Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Vintage 2018 Begins (Semillon Harvest)

There was prediction of some rain on the Wednesday, not much, up to 15mm.
I thought that may be just enough to cause some problems with the Semillon, now unprotected due to the 14 day post spray withholding period (WHP) before harvest, as anything >10mm over 24hours is a trigger for mildews.
So did a more intensive ripeness test on the Monday afternoon which showed 12.5° Baume, which was good enough. Most of the bunches were in great condition.
Ok, decision made...good to go on Thursday with equipment clean up and other preparation during the two lead up days,
However on Monday night the heavens opened up and by Tuesday morning we had received over 60mm. The rain continued all morning.
And its was only our small area in the whole state copping it.

There is of course a conflict of interest here. We have been experiencing a substantial period of green drought; somewhat good for grape growing, not so good for the pasture and cattle. Our creek has not run for months and some of our smaller dams are dry. The main dam is at a very low level.
The 70mm from the Tuesday 'wet' should have helped a little in this situation. But the next day was 37°C (98°F) with hot westerly winds so any soil moisture evaporated. And the smaller dams remained dry.
Small pot dam is dry as a bone

But back to harvest.
In the lead up we cleaned the tanks, tested and repaired one of the floating lids. There was an air leak in the pump tubing.
And all the lab equipment was cleaned and organized and the chemicals sorted out.
We harvested around 170kg (375lb) of Semillon on the Thursday. Most was in prime condition with only a small incidence of botrytis and some powdery mildew.
Baume was 12.0°
pH was 3.3
We crushed and destemmed the fruit and then drained the resultant juice through the press. As we had an abundance of fruit this year we decided to go with free run juice only and no pressings.

Sulphur dioxide and ascorbic acid were added at the crusher.
DAP, PVPP and finally the yeast culture were added to the juice after it had been transferred to the tank.
We had to wait a little longer than normal for fermentation to begin, almost 3 days (too much initial sulphur?), which caused a little worry but all is good now. Fermentation is in full swing.
The Tempranillo harvest will follow in a week or two.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Eating Out

We ate at the new Japanese restaurant, Tanoshi, in town the other day. It was excellent and great value.
Got me thinking how far we had come in our small town, food wise, since I arrived down here nearly three decades ago.
Then we had the basic Greek cafe, which was ubiquitous in most country towns, serving simple meals for breakfast (a fry up), lunch and dinner (meat and three veg) as well as take away hamburgers especially ones with the lot *, fish and chips and rotisserie chicken. There were two Chinese restaurants, again normal for most country towns, a few fish and chips places and a couple of Italian trattorias/pizza joints that catered to the large Italian population (we were a busy fishing port then).

And of course the three pubs as well as the service, golf and bowling clubs served cheap meals.
Posh eating out was limited to The Harbourside (now a less than stellar asian restaurant) and Millards Cottage (now  a real estate office) and Tory's, a very expensive seafood restaurant (now a leveled weed infested block of land waiting for a building development that never eventuates).
Of course there were small cafes and other takeaways including bakeries and pie shops (meat pies are a staple lunch 'to go').
Gradually other cuisines started to infiltrate, some with success, others not so much.
I remember an Indian restaurant stayed for quite a while, lost favour and then mysteriously caught fire one night. There was also a longish term Vietnamese restaurant that did well but is now gone and an Australianised Thai that was very popular until they moved a little way out of town. A Stone Grill also came and went.

Fast food chains began taking an interest in the town. McDonalds and KFC began sniffing around. The community was very anti these companies as they had a reputation of forcing local small cafes to close in areas where they became established. It took many years before these two were granted permission by Council to operate and indeed they caused, for a time, the negative result on local businesses we all dreaded. Since then the Domino Pizza and Subway chains have also moved in.
A momentous culinary event was when Rick Stein of TV chef fame opened a restaurant here. The tourists love it but I think many locals have been stung a little too often by the really high prices for what is basically still fish and chips.
A few other upmarket places have followed but most seem to have a big white plate/small serving philosophy plus exorbitant wine prices.
The clubs have tried to go a little upmarket as well with, in our view, limited success.
We stick to places like the Japanese mentioned above, an excellent genuine Thai,Yes I Am (get it?) and Milkhaus for their 'out there' menu. All are BYO (bring your own wine).
Both our town and our sister town, Milton, 6 km up the road, are chocked full of coffee shops some serving excellent food at very reasonable prices.
Our favourites are Brown Sugar, The Treehouse and the vegetarian Pilgrims. There is also an excellent wood fired pizza place that has been there for ever (still cash only; no cards).
The co driver is a Mavericks affectionado. They roast their own coffee on site.

How so many manage to survive given the relative small market ( the two towns plus surrounding area's population is around 15000) is always a mystery to me. Perhaps they make hay while the sun shines when our population quadruples during the 6 week summer holiday period as well as other holiday periods eg. Easter.
*Now what is hamburger with with the lot?
Not as easy to find these days (thanks McDonalds and Hungry Jacks! not) but are still around.
A meal in a bun.

And they taste as good as they look.
But not so easy to eat.
And the golden rule is never eat one wearing white. The beetroot will get you every time!

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Determining Grape Ripeness

This time of year, as harvest approaches, we need to assess the ripeness of the grapes.
There are a number of ways of doing this.
The most obvious criteria is sugar ripeness. The amount of sugar in the grape juice determines approximately the alcoholic content of the finished wine.
Lower sugar content eg. around 11% maybe suitable for delicate white wines eg. Semillon but totally unsuitable for full bodied whites like wooded Chardonnay and reds which need to be around 14%.
We determine sugar content by use of a refractometer.
Juice, squeezed on the instrument, is read via a scale. We use the Baume scale where 13° Baume would equal 13% sugar. Other scales in use are Brix and Oechsle.
Hydrometers can also be used but we find this instrument better for tracking the decreasing sugar content of the fermenting juice.
Initially grapes are tested randomly during walks through the vineyard.
But when things start to get serious, a more formal approach is needed to determine the ripeness of the whole vineyard.
pH meter, Hydrometer, Refractometer

Obviously the ripeness of the grapes throughout the vineyard will vary according to environmental factors and when the bunch was formed after bud burst. There are ways of ensuring an even bud burst by applying a chemical eg. Dormex, but not here.
Even grapes berries within a bunch will have varying sugar levels.
So our method is to ignore end of row vines (they tend to be the ripest) and take grape berry samples from two to three bunches of every third vine. Grapes are taken from the bottom, top, outside and inside of each bunch. They are then combined, crushed and the juice left to settle. We then determine the sugar level from the clarified juice. Rule of thumb is the result will be approximately one degree higher than that of the actual harvest.
We also look for pH and titratable acid (TA) levels. As grapes ripen, pH rises and acid content drops. Both together give us an idea of the wine’s acidity which is important from a processing and taste point of view. But, as we can adjust this during the wine making process, it is not too important at this stage.
Refractometer with scale showing juice at 12° Baume (21° Brix)

But there are also other non scientific methods to be used in conjunction with sugar ripeness.
The colour of the bunch stems and grape seeds change as ripeness progresses turning from green to brown.
The berries will plump up as sugars increase and will be easier to pull from bunches the riper they get.
The grape seeds are easily chewable when ripe.
Ripe grapes are sweet, with no hint of bitterness in the flesh or seeds.
Also, experienced winemakers will look for the ultimate “varietal” flavors to start showing through during taste testing.
It all might sound a little complicated but it isn't.

We find the most difficult thing is weather related. When substantial rain over a few days is predicted, do we harvest when ripeness is not at a premium or do we wait and take the risk that juice dilution, fruit splitting and subsequent disease may result in reducing yield and quality.
In our warm maritime climate (where the harvest months, February, March and April, on average are some of the wettest of the year) this is a decision we have to make almost every vintage.
Sometimes we have won, other times not.