Monday, April 30, 2012

An April Update

Autumn is usually a nice time of year, cool but not cold and plenty of sunshine.
But not this year, The 'big wet' has continued on from summer.
In fact, all of Australia is officially drought-free for the first time in more than a decade from today.
At least everything is growing well.
Good grass cover in the paddocks is still maintaining my 16 cattle. I will have to select 8 or so to go to market over the next month so I don't have the pressure of winter feeding. All the bulls except the smallest will definitely be on the truck as well as a couple of older cows. I know this is not very farmer like, but sometimes it's a difficult choice.
Pasture weeds, mainly native tussock, are being kept under control by a manual spray program. I need to attack the bracken too but with the powered sprayer. Will have to wait until things get dried on the creek flats before I can do that. Getting the machinery bogged is not a pleasant thought. The window of spray opportunity closes by the end of May as the plants 'shut down' for winter and don't absorb the chemical.
We have the best display of flowers ever in the garden. I know I have shown these off before but one of my father's hybrid hibiscus has been absolutely covered in luminous blooms this year.

We decided not to pick the Cabernet Sauvignon this year. By the middle of April the bunches had begun to shrivel and the Baume reading was not much past 11.0. So no 2012 vintage at all from this little vineyard.
That's ok as we have plenty of wine left over from last year.
I watched a rural program on TV the other day and saw that many commercial vineyards and especially those with table grapes had had a bad year in New South Wales, many with severely reduced or abandoned crops, so don't feel so bad.
We will do some remedial work on the trellises this winter by increasing the height to allow better shoot (more leaves) growth.
Other than that, not much excitement in the neighbourhood.
The Kings Highway that winds its way over the mountains between us and Canberra (the Australian Capital) was cut again due to a big landslide. This was once a regular occurrence until they put in slip prevention measures but all the rain we have had caused another big one.
The road was closed for a week which has affected local businesses considerably as Canberra people are a major tourist group and it was Australian Capital Territory school holidays.
The alternative routes added another 3 to 4 hours to the usual 2 hours to the coast.
It took almost a week to clear the blockage.
And luckily no one was caught in the slide despite it being a busy road.

We are getting ready for all the winter chores. Stirling is heading south from the Central Coast to help us out.
Jobs include collecting and stacking fallen wood for burn off as a bushfire prevention task, cutting up firewood from decent fallen wood, repairing the cattle yards, race and ramp, cleaning out the stables for the winter hay delivery.
And then there is the continual job of fence repair. Why do trees always fall over fences and not the other way? Part of the butter side down of falling bread puzzle (although Mythbusters did 'bust' that myth)
Decommissioning the vegetable garden is also on the agenda. Yes, we have finally given up! Gail 'up the back' is supplying us with great salad, herbs and vegetables so we defer to her greater horticultural skills.
Stirls, I and the co driver may also indulge in a little good food and wine consumption during his visit.
It won't be too long until the vine pruning has to be done but I usually wait until late in the season to do that as it delays shooting and encourages the grapes to ripen a little later.
Busy days ahead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Today commemorates the day back in 1915 during World War 1 when the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey with other allied forces in a vain effort to capture the Dardanelles in order to keep open the supply route to the eastern front.
The campaign lasted 8 months before the allies were forced to withdraw leaving 25,000 Australian casualties.
But ANZAC Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day when all Australians remember who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
Ceremonies are held in cities, towns and villages across the nation. There are the traditional dawn services and wreath layings at the local war memorials. These are followed by parades later in the morning and veterans' reunions in the Returned Soldiers Clubs and pubs for the rest of the day.
Many Australians make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli for this day. There is a huge combined Allied/Turkish ceremony there at dawn which is telecast live back to Australia and New Zealand.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
          Lest we forget

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Some Wine Talk

We drink a fair bit of wine, mostly with meals.
According to my doctor, who is 'on my case' about my cholesterol levels, maybe I drink too much. But that's another story.
The more regular of my readers will have noticed that I list our yearly tipples on the blog side bar with our one to five star rating.
Generally what we drink is rated three star which to us means an enjoyable fault free wine, showing varietal and regional characters which we would be pleased to buy again.
We occasionally have a two or four star with the former put on our 'not again' list and the latter on the 'yes, more please' list.
A five comes along very seldom.
A one star is usually a 'tipper' and goes down the sink after a mouthful or two. Thankfully there are not too many of those. I think there has been one minus 1 star which didn't warrant tasting. One sniff was enough for it to be disposed of.
It is a sad fact of life that four and particularly five star wines are more expensive than we normally budget for.
Our preferred price range is $12-$18 for whites and $15-$25 for reds. Occasionally we get access to some 'bargains' eg. three star $12 reds which is a bonus. Then again we have tasted some expensive (to us) wines that you wonder what all the fuss is about.
Lately we have been lucky enough to score a brace of fours and one five so I thought I might share some more details of those. They are all Australian wines so overseas readers might have some difficulty sourcing them if they were interested in a tasting.

Yering Station Yarra Valley Shiraz Viognier 2008

Shiraz is the most widely planted red grape variety in Australia (46% of total red).
It is sold as a straight varietal, a blend with other red grapes eg. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache or a combination of those and, even more uniquely Australian, as a sparkling red wine.
Recently there has been a trend to blend Shiraz with a small amount (5%) of the white wine grape, Viognier.
This comes from the Cote Rotie Appellation of the northern Rhone Valley where it is customary to add a small proportion of Viognier to enhance the scent of their Syrah (Shiraz) wine.
Yering Station is a Yarra Valley winery who produces such a blend.
The 2008 is a classic young intense Shiraz Viognier, fragrantly perfumed with loads of dark fruits, spice, pepper, blackberry and violets.
The palate is intense with lots of flavour and fruit showing off the typical Shiraz Viognier characters and just the right amount of French oak. The finish is very long.
I am not really a Shiraz fan but this blend could make me a convert. I have ordered more.
Great with a big hunk of bar-b-q'd medium rare red meat.

Pikes 'The Merle' Clare Valley Riesling 2011

Riesling is a very under rated wine in Australia. I think the reason is the very sweet wines that were marketed under this 'label' for decades.
But Riesling styles have changed and wines from the best cool climate growing areas eg. Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Tasmania are fine, delicate. intensely fragrant and flavoured wines.
Hints of citrus, honeysuckle, blossoms, green apple and mineral are common. With their high acidity and low alcohol, the wines retain a freshness which many other varieties lack. Oak is never used.
Others from slightly warmer areas eg.Barossa, Padthaway and Coonawarra are full flavoured and fruity.
High quality, well structured Rieslings from the Clare and Eden Valley can have considerable longevity and can develop into appealing honeyed and toasty styles.
Pikes is a Clare Valley winery. I have been buying their 'Traditonale' Riesling and some clean skin Riesling from them since our visit there in 2010.
The daughter bought me a bottle of their top of the range "The Merle" for Christmas.
Delicate citrus notes of lemon/lime/grapefruit with a hint of the regional slatiness evident on the nose. The palate was delicate, subtle and dry with vibrant lemon/lime flavours built around a slate/mineral acidity that provided length and texture to the wine.
I couldn't get on the phone quick enough to order some more (after consulting with my 'bank manager' of course!)
Goes with any seafood and especially shellfish.

Coldstream Hills Reserve Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2010

Pinot Noir is regarded as the prince of red grapes and is the red wine of Burgundy as well as a component of Champagne.
But who can afford a Burgundy these days, even the Bourgogne or Village?
We have to go looking for other sources so our search concentrates on Australia and New Zealand.
Even then, it is very difficult to get a really good one at our budget level.
Good Pinot Noir depends on the clone chosen (there are many), climate (it likes cool), the terroir (soil type, slope, drainage, aspect) as well as skilful viticulture (yield control, bunch exposure) and wine making (harvest techniques, whole bunch inclusion, fermentation temperature, oak treatment).
"Getting it all right" costs money and that is passed onto the consumer.
Occasionally we break away from the one dimensional 'cheapies' and Coldstream Hills from the Yarra Valley is one that impressed.
The nose had ripe plum and cherry characters enhanced by gamey notes (missing in the 'cheapies') and a hint of aniseed.
Barrel fermentation has provided additional complexity to the wine.
The 2010 is medium bodied in style with the ripe fruit characters of plum, cherry and gamey notes, predicted by the nose, coming through on the palate and staying with great length together with the fine grained tannins.
The Coldstream Hills tasting notes say "Deep, rich and brooding, the wine demonstrates the power and finesse of Pinot Noir"
I cannot disagree.
Goes with roast lamb or baked salmon or by itself with some good cheese.

T'Gallant 'Grace' Pinot Grigio 2011

Pinot Grigio (Italy) or Pinot Gris (France) is said to be a white mutation of Pinot Noir.
In Australia, both names are used to differentiate between two wine styles produced from the same grape.
Grigio is used for the more austere, lighter, simpler Italian style, Gris for the more complex, full bodied and rich French style.
T'Gallant on the Mornington Peninsula was the the first winery in Australia to seriously pursue the potential of this grape and makes both styles.
I like the dry crispness of 'Grace' (maybe memories of long summer evenings in piazzas in Umbria).
The nose has a freshly cut apple aroma with a bit of lavender and nuts thrown in.
The palate continues with the apple and pears and even a slightly herbal undertone. The crisp acidity creates texture and length.
Great with pork or chicken dishes.

Margan Hunter Valley Semillon 2011

Some may think I have neglected New South Wales in this list but, no.
I grew up on Hunter Valley wines. Semillon is the signature white wine of the region.
It basically comes in three styles; young, aging and aged.
I am not a fan of the latter two but the aged is famous world wide. This variety can ' live' up to 20 plus years old increasing in complexity with a biscuity, malty, honey and toasty richness as it matures.
When young, Hunter Valley Semillon is zesty and bright with positive lemon / lime aromas and flavours, hints of honey and mineral, and a delicate racy acidity onto the finish.

It is seldom, if ever, wooded and is normally low in alcohol between 10.5% & 11.5% although some producers have increased that level with some success.
Margan make my style of Semillon. The 2011 is outstanding with a 12.5% alcohol giving the wine just that extra bit of body without overpowering the fruit.
This is one wine easily drunk by itself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter 2012

The daughter arrived for an Easter long weekend visit early on Thursday morning after a 5:30am start from Sydney so she could beat the horrendous traffic that is a scourge at this time of year on most roads out of the city.
We went into town for lunch at her favourite vegetarian restaurant and pigged out on the usual stuff, the harvest burger always being her choice.
That night we had a combined co driver /daughter birthday dinner.
The daughter was a little intimidated at first by her present but soon warmed to it. Who wouldn't want two private surfing lessons from a previous women's world champion?
Fillet steak, potato casserole, and grilled tomatoes were on the menu. This was followed by the co driver's decadent home made chocolate cake. I got out some 'good' wine from the secret stash and we drank Pikes 'The Merle' 2011 Riesling and Coldstream Hills Reserve 2010 Pinot Noir.
Good Friday we headed down the beach. It was a perfect Autumn day, sunny and warm. The downside was the surf was huge and quite dangerous and the Easter holiday crowd were all over.
Then it was home to do some serious mowing. All the rain and warm weather had created a jungle around the house.
Needless to say with three Rugby matches plus a Friday night replay to watch, we had the evening all sewn up.
Saturday involved picking up hundreds of pine cones from under our Radiata pine tree. The black cockatoos descend on the tree this time of year to eat the unripe cones and don't have great table manners. They drop them willy nilly and they are hard on the feet if left lying around.
Then we stacked away our first firewood delivery of the season and headed down the beach for a walk.
Not a great day weather wise but it was nice to walk to one of our favourite headlands and sit and watch the surf roll in.

After handing out the chocolate on Easter Sunday, we had a quiet morning followed by the usual intense game of Scrabble.
Then it was back down to another beach for a long walk and a sit on the rocks. Four huge sea eagles hovered over us in the breeze searching for food. It was low tide so we did a bit of rock pool investigating. Came across one with not only the usual selection of crabs hiding in the crevices and shells gripping on tightly but also abalone, cunji and sea anemones
Roast lamb with roast veg (potato, carrot, pumpkin and beetroot) was on the menu for dinner.
Next morning dawned another perfect day.
High blue cloudless sky, sunshine, no wind and a temperature around 22 degrees.
After a pancake breakfast we headed down the beach.
The crowd had thinned out as many were already heading back to the city to avoid the inevitable highway traffic jams (reported as 10-15km long by the afternoon!).
The surf had dropped to a reasonable level and we had fun catching a few waves and just floating about during the lull in swells. The ocean was crystal clear and the temperature was relatively warm for this time of year.
Then it was home for lunch, another tense game of Scrabble, a sit in the sun and then dinner.
Up early the next morning, the daughter hit the road after brekky.
Our quiet life recommenced.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Some Recent Reading

I first came across Victoria Bynum after reading State of Jones by Jenkins and Stauffer, a tale of armed unionist resistance in the Confederacy during the Civil War. During further research on that I found that Bynum, a history professor in Texas, had discovered that she had ancestors who had taken part in that resistance movement and had written The Free State of Jones. This was basically the same story as the former but the authors were in conflict as to the veracity of each others' facts.
I read the latter as well as her blog which was quite detailed in debunking the co written history.
I had, in the end, no doubt hers was the more authentic.

This book continues the story of opposition to the secession and the war from within. She tells of active unionism during the Civil War in the Quaker Belt of North Carolina, Piney Woods, Mississippi and Big Thicket, Texas. Many farming communities in the South where slavery was not of economic importance saw no reason to partake in a 'rich man's war, poor man's fight' or be convinced that secession was purely a noble effort to preserve state sovereignty.
And armed resistance was their solution.
Following the defeat of the South the book outlines how, during Reconstruction, the plantation class once again took control of the southern states, perpetuated the myth of the 'Lost Cause' and replaced slavery with segregation which continued into the twentieth century.
This is a more academic book than The Free State of Jones but is a very interesting social and economic history.

In May 1943, an Army Air Force bomber on a search and rescue mission crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Among the three survivors was Louis Zamperini, champion long distance runner and Olympic athlete.
After over forty days drifting on a raft, fighting off thirst, hunger and sharks the two remaining are finally captured by the Japanese and imprisoned on a tropical island.
After being tortured and deprived of the most basic needs, they are sent to prisoner of war camps in Japan.
Here the maltreatment and humiliation continues up until the bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But it doesn't stop there. It is also a story of post traumatic stress and revenge consuming a man and spiraling his life downwards until a meeting with a famous evangelist stops the descent.
This is a story of great strength, will power, bravery and the will to live.
It is a difficult read in many places with vivid descriptions of man's inhumanity to man.
The author has done considerable research into the plight of the Pacific Prisoners of War from all allied countries both during and after their internment and it is chilling stuff.
Well worth reading.

A biography of an American folk legend where the author attempts to separate the facts from the fiction of this man's life.
So what did Daniel Boone turn out to be?
Woodsman, explorer, hunter, failed businessman, surveyor, Indian fighter, Indian pacifist, reluctant politician, environmental vandal, family man.
A fascinating story of early American exploration of the west and the life of the men and women who suffered all sorts of hardships and dangers opening up an unknown country for those beginning to feel hemmed in by the Appalachian Mountains.
It is also an interesting story of how myths and legends are created and perpetuated.
A good, if rather long, read.

Another war time air crash saga but a lot different from the one above.
In 1945 a group of American military personnel based in Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, were on what amounted to a joy flight in a C47. They were on their way to see a recently discovered 'lost valley' in rugged mountains where primitive natives threw spears and shot arrows at planes passing overhead.
The plane crashed into a mountainside, killing 21 people aboard. There were three survivors including one WAC.
The story surrounds the survival of these three among a tribe of stone aged cannibals, a squad of paratroopers sent into protect them, their interaction with the local people and an amazing rescue plan to get them all out.
This is a 'can't put it down' book.
I read it in two days and was sad it had to end!