Monday, January 26, 2015

Australia Day 2015

On 18th January 1788, after a 250 day journey from Portsmouth, UK via Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Botany Bay on HMS Supply accompanied by 10 other ships. This flotilla became known as the First Fleet.
His task was to set up the first European settlement in Australia known then as New South Wales. Despite being a penal colony, to obviate the problem of overcrowded British gaols due to the recent loss of their American colonies, this was first and foremost a strategic and commercial decision by Great Britain to prevent the French, Dutch or Spanish dominating the region.
Botany Bay had been suggested as a suitable site some 18 years before by the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks who had accompanied Captain James Cook on his exploration of the east coast of the great south land.
This was however not the case. Lack of a good anchorage and fresh water plus poor soil encouraged Phillip to look a few miles further north where Cook had noted an opening in the coast line writing in his journal "at noon we where...about 2 or 3 miles from the land and abrest of a bay or harbour within there appeared to be a safe anchorage which I called Port Jackson."
After a successful reconnoiter by Phillip a few days before, on 26th January, the fleet entered Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) and landed on a spot which he called Sydney Cove where possession of New South Wales was formally declared and the British flag raised.
This was the first Australia Day.
Of course the area was already occupied by the Cadigal aboriginal clan of the Eora people and despite initial orders to treat the native inhabitants well, their and the rest of the continent's indigenous population's troubles had just begun. But that is another story.
Sydney Cove: Then and Now

At school this was about the only information we learnt about Arthur Phillip; that and his governorship of the colony under very difficult conditions for the next 4 years.
I came across a book detailing not only Arthur's governorship but also his earlier days and post New South Wales life.
And what an interesting diverse life he led.
Born into a family of modest means, the death of his father caused hardship. At the age of 13 he was accepted into the Greenwich Hospital School, a charity school for the sons of poor seafarers. Here his education concentrated on literacy, arithmetic and navigational skills including cartography. After serving on whaling and cargo ships, he joined the British navy and saw active service during the Seven Years War.
He then married an older lady of considerable means and became a gentleman farmer. But this union only lasted six years and he returned to the navy.
He then joined the Portuguese navy and saw action against the Spanish as a ship's captain in South American waters.

Then it was back to the British navy for a six year stint after which, for two years, he was recruited to spy on the French naval arsenals at Toulon and other ports.
His colonial service began in late 1786 with preparation for the voyage to Australia.
He returned to the UK from Australia in 1793 in ill health but on recovery remarried. In 1796 he went back to sea, holding a series of commands and responsible shore posts in the wars against the French, finally retiring with the rank of Admiral of the Blue.
He died in Bath, UK, in 1814.
As Pembroke writes 'History and circumstance combined to make Phillip an astute choice (to establish the first Australian settlement). He knew the South Atlantic and was familiar with the Canaries, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town. He had doubled the Cape of Good Hope and crossed the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal. He had served as a covert agent in France and understood its naval threat and probably also its territorial aspirations. He had experience as a farmer at Lyndhurst. He was cerebral and his natural disposition was thoughtful. He had impressed the Portuguese Viceroy in Brazil and gained the confidence of the British administration in Whitehall. And if there is any substance in the legend about him, he had already transported a shipload of convicts from Lisbon to Brazil.'

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our Burrawangs Produce Seed Cones

Many years ago we 'rescued' some very small burrawangs (Macrozamia communis) from our local state forest (now a national park) when it was being logged.
We eventually planted those that survived the transplant in the front of the house.
They are now huge and their spikey leaves would deter the most determined intruder.

Burrawangs are members of the cycad family. Though they are a minor component of the plant kingdom today, during the Jurassic period they were very common and have changed little since then, compared to some major evolutionary changes in other plant life.
The individual plants are either male or female and the latter very occasionally produce seed cones.
When ripe, the cone on the female plant breaks apart to release the large, bright red seeds.
I have never noticed any pollen producing male cones on any of our plants.

The seeds are a good source of starch but are poisonous. It is suggested not even to touch the cones as the poison can be absorbed through the skin.
Local Aboriginal people however know how to convert them, safely, into a food.
The plants are prolific in our area, particularly as understorey in spotted gum forests and can live for 120 years.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Vintage 2015 / Fighting the Fungus - Results

December was a very wet month with 201mm rain falling over 16 days.
Average for that month is 83mm over 9 rain days.
Compare that to last year (the vintage of the decade) where we had 52mm over 9 rain days.
This situation did nothing to help us 'fight the fungus'.
However the results of our curative spray a few weeks ago are in.
The Pinot Noir obviously had more downy mildew in it than first estimated. The browning off of the leaves where the AgriFos 600 has done its work is considerable. However the powdery mildew on the bunches seems to have been eradicated. Thanks Mr. Bayer!
Whether this leaf loss will affect the bunch development and eventual ripening remains to be seen.
My gut feeling is we won't be harvesting this variety this season.
The Tempranillo is not much better but the remaining leaf cover may ripen the fruit enough to make it suitable for a rose'.
There is more optimism for the remaining two varieties.
Both downy and powdery mildew 'damage' appears to be minimal.
The main problem will be keeping the protective spray program up to date if the persistent wet weather continues.
Long term weather forecasts are not encouraging and so far in January that has been the case.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Measuring Sulphur Dioxide in Wine

In another post I discussed sulphites in wine and touched on a couple of ways of measuring the level of sulphur dioxide (SO2), both total and free.
In our very small and non commercial operation we have basically ignored this process relying on a 'seat of the pants' additions of this antimicrobial / antioxidant material.
Of course there is a danger of under dosing which will leave the wine open to spoilage.
Over dosing (within the legal limit) is less of a problem but there is an industry wide trend toward reducing sulphur dioxide levels if possible. Apart from health concerns, minimal additions improve wine quality. 
From time to time we have tried to address the situation but the purchase of a Rankine apparatus (aspiration oxidation method) is just a little 'over the top'.

We have tried the Accuvin test kits for measuring free SO2 but they are expensive and from my point of view somewhat inaccurate.
Many wineries use the age old Ripper Method which involves standard iodine to titrate the free or total SO2 in a wine sample. However it is conceded universally that this method is somewhat inaccurate.
Some investigation on the Internet established that a 'dumbed down' version of Rankine was available in the USA for the home winemaker. I could not find a similar product in Australia.

So while there, in November, I took delivery of a kit.
The kit claims to measure, with a high degree of accuracy, the free SO2 content of wine by the aspiration oxidation method using considerably cheaper equipment.
In this procedure, sulfur dioxide in wine is distilled with air aspiration from an acidified sample solution into a hydrogen peroxide trap, where the volatilized SO2 is oxidized to H2SO4:
H2O2 + SO2 SO3-2 + H2O - H2SO4
The volume of 0.01N NaOH required to titrate the acid formed to an end point is measured and is used to calculate SO2 levels.
Of course there is some operator skill involved and hopefully my experience with Rankine, albeit some time ago, will suffice.
We brought it home in our checked in luggage.
No breakages in transit but old clumsy fingers here managed to snap a glass tube while putting the kit together. Luckily I found a locally made replacement.
The air pump of course runs on 110V (Australian current is 240V) but we have a step down transformer for some other American appliances and our initial test run for the system was successful.
Once I source the necessary chemical reagents (we had to leave some behind due to transport regulations), I will give it a full test run.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Happy New Year!

Another belated report.
New Year's Eve was a quiet one for us.
We watched the 9pm Sydney fireworks on television after dinner and then went to bed. We would have to watch the giant midnight display next day on replay.
Everyone in the valley must have done the same. No parties, no celebrations.
It had started raining around 6pm and continued on. Maybe that had put a damper on every one's evening.
I was awake briefly at exactly midnight but there was not a sound. I still wonder what woke me.
Ulladulla put on its usual NYE show, closing off the main street and providing entertainment, a carnival and early fireworks over the harbour.
So it's welcome to 2015!

And the main event for us this year?
This will undoubtedly be the daughter's marriage to Nick in Bali, Indonesia in June.
She has completed most of the arrangements and all we need to do is organize our flights and any additional travel, not to mention the FOTB speech.
The co driver and I, the mother and Nick's parents will spend five days with the happy couple on the island in a lovely villa near the village of Sesah right on a black volcanic sand beach among the rice paddies.
Seminyak is close by and hosts most of Bali's luxury restaurants, shopping and day spas.
Ubud (made famous by Julia Roberts in 'Eat Pray Love') is only a short distance away and is famous for its arts and crafts scene. It's also the spiritual center for a lot of the yoga and health retreats.
The civil ceremony will take place by the pool in the huge tropical garden that surrounds the house.

We are sure it will be a wonderful intimate affair and are already very excited about it all.
That will probably be our only overseas trip for the year.
But, for now, it's back to enjoying the remaining two months of summer and getting ready for vintage.
A happy and prosperous new year to all my readers.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Christmas 2014

The days in the week leading up to Christmas were particularly stormy.
Our area experienced a very nasty thunderstorm with simultaneous thunder and lightning, torrential rain, some hail and high winds one afternoon two days before Christmas Day. A lightning strike (we think it hit our house or was very very close by) took out the phone system in our valley and, with it, the land line based ADSL internet service.
Our Telco said it could take up to two weeks to get us back 'on air'. In fact it did but there was a lot of network damage all over the area. They had 4 technicians working virtually around the clock to fix everything.
Fortunately we had our mobile (cell) phones as back up for any emergency.
We would have had to frequent the few free WiFi hotspots in town (McDonald's, the library) to establish day to day Internet contact with the outside world but the horrific holiday traffic this time of year makes that trip a real chore so we only managed to just check emails a couple of times in that two week period.
So to our belated Christmas 'report'.
Christmas Day dawned warm and sunny.
The co driver and I headed down to the beach for our usual read and a sit in the sun. Not many people were there at first (too busy opening presents?) but towards mid morning families began to arrive and set up for the day. Lots of new towels, beach tents and boogie boards too. Santa had been busy.

That was the sign for us to head home to prepare our Christmas lunch.
My parents' generation would always have traditional British fare for Christmas. But who wants to slave away in a hot kitchen in the middle of summer and eat food more suitable for cold northern hemisphere winters?
My generation saw the folly of this and things have changed considerably. Seafood and/or BBQs are now more commonplace.

Our menu:
-Fresh oysters on the shell
-Tiger prawns with wasabi and light soy
-Fresh mussels opened in a white wine, tomato and chilli sauce
-BBQ filet steak with twice baked potatoes and steamed brussel sprouts with parmesan
-Sticky date pudding with whipped cream and ice cream

 The wine list:
-Piper Heidsieck NV Brut Champagne
-Margan Hunter Valley Semillon 2012
-Coldstream Hills Yarra Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (from my secret stash, hence the dusty bottle).
Storms rolled in again in the afternoon but didn't dampen our two person party.
Good food and wine and silly hats and bon bons were the order of the day.