Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry 2014 Christmas

I wish all my readers the compliments of this festive season.
For those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you and yours have a peaceful and happy one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vintage 2015 / Fighting the Fungus

Following up our discovery of fungus in the vines, we severely thinned out the shoots in all the blocks and got them in a vertical position ready for spraying.
Finally, the weather gods were with us.
Despite a negative medium term weather forecast, this was changed on Saturday to a three day window of opportunity (warm and sunny) to get combination protective and curative spray cover on.

We used  2g/L each of copper and sulphur (protectives for downy and powdery mildews), 4mL/L AgriFos 600[1] and 6mL/100L Bayfidan 250EC[2] ([1]a curative for downy mildew and.[2]a possible curative for powdery mildew).
Normally I don't like adding four components to a spray batch due to possible compatibility problems and phytotoxic reactions but this was an emergency situation and there was really nothing to lose.

The fact that we had rain on the Sunday evening (2mm only) did nothing to renew my confidence in the Bureau of Meteorology's forecasts but, thankfully, it occurred well outside the critical 4 hour rain fastness period.
And another lesson learnt during this exercise?

Don't drop your pruners in the mid row long grass, forget them and then mow over them! 
We now need to wait to see how effective this spraying has been.
Theoretically with both AgriFos and Bayfidan being systemic, they should be quickly absorbed through the leaves and stems into the sap stream and translocated to all parts of the vine. We should start to notice small brown spots on leaves where the downy mildew has been eliminated and hopefully the disappearance of the white 'down' on the bunches.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Vintage 2015 in Some Peril

We knew that leaving the vineyard to its own resources for nearly a month unsprayed at this time of year was a gamble.
However total November rainfall was only 17mm over 5 rain days with the highest daily rate of 5mm.
We thought we had lucked out.
But in the first 12 days of December we have had 154mm with the highest daily rate of 39mm.
It has rained every day since we have been home.

So apart from the vines looking like a jungle, the conditions have been conducive to fungus attack.
And there is quite a deal of evidence of this ie.oil spots (downy mildew) on the leaves and powdery mildew on the forming bunches
The downy we can treat with a curative but the powdery is not so easy to combat. There is some evidence that if the infection is not too bad then triadimenol (Bayfidan) is worth a try.

All we need is a couple of days of dry weather to get the spray on.
The forecast is, however, not looking good.
In the meantime we are working on thinning out the shoots and getting them vertical on the trellis so any spray will be as effective as possible.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk 2014

Each year we visit Sioux Falls we take time to wander up and down Phillips Ave, downtown, to look at the sculptures on display.
As usual this year they were all pretty wonderful.
Because of the cold (don't let the blue sky and sunshine fool you), we were unable to linger too long but managed to get some representative photos. There are additional displays at the Avera McKennan hospital and the University of Sioux Falls campus.
More details are available here.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

November in Mid West USA / Part 2

I only managed one trip to my favourite casino in Flandreau.
Seeing November was my birthday month I was allowed in the birthday booth. From what was said I may have been the first Australian to do this. My driving licence ID was a source of considerable interest to the staff. For 20 seconds, vouchers driven by an air blast swirl around you and you have to grab them, fold them and push them through a slot.
Not as easy as it sounds.
I won $7!
For some reason, that remains a mystery, another $3 was added to my tally and I played the slots for 3 hours with the $10, eventually taking that amount home.
There is a misconception in this country that coffee in the USA is not fit to drink. I think this may come from the days of brewed coffee that sat on a warmer for hours. But certainly we have found that the coffee culture is alive and well especially in the mid west. You don't get better anywhere than at Caribou.
While doing the Sioux Falls sculpture walk, we needed something to ward off acute hypothermia and found Coffea Rosterie on Phillips.
They presented us with a slate tray on which stood a bubbly water palate cleanser, a shot of extra strong but smooth espresso and a cappuccino.

Talking of the sculpture walk we were anxious to do it again. Each year new works are presented and the concept  has now expanded to three venues. Always worth a post of its own (coming soon!), there is a preview below.

We spent the last 3 days in Sioux Falls covering quilt shops, yarn (wool) shops and looking for last minute goodies at Sears, Macy's, Younkers and Kohl's. I managed to sneak off to Scheels, a very large sporting goods store, that has been recently revamped to include a big Ferris wheel as a centre piece.
Seeing we are both now devotees of Amazon Kindle books, we hardly ever go to a book shop. But we made a pilgrimage to our old haunt, Barnes and Noble for old times sake. You forget how good a book store smells. And I bought a hard cover by a favourite author.
It was obvious that Christmas was just around the corner. All the towns had their decorations up in the streets, houses were being strung with lights and front yards filled with icons.
Karen G had the most beautiful tree I have seen in their front room.

Our last night was date night which has always been at Foley's Fish, Chop & Steakhouse. The daughter had got wind of our plans and had called them to organize a gift card as a birthday present.
We got a particularly warm welcome from the manager (I don't think he gets many phone calls from down under) and had a great meal of a crab cake starter and a tender steak entree washed down with some excellent wine. The Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley in California was outstanding.
Talking of great wine I forgot to mention that K4 had bought an expensive bottle of Salento Negroamaro, a red wine made from a native grape grown almost exclusively in Puglia in southern Italy.
Get some if you can for a completely different wine experience. Deep red colour, unique perfumed nose (maybe as a result of a small addition of Malvasia Nera) and earthy flavour with fine tannins.

So our time in SD was soon up and we headed for home with our bags jammed packed to the limit with goodies. The flights were the reverse of those coming except we transited through LAX rather than SFO. Again on the long haul across the Pacific we had spare seats beside us easing the cramped conditions of economy considerably. And no screaming kids or disruptive passengers either. It always seems longer flying back but we made it in one, albeit tired, piece. Our bags were among the last out which caused a little concern (who would want to misplace all that shopping?) and we got pinged for a quarantine inspection but, as expected, the AQIS beagle, Axel, found nothing. But he certainly did with the lady behind us. Who knows what happened. We were out of there!
Stirls was at Sydney International to meet us. The first thing we noticed as we headed for the car park was the heat and humidity but no complaints.
At his home we crashed for a few hours before enjoying a steak dinner and a couple of bottles of wine.
Next morning after a good sleep, we were up early and headed for home stopping to pick up some groceries in town on the way. Board shorts and bikinis seemed to be clothing of choice for a lot of people. The Christmas tourist influx has already started.
Welcome back to summer!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I have celebrated most USA holidays in the country with the exception of Thanksgiving.
This year we had the opportunity to do so.
Obviously it is not a holiday in Australia.
I had asked if I could experience a traditional meal.
K2 and Carin took on the coordination of the event and provided the venue.
All the families contributed to the menu.
The table was groaning with food as well as a good selection of wine.

The Menu:
Deep fried turkey, slow cooked brisket and two types of ham
Cranberry relish
Mashed potatoes, sweet potato souffle, bean casserole, dry and wet corn
Pickle tray: black and green olives, sweet and dill pickles.
Vegetables and dip.
Fresh fruit 

The Pies: pumpkin, pecan, chocolate silk, cherry, caramel apple, key lime and blueberry.
Twenty eight of us covering four generations had an amazing meal and enjoyed a great day.

Monday, December 08, 2014

November in Mid West USA / Part 1

On our first Saturday morning in Elkton, near Brookings SD, we woke up to snow falling.
Despite the cold it looked very pretty to me. Snow is something we never experience at home.
Of course the locals were blase' about it all and considered it a bit of a nuisance.

One of my most favourite jobs (not) was scraping the snow and/or ice off the car each morning before we could go anywhere. The co driver was somehow reluctant to take turns. Her excuse was that she was driving everywhere (more experience on icy and snowy roads), and I had to contribute somehow. So that's how it was. She sitting in the pre warmed up car with the heated seats while I suffered from potential frost bite outside.

Mark, our host, had a number of alternatives for snow clearing to make getting to and from the house easier. Surprisingly it was a local resident who got stuck in a snow drift and had to be helped out by the foreigner. No names, no pack drill.

Our days consisted of catching up with family, eating out and shopping. We certainly found some bargains at the department stores. We managed to visit most of our favourite restaurants and found one or two new ones. To say we may have overeaten is an understatement.
The Gramcracker jam making day was postponed due to weather but reinstated a week later. The 'boys' retreated to Buffalo Wild Wings for a few beers and spicy chicken wings while watching a local derby football match between SDSU and USD. The local team won!
That night was siblings night and the sisters had a late night after a nice dinner at a local steakhouse.
I think towards midnight you could hear them all over Brookings!
We had decided not to do any touristy things mainly due to the weather and our short time frame. But we did go down to Falls Park in Sioux Falls. The falls were almost frozen solid.

Quite a different scene that I am used to when visiting at other times of the year.

K3 had bought a new house a few miles north at Lake Hendricks and we went up there for a look see.
Was quite an exciting drive on icy roads with blowing snow. The waterfront location looks ideal but that day it was blowing a gale across the frozen lake and was probably the coldest I felt the entire trip. The tongue in cheek invitation to go skating or ice fishing was rejected.Will return during a more conducive season for a little fishing off the to be purchased pontoon boat.

After Thanksgiving lunch (see separate post) I was taken to Walmart to experience a pre Black Friday sale.
A seething mass of humanity jammed together with their carts competing for all sorts of bargains.
People traffic jams in the aisles and in the long snaking check out queues. 
But I must say almost everyone was super polite and trying to make the best of the chaos. Can't say that that would be the case at home at such an event.

To be continued....

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Some of Our Beaches

So as we immerse ourselves in winter in the USA mid west where temperatures well below freezing prevail, I thought it was time to look at our last winter back home via a short 'some of our beaches' video.
Not that we are homesick or anything. We are having a great time with family and friends.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Trip to the USA for Thanksgiving

We traveled to the Central Coast, the day before departure, to leave our car with Stirls.
He dropped us off at the airport and we settled in for the 24+ hour trip.
Despite the recently increased terror alert, there was no noticeable increase in security at Sydney International.
The first leg was just over 12 hours across the Pacific with United. They have changed the planes on this route from Boeing 747s to 777-200s which are smaller and slower but have the advantage of a modern IFE system which was missing in the older aircraft so we were able to get our movie fix. But I must admit I miss the Jumbo. Despite having the same economy seat pitch, 31 inches, it did seem a little more squishy. However our flight was not full and we had spare seats beside us so it wasn't too uncomfortable.
We arrived 35 minutes early in San Francisco but had to wait until a medical emergency that had occurred a few hours out got evacuated. We then made it through immigration, customs and domestic security without problems.

After quiet sit, relax, people watch and read for a few hours in T3 (the next flight was delayed), we were then off to Denver in an Airbus A320.
Time there for dinner at Wolfgang Puck.
Then it was onto Sioux Falls in a really new Canadair CRJ700.
The planes always get progressively smaller on this particular trip.
Another delay as they couldn't reconcile the passenger list numbers.
We arrived in Sioux Falls about an hour late. Our bags arrived with us which is always nice.
Quite a temperature difference from Sydney, around 45degrees C. BBBBBBRRRRR!
We were pleasantly surprised that family was there to meet us and take us to our hotel.
Thanks K2 and Carin.
We were more than happy to fall into bed at our airport hotel and slept well until mid morning.
Door to door the trip was around 31hours.
We have just had a very late breakfast and will soon be off to pick up our rental and begin the visit rounds.
But it is obvious jet lag is going to be our company for the first few days.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Storm Season

We were in Sydney for a weekend celebrating the daughter's engagement to the Nickster with his family and I was aware there was a severe storm warning out for the south coast.
After the festivities were over, I checked the weather radar on the iPad and saw that a very intense storm cell was heading towards our area from the west.
Luckily the center crossed the coast just to the north of us dumping 30mm of rain onto Ulladulla in 15 minutes.
Photo: Fairfax Media

We arrived home the next morning to find no electricity (a tree had fallen over power lines in the vicinity) but no damage. We had only 15mm in the rain gauge. Our neighbours said there was some wind with lots of thunder and lightning and a little hail (a grape grower's nightmare) before a short intense downpour. But it was soon over.
We lost a few more vine shoots but that was it. Another wind storm the next day knocked off a few more.
A few days later another one hit bringing down a tree over a boundary fence facing the highway. That was very quickly repaired. Our cattle wandering onto that busy road does not bear thinking about.
So not a great start to the season.
While power outages are not as common in our area as they used to be (at least once a month) due to improved infrastructure and maintenance, we are almost in complete shut down at home during such a period. No lights, no TV, no internet, no cooking (except the gas BBQ), fridge out of action and no water (our domestic supply is pumped from tanks).
But it's one of the small things you have to put up with occasionally in a rural area.
The price of living in paradise I guess.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Reviews / October 2014

The Beach House is set in the small mythical beach side Queensland town of Sunset Point where nothing much happens.
And the locals just like it that way (which is pretty much the same where we live).
So when an outsider with grand plans to build a large resort which threatens to demolish an iconic local landmark, the beach house, battle lines are drawn (again, something similar is happening in our area).
Jessica is a young newspaper journalist who wants to make her mark by covering the resultant court case. However her editor boss wants a human interest story.
She finds five people and some associated lessor characters who have stayed at the house on vacation and writes about them.
Her research establishes that staying at the beach house has changed the lives of every one of those five although they are not connected in any way apart from interaction with the town's resident life guard. He is the link which binds all the stories together.
While the book is almost a collection of five short stories it turns out to be a well written novel with easy flowing prose which brings together a group of characters we probably all 'know' and can relate to.
And the result of the court case? You will have to read the book!
Highly recommended.
Dave Berg was Jay Leno's co producer for 18 years and has written "an insider's view of the Tonight Show".
Behind the Curtain reveals the most memorable hi jinks and celebrity diva moments from the show's history.
It also recounts things said on the show or behind the scenes causing some celebrities to boycott the show.
But more interesting is Jay himself and the way he is, the way he works and the way he interacts with others. Berg describes Leno as a hardworking boss who rarely took time off, who battled to overcome dyslexia, and only lived off income he earned as a stand-up comedian. There is even a chapter on his car collection

There is a little background on the Leno v Letterman 'war', the Helen Kushnick era plus a sober account of the ill-conceived decision to move Jay Leno to prime time, and to install Conan O’Brien as the host of The Tonight Show, only to have Leno return several months later.
A good read, well written, that I feel might just engender even more respect for the show's host.
When you fly a fair bit, it is always interesting to find out what goes on behind the scenes in the airline industry.
Confessions of a QANTAS Flight Attendant is a supposed exposé of the lives of the public face of Australia's national airline.
There are plenty of these types of 'flight attendant' books around.
While it was an interesting enough read, there were no real surprises about their day to day jobs in the air.
However an insight into the lives of staff during their rest periods in various overseas destinations was a bit of an eye opener. Five-star hotels, huge food allowances, daytime lazing around the pool and night-time tabletop dancing with Bollywood stars, anyone?

The author obviously had his problems with Qantas and his version of their treatment of him after an injury caused by a workplace training incident does not paint a pretty picture. But most Australians would not be surprised at this. The demise of the reputation of a once revered national icon continues to this day.
As Ian Woods, a former Qantas pilot and aviation analyst says in a recent article "it's only too clear that everyone has a different view of what's wrong with Qantas and how to fix it. "Qantas is at war with its workforce", "the unions are driven by bloody-minded self interest", "shareholders haven't had a dividend for five years", "the product is tired and old", "management gets paid far too much for the continuing failures on their watch" are some of the kinder things I've heard said in recent times."
Disclaimer: I haven't flown Qantas for at least 25 years.
Anyway, a light weight and fun read for those who have an interest in this subject
According to the pundits Outlander (or Cross Stitch) is a book of mixed genre ie. historical fiction, romance, mystery, adventure and science fiction/fantasy.
It is extremely popular and has been made into a TV series.
Claire, on her second honeymoon (the first was disrupted by World War II) in the Scottish Highlands with her husband in 1946 is 'transported' to the pre second Jacobite Rebellion era (the Forty-five) in the mid 1700s.
Despite the opportunity to return to the present, she decides to stay in the past having been captivated by the dashing Highlander, James.

Sorry, but I didn't like this book at all. Attaching a fairy tale to an important event in Scottish history which would change that country, and maybe the world, for ever, just didn't sit well with me.
But if you are into murder, domestic violence, rape, torture, sodomy and other assorted acts of violence, not to mention a face to face meeting with the Loch Ness monster (yes, really!), then this the book for you.
There are another seven books in this series.
I won't be reading them.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spring Comes and Goes

We always know it's spring when the Bottlebrush (Callistemon sp.) come into flower.
This year the season started off warm but I was reluctant to put the firewood away knowing we might get one last blast of winter. But with temperatures reaching the mid to high 20s (°C) for a week or so, we thought we were safe.
But, no!
A low pressure system  formed off the coast a few days later and we had around 300mm of rain in two days accompanied by southerly wind gusts of over 100km/hr.
At one stage we got 60mm/hour over 2 hours.

Our creek flooded again but there were no trees down and no fence damage. However we lost a considerable number of new shoots off the Pinot Noir. The rows' orientation (east-west) meant the vines copped the full force of the wind.
Sydney wasn't spared either with flash flooding, wind damage and a huge surf eroding beaches. They received 30cm of snow in the Blue Mountains and the main road west was cut for 12 hours until it melted. No one has snow clearing machinery in this part of the world. Exactly a year ago this area was fighting disastrous bush fires so you just never know.
We have started our fungicide spray program for the season. Due to the heavy rain the first two sprays were only a week apart. Hopefully we can revert to the basic 2 weekly application from now on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fungicides for Grapes

The three most common fungi affecting grape vines in our area are downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola), powdery mildew or oidium (Uncinula necatora) and botrytis or grey mould (Botrytis cinerea).
Downy Mildew oil spots on upper and white down on under side of leaf

Powdery mildew

Botrytis affected bunch

We spray commercial fungicides in an effort to prevent these diseases plus one that cures any outbreak of downy mildew.
In a protective spray program, fungicides are applied to the grapevines at regular intervals largely dictated by the weather eg. lengthy or intense rain incidents can reduce the time between sprays.
In curative programs sprays are applied only after conditions that are conducive to disease outbreak have occurred eg. 10:10:24 for downy mildew where >10mm of rain over 24 hours when the temperature is >10°C.
Sprays differ with regards to their mobility within the plant.
Some sit on the leaf surface where the spray droplets have fallen and do not move.
So any unsprayed area or new growth is not protected.
Some spread out over the leaf surface and move inside the leaf tissue. These are known as locally systemic or translaminar. New growth is not protected.
Others spread out over the leaf surface and move inside the leaf tissue and enter the plant through the stem and move upwards via the xylem to new growth. These are systemic. New growth (within reason) is protected.

How do the chemicals sprayed work or, more technically, what is their mode of action (MOA) ?
Fungicides kill by damaging the cell membranes of the fungus or inactivating critical enzyme or protein production or interfering with vital metabolic processes such as respiration.
So fungicides are grouped according to their MOA and may or may not have similar chemical structures.
What is the extent of the activity of the various chemicals?
Some are active only against a single enzyme or protein of the fungus or just at one point in its metabolic process. These are known as single site fungicides.
Others are active on numerous functions of the pathogen and are known as multi site fungicides.
It is important to be aware of the MOA of single site fungicides. Continually targeting pathogens at the same 'site' eg. overusing the same chemical, can eventually lead to resistance.
Multi site fungicides do not have this disadvantage.
For our preventative program we use the multi site activity copper oxychloride (M1) against downy mildew, wettable sulphur (M2) against powdery mildew, chlorothalonil (M5) against botrytis (and downy mildew). We also use a systemic phosphonate (33) as a downy curative when weather conditions have been particularly difficult, not an unusual situation in our warm maritime climate.
The basic plan is copper and sulphur every two weeks, chlorothalonil at 80% cap fall and just before bunch closure.
A full list of AWRI approved chemicals for 2014/15 as well as a spraying strategy to reduce the risk of resistance is available here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

"Glory Glory to South Sydney"

After a 43 year drought, my Rugby League team the South Sydney 'Rabbitohs' has won the NRL (National Rugby League) Premiership.
In a tough game on Sunday night they beat the Canterbury Bulldogs 30 - 6 in front of 88,000 fans.
To say it was an emotional time for all those supporters who have stuck with them through thick and thin is an understatement.

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Welcome Reptile Visitor

With spring here and the weather warming up, the reptiles of the area are coming out of hibernation and are starting to move about.
The unwelcome are the red bellied black snakes and to a lessor extent the monitor lizards (goannas), some up to 2m long.
But it's nice to see the small geckos and copper tails scurrying around and helping keep the insect population under control.
We have seen few blue tongues sunning themselves after emerging from their burrows which have been quite prevalent in the vineyards this year.

Blue-tongued lizards are the largest members of the skink family. They grow to about 60cm (2 ft) in length.
They are very slow moving and feed on a variety of plants as well as snails and beetles.
When threatened, blue-tongues open their mouth wide and stick out their broad blue tongue. This display, together with the large size of the head is meant to frighten off predators. They also hiss and flatten out the body to making themselves look bigger. A frightened blue-tongue may bite if it is picked up. The bite can be painful, break the skin and leave a bruise but there is no venom, so not that dangerous. As kids we used to keep them as pets.
Their natural predators are large predatory birds eg. Kookaburras and large snakes. Unfortunately introduced species like feral and domestic cats and dogs are also a danger. They will eat snails and slugs poisoned by snail baits and can be poisoned themselves and are no match for domestic lawn mowers.
We will be keeping an eye out for their well being in future when working around the place.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Reviews / September 2014

Michelle is engaged to marry Steven. The couple spend a lot of time with Michelle's best friend, Beth. Three days before the wedding, Steven tells Michelle she is being dumped and that he is about to marry Beth.
What to do?
The honeymoon cruise already is paid for, so she decides to take a honeymoon for one!
On board the ship, Michelle meets Kirk and a wonderful, steamy two weeks in paradise ensues.
But what the heck, she will never see him again.

Back in the real world, after her vacation, she finds out she may lose her job because her firm is not doing so well.
But they are sending in a new management team to sort things out
And guess who her new boss turns out to be?????
Light and fluffy.
A quick, good fun read
And all for $0.99!
Wines of France is a great series of little books.
In this one everything you ever wanted to know about Burgundy wine is here.
From the various regions to individual vineyards and vintages.

This is a book that would make a great travel companion on a tour of the area.
One for the serious wine person.
Balmain is an inner western harbour side suburb of Sydney.
But in 1800s it was on the fringes of the burgeoning colonial town.
This novel (a mixture of fact and fiction) is based on the author finding a photo of 8 year old, Sophie, who lived and died around 100 years ago in the old Balmain weatherboard cottage where he had lived.
Who was she and what happened to her?

We discover that Sophie had disappeared with a childhood friend in 1908 and was never seen again.
The book traces the journey of the discovery of Sophie and her family, from their first arrival in Sydney, over five generations, until the mystery is finally solved.
I really liked this book.
Falling for Rain is a formularic romantic novel set in Canada.
A successful business woman returns to her home town after 10 years absence to settle her estranged father's estate.

And guess what? Her adopted brother who has remained behind still has the hots for her and as it turns out, she for him.
But her selling the farm to developers who are in cahoots with her entirely despicable business partner will not only displace and upset the plans of  'the brother' but will upset the town as well.
And there is a family skeleton hiding in the cupboard to boot!
But we just know everything will turn out well in the end.
An easy but less than riveting read.
And it turns out the author, Meadow Taylor, is actually two anonymous writers.
Sometimes two heads are not better than one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Batemans Marine Park is one of six such reserves in New South Wales.
It was established by the state government in 2006 and covers 85,000ha (, extending from Murramarang Beach, near us, at Bawley Point in the north to Wallaga Lake in the south.
It stretches to three miles offshore and includes all the estuaries, creeks, rivers and lakes (except Nargal Lake) to the limit of tidal influence.

Trawling, long lining and dredging are prohibited from the entire park and some other forms of commercial fishing are also limited to protect the region’s biodiversity.

Unlike marine parks in other states, the Batemans Marine Park puts very small restrictions on recreational fishing. So a new legal size and bag limit sign for all fish (and invertebrates) has gone up at our local boat launching ramp.
I had no idea there were so many fish species in the area.

Seeing the great white shark mentioned as a threatened and protected species must raise a few eyebrows within the local surfing community however.
That species was suspected of killing a surfer not too long ago at Byron Bay on the New South Wales north coast.
But I guess in the end we are in their territory when we enter the ocean. Thankfully in my 40 odd years of surfing I had only three close up and personal encounters with sharks which were three too many. How many others I didn't know about is, of course, another question.
So with the warmer weather approaching, it might be time to break out the fishing gear and head for the beach when the tides are right, the surf is not too big and some nice gutters have formed.

Also the two small islands, Brush and Belowla, just offshore from two of our beaches have been declared protected seabird breeding sites. These are home to a small colony of fairy penguins among many others.
Setting foot on these islands could cost you a substantial amount of money.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Alba an Aigh

One of my ancestors was a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath dated 6th April 1320.
The document, a letter to Pope John XXII, was intended to confirm Scotland's status as an independent sovereign state.
On 18th September 2014 the country had the chance to vote in a referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom (which came into being in 1707) and achieving independence.
The result was 55% NO and 45% YES.
My interest in this?
Although Australian by birth, I have 50% Scottish blood running in my veins.
My late father was fiercely nationalistic despite living the majority of his life 17,000km from his homeland and had little time for 'the English'.
He would not have been happy with this decision.
But it seems the head ruled over the heart.

...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hazard Reduction Burn (HRB)

It is almost five years to the day when were under major threat from a bushfire.
Since then we are a bit sensitive to any sign or smell of smoke.
While sitting at the beach this morning, the co driver noticed a lot of smoke coming from the general direction of our property.
On arriving home it was apparent that a big fire was very close.
A quick check of the Rural Fire Service's  app "fires near me" established that it was a hazard reduction burn in the state forest between us and the village to the north.

During winter and early spring, if the conditions are right, the RFS deliberately lights fires in strategic areas that become buffer zones during the fire season. They are slow burn fires which reduce the fuel load on the forest floor taking out undergrowth and fallen timber.
This fire came right up to our neighbours' northern boundaries.
The RFS have their trucks and teams patrolling the area so it's seldom these fires cause any problems although a few have been known to 'get away' when weather conditions unexpectedly change.
So I guess it will be a bit smokey around here for the next few days.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Toys for Boys

When I first bought the property around 25 years ago, and knowing absolutely nothing about rural life, I asked around about what was considered essential equipment.
The most frequent answer was a decent chainsaw.
They were needed to cut fallen trees off fences and access roads, to cut fence posts, strainers and stays and to provide firewood for winter. 
So I invested in a Husqvarna Rancher.

And how right that recommendation was.
Never ever be without a chainsaw when living in country Australia.
And don't buy a cheap 'toy', get a reputable brand with a bit of grunt that has good local service backup.
They are pretty dangerous things to use so a course in safety is prudent. Amazing how much you can learn on a one day course from preventing kickback to ensuring an escape route when felling trees, to be aware of 'pressure points when cutting up fallen trees, to wearing appropriate clothing and protection gear. As well there are pre and post usage checks to be made to keep the saw running safely and smoothly.
Small engine and chain maintenance courses are not bad things to sign up for either.
Anyway, after a quarter of a century of use, my first chainsaw was playing up to a point of frustration and was no longer repairable.
So I bought a new one, same brand and updated model.
Husqvarna 455 Rancher (3.4 cu.inch / 55.5 cm³; 3.5 hp / 2.6 kW; 18" / 46 cm bar; 13.01 lbs / 5.9 kg).
It runs like a charm.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Touriga Nacional

Touriga Nacionnal is a Portugese red grape variety (cultivar) of the species Vitis vinifera (European grape vine).
It is traditionally used in blends for Port.
But more and more it is finding a niche as a red table wine grape in the Douro and Dão in Portugal.
The grape berries are very small and therefore have a high skin to pulp ratio which heightens the amount of extract in the wines.
The grapes can produce intense, very aromatic wines with high tannin content.

My old wine school, Charles Sturt University, produced a table wine from this variety in 2013 which was a break away from the usual fortified wine route ie. a Tawny
Tawny is the name given to Australia's most popular fortified wine style, previously referred to as 'Tawny Port'. Australia agreed to discontinue the use of the term 'Port' in line with international labeling agreements, with 'Port' now used exclusively by the Portuguese.
During the Touriga production at CSU the crusher broke down, and with no spare parts being available on the long Easter break, the grapes were processed in the old fashioned way 'by foot'.
After fermentation the wine spent 6 months storage in old French hogsheads.
The bottle back label says "This is not a shrinking violet"
Other comments in the wine notes included "bolshy in its birth, it has become a bit of a beast, needing some serious food to keep it under control.........making it is exciting, because it takes a lot to persuade it to behave. We know it can be good, it just doesn't want to!"
How right they were!
14.9% alcohol (you don't often get much higher than this with a table wine), intense black fruits flavour and lots of tannin.
A really big wine that was well matched with our grilled steak one night followed up by slow roasted lamb shanks the next.
For us it was an interesting wine but the high alcohol tended to dominate. Between that and the tannin the fruit was a minor component. However it is always good to try something new occasionally but this one won't be on our repurchase list.
The wine is sold under their Letter Series label and is called PTO.
Why PTO? I can't quite work that out.
More information on CSU wines and wine making here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


August (last month of winter) and September (first month of spring) are usually our driest months of the year.
But August saw around 200mm (average 90mm) rain dumped on us in a couple of rather intense bursts.
Our creek flooded a number of times but luckily the coastal lake that it flows into is currently open to the sea (not a common event) due to some heavy winter surf activity and the excess water did not hang about too long.
During the latest downpour the cattle were stranded on the wrong side for a while but eventually found their way across.
Our coastal lake. Sandbar cutting access to sea which is normal

So we will have a good soil moisture content ready for the warmer temperatures to get the grass growing and the vines started.
We have already noticed bud swell and some bud burst in the early varieties.
Another feature of August was the number of frosts. We usually have 2 or 3. This year we had at least 8 and some were quite severe.
Australia experiences radiation hoar frosts rather than the advection type. We had the cold, clear, low humidity and still nights that are just right for such events.
As a result, pasture grass, especially in frost hollows, was 'burnt off' and we had to buy hay for the cattle to supplement their winter feed for a few weeks.

The results of our autumn weed (bracken) spraying program were very positive with a good 'kill' (a nice sea of brown) resulting.
A minor downside is that we have to decontaminate the sprayer very carefully as the herbicide we use for the bracken is very potent (application rate: 10g/100L) and any residue could harm the vines when our fungicide spraying starts.
This process involves multiple flushing, bleach additions and recirculation/agitation and then more flushing.

Wine wise we are still racking and monitoring sulphur levels of and oak influence on the reds. All three look good so far. With those and the  planned blend we should see the four ready for consumption by the end of the year.
The white wine has proved very popular around the neighbourhood.