Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cellar Door Drivers

Cellar Door Drivers

At the cellar door, one of the first things a winemaker is asked is how long they've been there. Now there are a number of standard replies which I use based upon my instant assessment of the potential size of the hoped for sale. If my interrogators appear to be of a certain social persuasion and seem to have over invested in a display of all of the good things of this consumer life, (and as a consequence have bugger all left on the credit card to invest in the even better things I am offering) my reply is something along the lines of “ Oh about,  now let’s see…hmmm..since about 7 am” 

If the prospect is a relic from a past era with the bum out of his and or her pants and is driving and or pushing a battered salt encrusted VW Combi; in short someone who can only have an absurd sense of humour and or values the good things in this life (and strongly reminds me of my former pre-sales self), then the reply is likely to be along the lines of   “ since I was a brunette”  “ Really..that long eh?” 

But there are some scarey cellar door types who fall out of their veHicles in a storm cloud of regional maps, cellar door guides (which don’t include us) with the latest wine app (which doesn't include us) glinting in the socially mediocre sunlight only to stumble over the dog as they blindly trample their way through the mondo grass in their headlong rush to breathlessly demand of me….”so how long have you been here?” There’s not much room for maneuver when you are about to be classified by this particularly well connected style of wine buff, so you have to grit your teeth and play it straight….there’s little chance of a sale anyway and if you don’t give them an answer they can tick off and tweet to their wine investment club, they’ll only visit you again..and probably with both of their friends. 

 Says I “We’re coming up to our 33rd anniversary this June, and we were the first vineyard winery in Orange”  “Is that right, well how come there weren’t any wineries here before you when they’ve been growing wine in Mudgee for 161 years this month” . Hands up.. I give in.

No I don’t. I think it's largely a cultural thing. Unlike the mostly Protestant orchardists around Orange, who turned their grapegrowing skills toward the table, the pioneers of the Mudgee area had had a winery operating at Craigmoor since 1854 or 1855, well before gold was discovered at Gulgong in the early 1870s.   While the Hicks, Hawkes and Joneses of Canobolas persuasions near Orange were busy growing “cherries, grapes, apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, ….walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and almonds – (in) short anything which grows in (mother) England…..with perfect results”, [1]their contemporaries down the Cudgegong, the Roths, Fiaschi, Muller and Kurtz families to name a few, had followed the traditions of a different post-harvest heritage and turned their surplus grapes into wine.  

Beulah may have gotten away with peeling and savouring a grape in the quiet crisp sunlight of a late Orange autumn, but that same grape in down town 19th century Mudgee would have long since been fermented into alcohol and probably be on the road to the anxious markets of Sydney or the terminally un-slaked thirsts ot the local Loaded Dog inn. 

It has only been since the relatively recent reductionist approach to all things wine that the traditional pattern of development has changed and scientifically driven new areas from Mount Lofty to Mount Canobolas have been opened up to wine production..or should that be vini-culture. And yet the fact remains that cellar door visitors of all stripes underpin the long term economic success of many of these new areas and the current industry shakeout will largely be a reflection of the strength of the cultural drivers which underpin each locality. 

And that’s one driver we all need at our cellar doors  

[1]   BONE, F.S., ed., Orange District Guide: Millthorpe, Cadia, Forest Reefs, Thomas Crouch, 1908,pp44-56

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bovine Dramatic Viticulture

Anyone who's been down wind of a grape grower at the end of a warm and sweaty spring day would understand the term, organic. Yes folks, there's nothing artificial about those piquant aromatics.

Sweat, it's a natural part of life! Well maybe that isn't quite what the jingle was getting at, but, at the beginning of the growing season, every vineyard is close to 100% organic. It's what we do to it during the season that, in the minds of some people, knocks the average about. But, in the end, the grape growing game is about realising as much of that latent potential as possible, in the most cost-effective and ecologically sound manner.

I think it's a pity that there's a bit of an odour about the word 'organic'. Our European cousins, with typical flair, have opted for the phrase 'ecologically sustainable'. This gets away from the mud that has been increasingly sticking to the sun struck ideas of the chicken manure in the back of the Combi crowd.

With typical E.E.C. pragmatism, the term 'ecologically sustainable' allows a little more latitude in interpreting the rules. For example, if we use a systemic chemical for control of weeds, a practice which obviates the possibility of soil structure breakdown following conventional cultivation, are we still organic? There are those who would throw their fully imported designer caftans up in horror at the mere suggestion. And yet, if you were an earthworm or vine root watching the discs approach, you'd probably elect to go with the ecologically sustainable European model.

The North Americans, in somewhat less of a surprise, have adopted the biggest and best term possible. They've gone for the quite obscure 'Low Input Sustainable Agriculture' tag, a wonderfully crafted phrase with a renewable inner-glow. The acronym LISA already is internationally recognised as standing for Library and Information Science Abstracts, so they are definitely on the warm and fuzzy track. There's nothing like a bit of confused jargon to really free up the interpretation of the philosophical intent implicit in the word 'organic.'

So what does it mean, this "organic" word? Well, basically, it means "real". Is what you are adding to your vineyard real or unreal? Ground Sulphur mixed with water and sprayed through the canopy of your vines as a preventative for powdery mildew is real, the post-infection application of a synthetic systemic chemical is unreal. Chicken poo flung along the vine rows is real, liquid nitrogen dripped individually through miles of black plastic piping is not. Chipping weeds with  a trusty hoe and back-brace is OK, a residual chemical soil sterilant doesn't get a look in. See, easy isn't it!

Those of you who know Bloodwood already will know that we tend more towards the Bovine Dramatic than the bio-dynamic. We put the whole herd into the vineyard over winter but we use only "soft" sprays like copper and sulfur to protect against disease during the growing season. All left-overs from our winery are taken back to the vineyard from which they came and we employ people with eyes, noses and brains to pick and prune our vines. The whole wine making process is as gentle as practically possible and we use an organically certified bottling line to sterile filter and package our wines. In addition, all Bloodwood wines are matured and distributed directly through Bloodwood. If trusting the people who grow and make your food means anything to you, you can trust Bloodwood.

Nevertheless, we are all very, very lucky in the business of growing grapes around here. With the exception of weeds, which are a real problem only during the establishment phase, practically all our potential afflictions can be dealt with using real techniques and soft chemicals. This is just as well, for a vineyard is a life-long proposition. Imagine if DDT or the organochlorides had been a significant part of accepted vineyard practice over the years.  
So the next time you meet your friendly local grape grower in what looks for all the unreal world like the housewares section but smells suspiciously like the delicatessen, remember, it's both our futures we're looking after.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Soils ain't soils, Sol.

This being the beginning of another growing season here at Bloodwood, I thought it time to get really filthy for a change; thought it time to get our hands well and truly soiled.

When you are selecting the site for your new vineyard, there's a lot to be said for dirt. Not only is it a fairly handy medium in which to stand trellis posts but it can also play a critical role in the quality of your fruit.

You see, vines will grow almost anywhere as "those opposite" continually point out to me during cellar door tastings. This business about one area being able to produce wine while that one won't, is just another red herring. Wine grapes are grown and wine is produced in Alice Springs using similar technology to that found in Hobart or Mudgee.

You'll find the winemakers of Griffith just as unimpressed with vintage rains as we are at Bloodwood.  There's not a lot anybody can do about bush fires or hail, while floods and droughts are facts of this agricultural life. And yet vineyards pop up all over the place, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Not all of them succeed, not all of them last for generations, but very few of them fail to make wine of some description or another sooner or later.

The wonderful thing about wines is that no two are identical.  Neighbouring wineries can try to level the playing field by growing the same variety on the same trellis, pruned to the same number of buds. They can tend the vines identically and pick their perfectly ripe fruit on the same day; vintage techniques can be identical. And yet, they will make two different wines. These differences may be quite subtle, but they will be there nevertheless. And difference can be all in a wine these days. Just ask the good bergs of Burgundy or Bordeaux if you don't believe me.                   

The French have been long convinced that soil (and aspect and micro-climate and overall provenance) has a lot to do with these differences. While science tells us that climate is more important in the macro scheme of things, soil, in theirs and my opinion, is an underrated link in the quality chain of every fine wine.

Our vineyard is planted on medium to low fertility gravelly soils over a friable, red clay base, the whole profile interspersed with limestone lenses shale and ancient volcanoclastics. Some of our more unkind colleagues refer to Bloodwood as 'the quarry', and as we had to turn to power gel and short fuses to secure our end posts in the Riesling vineyard..they have a point.

Why gravel? To make quality wines, you need quality grapes. And the critical parameter in such a cool, marginal climate as ours is appropriate ripeness of the fruit. Unlike almost any other Australian wine growing area,  acid and pH look after themselves in Orange. However, to make a high quality wine, grapes must ripen enough for flavour to complete the delicate balance in the finished wine.

A deep, high-fertility soil like some of the local, richer red mountain earth orcharding soils allows the mature vine to grow with so much vigour that, through shading and delayed ripening, optimum flavour may  not always be achieved even though alcohol levels can be relatively high.

Conversely, those soils which limit vigour, and, in traditional viticultural wisdom, make the vines work for their living, produce wines of more intense flavour,aroma and overall elegance.

In quality viticulture then, under this Bloodwood sun, all soils ain't soils!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Canopy Splitting (or) Pigs In Space

     Forget all you've learnt from Ensminger's Swine science: History and development of the swine industry; World and U.S. swine and pork - past, present, and future; and read on.
Once upon a time there was a swine with strange habits. You see, he really didn't want to be a pig, so all the long day he would peer through the dirty claustrophobic bars of his particular sty, and dream of being a classical ballet dancer, with classical non-cloven hooves and an ever so delicate elegance of gait. And, what's more, he'd practice. Every evening after the last late bucket of swill was splashed into his grubby little trough, he'd surreptitiously tip-toe about his peculiarly smelly sty, perched on his hind trotters imagining, for all the world, that the dung passage sliming dimly in the yellow, incandescent light along the front of his grungy little sty, was a bank of spot lights, and the slats of his ugly, dangerous floor, the firm, strong, clean, safe stage of Madison Square Garden itself.

     However, on Monday evening, he really did have an audience, not of a paying, more of a slaying kind! Vladimir Lemming, a Party man of scientific-non-empathetic background, noticed something of immense practical and ideological interest to the local backfatter industry. He noticed that Boris Porker, which was his, the pigs, stage name, balanced on his hind legs as he was, took up much less horizontal space vis a vis the pen floor, than any other recumbent porcine, which he most definitely was not!
And so, it happened that later that evening, Vlad composed a paper entitled The Ideological Importance of Vertical Displacement of Swine-in-Situ which he submitted for publication to the Australian Pork Talk News newsletter. The following Thursday, the 22nd of the month, two days after his actual observation, his practical paper on pig performance and perching possibilities was front page news in Porkda, the official Party magazine, which was to be read by everybody.

In essence, comrade Vlad proposed that a swine supervisor could, by arranging pigs vertically, halve accommodation costs. Or looked at it another way, he could double production per unit area of sty space. A revolution in pork was born! Vlad was commanded to investigate other areas of animal accommodation; such as the application of a similar approach in Party mental hospitals on prime residential land, and the  (by now) obvious advantages in these times of economic restraint, of having the inmates stand with their arms raised in all Party prisons. After all, this arrangement always works well at Party rallies.

Vineyard pruning is a Teutonic exercise at Bloodwood.  And from a reductionists viticultural point of view, Vlads divide and concur approach, applied to pruning, works well. Separation of the canopy of the vine in to an upstairs downstairs configuration allows the beneficial effect of light to enter into the potentially dark bud renewal zone near the cordon and enhances the ripening process through improved UV light exposure.

There are also great advantages for effective spray penetration in disease control. You don't need to saturate the entire canopy if you use, say, systemic bunch rot fungicides as one well directed spray can be applied efficiently to the exposed bunches.

The dormant vines may look a little strange at this time of year, and pruning involves much more care, but this is one revolution in pruning systems which works for us at Bloodwood in bringing home the bacon each vintage.               

Sunday, August 25, 2013

RIP Peter Lehmann 18.08.1930 – 28.06.2013

Hook, Line & Sinker

The truth is, we were lucky not to lose PL more than 20 years ago when a surgical slip during a bowel cancer operation cost him a kidney. The complications that followed almost knocked him over. It gave him a sniff of his mortality. If he hadn’t snapped the hobbles on June 28th, PL would have celebrated his 83rd birthday on August 18th, 2013.

There are a lot of family, friends and colleagues around the world who are and will continue to be sad for a very long time because of his death - none more so than wife Margaret and their immediate and wonderful family.

I count myself fortunate to be a member of the wider PL ‘family’. This story isn’t about PL the so-called wine making ‘legend’, a term Margaret dislikes with a passion – along with icon and numerous other overblown descriptions. Outstanding tributes and recognition of his significant and life long contribution to the Australian wine industry and his passion for the Barossa are to be found elsewhere.

Wine, Barossa Music Festivals and Gourmet Weekends, the Birdsville Track mailman Tom Kruse doco and filming Tasting Australia for ABC TV, wonderful long lunches in the Lehmann kitchen and the occasional sleepover may have been how and why my wife Jane and I met Peter and Margaret, but it was around other shared interests that our friendship developed.

PL really enjoyed growing things as well grapes. Who knew mangoes and avocados thrived at Tanunda! He would fish just about anywhere and he loved a punt on useless four legged grass burners. He followed a couple of trainers, with the Hayes family at the top of the list.

Our Saturday afternoons together were usually in the kitchen with Sky Racing on the screen and the TAB page from the local rag on the table, while Jane and Margaret discussed the weighty issues of the world.

PL also owned a number of trotters that occasionally won at better than 15/1. Of course he wouldn’t tell you it was going around until 20 minutes after the race – because he didn’t think it was a chance.

In recent years, as his remaining kidney steadily lost function and needed to be hooked up to a dialysis machine in Adelaide three days a week, he kept his punting cash in his pocket. He knew what we part-time punters finally work out – it’s a mug’s game and he loved it.

PL also enjoyed wetting a line. From the early 90s, we’d work on a plan to go somewhere a bit different every year to catch a fish.

Garfish – on a moonless night with Department of Ag agronomist Bob Haggerstrom in his four metre tinny, catching net and underwater light in hand at American River on Kangaroo Island. There could only be two at a time onboard. This meant Margaret and I would be on the jetty with a warming glass or two of some Lehmann deliciousness. We’d swap over every 20 minutes. We quickly learnt that you’ve got to get the small catching net on the end of the hand held pole in front of a garfish. They are impossible to scoop up from behind. They’re too fast!

Snapper – off the bottom of Yorke Peninsula with Dave Burge from Coober Pedy and his motley crew in vessels of questionable seaworthiness. From time to time we slept in swags. When PL rolled out of bed on day two of the snapper expedition, after a particularly rough night, he swore that his swag days were over – indeed he never swagged it again.

King George Whiting - at Coffin Bay, off Farm Beach and around the Sir Joseph Banks Group of Islands off Tumby Bay on Eastern Eyre Peninsula with Ken Scott. I now have in my boat a GPS mark off Farm Beach named Lehmann. PL cleaned up with a bag of 40 + cm KG whiting. It’s the spot where he showed me how to skin a leather jacket (a much underrated fish in his view) with the back of a hacksaw blade. He liked the flavor of the fish and skin, lightly fried in butter with a squeeze of lemon and a bit of cracked pepper.

Mulloway & Coorong Mullet – in the Coorong (caught with square hooks – read net) after a failed attempt to land a Coorong mullet with a line. Lakes and Coorong fishers Gary Hera-Singh and Henry Jones were wonderful hosts and enjoyed the PLW Port and being walloped by Margaret at crib.

There are numerous trophies and remarkable photographs in the wondrous Lehmann home in the Barossa. They recognize the PL and Margaret story and his outstanding wine making successes and contribution to the industry nationally and internationally.

Among a pile of lists, photos and stuff stuck with magnets to the fridge in the kitchen is a pic that brings a smile to my face every time I see it. It was taken in 1995 of a couple of daggy blokes with a couple of mulloway. The location is Gary Hera-Singh’s fishing shack on the Coorong. Peter in a crappy jumper remarkably without a fag and me in a bucket hat - with a fag. Margaret reckons I look like Andy Capp and loves the shot. The above shot is of the four of us in the Lehmann kitchen a month or so before he died.

PL wasn’t the greatest fisherman but he was a really good bloke – Jane and I miss him.

Ian Doyle
August 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Smoked oysters and Sweaty Saddles

This tasting of wine at the cellar door is a bloody funny business. I find that there is a general reluctance to actually examine, let alone identify, flavours and impressions during a tasting. It's as if the messages being relayed from the taste buds, palate and olfactory epithelium are lost on their way to the if there is such social intimidation tied up in the use of descriptive terms during wine tastings that, unless you are perceived as an "expert", it's simply not done to comment.                          

"I don't know much about wine, I just drink it...don't ask me, I wouldn't have a clue, just as long as it doesn't burn my throat on the way down"..

I don't like excessive alcohol either, but after all the human and natural endeavour needed to coax wine into bottle, I find that nonchalance a real pity. If you were served a plate of fish and chips that smelt of violets and blackberries, which finished with a clean, fine-grained tannin and left you relaxed, convivial and at peace with your fellows, there's a fair chance that you would have something to say to your local fish monger.( If you let me know the address of such an establishment, there's an even greater chance that I, and most of my friend, would take up permanent residence in the cafe responsible.)

However, discover those same flavours and impressions in a fine glass of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon and general silence reigns. The conspiratorial muteness barrier falls. Why is it so.?

I was conducting a tasting recently when one of the "I don't know much about wine" brigade was tormented by me into making a comment on the tired old Shiraz before him.

"Well", lips pursed and limbs flailing about like a someone hand sowing oats in a thunderstorm, "well, if you really want to know, it smells like Bondi sewer".

 This may have been meant to embarrass his persecutor in particular and the group in general. It was certainly intended to end his torment. Undeterred,(sic) my response charged back.

 "Correct. Sewers from Buckingham Palace to Bondi smell of hydrogen-sulphide, or at least sulphur derivatives. I would assume that the good bergs of Bondi, and the not so good ones of London SW1A 1AA, United Kingdom are no less fond of good food than we all are and that their sulfide is just as hard to hide as that of we lesser mortals'

 And the wine, well it had a case of bad-handling in its youth; or, at least a brush with a winemaker not anal enough to protect it against oxidation and the many bacterial afflictions wine is heir to through the correct use of hygiene and sulphur-dioxide during maturation. And it did have a touch too much of that weee-ha, good-'ol-sweaty-saddle so common in certain traditional styles from equally traditional areas both local and Continental.  I'm reliably informed that that same wine taster now associates Bondi with hydrogen-sulphide problems in wine, and impresses, ad-nauseam, at local dinner parties with his technical expertise in that particular wine fault. I must introduce him to the fresh bright, clean Katoomba's of wine so he'll have something else to talk about.

(As an aside, I wonder what Australian winemakers will have left to say about Bordeaux when the Bordelaise finally get on top of brettanomyces bruxellensis. Now that will be an interesting tasting! )

So you see, there's nothing extraordinary in becoming a good wine taster. All you need is an ability to associate the flavours found in wine with tastes or aroma sensations you've experienced in your lifetime.

 It becomes a little more tricky when developing the ability to translate these impressions into word pictures common to your audience. Try telling a winemaker that his or her newest creation in the grand tradition of Bordeaux earthiness reminds you of Bondi sewer, and see how inadequate your medical insurance is. But slide into the "observation" with a "can you detect a slight hint of H2S on the nose,"  and you've made your point with a better than average chance of making it home alive.

To get the ball rolling, the next time you open a bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache 2006, at $2,500 per bottle, see if you can detect a rich smoked oyster and saline savoury character on the nose. On the other hand, smoked oysters are only $2.50 at your local Walmart this week.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

It all looked a bit staged really.

It all looked a bit staged really.

Certainly, the chainsaw, the front end loader and his father had every right (reason had long since deserted activities agricultural) to be flailing about in the dam. After all, it had been a warm day, all the sheep had been drenched and there was just cause for a quick splash before dinner.

But the skid marks down the collapsed bank and the steam drifting  from the partly submerged diesel engine, quite apart from the smoke hissing from the partly submerged Dad, all suggested another reality.

You see, his father, (well let's just call him Dad,) Dad had had (as Dad's do from time to time), an idea. Those willows overhanging the pump-house had been dropping their leaves in such profusion of late, that the foot-valve feeding the Lister had developed a leak.

 Now, as most Dads realise, a leaky foot-valve causes all sorts of problems if it is ignored. While dissertations on such annoyances enliven the occasional dinner party conversation and cause a great deal of analogous mirth in rugby shower blocks, they really are no laughing matter when it is you who has the wet boots. That's what Dad reasoned anyway.

Problem? Overhanging branches. Solution! Stand in bucket of front end loader, chainsaw at hip, directing vertical and lateral movement of bucket via biological switching package (son's brain) to hydraulics of machine. Result?.., well pretty much as described above.

You see, Son (well lets just call him Mark) Mark, unbeknown to Dad, had recently secretly developed encephalic illuminati of the accelerator foot. Even though the 'biological switching package' had been perfectly functional up until that awful mechanical avalanche, on that day, Mark's brain was numb to the knees on account of intensely libidinous thoughts involving a certain Lulu la Lingere from Longreach.

Moral? machinery and lingere don't mix.

Every farm is a dangerous place. Every day in the vineyard there is ample opportunity to feel glad I have comprehensive life and health insurance. As pruning gets into full swing for another year, and the band-aid bill mounts, I can't help but wonder why we bother with it at all.

Having had the doubtful pleasure of being garrotted by trellis wires on a cold and bitter winter afternoon, I have concluded that this activity is not my idea of a fulfilling natural experience. However, it probably does explain why I'm not enamoured of hydraulic pruning shears. Besides the noise of the compressor, or the weight if the battery pack, or the inconvenience of dragging all those air hoses through the paddock, I hold the view that if anybody is going to have the pleasure of lopping off one of my  digits, that somebody, without mechanical assistance, will be me.

But again, why do I bother?. I like order. Vines endure years of untrained life in natural disarray. Ask any lateral what agony your secateurs bring, every laborious incision, every vicarious excision means emasculation of the plant. No wonder there's a price to pay in kind.

Pruning, after all, is all about balance, maintaining the correct number of fruiting buds according to the vigour of the vine. Lop too much off, and you will grow lots of leaves and not much fruit; too little, and there may be more fruit than the vine can ripen. There's no denying it, as you nail each vine to it's particular cross of trellis, there's nothing natural about pruning.

It's all a bit staged really.