Friday, October 20, 2017

Some Birds of Our Area

Being rural and almost surrounded by National Parks, we get a lot of native birds in our vicinity.
Most are welcome, a few are not.
So here's a rundown on some we encounter.
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo,  Galah

The sulphur crested cockatoos usually arrive in flocks and are very interested in our lemons which they devour in quantity. They like the unripe plums, peaches and pears too. We have plenty of lemons and have given up trying to protect the other fruit so they are not a problem.
The black cockatoos have adapted to eating the newly formed cones on the exotic radiata pine trees that are grown in Australia in plantations for cheap timber and paper pulp. They arrive in very noisy screeching flocks into our pine tree at that time of the year. Unfortunately it grows next to our studio and they drop the partially eaten cones on the corrugated iron roof which sounds like someone is shooting at us.
Galah can also be an Australian slang word for a stupid person. It is apt as these birds carry on in their flocks in quite crazy ways. They are grass seed eaters.
Gang Gang                                           Corella
Very occasionally we get a visit from pairs of gang gangs and the odd flock of corellas.
Even more colourful are the Rosellas and King parrots. The former like the native flowers for nectar. The latter only seem to come when our catoneasta has its berries ripe. They are usually in pairs and the female is much duller than the male.
Crimson Rosella                Eastern Rosella               King Parrot
Then there are the Rainbow Lorikeets. They swarm in in great numbers when the native and exotic trees are in flower. Noisily screeching and bickering with each other, they are regular welcome visitors. But in many parts of the country they are pests and can decimate fruit crops very quickly. I know if I didn't have the grapes netted they might not be so welcome.

Regular visitors are Kookaburras. They are a member of the kingfisher family and are carnivorous. They eat worms, lizards and even small snakes. They stalk their prey, catch it and then dispatch it by hitting it on a hard surface before swallowing.

They can become very tame and people regularly feed them meat scraps etc. We have resisted doing this to keep them wild and non dependent.
I have experienced them stealing sausages off Bar B Qs and people's plates during park picnics.
Their call (or laugh) is considered the sound of the Australian bush but they are just marking out their territories.
And finally a not so welcome visitor.
The dreaded Koel.
The Common Koel is a large migratory cuckoo which flies to Australia from New Guinea, Indonesia and possibly the Philippines arriving usually in September. It breeds mostly in Queensland and NSW as far south as our area. They remain until March or April, when they return to their non-breeding grounds.
It has the most annoyingly loud call which can go on for hours and hours from VERY early morning to dark.
I don't know anyone who eventually doesn't want to throttle this bird.
So there you have some of our feathered friends.
There are many more but will leave that for another time.

Monday, October 09, 2017

ARTfest '17

When I moved down here permanently in 1991(has it really been THAT long?), there was little arts' activity.
There was the occasional live show at the Milton theater and small artists, pottery, photography and literary groups.
Live entertainment was provided mainly by the local clubs (RSL, bowls, golf) who tapped into the regional transient entertainers circuit, usually past their prime comedians and singers or tribute artists.
But as baby boomers retired and moved from Sydney and Canberra for their 'sea change', interest in the arts scene increased.
The current Artfest had its genesis in 1999 with the Tabula Rasa Contemporary Arts Festival staged during the winter months with the aim of showcasing local artists of all genres.

It has gone through a number rebirths since and the Escape ARTfest is now a two-week celebration of all things artistic in the Milton-Ulladulla district running from late September to early October.
In 2010, Rick Stein of TV chef fame (he has a very expensive fish and chip restaurant in town) and his wife came on board as the official patrons of the ARTfest. Their support has substantially increased its profile both regionally and state wide.
2017 features close to 100 individual events with over 40 art exhibitions, concerts, performances, authors' luncheons, workshops, films, digital installations and pop up community events. A children's orientated program is also a feature.
We decided to do a pottery workshop.
It was an all day affair where we hand built 'totems' under the watchful and helpful eye of two instructors.

We had a lot of fun doing it. Our 'masterpieces' needed to dry for a few weeks and then were bisque fired. When this was done they were glazed before a final firing.
Update: 5th November.
Here is the final result.
The pottery group running the workshop offers six week beginners' classes during the year so I guess this may have been in part a recruiting exercise. Whether we will continue on with this activity is still being cussed and discussed given we didn't last too long at art classes..
On another day we drove out to a lovely property behind Milton where, as part of ARTfest, an exhibition of the owners' wood fired ceramic sculptures and pieces as well as bonsai and textiles had been organized. 
We missed the opening of the wood-fired train kiln but the results looked great. 
I liked the somewhat free form and 'primitive' style pottery.
There was also a huge permaculture garden full of vegetables and numerous fruit trees, not to mention a large stand of bunya pines.
The house must have been well over a hundred years old and built in that late 1800s colonial style, many of which still remain standing in our area.

Then it was to the Milkhaus for lunch.
Situated in the old Cheese Factory at Woodstock, this establishment is a wholefoods cafe that "aims to deliver fresh, honest, simple fare, free of toxins, preservatives and anything artificial."

The menu can be unusual (and sometimes a bit challenging) and changes on a regular basis eg. crispy spiced cauliflower tacos with cabbage slaw, avocado salsa, shallots, coriander and chilli with tahini yoghurt. 
The place was jumping and all the (communal) tables were filled up. Plenty of kids too as it was still school holiday time. There is no kids' menu so I wondered how some would cope with the 'strange' food. A family at a table near us with five pre teen girls didn't seem to be having any problem.
A totally enjoyable day and a great way to end our small participation in ARTfest '17.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sulphur Dioxide in Wine / A Revisit

I have discussed the use of sulphites in wine in 2009 and 2015.
There is an increasing tendency in Australia to reduce the usage of SO2 (Preservative 220) as much as possible due to concerns about allergic reactions to the chemical by consumers.
The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) is the Australian grape and wine industry’s research organization which supports the grape and wine industry through  research, practical solutions and knowledge transfer.
They have recently 'revisited' sulphur dioxide use because their "problem-solving" service has recently seen a number of wine samples submitted with issues apparently related to insufficient use of the preservative.
These samples have presented with a range of ‘symptoms', including sensory deterioration, premature oxidation, microbial spoilage and high concentrations of volatile acidity (VA).
All have been traced back to reveal insufficient SO2 at bottling as a major contributing factor.
So to recap, sulphur dioxide is an extremely effective antioxidant and antimicrobial agent when added in very small amounts to wine. The maximum allowable in Australia for a dry wines is 250mg/L although I doubt this level is ever reached.
It is introduced into wine a number of times during processing generally in the form of potassium metabisulphite (KMS) which produces approximately half its weight as SO2.
In the wine, two forms of SO2 then exist ie.bound and free. It is the free that 'does the work'. Within the free it is the molecular sulphur that is the 'active agent'.
The amount of SO2 in the free form and its effectiveness ie. molecular sulphur content, depends on the pH of the wine. The higher the pH, the less SO2 will be in the useful free form AND the less effective this free SO2 will be.
Free SO2 levels recommended by Rankine

So with all this well documented and established knowledge why are some winemakers running into trouble?
There are many considerations to take into account when assessing the correct SO2 levels. These include if a wine is intended for short, medium or long term storage, wine clarity and dissolved oxygen pickup at various stages of wine production particularly at bottling. The latter two increase the bound and reduce the free levels of SO2.
With this trend towards the lowest possible additions, it seems multiple small additions of SO2 rather than one equivalent large addition could result in the concentration of free SO2 never reaching a level which produces the desired antioxidant or antimicrobial effect.
Larger less frequent SO2 additions, yielding greater concentrations of free SO2, are therefore considered much more effective in achieving the desired antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.
The AWRI reports: It is apparent that many wines submitted for problem solving investigation are those to which several small SO2 additions have been made, and many of these wines have a comparatively high ratio of bound to free SO2, i.e. the free SO2 concentration being 25% or less of the concentration of total SO2. In most cases this phenomenon is apparently due to products of oxidation and microbiological activity resulting from the low free SO2 concentrations, acting to bind a large proportion of the SO2 that is present.

Measuring free SO2 on a commercial scale requires expensive equipment or a complicated laboratory set up.
There are test kits for the small wine maker but I have found these to be expensive, inaccurate and unreliable.
Some time ago I came across a test system based on the Rankine method in the USA for $100 and brought one home with me. It can be a bit fiddly but I found this to be one of the better wine making investments I have made.
The electric pump required a step down transformer (which we have for our other USA appliances) to cope with our 240V. The test chemicals were easily acquired locally eg. from ANPROS
Performed with care and measuring accuracy, testing using this set up will definitely indicate when free SO2 is present in the wine and, with a simple calculation, the approximate amount.
Now whether this amount is accurate is any one's guess as I have no way of comparing it to a result from an established testing method.
But I have to say so far I have come across none of the low sulphur problems stated above with the white that has been bottled or the reds which are still in the tank.