Monday, March 24, 2014

Visit to the Buddhist Nan Tien Temple

The co driver's yoga group organized a visit to and a guided tour of the Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong, New South Wales' third largest city which is about 2 hours drive to the north of us.
So I and one other male accompanied 25 ladies on a charter bus.

This is the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere.
Wollongong Council donated 26 acres in the suburb of Berkeley for the project which started in 1992 and took 5 years planning and 2 years construction. 
The Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order is Taiwan based and headed by the Venerable Master Hsing Yun. 

We were given an introductory talk on the architectural layouts of each shrine before the ladies participated in a walking meditation. I spent that time wandering around the beautifully kept gardens.
Then we were taken into the main shrine and given explanations of Buddhist symbols and statues situated there and around temple grounds.
This was followed by a discussion on Buddhist philosophy and how the practice of Buddhism can influence one's daily life. A lively question and answer session followed.

Then it was time for a simple vegetarian lunch followed by a visit to the library, museum and gift shop.

A very enjoyable day resulting in a better understanding of a religion practised by an estimated 350 million people (6% of the world's population), making Buddhism the world's fourth largest religion.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vintage 2014 Continues / Part 5

On 9th March we racked the Semillon off the bentonite and fermentation lees, added 30ppm SO2 and sealed the tank to allow final clarification to take place.
We were contemplating adding PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrolidone) to remove a very slight oxidative browning that has occurred.
However we will run a small trial with this to assess any problems that may occur before committing the process to the whole batch.
The Pinot Noir was drained and pressed and egg white for fining plus 50ppm SO2 added.
pH was 3.65 (up from 3.45 at harvest) so we are sure MLF has taken place. No facilities for a proper paper chromatographic test here.
On 12th March we tested the Cabernet Sauvignon
Sugar 12.0 deg Baume and 3.48 pH ie. almost ripe. Another week or so to go before harvest.

Our full vineyard test is carried out by walking the rows and selecting two bunches at random on every 4th vine or so on either side of the row. One bunch is exposed ie. on the outside of the vine, the other within.   The outside rows of the block and vines at the end of rows are ignored.
A grape berry is taken from the top, bottom., middle front and middle back of each bunch.
These grapes are then crushed by hand and the juice extracted.
After giving the solids time to settle out, the juice is tested either with a hydrometer or refractometer and a pH meter.

Experience has shown that this method usually produces a result approximately 0.5 deg Baume higher than that measured at the actual harvest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Reviews / March 2014

Netsuke are miniature sculptures that first appeared in 17th-century Japan. The 'hare with the amber eyes' was just one of a collection of 264 purchased by a member of the Ephrussi family in the 1870s.
They are the objects which bind together this story of five generations of the family originally from the Odessa region who became a very wealthy European Jewish banking dynasty, centered there as well as in Paris and Vienna.

The Ephrussis lost almost everything in 1938 when the Nazis 'took over' their Viennese property. Even after the war, the family failed to recover most of its extensive property, including priceless artwork, but an easily hidden collection of 264 Japanese netsuke miniature sculptures was miraculously saved, tucked away inside a mattress by Anna, a loyal maid at Palais Ephrussi in Vienna during the war years. The collection has been passed down through five generations of the Ephrussi family, providing a common thread for the story of its fortunes from 1871 to 2009.
This is a fascinating story of Europe financially, politically and culturally during a very turbulent part of its history.
For me, it was a 'couldn't put it down'.
Why I get sucked into reading the autobiographies of these 'stars' is always a mystery to me. I am always waiting for something new or revealing. Never seems to happen.
Shirley goes into considerable detail about her personal life, particularly her marriage to Jack Cassidy, David Cassidy's father.

But in the end, despite tid bits about her stage and film acting career and some interesting anecdotes about fellow actors it's a fairly pedestrian tale.
I believe a few of her 'stories' have been challenged by those involved and changes have been made to subsequent editions.
Says it all really.
I had previously read and reviewed two books of people making sea changes to Costa Rica.
This one intrigued me as the reviews indicated it was more than just a tourist's view of the country but more warts and all.

Bored with his comfortable existence in the USA, successful businessman Norm Schriever feels there is more to life than he is experiencing. He quits his job, sells and donates all of his possessions, and moves down to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, with a laptop and a surfboard, and vows to become a writer.
However he soon finds that paradise has its dark side and the perfect life in a little seaside town isn’t always as ideal as it seems. It’s a matter of adapting to the local customs and the language barrier, dodging lawless drug traffickers as well as corrupt police.
It's a humorous tale although it did seem to concentrate a little too much on one of the author's friends who through entirely the fault of his own ended up in a Costa Rican gaol.
Still, a good, easy and humorous read.
To most people around the world the 1756 to 1763 conflict between Great Britain and France was known as the Seven Years War.
To Americans it is known as the French and Indian War. To Canadians it's the War of Conquest.
This book is a fascinating story of how the colonists (including a young George Washington) helped the British defeat the French in North America and sow the seeds for the War of Independence not too many years later.

It is also the story of the various native American forces who allied themselves with each side as a way of consolidating their inter tribal power and an attempt to protect themselves from the ever increasing impact of white settlement.
We all know how that went.
This is a scaled down version of the author's more scholarly book Crucible of War and is a companion to the 2006 PBS documentary.
This, in my opinion, does not detract from its impact and is a well researched book that covers a vital part of American history and is a must read for those interested in that period.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Vintage 2014 Continues / Part 4

Time to concentrate on Pinot Noir (Vitis vinifera cv Pinot Noir).
I think most 'wine people' agree it's a finicky grape to grow and a difficult one to make into good wine.
The traditional home of Pinot Noir is Burgundy. The French name translates as black pine cone reflecting the shape of the bunches and the compactness of the berries.

A combination of a cold continental climate, limestone based soils and viticultural practices honed over centuries allows the Grand Cru (and lower classifications ) wines made there to demand some of the highest prices paid for red wine world wide. The 1987 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits currently has an average price of $A18,000 / bottle!
Pinot Noir has been cultivated in France since AD 100 and is probably only one or two generations removed from the wild Vitis sylvestris ie. a direct domestication.

 However many other places, including the new world, also grow the grape successfully and make excellent wine out of it eg. north western states of the USA, South Island of New Zealand, Victoria and Tasmania in Australia.
Pinot's thin skins and low levels of phenolics produces mostly lightly colored, medium bodied, low tannin wines. When young, the wines tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wines age, they have the potential to develop vegetal and farmyard or forest floor aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine. It is the tremendously broad range of bouquets, flavours, textures and impressions that make good Pinot Noir so sought after.
As mentioned in other posts our little vineyard has a warm maritime climate with ancient sandy/alluvial based acid soils over clay which is the complete antithesis of Burgundy.
The vines grow extremely well here but most of the time the fruit quality suffers from the heat and the humidity ie. low colour and tannins, high pH, little varietal aroma and flavour, no potential for aging.
But occasionally, if the weather gods are with us, we strike it lucky and get a good crop of reasonable fruit.
This vintage just might be one of those.

Pinot Noir is particularly prone to mutation and thanks to its long history in cultivation there are hundreds of different clones in vineyards and vine collections worldwide. More than 50 are officially recognized in France alone. A clone is a vine which has exactly the same genetic make up of the cultivar but exhibits different properties eg. growth pattern, yield, fruit quality, bunch structure, drought resistance etc. And of course resultant wine quality.
These differences are noted in vineyards and vines with desirable differences are propagated asexually from them eg. cuttings. Following considerable testing, growing and wine production trials, clones with commercial potential are then offered into the market place.
In Australia, Pinot Noir clones include MV6, 114,115 and 777.
We grow MV6 here.
MV6 has an interesting history.
James Busby, considered the father of the Australian wine industry, made a trip through Spain and France in 1831 and kept a meticulous record of the vine cuttings he collected on the way.
363 of these survived the trip to Sydney, packed in moss, sand and soil, and were planted in the Sydney Botanical Gardens where they unfortunately eventually died through neglect. But by that time many cuttings had been taken from the collection and spread around the countryside eg. South Australia, thus initiating the still flourishing wine growing industry.
In the 1920s, Maurice O'Shea, the renowned Hunter Valley (2 hours north of Sydney) winemaker who had had considerable Burgundy experience traced, through the Busby collection, a source of Pinot Noir vines (thought to be from Clos Vougeot in Vosne Romanee) and planted them at his Mount Pleasant vineyard.
McWilliam's Mt. Pleasant Vineyard today

With these vines he produced his famous straight varietal Pinots and blends with other varieties eg. Shiraz.
After O’Shea’s death in the 1960s, the true value of these French Pinot Noir vines was realized.
New South Wales Director-General of Agriculture, Graham Gregory, singled out the vines as having significant genetic importance and worthy of inclusion in a vine propagation scheme setup at the time. Gregory took cuttings off the Mount Pleasant vineyard to setup a special grapevine collection, naming the particular clone as MV6 (or Mother Vine 6).
Now the Hunter Valley climate is basically the same as ours although the soil composition is generally different.
But it was a good enough reason to give MV6 'a go' here.
So with all this preamble, following 3 days of light but persistent rain and relative humidity percentages in the high 90s, we decided to harvest our Pinot Noir on the 3rd March. Fruit was in excellent condition with only a small incidence of botrytis. The affected berries were removed from the bunches by hand during picking.
Sugar level was 13.5 deg Baume and pH 3.45.

We have read extensively on the different ways to make a better wine from this grape but based on this summary from UC Davis decided to go with a reasonably straight forward approach ie. crush and destem, ferment on the skins, press and drain after one week's extended maceration, settle, rack off fermentation lees, egg white fine, rack.
Fermentation started in 12 hours. Cap punched down every 4 hours.
Oak treatment was with some French oak mini staves that I had found secreted away which were added at the fermentation stage.
Meanwhile the Tempranillo was racked on the 1st March and 30ppm SO2 added.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A Cattle Update

So far all three new calves are doing well. It's been a great season with plenty of grass and the mothers have lots of milk.
We have not heard about any bovine anemia out breaks in the region this year. So fingers are still crossed.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Milton Show 2014

Most major towns in Australia have their annual rural show (fair).
They are 'feeders' of winning entrants for the individual state shows. In New South Wales this is the Sydney Royal run by Royal Agricultural Society of NSW which takes place for 2 weeks over the Easter period. It was established 191 years ago and around 1 million people attend each year. Its home is now in Olympic Park area, location of the Sydney 2000 games.
Ours is a pretty small affair over two days but most people go to see the animals, horse riding events, agricultural equipment, wood chop, arts and crafts, photography, cooked goods and produce, not to mention carnival rides and awful (but really yummy) food. And there is a rodeo finale on the Saturday night.
We always know when it's show time.
It rains!
And this year was no different. But luckily when we went the showers held off.
The co driver had entered some quilts and was a prize winner, a first and a commended.