy area. Lots of nice preserved historic buildings in the town as well.
The quilt shop verdict? Reasonable.
Next stop was Morwell which is in the heart of Victoria's energy centre, the Latrobe Valley, with the huge Yallourn open cut brown coal mine and electricity generation plant just to the north. No quilt shop but I had heard that they had erected a statue of my uncle, Stan Savige, here.
Morwell was his birth place and he was a World War 1 and 2 hero but more importantly the founder of Legacy which is an organization dedicated to caring for the families of deceased and incapacitated war veterans.
And there 'he' was in the middle of town at Legacy Place.

Traralgon was next. This is a not only a power generation town but there is also a significant logging industry of plantation and natural forest timber, a large paper making plant, drilling for oil and natural gas off shore in the Bass Strait and an agricultural industry, principally in wool and dairy products, as well as vegetable growing. The quilt shop was small but interesting enough for a extended stop.
Next was Rosedale, a small sleepy town with a major quilt shop. I had more than enough time to explore the town..... a number of times.
Why don't Australian quilt shops have 'men's waiting chairs' outside like they do in the USA?
The old bank there, built in 1874, (held up 4 times in its history, according to a small sign) is now the headquarters of a preserving company, Tara Foods. I loved the sign on their window.
A summary of my childhood.

Next stop was Sale. No quilt shop here but time for lunch. We both had a craving for a good old Aussie hamburger with the lot. For the uninitiated this means a burger with lettuce. tomato, cheese, beetroot, bacon, fried egg and fried pineapple ring in a bun. We found a likely looking old fashioned cafe and they 'delivered' the goods.
Next was Bairnsdale, with a major quilt shop, and the gateway to the Gippsland Lakes which was our destination for the night.
The Gippsland Lakes are a network of lakes, marshes and lagoons covering an area of 600 and are separated from the ocean by coastal dunes known as the Ninety Mile Beach.

We stayed in Metung a small resort village on Lake King. During the holiday season this is a busy sailing, fishing and water recreation area. When we were there it was basically deserted.
McMillans had wonderful cabin accommodation with nice views across the lake.

We did a bit of exploring and came across some local wildlife at the boat ramp where they are kept busy tidying up the scraps from the fish cleaning tables. They are obviously well fed and quite tame. Both the pelicans and black swans walked up to us to see if we had anything extra to eat.

That night we had dinner at the one and only cafe open, Bancroft Bites. It was probably the best meal of the trip.
I had roast duck breast with a fennel and orange salad, the co driver also had duck but with a mushroom risotto. It was delicious. We pestered the chef to divulge her risotto recipe. It appears that the secret ingredient was five different types of mushrooms all marinated in verjuice. We drank a local Lightfoot & Sons unwooded Chardonnay. Now, friends and acquaintances will know we both belong to the ABC Club (Anything But Chardonnay) but we had come across a local unwooded style from Two Figs Winery in the Shoalhaven which we liked and thought we would try another.
We may be hooked!
Next morning we were up early for the longish drive home.
It was a pleasant trip to Eden for coffee and cake along a virtually deserted highway. Crossing the lower reaches of the Snowy River at Orbost (it runs into the sea about 10km downstream at Marlo) it was good to see that it was a raging torrent which had spread out several kilometres wide on the flood plain due to all the past week's heavy rain in the region. Quite a comparison to the river's sad state at Dalgety.

Eden is still an active fishing port on Twofold Bay. Once a major whaling centre, the town's attraction is now water sports, including surfing, yachting, diving, fishing and swimming.
There is also a Killer Whale Museum which has been in operation for over 80 years.
Twofold Bay is also famous for whale watching, which is a popular tourist activity from September until December, when a variety of whales visit the bay.
From there it was on through Bega, Narooma (quilt shop stop), Moruya (late lunch at Cafe' Vulcan) and home.
We had obviously had a lot of rain. The dams and tanks were full, our road a line of muddy potholes and the ground very very soggy. Surprisingly our creek had not burst it banks. Maybe the lake at the beach has opened to the sea and is draining the water away quickly.
And the wet weather continued. We had another 70mm that night.
The last week has been the equal wettest week on record.
Come back, El Niño! All is forgiven!!!!!

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Trip to Melbourne / Part 3

I dropped the co driver off at the convent and headed down the freeway to the Yarra Valley.
This was new wine territory for me although I had visited the area, pre vineyard development, many times as a child during a day out with my parents.
The region is quite spread out with wineries in small groups in quite distinct areas.
My first stop was Yering Station. I knew they made good Pinots and was interested to see what they were offering.
The tasting room was already busy (it was just after 10am!) so found myself a spot and looked at the listing. As always with these places you hardly ever see the 'best' offered for public tasting.
So I worked my way through the entry level Pinots and then gradually engaged the server who with a wink and a nod brought out their 2010 Reserve and some other special Pinot Noirs.
Yes, now we are talking!
No simple fruity one dimensional wines in that lot.
What about a taste of the 2008 Shiraz/Viognier? Yes, that was good too.
Out came the credit card.

Next stop was De Bortoli. Sorry, no 2010 Yarra Valley Pinots left. Try the 2011. Hmmmm, very light, thanks but no thanks.
Then onto Balgownie Estate. Same story here, all sold out. Try some 2011! Ok, awfully thin and light. What about some medal winning 2011 Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc?
Nice and reasonably priced. Will have a few of those.
What about the 2008 Bendigo Shiraz from our other regional vineyard? Only a few bottles left. Yep, add that to the box too.
Then I drove into Healesville for lunch. A very touristy town jam packed with people despite the terrible weather.
Next stop was Coldstream Hills. This winery is owned by famous wine writer and judge, James Halliday with the first vintage in 1985. Vines are hand pruned, grapes mostly hand harvested and wines made with a minimum of mechanical interference. This winery is a little off the beaten track and has a bit of a reputation for high prices so I was not surprised to find myself alone.
Their 2010 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir was a step above anything I had tasted so far.
It had been awarded the Geoffrey Crundall Perpetual Trophy for best Pinot Noir (Class 29) at the 2012 Sydney Royal Wine Show. This follows the gold medal-winning success at the Royal Adelaide Show in 2011.
And the 2010 Reserve was a giant leap above that.
They obviously knew a sucker when they saw one and brought out their 2006 Reserve Shiraz and 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for tasting.
Time to get out of there despite the 15% discount!

Next stop was the Domaine Chandon winery. This French company has set up wineries around the world to make sparkling white wine by the traditional method (méthode traditionnelle). Having established successful Chandon Estates in Argentina, Brazil and California, they saw the opportunity to produce a premium quality sparkling wine in Australia and this began in 1986.
They also now produce still table wines.
Unfortunately they cater mainly for groups so getting individual attention was difficult. I gave up and did the self guided tour of the winery which included a catwalk above the operations. They were crushing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the smell was pretty heady.

Time to head back into town. Yes, Mr. Visa, I am still in possession of my card and I have another day to go.
That night it was another early dinner, Greek this time, washed down with a Barossa Tempranillo and then back to the room to watch the Reds play the Force in Super 15 Rugby.
Next morning I headed south down the freeway to the Mornington Peninsula.
It was well before winery opening time when I arrived so I made a detour through the small town of Flinders to Cape Schanck which is situated at the southernmost tip of the Peninsula and separates the wild ocean waters of Bass Strait from the slightly calmer waters of Western Port. The most recognisable symbol of Cape Schanck is the lighthouse. It was built in 1859 and was the second lighthouse built in Victoria.

There are many walks in this area so I set off on a loop heading down towards the rocky beach and then back up around the lighthouse.
A prominent rock outcrop which stands out at the very tip of the cape is Pulpit Rock

Time got away a little so I made my first winery stop at T'Gallant famous for its varied Pinot Gris (Grigio) wine styles. I tried a couple and ended up buying their 2011 Grace as well as some 2009 Cyrano Pinot Noir and 2008 Tribute Pinot Noir. The latter two were outstanding wines.
Down the road was the well established Paringa Estate. I tasted their Riesling (unusual for this area), some of their Pinot Gris and lead in Pinot Noirs ending up with a purchase of their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir.
OK, Mr. Visa, that's it. You can breathe easy again.

Time to head back into the city. I managed to get myself thoroughly lost in the back roads and lane ways of the area. Not a problem as it is a very beautiful part of the world. Suddenly I saw a sign to a place I recognized, Arthurs Seat.
It was named by Acting Lieutenant John Murray when he entered Port Phillip Bay in the ship Lady Nelson in February 1802, for an apparent resemblance to the hill of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh which was his home city.
The hill rises to 305m above sea level and is a major tourist drawcard due to its natural bushland and sweeping views of the bay.

Back in town I met up with the co driver and we ate at a very unusual venue at the convent.
Called Lentil As Anything, you line up for a buffet style vegetarian meal and sit at communal tables to eat.
Cost? Anything you would like to pay or maybe not pay at all.
It's open all day for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Back at the Tyrian, it was time to pack up and think about the journey home.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Trip to Melbourne / Part 2

The day we left home the weather bureau had issued a severe weather warning for south eastern Australia. A series of low pressure cells were crossing the country and were predicted to stall over southern New South Wales and northern Victoria bringing heavy rain and possible floods.
How right they were!
On the road to Wodonga the heavens opened up.
I had only seen such torrential rain in the tropics and then only in relatively short bursts.
This was never ending.
Soon the highway was a river with some fairly deep water flowing across causing some concern. We were travelling at 40-60km/hr in order to see and to avoid acquaplaning. The decision was made to keep going as there really was nowhere safe to pull over and we didn't want to get stranded by what was obviously going to be flood conditions.
It was a stressful couple of hours (sweaty back stuff) until we reached Wodonga.
The co driver found solace in a quilt shop there.
Then, after a late lunch, it was onto the old gold mining town of Beechworth to spend the night.

The town's many 19th century historical buildings are well preserved and the town has re-invented itself into a popular tourist destination and growing wine producing centre.
There are a lot of good restaurants there but we settled for a wood fired pizza and a can of coke before hitting the sack early. It had been a tiring day.
Next morning we awoke to news that heavy rain had continued in the area we had travelled the day before and roads were closed, towns were being evacuated and major flooding was expected over a huge area.
We abandoned plans to tour the King Valley wine region and decided to head straight for Melbourne. Before leaving however, we visited the Beechworth Honey Experience. Here you will find everything you ever wanted to know about honey and its by-products. They had around 50 different types of honey to taste and had a really interesting video presentation on honey production.
We left with a bag full of goodies.

Down the highway a little is the small town of Glenrowan.
Its main claim to fame is that Australia's most famous bushranger (outlaw) Ned Kelly made his last stand here at the local hotel dressed in home made armour in June, 1880. He was eventually captured after the siege and shootout with police and was later convicted of murder and hung in November the same year.
Hero or villain?
Cop killer or folk hero and symbol of Irish Australian resistance against the Anglo-Australian ruling class?
The jury is still out on that one.

Then it was onto Melbourne and the Tyrian Apartments in the inner suburb of Fitzroy.
This was close to the yoga venue in the old convent in Abbotsford, had easy freeway access to the vineyard areas and had about 100 restaurants, cafes and bars within walking distance.
We had an early dinner at a nice Spanish restaurant with a bottle of Rioja Rosado and then back to the room to watch the Waratahs play the Rebels in Super 15 Rugby.
Priorities, you know!
There was a bit of a scare as the TV was not working but the co driver soon whipped reception into action and the problem was fixed.
We were both looking forward to our individual pursuits over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A Trip to Melbourne / Part 1

The co driver had arranged to participate in a two day yoga festival in Melbourne so we decided that instead of flying to the Victorian capital we would drive, taking a new route south for us across the Snowy Mountains and then head back home via the coast road.
While she was attending classes, I would be scouring the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula wine regions for good examples of Pinot Noir.
Rumour had it that the 2010 vintage for that variety in those regions was the best in years.

It was an early morning start on the road south through some pretty heavy rain.
This is a well known route for us up until Bega where we turned west up over a fog bound Brown Mountain and headed for Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains. We first crossed the rolling treeless hills of the Monaro High Plain. This is prime sheep country where some of the finest Merino wool in the world is produced. The weather improved on this leg of the journey to allow us to enjoy the vastness of this area.
Our route took us through the small township of Dalgety (once mooted as the site for Australia's capital city) where we crossed the once mighty Snowy River which sadly, due to up stream damming as part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, has been reduced to a weed filled 'drain' .
The Snowys are the highest point in Australia’s Great Dividing Range which runs down the entire east coast of the country.
Mount Kosciuszko in the Snowys is the highest peak on the Australian mainland at a height of 2228m (7310 ft).
It was named by the Polish explorer Count Paul Edmund Strzelecki in 1840, in honour of the Polish national hero, and hero of the American Revolutionary War, General Tadeusz Kosciusko.
There is a large statue of the explorer on the shores of Lake Jindabyne

A little known fact is that as measurement technology improved it was found the peak originally called Kosciuszko was in fact slightly lower than its neighbour, Mount Townsend.
In typical Australian fashion the names of the mountains were simply swapped by the New South Wales Lands Department, so that Mount Kosciuszko remained the name of the highest peak of Australia with Mount Townsend ranked as second.

Jindabyne and its lake were also pretty much fog bound and after lunch we headed further up the mountain range to spend the night in Thredbo which is one of the many ski resorts in the area. Due to the short ski season in Australia (mid June to mid September, if you are lucky), they are trying to promote the area as a summer resort emphasizing the great mountain walks and the boating and fishing on the lakes.
Unfortunately despite a lovely room at the Snow Goose Apartments which promised spectacular mountain views all we could see was.....fog.
The town was basically deserted. Restaurants open on a nightly rotational basis and we had a nice Brazilian meal with a great bottle of d'Arenberg Grenache.
Next morning with ever increasing rain we headed off on the Alpine Way which crosses the mountains and winds its way into Victoria. I had waited 65 years to see Mt Kosciuszko up close but all we saw was....fog (and a lot of kangaroos feeding by the road side).
So I have taken a picture of the mountain off the net to show it really exists. It's not the most impressive mountain in the world. More of a hill, really and it's a relatively easy walk to the summit via a graded path.

Almost to Khancoban we came across a hydro power station, the first evidence of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
The Scheme was one of the world's engineering wonders of the 2oth century.
It is a hydroelectricity and irrigation complex which consists of sixteen major dams, seven power stations, a pumping station and 225 km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts and was constructed between 1949 and 1974. The water of the Snowy Mountains region is captured at high elevations and diverted inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers through two tunnel systems driven through the mountains. The water falls 800m and travels through large hydro-electric power stations which generate peak-load power for south eastern Australia.

The Scheme also secures water flows to the Murray-Darling Basin providing around 2,100 gigalitres of water a year to the irrigated agriculture industry there which is worth about $A3 billion per year ie. 40% of the gross value of the nation's agricultural production.
After coffee in Khancoban were crossed the border into Victoria and headed for Wodonga along the Murray Valley Highway.
It was here that our troubles began.