Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Reviews / May 2014

In 1956 New York photographer, Alfred Wertheimer, was asked by Elvis Presley's record label, RCA, to document one day in this up and coming singer's life.
It became obvious to him that there was more to this entertainment phenomenon than one day could ever cover.
So for the following year,Wertheimer photographed Elvis's daily life among fans, friends and family at home, at performances and in the recording studio.

This book contains a host of wonderful pictures of 'The King' with accompanying text.
For me, it's the Elvis I like to remember.
A must for the Elvis fan.
Thanks to Kay for giving me this book during our last visit to the USA.
And in a serendipity moment, prints of the original pictures contained in the book were put on display at the National Portrait Gallery in our nation's capital, Canberra, soon after our return home.

The Mexican-American War is another war that changed the shape of the USA forever.
Written by John S. D. Eisenhower (1922-2013), son of the former USA president, "So Far from God" includes a detailed history of the lead up to The Mexican War backgrounding Texas Independence and its ultimate annexation as an American state.
President Polk's continuing expansionist policies ie. California, and Mexico's active interest in reclaiming Texas ultimately lead to war.
The book details the major battles, international diplomacy and the internal politics of both USA and Mexico at the time. It also provides detailed portraits of the major players including James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Winfield Scott, John Fremont and, of course, the always fascinating General Antonio Lopez Santa Anna.

In defeat Mexico was forced, under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, to give up a huge tract of land (more than half its territory) which would eventually become California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. As well it had to recognize the annexation of Texas and accept the Rio Grande as the border.
"Manifest Destiny was not Polk's invention, but he was its ideal agent." says Eisenhower. 
Of course it didn't end there for the USA. Would the new territories be slave or free?
But that's another story.
I found it an easy read and not what could have easily been a 'dry' historical account.
When one thinks of the American Civil War, naval battles don't immediately come to mind.
But the war at sea and in the rivers eg. First Battle of Memphis (1862), saw the use of paddle driven river boats, steam warships, ram ships, sloops and cruisers.
And for the first time in any naval conflict iron clads, submarines and torpedoes appeared.

"Ships of the Civil War" is beautifully illustrated with over 120 fighting ships of the era together with their specifications and descriptive background text. One for the Civil War buff but also for those who love old ships.
Thanks again to Kay for finding this and passing it on.
Bacardi - The Long Fight is a history of the famous rum company but it is also a history of Cuba.
The two are inextricably linked.

The Bacardi company was founded in Santiago de Cuba by  Facundo Bacardi Massó, the Spanish-born son of an illiterate bricklayer in 1862. But it was his three sons, especially the eldest, Emilio, who began to build the enterprise into what it is today.
The Bacardi family has held fast to its Cuban identity for five generations even in exile from the country.
From the fight for Cuban independence from Spain in the 1860s, through the American occupation to the rise of Fidel Castro, there is no chapter in Cuban history in which the Bacardis have not played a part.
A captivating story, both historically and corporately, which is well written and entertaining.
In 1876 Lars Stavig, his wife and three children arrived in Western Minnesota as part of a major wave of immigrants to the USA from Norway. Life in Norway at the time was very tough with a doubling of population in the century before putting pressure on the limited agricultural livelihoods with only 25% of the country's land being cultivatable.

Landless farmers saw great opportunities in the New World and were a major component of the 815,000 Norwegians who migrated there between 1820 and 1920.
Lars Stavig left his mother and brother, Knut, in Norway never to see them again.
"Dear Unforgettable Brother" contains correspondence between the two brothers (and other family members) over five decades.
It is an insight into the lives of the Norwegians making a new life for themselves in Dakota Territory, near today's Sisseton SD, as well as those who stayed behind.
It also contains two essays on Norwegian life and society of the time and reasons behind the mass immigration as historical background.
For me, a wonderful read.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) have also made a documentary based on this book.
It is well worth watching.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A Quick Trip to Canberra

The co driver wanted to visit an art quilt exhibition in our nation's capital so we got an early morning start to head up over Clyde Mountain for the 2 hour plus drive.
Stirls who had come down to help with some farm work accompanied us.
We dropped the co driver off at the Convention Center and headed for the National Art Gallery.

 Apart from the permanent displays, they had an exhibition of Asian Art as well as photos of mid eighteenth century Indonesia.
The former had caused some controversy. In amongst the exhibits was a statue that had been apparently looted from an Indian temple and had been sold to the galley for over $5 million. The New York agent who organized the sale is apparently in gaol in India awaiting trial for fraud.
I believe the statue has been / will be returned to India.
The most famous painting in the gallery is probably Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles.

I don't get it. Looks like a paint drop sheet to me albeit an expensive one worth $100 million.
We made our way to the Australian art section. Some of my favourite paintings are here particularly those from the Heidelberg School era. Streeton, Roberts, McCubbin and Conder were all part of the Australian impressionist movement around the end of the 19th century.
Charles Conder

Frederick McCubbin

Arthur Streeton

Tom Roberts

Stirls hadn't been to the Australian War Memorial for 40 years so we made a quick dash over there to have lunch and just had time to visit the relatively new ANZAC Hall section.

Then it was time to pick up the co driver and head back home before dusk started to fall and kangaroos on the Canberra to Braidwood part of the road became a driving hazard.
An enjoyable day all round.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

A Vintage 2014 Update

The Cabernet Sauvignon has been racked off the fermentation lees and is already showing great varietal nose and flavour as well as excellent grape tannins.
We are still waiting for the French oak influence from the mini staves to kick in.
This can take some months.
 pH was 3.7 so added 0.5 g/L H2TA.
This achieved a satisfactory pH of 3.55
The Pinot Noir is a delicate wine showing some varietal character but is, as expected, very light in colour and tannins. Experience has shown us that the influence of the French oak will change this in time.
It is a another waiting game.
The Tempranillo is a great colour with good varietal character and good tannins mainly due I think to our experiment with the Premium Barrique. The French oak influence is just starting to make its presence felt. We need to be careful it does not become "over wooded".

The Semillon yellowing (oxidated polyphenols) continued to increase although flavour was not affected.
So, after much reading and consultation with a local wine maker, I added 0.4 g/L of PVPP.
The winemaker had used this polymer in his Chardonnay and Rose over the years with little detrimental affect.
Polyvinyl-polypyrrolidone was the first synthetic fining agent used in the wine industry coming to Australia in 1972. A well known trade name is Polyclar AT
It is an insoluble high molecular weight polymer and is used in wine as specific absorbent for phenolic compounds which lead to browning and sometimes astringency/bitterness in white wine. Because it is practically insoluble in wine it considered a processing aid rather than an additive.
The powder is mixed into a few litres of wine to disperse it and this is then added to the bulk wine and mixed in thoroughly to ensure good contact between the polymer and the wine.
After a week the wine was racked off the residue which had settled on the bottom of the tank.
The result?
Much lighter in colour but not as much as I expected. Flavour seems to be unaffected by the PVPP process.
I got myself a new wine making 'toy', a filter (see pic above), to 'polish' the white wine and make it brighter.
The filter system has the option of gross, fine and sterile pads.
We drank the Semillon with dinner the other night.
Excellent drop.
When refrigerated however, tartrate crystals (actually potassium bitartrate) precipitated out of the wine and sat on the bottom of the bottle.
Commercial wineries cold stabilize their white wines to overcome this problem by a number of complex processes eg. contact process, filtration, crystal flow or ion exchange.
The problem is purely visual and does not affect the drinking quality of the wine. We won't be cold stabilizing which would be a logistic nightmare. For us it would involve refrigeration at around 0 deg C and then racking the wine off the precipitate.
Our 'customers' will just be made aware of the situation and asked to keep the bottles upright in the fridge 24 hours before consumption.