Monday, December 30, 2013

Vintage 2014 Update

Weather has continued to be favourable for a good vintage.
Plenty of sunshine and warm weather indispersed with the occasional wet day in December but a bit of a soil moisture top up doesn't go astray.
No sign of fungus to date.
The Tempranillo has started to change colour ie. veraison.

No sign of the ripening phase yet in the Pinot Noir.
The berries on the Semillon are still green and hard and of course the Cabernet has still a long way to go.We shall be putting on a protective spray of copper and sulphur very early in the new year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

To All My Readers


Saturday, December 07, 2013

Vintage 2014 So Far

It's been a mix of weather so far this season. We have had cold and wet days as well as hot and humid.
It was a bit of a strange spring.
We have also had plenty of rain. On Thursday last, big thunderstorms rolled through with short torrential downpours and full on lightning and thunder shows. At one stage big hailstones (golf ball size) started to fall ( a grape grower's nightmare) but they only lasted for about 10 seconds before changing to rice size and then rain.
A relief!
No noticeable damage.
We have managed to keep the spray program on schedule so no evidence of any fungal diseases.
We have noticed the odd grapevine moth caterpillar chomping away but pick them off and squash them rather than apply an insecticide, even Dipel. We have such a large population of  'good guy' insect predators in the vineyard after years on non spraying it would be a pity to upset that balance.
Shoot growth has been good and crop yield appears satisfactory.
Cabernet Sauvignon

Pinot Noir



Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's a Jungle Out There

Leaving a vineyard to its own devices for a few months from the beginning of the growing season has its problems.
On our return from overseas we found a jungle growing.
Unseasonably warm weather had pushed the vines and the inter-rows into a substantial growth spurt.
Thank goodness there was little rain so it was not as bad as it could have been.

We have been working feverishly to restore some order with mowing, green pruning, weed spraying and shoot positioning.
The next job was to be getting a protective spray against downy and powdery mildews onto the vines before the rain came.
But too late. We had two days of rain with the some torrential downpours overnight, 160mm (6.5inches) in a few hours.
Our creek came up and the lower parts of the property were flooded.
You just can't win.
At least the bush fires are now out.

Despite all that, we have had the hottest spring on record so far and it looks like 2013 will be the hottest year since records began in Australia.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

RTW 2013 / Midwest USA Part 2

An excursion a little further afield from our SD base saw us on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border at Hudson. The co driver had organized a family quilt retreat out in the middle of Minnesota cornfields near Mankato in a purpose built barn for a few days.

I picked her up there after navigating the maze of country back roads so we could head further east.
It was a nice drive around Minneapolis and St. Paul then across the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers to our destination  to catch up with Cindy.

While in that area we revisited Stillwater, a busy tourist town, taking time for a decadent ice cream sundae at the retro Leos Malt Shop (and Grill).
On the return journey we of course stopped at Cabela's in Ottowana for clothes shopping. Unfortunately I was a little late for the summer sales but managed to get enough nice shirts and jeans to last until next visit.

A little time later we headed south into Iowa and Des Moines along the I29/I80 route for a major quilt show. We revisited Walnut after making a quilt shop detour to Harlan. Walnut is a small town best known for its antique shops. Our main aim however was a return lunch at Aunt Bea's Kitchen. It was all just as quirky as last time and there are still tractors parked in the street.

Des Moines is a nice city filled with friendly people. Traffic moved at a sedate pace and it was easy to get around. We stayed at a good hotel near the city centre which had ready access to many restaurants. Two great ones we found were Americana (so good for lunch we made a return visit for dinner) where it's modern American with influences from the Middle East, South America and Asia. And who ever thought ice cream, a brownie and bacon would go together? but it does!
And for authentic Greek, Olympic Flame.
The weather had turned a bit nasty and we were on tornado watch the first night. In fact places we had driven through that morning were damaged by storms during the evening.
While the ladies took off for the quilt show we made a dash through torrential rain to the Bass Pro shop.
This is a sports store on steroids. Have never seen such an array of gear under one roof. It has 13.5K m2 floor space with 3500 wildlife mounts and a 120K litre aquarium stocked with 400 native fish. As they say in their blurb, part museum, art gallery, antique store, aquarium, and education, conservation entertainment centre.
A tourist destination for the sports lover in itself.
As for the Uncle Buck's Fish Bowl and Grill bowling alley....

Then, in much improving weather, we headed for the state capitol building. This was very impressive. After going through very strict security, we basically had the run of the building and were able to wander through both the upper and lower houses, the supreme court and the wonderful library.

The view of the dome from inside was also wonderful. Little doubt why this is touted as the major attraction in the city.
Then it was downtown to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. While the 'Nomade' (the alphabet man to me) is probably the most recognizable object here, I found that the horses were the most impressive. Seemingly cobbled together drift wood, they are actually constructed from bronze castings of driftwood welded together. This area is well worth a visit.
Finally we made it to the State Historical Museum. Here they had a wonderful Civil War exhibit concentrating on the part Iowa and Iowans played in the conflict. One of the best Civil War exhibits I have seen including that in the Smithsonian in DC. Other exhibits include the history and development of Iowa and the people who contributed to that. Another was called 'A Delicate Balance' which shows how people have used Iowa’s natural resources from prehistoric times to the present and how the nature of the state changed forever with the arrival of the white settlers.
This is a museum worth spending at least half a day in.
Then, the following day, it was a long trip 'home' via the I35/I90 route stopping in Ames for a quilt store, a walk around town and a visit to the local markets.
The Sculpture Walk was again in Sioux Fall's main street. I do this every year we are there and am never disappointed. Some of the work is just amazing. Kate Christopher had produced another in a style that intrigued me back in 2011. "Look and You Will Find It" may be small but it was my favorite. But I don't have the spare $7500 to buy it.
We even made a detour half way around into a new patisserie, CH, which had a few yummy offerings.
Death by Chocolate topped with gold leaf, anyone?
We also made some quick side trips into some eclectic shops which are a feature of Phillips Avenue.
I found a book on Egon Schiele and one containing letters written between two Norwegians, the Stavig brothers, from 1818 to 1937, one an immigrant to the prairie of Dakota Territory, the other staying at home. They never saw another again. A review in a later post.

Our last day in the USA and wet, cold, blustery weather accompanied us to the airport. Winter was obviously just around the corner.
We had somehow accumulated two additional bags for the hold plus a sewing machine as carry on in the last month but managed to get a reasonable rate for the excess luggage.
The flights to Sydney were via Denver and LAX.

We had fairly long layovers at each stop but passed the time OK.
Again the 14 hours across the Pacific were in a 100% full plane.
United had let their quarantine certificate lapse on our aircraft so we had to sit at the gate in Sydney while they manually sprayed the plane, inside and out.
Welcome to Australia! Cough! Cough!
But it was a quick procedure through immigration (all automated now) and after collecting our bags (which all turned up) through customs.
Our ride was soon at the airport to pick us up, take us to where we had left our car for the duration, and after a couple of nights there to get over jet lag, we headed the four hours home.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

RTW 2013 / Midwest USA Part 1

We had gratefully accepted accommodation from family (and friends) around the Sioux Falls area. All of it was out in the countryside surrounded by corn and bean fields. It's a nice environment to be in for us non city people.

When we arrived everything was green but as time went on the crops started to dry out and turn brown, ready for harvest. At the end of our visit the combines were working in the fields 24/7 as were the trucks on the highway taking the grain to the elevators. The landscape began to change.

The sunrise over the prairie was almost always spectacular.

As were the sunsets, this one over one of the many lakes in the area.

Our first job on arrival was to pick up our rental car and Enterprise had a nice little blue Chevy Cruz waiting for us. We probably drove a few thousand miles in the month we were there and this car did not miss a beat.
We visited with everyone as much as we could and enjoyed a lot of great hospitality.
We also did plenty of clothes and fabric shopping (the $A is strong and the $US prices cheap especially with Mom's coupons). I found myself a nice pair of cowboy boots which could set a new trend at home.
Or maybe not.

We also visited our usual as well as some new eating haunts.
Addtional places now on our list are Knotty Pine in Elkton (the 10oz prime rib is great) and the Carnaval Brazilian Grill in Sioux Falls
Foleys held its place on top of our 'formal' restaurant list while the Perkins and Culvers chains didn't let us down either. Lots of good Mexican as well. And the Rueben at the Phillips Avenue Diner still can't be beaten.
Only one failed to make the cut. Cooks Kitchen in Brookings was a major disappointment.
Wine shopping was a bit of an eye opener. The range of Australian wine on the shelves had shrunken considerably since last visit, a result of the strong $A I guess, and the remaining selection, the lower end of the market, was disappointing. However quality wine from France, Spain and Italy was at bargain prices (for us) and there was always plenty of 'local' wine. Buying the unknown is always a gamble but can be fun. I don't think we had too many undrinkables.

One minor excursion found us in Watertown, a few hours north of Sioux Falls. The town is famous for the Redlin Art Centre.
Most everyone must be aware of Terry Redlin's work. His landscapes filled with glowing light (and wildlife) have world wide appeal.
The beautiful building is a fitting monument not only to him as an artist but to his philanthropy that his art enables.

It is however  a little disconcerting to see so much of his work en masse. It all becomes a little overwhelming, in my mind, to its detriment. Also interesting is to see his work start to deteriorate as he ages with the empashasis on his trademark "light" at the expense of attention to detail. He does not paint the South Dakota and environs that I know so it was a quick walk through the gift shop.
Just to the west of Brookings is De Smet which is Little House on the Prairie Country. It is a very small town which relies greatly on the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

I think you would have to be 'into' her books (or the TV show) to make the journey here but it was a pleasant enough diversion and the coffee shop had great donuts (but terrible coffee). Just a few miles outside town is the site of Manchester, birth place of artist Harvey Dunn. It was completely destroyed by an F4 tornado in 2003. Only thing left is the town pump.
I also took time to visit the South Dakota Art Museum on the South Dakota State University campus at Brookings. It has a nice collection of local art and sculpture from the past as well as from current students. The Harvey Dunn and Oscar Howe collections are particularly notable.
We did a 'down memory lane tour' with the co driver visiting her old home town and surrounds (including cemeteries of course) ending up in Garretson for an ice cream at a place that had been closed for seven years. Time does get away
We remedied that situation though in Dell Rapids, close by. Three scoop waffle cone for $0.99 at Subway/TCBY.
Mark's family own a property a little to the east in Minnesota and he helps out with harvest.

It was my chance to ride a combine!
Well mechanical troubles saw that plan thwarted but I did see a lot of the countryside as well as some big machinery on our quest for spare parts in various small towns in the area.
Gotta love big broad acre machines!
  I also had some spare time to drop into the Royal River Casino in Flandreu on a few occasions.
I like this little place. Very relaxed with good simple food and slots that don't drain your wallet too quickly, if at all.
Some days I seemed to be the youngest there as the venue caters to coffin dodger bus tours.
We also did some extended traveling into other neighboring states and that is coming up in Part 2.

Friday, November 08, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria to USA

It was an early morning rise on our last day in Vienna.
The CAT airport train left from the station just across the road from our hotel. They have airline check in and a dedicated waiting room and platform so it was all very unrushed and civilized.
A full English breakfast at the airport, a bus ride from the terminal gate to our smallish plane to Zurich.
Another bus ride from the plane to the terminal, then a bit of a rush changing terminals, getting through immigration and security as we had arrived late.
Then it was a 12 hour flight to Los Angeles with Swiss. We flew north of Iceland, across Greenland and down over Hudson Bay through Canada into the USA.

We arrived at LAX on time but immigration and customs at Tom Bradley International was a zoo. It took me nearly 2 hours to complete formalities. Being a  USA citizen, the co driver got through relatively quickly, collected our luggage and waited patiently.
After another longish wait at customs, we high tailed it down to the Delta terminal to check in for our flight to Las Vegas.
Luckily we had organized enough time between flights to not make the transfer too stressful and even had more than enough time for....a hamburger, fries and a coke! Super size me, please!
The DL plane left the gate on time taxied all the way out to the runway, then turned around and returned to the gate. The captain good humoredly advised us that the cabin crew had "run out of hours". Any sane person may have thought this situation would have been addressed a little earlier.

Las Vegas airport was jumping even at midnight (I know....the town never sleeps) and we were soon in our very comfortable room high up in the Trump International overlooking the strip.
Exhausted from nearly 24 hours travel we fell into bed.
Next morning (or actually later on that morning) I indulged in my fave American breakfast: pancakes, fried eggs (over easy), bacon, sausage and hash browns all smothered in genuine maple syrup.
Sorry, Dr. M.
The co driver was catching up with an old friend during the day so I hit the strip and worked my way up to Flamingo Road from casino to casino, from themed shopping centre to themed shopping centre.
And I didn't drop too many $ on the way either!
Next day the co driver and I did the same stopping off at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville for a genuinely good lunch accompanied by genuinely good cocktails. The place was rocking and great fun.
By the afternoon however we had had enough. Las Vegas is brassier, noisier and more hedonistic than ever.
Time to move on but still time for a good pizza and a nice bottle of Californian Pinot Noir at Grimaldi's for dinner.
At the airport (where even the trash cans say 'thank you') next morning at 6am we checked into our flights to Sioux Falls, SD. 
The route took us via Denver where heavy rain delayed our on going flight for a while.
Time for out first cup of Caribou coffee in two years. YAY!
But we eventually arrived (minus luggage which arrived a few hours later) into the welcoming arms of family.

They had organized a get together over supper and it was fun catching up with everyone again.
Let the mid west USA adventure begin!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Duernstein Part 2

From the forecast it looked like this would be our first day of rain for the whole trip so far.
But shortly after breakfast it stopped to a drizzle and we decided to head back to Melk for a closer look at the abbey, this time, by bus.
So we followed the same basic route as the boat up river. Land transport was a lot quicker and we got to see a little of the wine villages like Weissenkirchen, Spitz and Emmersdorf as we stopped to pick up and drop off passengers.

This time the abbey was all but deserted.
It was founded in 1089 when Leopold II gave one of his castles to the Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey. A monastic school was founded in the 12th century, and the monastic library soon became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection.
Today's impressive Baroque abbey was built between 1702 and 1736;
Of note is the abbey church and the impressive library (no pics allowed but plenty on the web) with countless medieval manuscripts.
We took the self guided tour through the museum, the marble hall, the library and the church.
What can you say about all this but amazing, some might even think a little over the top.
The tour can be followed in more detail on the Melk Abbey web site.
Then we explored the abbey park and the baroque garden pavilion outside the main building.
Down into the old town for lunch and a yarn shop visit which had quite an attention getting relic outside.

It had started out a cold, cloudy and windy day but the rain had held off and the sun was trying to peep through. It appeared the weather gods were still with us.
We had an equally enjoyable trip back to Duernstein by bus in the late afternoon. Monday night found most eating places closed in town so we headed back to Heuriger Stockingerhof for another good meal of smoked trout, carpaccio, wine and kaiserschmarrn as a dessert. The latter is a scratched pancake traditionally served with a plum compote. Very yummy.

Next morning we went 'next door' to visit the Duernstein Abbey.
In 1371 a chapel to honour St. Mary was built on this site. The monastery was established by Augustinian monks from Bohemia in 1410 and was built in the Gothic style.
Three hundred years on the building was in such poor condition is was 'modernized' in the baroque style.
It has been fully restored again in the late 20th century.
A mini Melk in a lot of ways but with a little more charm.
The view back over the Danube valley from under the iconic blue and white spire is lovely.
And of course being in wine country, the donation box in the church was an old barrel.

It was another stunning day, so we walked through the vineyards to the neighbouring villages of Oberloiben and Unterloiben.
On the way we came across a memorial. It meant little to us but, on checking the internet back at the hotel, we found it commemorated the Battle of Duernstein in November, 1805 when the Austrians and Russians took on the French during the Third Coalition phase of the Napoleonic Wars. This battle, while quite bloody but inconclusive, destroyed the surrounding towns and vineyards and was a prelude to the final French victory over the Russo-Austrian army at the Battle at Austerlitz a few weeks later. I should really have paid attention during my European history classes while at school. But really, with the heavy British influence on our culture at that time, we probably only heard about the victories of the Brits against Napoleon at Trafalgar and Waterloo anyway.

We had a quiet beer at our turning point and then walked back along the river to Duernstein.
Lunch was at the Altes Presshaus. Excellent wine to go with the pork cutlet, field mushrooms and wild rice.
At the bakers across the road, we bought Morillentopfen and Pflaumenkuchen (with coffee to go) for dessert and headed for our hotel garden for an afternoon of relaxation.

One could really get used to life in Duernstein.
After a farewell bottle of wine by the river, we opted for another dinner in the hotel garden which, although interrupted by rain and a rush to tables hastily prepared inside, was as enjoyable as the first one.
Our last whole day in Austria was mostly a travel day. We took a taxi late morning to Krems then a regional train to Vienna-Spittelau followed by the U-bahn to Wien Mitte station with our hotel just across the road.
Lunch was a hamburger, chips and beer. We were a bit Austrian fooded out.
Back to hotel for a long siesta and a repack.
Exhaustion seemed to have taken over. We had now been on the go for over 2 weeks so little wonder.
So it was a supermarket (Interspar) dinner in the room that night and mental preparation for the long multi leg journey to the USA the next day.
Destination: Las Vegas via Zurich and LA.
Tschüss Österreich und vielen Dank für eine wunderbare Erfahrung.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Wines of the Wachau

There are 19 wine growing regions in Austria with total plantings of approximately 45,800 ha.
The federal state of Niederösterreich (lower Austria), a distinct wine region, accounts for around 60% of this area.

There are eight specific wine growing regions within Niederösterreich.
One of them, The Wachau (The Danube Valley), accounts for 1250ha.
The main varieties grown there are Gruener Veltliner and Riesling.
The former is a natural offspring of Traminer and St. Georgen. The second parent variety was found in St. Georgen in Austria's Burgenland. This variety was named after its discovery location because, following genetic research, it could not be attributed to any known variety.
The latter is a natural crossing of Weißem Heunisch, Vitis sylvestris and Traminer. The variety was probably taken from wild vines on the Oberrhein (the Upper Rhine).
Other white varieties grown in the Wachau include Chardonnay (Feinburgunder), Neuburger, Gelber Muskateller, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Red wine varieties include Blauer Zweigelt, St. Laurent and Pinot Noir.

Dry white wines are divided into three categories in the Wachau, based on their natural alcohol content by volume.
Aromatic, light-bodied wines up to 11.5% are called "Steinfeder" (named after the tall, feather-like grass Stipa pennata thst grows in the vineyards).
The most common category is the "Federspiel" with 11.5% to 12.5% alcohol by volume (named after the historic regional sport of falconry).
The late harvest, rich and powerful dry wines carry the term "Smaragd" (named for the green lizard that frequents the vineyards). Alcohol content must be more than 12.5% and is usually between 13 and 14%.
Within those categories the wines produced vary according to the 'terroir' in which the source grapes were grown. 'Terroir' is that mysterious (and largely untranslateable) French word that basically covers the environment in which grapes are cultivated and include meso and micro climates, soil types and topography.

The narrow Wachau Valley is situated between the high plateaus of the Forest District (700-1000m above sea level) and the Dunkelsteiner Forest (500-700m above sea level). The Danube River Gorge is protected here from the north and the west resulting in a microclimate that is found only much further south. This unique climate and landscape combined with weathered primary rock soils is the reason why vine cultivation was established here as the major form of agriculture.
Two major factors greatly influence the unique Wachau climate. Cool Atlantic air flows into the Wachau Valley giving the climate a continental character ie. cold winters and hot, dry summers. Heat 'pooling' is prevented by the temperature being regulated by the water flow of the Danube River.
Warm air masses reach the Danube Valley from the Pannonian Steppe in the east which moderates the climate in the colder half of the year. In favorable years grapes can be left to ripen on the vine until November, providing the precondition for the "Smaragd" wines.

More of a local influence is the cool air from the north which falls down the vineyard slopes and  produces the large temperature swings between day and nights ie. diurnal influence.
All this allows sugars and phenolic compounds to build up during the day but acids and aromas being preserved by the cooler nights.
Despite covering a fairly small area, the soils of the Wachau are quite diversified. The Danube River cut its way through hard, crystalline primary rock to form the unique Wachau landscape. The Bohemian Massif, the oldest geological rock formation in Austria, is the remaining foundation of a prehistoric mountain range. Migmatitic granite gneiss and paragneiss were once intrusive igneous rock and sediments that altered under the earth’s crust due to pressure and heat to form the present subsoil of the Wachau. Gneiss is rich in quartz and also contains minerals like feldspar and mica.
The geography of the region is characterized by steep, rocky river banks that have had vineyards terraced into the hillside. On the hills, the soils are rich in iron and contain a mixture of gneiss, granite and slate. Flatter plains areas also dot the region and the soil here is more alluvial with loess, sand and gravel.
So what wines did we taste and what did we like?

When first arriving in Austria we concentrated on Gruener Veltliner but as time went on it was the Riesling that won  us over.
According to the pundits, a simple Gruener Veltliner wine can have very pleasant citrus and grapefruit aromas, with a hint of the variety's most distinguishing characteristic, the spicy fragrance of freshly ground white pepper. Better wines, however, from top sites and with lower yields, can be quite complex, full of exotic tropical fruits, white pepper and lentils. They can also show 'vegetable' aromas (green beans or asparagus), to some an engaging smell that is seldom "vegetative", especially when grown in mineral soil.
We found you could easily determine the difference in quality between wines of the same category eg. Federspeil, depending on whether they were grown on the slopes and terraces or the flat country with the minerally nature of the former much more enjoyable than the vegetative (to us, capsicum) finish of the latter.  This reminded us a little of New Zealand Savignon Blancs. However we never came to grips with the higher alcohol "Smaragd" which I guess take time to develop and when at the right stage are very expensive.
Certainly the younger examples we tasted (also expensive) showed a combination of high acidity and high alcohol that dominated the fruit.

Aficionados of Australian Riesling know the influence climate has on the quality of that variety and concentrate on product from South Australia's cool Clare and Eden Valleys as well as Victoria's high country regions and, of course, Tasmania.
Australian Rieslings tend to be quite citrusy often showing lemon/lime fruit flavours with floral overtones. They are also normally very dry.
The Wachau Rieslings we tasted had an extremely fragrant nose and were more stone fruit flavored with a fine acid balance and a long minerally finish. They took Riesling to a whole new level for us.
Again we preferred the lower alcohol Federspiel category.
We have been able to source Domaene Wachau wines in Australia so our affair with Austrian wine is not over. Wachau © AWMB

Saturday, November 02, 2013

RTW 2013 / Austria / Duernstein Part 1

This morning saw another fast OeBB Railjet ride from Salzburg to St.Poelten, then a regional train to Krems and a taxi ride to Duernstein.
We were in the Wachau.

The Wachau is a valley formed by the Danube river and lies midway between the towns of Melk and Krems. It is 40 km in length and was already settled in prehistoric times. The elegance of its ancient monasteries, castles and ruins combined with the distinct urban architecture of its towns and villages and the cultivation of grape vines as an important agricultural crop are the dominant features of this area.

Our accommodation was the Gasthof Saenger Blondel in the centre of the town right under the blue and white  baroque steeple of the monastery church. The hotel's name translated as "Minstrel Blondel" comes from the fact that Richard the Lionheart was held hostage in the castle above Duernstein in 1192 when returning from the Crusades. The minstrel had wandered Europe looking for his friend, the king, and eventually found him here, as legend would have it, by singing a song familiar to both of them. A hefty ransom was paid and Richard released.

We spent the afternoon wandering around the town with the myriad of other tourists who arrive by car and bus or by river boat. The village has a population of around one thousand but during the day there seems to be over double that.
At around 5pm, however, the place empties out and returns to some semblance of quiet.
We had booked dinner at the hotel which turned out to be an excellent choice. Tables had been set up in the lovely garden, a zither player supplied music and the food and wine were just great.
Herr Schendl and his wife and dedicated staff do a great job at this establishment.
The next morning started with some drama.

We were waiting for our river cruise boat when suddenly a hot air balloon made an appearance and landed in the very swift flowing Danube. There seemed to be some action in the basket with a person going overboard. Within minutes the police had arrived by land followed soon after by water police, rescue boats, fire brigade and a helicopter. By this time the balloon had taken off again and landed over some trees on the opposite bank.
We read later in the local paper that the early morning tourist flight had gone wrong with a burner malfunction. The three passengers and pilot were not injured.

Our boat, MS Prinz Eugen arrived and we headed upstream to Melk. The boat is around 64m long and has a capacity of 600 passengers. Today there were a lot less making it a very comfortable ride. And time for a few glasses of wine too. A very pleasant journey upstream with the villages, castles and vineyards passing by.
From the Melk wharf we walked through the old part of town and climbed up to the Benedictine Abbey. Lots of people around being a weekend. We decided to have an early lunch first at the abbey restaurant to beat the crowds. It turned into a bit of a long affair with some good food, good wine and plenty of warm sunshine. Beautifully cooked fish followed by apricot dumplings. The Wachau is famous for apricots and they seem to be able to make something to eat, drink or apply to the body from all parts of them. Even the stone kernels are sold roasted. The dumplings are a specialty. Sorry, not for us though. A little stodgy.
We realized at the end that we didn't really have time to visit the abbey itself before our boat left for the journey back to Duernstein.
O well.....we had plenty of days left to come back.
It was an equally pleasant and obviously quicker journey downstream with the boat almost deserted. Most of the upriver passengers had been picked up by bus in Melk and were now on the next leg of their Europe in 14 Days tour.
We had a very simple dinner at a local cafe and hit the sack early only to be woken by fireworks sometime during the night. A wedding apparently and a common weekend occurrence according to Herr Schendl (with a roll of his eyes)
Obviously Austrians can't enjoy a Sunday sleep in either. Church bells at 6am????
We did say the Abbey's church steeple was right next door to our hotel.

Later that morning, the small town square had been cordoned off and the post church crowd had gathered to listen to a local band play Strauss and drink (free) wine. Many of the locals were in traditional dress (dirndl for the women, lederhosen for men) which seemed the norm for the rural areas we visited. Nice to see that continuing.

We walked a short way out of town to Domaene Wachau, the largest wine producer in the area. While many small producers grow their own grapes and sell their wine through their own heurige, this winery has access to grapes from all over the Wachau and it was a chance to taste the influence of the various 'terroirs' on the varieties grown there, mainly Gruener Veltliner and Riesling.
Domaene Wachau had a very nice set up and a lovely lady, Brigette, took us under her wing for a tasting although we initially explained we could not buy much as we were travelling. She said we had come "such a long way" it would be no problem to give us a rundown on the wines we were interested in.

We spent a very informative and pleasant hour or so there and eventually bought three bottles 'for the road'. Two we drank on the river bank on the following late afternoons and the other we took to the USA to share.
More on the Wachau wine scene in a later post.
We found a very nice heuriger, Stockingerhof for lunch. Wild boar sausage and kraut plus apricot crepes and some of their own excellent wine.
The 'thing to do' in Duernstein, as a tourist, is to hike up to the ruins of the castle. It is apparently quite a climb up a rough track and although the ruins are not that exciting, the view over the Danube valley is said to be worth the effort. We had seen many tourists returning from this trek. Some did not look in very good 'condition'. That and the unseasonably warm weather convinced us to stay within the confines of the town.  

We explored more of the village, coming across an old church and its very small but immaculately kept  graveyard. However the cemetery is so small that the grave sites are rented. When a family dies out, the bones of the occupant are removed to an ossuary and a new 'tenant' takes over the site.
With that example of how brief life's (and indeed, afterlife's) tenure can be, we took a bottle of cold Riesling and our plastic cups and 'retired' to a seat on the river bank during the late afternoon, watched the tourists returning to their luxury cruise boats moored down river and to the car/bus parks, the river barges making their way up or down river, the last small ferries making the crossing to the other side and the odd jogger or walker enjoying the last of the day's sunshine.