Thursday, March 26, 2015

Vintage 2015 Ends

Stirls and I harvested the Cabnernet Sauvignon on 25th March.
The fruit was in excellent condition.
The weather was warm and sunny making harvest a pleasant chore.
The grapes were destemmed and crushed and DAP, MLF culture, tartaric acid, french oak mini staves and yeast were added to the must.
Fermentation started within 12 hours.
The cap is being plunged down (pigeage) every 4 hours during daylight hours.

We expect fermentation to be complete in  5-7 days.
For our celebratory vintage dinner we had roast leg of  lamb with all the trimmings washed down with a 2007 Mount Pleasant Hunter Valley Blue Label Semillon and a 2009 Mornington Peninsula Paringa Estate Pinot Noir.
A rewarding end to not such a successful vintage this year.

Monday, March 16, 2015


In the previous post I mentioned that sugar levels of fruit from our fungus effected vines was too low (10.0° Baumé) to make reasonable wine ie. the grapes were not sugar ripe.
Sugar content is related to alcohol content so a must (juice) with 13.0° Baumé (23° Brix) will produce a wine with an alcohol content of around 13%.
While there is a trend towards lower alcohol wines, our opinion is that any red wine under 13% is 'thin'. This is probably due to being brought up on wines from a hot sunny climate that generally produces grapes with a potential high alcohol.
A number of people asked why we simply don't add sugar (sucrose) to increase the level.
To increase alcohol by 1% around 19g/L sugar needs to be added to the juice. 
Adding sugar to grape juice is called chaptalization.
While this is a legal practice in many countries eg. France, it is not permitted in Australia.
What is legal here, to increase sugar, is adding grape juice concentrate. This can be made by freezing the grape juice and removing the water component as ice. Grape juice is 70-80% water. The liquid remaining is a concentrated sugar (glucose and fructose) solution. It is also commercially available in both red and white forms at around 38.0° Baumé. Of course in our non commercial operation the legal situation would not be a concern.
But there are other reasons not to do it.

Grape ripeness has a number of definitions. There is sugar ripeness, discussed above, and then there is flavour ripeness.
Apart from sugar and water, grape juice contains:
-organic acids
-phenolic compounds
-nitrogenous compounds
-aroma compounds
-pectic substances
As grapes ripen many of the above components change. Unripe grapes with undeveloped aroma and flavor compounds also make unsatisfactory wine so simply 'sugaring' their juice does not always produce a satisfactory result.
The possible problems associated with under ripe red grapes are:
-pH and acid imbalances
-under ripe tannins
-decreased fruity aromas
-higher risk of herbaceous and bitter characters
-low pigment potential
In some years we have added a little sugar to increase Baumé by 0.5° (from 12.5° to 13.0°) without any noticeable problems but this year would have meant an increase from 10.0° to 13.0° for the Tempranillo which is just too big a gap.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Vintage 2015 Update

Fungus, predominantly downy mildew, won the war in the Pinot Noir, Semillon and Tempranillo blocks this year, despite preventative and curative spraying.
This caused considerable leaf fall.
Once downy gets a hold it's difficult to control. The early part of  December was very wet and we were away when the infection initiated. It was an uphill fight hindered by continual rain (lots of rain days) to bring things under control on our return mid month.
This was the known risk we took travelling at that time of year.
Although there was a considerable amount of fruit left on the Tempranillo, the lack of leaf prevented it from ripening to a suitable level.
The highest sugar reading before bunch shrivelling set in was 10° Baume, much too low to make a suitable wine. We look for a level between 12.5° and 14° Baume for that variety.

Meanwhile the Cabernet Sauvignon is progressing well. Fungus has been kept to a minimum and any leaf loss has been minimal.
Plenty of fruit on the vines too and the condition of the bunches is excellent. Despite the virtually continual rain from early December up until mid February there has been no sign of botrytis either.
Last sugar reading was 11° Baume so we expect to harvest in the last week of March or first week of April.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Big Plane - Small Airport

There was a bit of excitement in the area on Sunday.
QANTAS had arranged with the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) at the Illawarra Regional Airport near Wollongong two hours to the north of us to take delivery of a retired Boeing 747-400.
The plane is to be put on permanent display.
This might not sound such a big deal but the aircraft VH-OJA was the first 747-400 of the QANTAS fleet and holds the record for the world's longest ever non stop commercial flight from London to Sydney taking 20 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds in August 1989.
The other thing is the main runway at this airport is just 1819m long and 30m wide and is normally used for light aircraft.
No large commercial jet aircraft let alone a jumbo has landed there before.
Photos: Illawarra Mercury

The four crew, with over 50,000 hours of flying experience behind them, spent more than 25 hours in a flight simulator preparing for the tight landing.
All precautions were taken to prevent any damage to the runway eg. light fuel load, reduced tyre pressure, lower than normal approach speed.
The flight from Sydney took just 15 minutes and landed safely to the cheers of thousands of people who had gathered to watch the event.
Normally when aircraft are retired, QANTAS sends them to the Californian desert where they are sold or scrapped for parts.
HARS is home to the largest collection of both flying and static heritage aircraft in Australia, including an old QANTAS Lockheed Super Constellation.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Another Australian Outback Icon?

Many tourists coming to this country, as well as locals, want an outback experience.
Most recommended is a trip to central Australia specifically to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), a monolith that stands alone in the flat red desert as well as the nearby domes of Kata Tjuta (Mt. Olga)
Many fly in and others take the 450km road journey from Alice Springs.
On that road they come across Mt.Connor (Atula or Artilla).
Many think they have arrived at Uluru, so many in fact that it has been nicknamed Fool-uru.
You can see why from the pictures below.
Mt. Connor

There was an article in the local paper about this concentrating on Mt. Connor which I thought was interesting. While Uluru is on land that is either national park or run by the Central Land Council, Mt Connor is on private lease and belongs to Curtin Springs Station (ranch), run by the Severin family since 1956. This is a one million acre cattle farm running 1500 head which survive on the very sparse vegetation and bore water (little rain falls in this area).
To supplement their income, the Severins have developed a road stop which offers tourists petrol, food and drink and accommodation. They also run tours to the mountain and a huge salt lake.
The full story is here.
From the air, however, there are distinct differences between the two.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Years of Local Roadworks Planned

We live up a private road off the Princes Highway. This is part of  Route 1 which is a system of highways that circumnavigates the Australian continent, a distance of 14,500km (9000mi). It is the longest national highway in the world.
Our section runs from Sydney in the north to Melbourne in the south and west onto Port Augusta in South Australia for a total of 1950km.
It is not however the major Sydney to Melbourne route. That honor goes to the inland Hume Highway, Route 31, which is shorter and very much quicker being a four lane freeway almost the whole way.
The Princes Highway for much of its length is a basic two lane road. In parts it is very narrow and winding with narrow bridges (see pic below) and gives little opportunity to overtake.
It can be a pretty dangerous road and carries a lot of traffic including heavy transport.
There are numerous accidents every year along the New South Wales part of the road, many of them fatal.
Gradually it is being improved with freeway type sections, wider bridges and overtaking lanes. But this has been a slow process due to priority given to other highways.
Our Creek Bridge Looking North Along Highway 1

The section just to the north of our turnoff has a narrow bridge across our creek and a long sweeping bend down into and out of a gully.
The safety barriers around the bend and across the creek are continually being damaged by cars and trucks hitting them after taking the corners too fast. There have been a few nasty accidents on the bridge's approaches. Sometimes being on the bridge with a big semi coming the other way at speed can initiate a heart in mouth moment.
One of our neighbours and his son were severely injured after being rear ended on part of the blind corner while waiting to turn into their property a few years ago.

It was eventually decided by the state government that this section of road should be straightened and the bridge widened.
This was subject to considerable resident action and a little bit of a battle, starting way back in 2007, to get things right.
Now the project is finally off the ground.
The bend will be taken out, a new much wider bridge built and we will have a turn off lane so we can enter our road more safely from the north.
Cost: $21million
Duration: 18 months
One of the downsides is the removal of hundreds of mature gum trees that have to make way for the construction. The landscape on the approach to our property will now be changed for ever and that is a bit of a shock after 25 years residence.
Traffic restrictions are already in place (only one lane open with a controlled alternate traffic flow) so it will be a long 18 months of slow traffic trying to get into town especially at holiday time.
And they have just announced that a much needed new bridge will be built over the Lake Burrill estuary, again, between us and town.
That will cost $50million and will start early 2016 and won't be finished until 2018.
More lengthy holdups at times, I guess.
Looks like we may be heading south to Batemans Bay to do much of our 'town business'.
All this big spending activity in our area might have the more cynical of us thinking a state government election may be coming up.
Wait a minute, there is....... in a few weeks.