Monthly Archives: September 2009

Into Vancouver

8pm, Melville Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Back on the air folks – and we’ve had a top day. We started on Vancouver’s Talk 1410 am The Buzz “Radio for Foodies” with Tony Gismondi (Vancouver Sun wine columnist amongst other things) and Kasey Wilson (restaurant reviewer and travel writer – latest assignment writing up the opening of the new Wynn Encore in Las Vegas). We followed Stuart Irving, the chef from the “Nuevo Latino” restaurant Cobre (in historic Gastown), who was in to have a chat about an event they’re doing tomorrow where they’re blocking off the street for a chilli cook off and blues fest – 15 chillis to taste for $18 and even the local fire department is doing a chilli. Soon as he was off the radio, Stuart was heading for the kitchen to brew up his secret recipe concoction from 6 dried and 2 fresh chillis as well as pineapple – amongst other things! If I wasn’t going to be on a plane to Montreal tomorrow, their block party cook off is where I’d be.

Vancouver has a tremendous wine and food fraternity, and they’ve pretty much taken me under their wing since I came to town 5 years ago with the “Viognier Monologues” event, which was part of the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Fair program that year. Tony and Kasey are part of the “wine & food band of brothers” in town, and getting a berth on their radio show whenever we’re in town is a treat. They’re always well up with what’s happening, and they introduced us to Cafe Medina, in the corner of an old warehouse on Beatty Street, Crosstown, for brunch before the show. The groups of people waiting outside was a good enough endorsement of their choice – and when you see the egg dishes they come up with – you can see what the fuss is about. I’ve put in a photo of the eggs served in the skillet – floating on shredded beef shortrib, melted cheddar and arugula. And I haven’t even started on the topping list for the waffles! Get there early, folks!

It’s always interesting to taste wine “on the air”, and I guess you just have to try and get the flavours and aromas through the wireless using as many colourful words and ideas as you can – and we had a lot of fun doing that this morning with the Patchwork Shiraz and the Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz and Tony and Kasey – who are seriously like an old married couple stand up comedy duo – without trying! Great stuff, and it’s nice to be treated like locals each time we drop out of the sky into town for one day, two days or whatever. Thanks folks, and with any luck we’ll be back in town for the Playhouse Vancouver wine fair next year – shifted back to April with the Winter Olympics being in town earlier.

After the radio show, we went over to North Vancouver to do an in-store tasting for the afternoon at Everything Wine. What a set up! An island tasting bench, proper XL 5 tasting glasses and someone to wash the glasses. Luxury! And we had a lot of folks stop by to taste through several wines, including the Eden Valley Wild Ferment Chardonnay. Interesting thing about this chardonnay is that we get this elegant complexity in the palate from this “relay race” of up to 18 different “wild” yeasts that we get from our vineyards – and if we didn’t use sustainable viticulture practices in the vineyards, and stop spraying pesticides 20 years ago – we wouldn’t have these flourishing numbers of wild yeasts bouncing around the vineyards to run these ferments through, and get this particular result in the wine.We also opened the “little brother, big brother” double double of 2007 Scribbler : 2003 Signature Cabernet Shirazes, and the 2006 Patchwork : 2004 Octavius Shirazes. Nice afternoon out in North Van. We need to say a huge thanks to the folks at the store for looking after us so well, and to Dana Lee for putting us in exactly the right place at the right time in Vancouver! Thanks!

Now sportsfans! The other Australian rules game has been played in Melbourne overnight, and we discover that it will be the Geelong Cats that the St Kilda Saints will be playing in next week’s Grand Final. Now for the uninitiated, Grand Final Week starts tomorrow, and there’s traditionally a program of events that lead into the big game and beyond. So I will be wearing my Saints scarf every day now in support of my boys, and have already sorted out where I’ll be watching the game next Friday night, when I’ll be in Toronto. I finish a consumer tasting at the Summerhill Liquor Store at 8pm, then it will be across town for me to the official “14th Annual AFL Grand Final Party” hosted by the Downtown Dingos Australian Rules football club, at The Sports Centre Cafe, 49 Clair Avenue West, celebration starts 9pm, game starts 11pm. So any St Kilda supporters in Toronto – meet you there. This could be our first premiership since 1966 – far too long between drinks for me!

And for the record – in the Adelaide Hills league grand finals – A and B Grade – played yesterday in Lobethal, it’s my great pleasure to let you know that the Uraidla Redlegs (yes, locally known as the Cabbage Cutters) swept the lot! I just got a phone call from my little brother (who played for the B Grade) from the Uraidla pub where they’re still celebrating. On the Sunday afternoon! Good luck to them all, it’s been a long time between flags for those boys as well – and to my big brother, who coaches the B grade – well done big fella!

Now I have to go pack so I can grab a sleep in tomorrow morning before heading to the airport for the 11am aeroplane across the country to Montreal. Have a good rest of the weekend, and I’ll see you when we’re in Quebec.

Football Fever

7.35am Friday morning, Loden Hotel, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (12.06am Barossa time Saturday morning)
Hey Sportsfans! I’ve been a little erratic over the last two weeks – no excuse other than I’ve been partially felled by an upper respiratory tract infection (occupational hazard in this job) that’s just turned into a sinus infection. However, the second batch of antibiotics have kicked in from last night, and this is the clearest I’ve been for a couple of weeks, so hopefully it continues.

So I have just caught up with the mighty Saints’ 7 point thrill-a-second win over the Western Bulldogs last night in Melbourne, and that means one thing folks – we go into the Grand Final! Our first since being thrashed by the Adelaide Crows in 1997. Could this be the year? The elusive second Premiership (think Super Bowl) in 137 years? Now I will be desperately researching where in Toronto – that’s where I’ll be when the Grand Final will be played Saturday September 26th – the game will possibly be televised. I wonder if there’s an Australian consulate in Toronto? Well, I know a lot of Saints supporters will be thoroughly enjoying this next Grand Final week – especially at the winery – Yo in the carpenter shop, and Craig up in the Red Barrel Cellar – boys, it could be our year!

Now also folks, it’s going to be a big day today up in the Adelaide Hills Football League. It’s their Grand Final Day at the famous Christmas Lights town of Lobethal, and both the A Grade and B Grade teams from the tiny orchard and market garden village of Uraidla have made the Grand Final. I happen to know this as I have one brother coaching and one brother playing today. So a big “Good Luck” to all the boys in both teams and all the folks from Uraidla and districts who will be there in force to cheer them on. No point going to Uraidla today folks – the town will be closed! So go the Cabbage Cutters!

I’m just about to be picked up at 8.30am to do a heap of trade calls today, but I’ll be back on the air tonight because I want to catch folks up with our Australian Wine Society dinner here last night, plus our big day with Joe Forte’s, Nu and Marquis – all here in Vancouver. Plus I need to let you all know about the River Cafe in Calgary.

Cheers and I’ll see you later!

A Day in Edmonton

7.38am, Edmonton Airport, Alberta, Canada
I was riding out to the airport this morning early in a shuttle that had its radio tuned into the call to prayer, and I was thinking that this was the less-than-glamorous side of the business – and the absolute contrast to being shown around the glitzy glam and sometimes simply breathtaking sights of the top end hotels and hotspots last week in Las Vegas. At least the weather is co-operating – it’s unseasonally warm in Edmonton right now and was 25° C yesterday. Lovely day to take a bag of wines around town to some very nice wine shop folk, which is what we did.

It’s a good thing I’d had a serious sleep the night before, as everyone wanted to have a long chat and ask 20 questions about the wines, about the winery, and about what Australian wine in general was doing. Throw in a few more about drought, the evaporation of the Murray Darling basin, and why Octavius Shiraz isn’t in stelvin closure, and that’s a fairly solid day. I also told lots of stories to the quite colourful local wine journo Nick Lees (the Edmonton Journal) – and some of them were even true! It was the first stop that I got to catch up with some old friends from our distributor Mark Anthony – who look after us across the nation – and two years certainly makes a difference. Darren the confirmed batchelor is married with one little bubby already, so anything can definitely happen. There’s hope for me yet. The gals brought me up to speed with the wonders of laser lipo – there is so much going on outside the Barossa that I had no idea about, and at the end of the day – we’re leaving with some nice opportunities for events next visit – and we’ll make sure it’s a lot shorter between drinks this time. Good luck to young Justin who has only been with Mark Anthony a short time, and had me in the car all day – I have a feeling he’s going to go very well! And thanks to Dave from Vines Riverbend Wine Merchants – great chat and we’ll be back. Also, to Satesh at Crestwood, I just hope that Stuart Blackwell (St Hallett ) and I are in Edmonton at the same time next year – it would be a great double act in store tasting!

All told, my day in Edmonton was pretty good, and I must make sure to get back here soon. For anyone looking for a nice casual meal downtown, my suggestion is the Blue Plate Diner, in a renovated warehouse on 104th Street. They’ve collected a whole heap of old 1950s laminex top tables and chrome chairs, as well as some really quirky table top lamps. Mine was a little black poodle with a double cylinder lampshade sitting on top of his head. I went with the New England Meatloaf – made with lean ground beef, oats, fresh herbs, onions, carrots, celery and buttermilk, studded with dried cranberries and cheddar cheese. A pretty hefty slice of the meatloaf was served up on a mini mountain of mashed potatoes with grilled pumpkin, zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower and a pot of cranberry sauce. They’ve also got a stack of vegetarian options, and I’m going to have a go at doing a version of this when I get home: ‘Hearts of Fire – artichoke hearts stuffed with goats cheese and roasted chillies, drizzled with pomegranate juice reduction with fresh basil.

So off to the big Stampede town this morning, and we should be in for a good day with Kippy the Queen of Calgary. We both love Tim Horton so I think we’ll need new travel coffee cups for the car to start with, and the day should just plough on upwards from there!! It’s the little things that make the difference!

Homesick for a Chelsea Bun

8.14pm Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Well folks, I don’t think I’ll even try to catch up everything that we did in Las Vegas – and trust me, when they say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas “, I wish I had actually done something that qualified! Whatever I got up to I can talk about.

Great Oz Export!

Australian Exports

Actually, there is one thing I need to share. The first evening I was in town, seeing as I was staying in the Excalibur, I went up to the mezzanine restaurant level for tea, and what’s right there is “The Thunder Showroom” home to the Thunder Down Under show – the incredibly chiselled blokes from home who do the dance routines in not terribly much clothing at all. Well, they have a souveneir shop which is run by a couple of gals from Australia, and we had a top time catching up, and they gave me a ticket to go along to the show. They said it would be a surefire way to get over the fact that I was a bit homesick. So I went along after work on Wednesday night – just to do the patriotic thing and wave the Australian flag. And girls … they can dance! There’s a six pack, then there’s a Thunder Down Under six pack. Made my day. Australia’s hottest export … apart from us, that is!

Now there is something else I want to tell you about. Not all the serious action in Vegas is on the strip. There’s the new M Resort out at Henderson which houses the Hostile Grape Wine Bar in “the cellar” below the main floor. This place is razor sharp. They have 6 oenomatic machines, each with 12 different wines to taste – and the roof of the wine bar is sculptured from individual barrel staves. With any luck we might get to see a couple of our Cabernet Shiraz blends make the list – be a magic address to be at.

NYT.com photo

NYT.com photo

Speaking of magic, the other thing I was able to do was spend time touring Tao - including the rooftop “beach”. This is the most exotic restaurant I think that we’re at – walking into Tao under the archway, you pass by the tubs of water full of heady blossoms and floating candles. Then there’s the wall of terra cotta monks that goes up and onto the roof – each monk holding an aromatic candle. And that’s not even into the main dining space yet. I don’t want to continue – it would ruin the impact for anyone going there – but make sure you book in for at least one meal. The wine list and cuisine certainly match the extraordinary ambience that they have been able to create. And by the way, we’re thrilled to bits to have the Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier on that list.

So here we are in Canada. I have the computer access in the room sorted, so shouldn’t have the trouble staying on the air that I had in Vegas. Oh yes – second homesick moment. I went down to Tim Horton’s this morning for breakfast, and they’ve got a new doughnut – the Strawberry Blossom. It looks just like the raspberry yeast chelsea bun at The Apex Bakery (hello to the Fechner family) in Tanunda – wood fired oven and best baked goods for miles around – at home in the Barossa. So I just had to give it a try – not bad at all – but doesn’t knock Apex off its pedestal with me!

So there you have it. Should be a good couple of weeks up here with Kath, our gal in charge of Canada. I’ll keep in touch.

Scary Vegas Action

7.05am, another money-eating internet machine, New York New York Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Well folks, it’s been hovering around 104 degrees F the last three days here. Later today I’m heading to Edmonton to start a two-week block in Canada, and I am looking forward to the cool change. But first, my report from last night. Every visit to the USA I seem to find myself in an interesting spot at an interesting time. Eight years ago yesterday, the 11th of September, I was in Washington Square, New York. Last night I was sitting in a cab on the Las Vegas strip, waiting on a green left turn light. I’d was finished a set of in-store tastings at the fabulous Whole Foods markets around 7 pm and dropped into Pallazzo (second tower of the Venetian) to drop a parcel off at Lavo (severely glamorous Italian-style restaurant and Roman bath-style club), then headed home for the Excalibur.

What sounded like firecrackers going off turned out to be bicycle police firing at a car that was trying to get away. Inside two minutes flat the place was literally covered with every shape and size of law enforcement vehicle, and we squeezed out the sidestreets to leave it all alone. Probably a good time to go work in Canada!

But good things to report from the capital of glitzy glam out here in the desert. The list of conventions actually here and scheduled for the rest of the year are many and varied, and the town is visibly fuller than it was. Show tickets are harder to come by – always a good indicator. (By the way, try getting a seat for the new Hugh Jackman & Daniel Craig show in New York,  “A Steady Rain”, which opens end of this month.)

Also, we caught up with old friends who are doing OK at some very sharp addresses, but I’ll catch everything up tomorrow in Edmonton – my day chained to the computer. Until then, keep your head down!

See ya.

Out of Time and Into a Cold

7.13am, internet machine, front lobby by the ‘sword in the stone ‘ fountain, Excalibur Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
OK folks, I have to be quick as these things swallow $5 bills at a rate of knots! Now, I’ve been off the air because I’ve been on the sick list – got the mandatory aeroplane-induced chest infection last week, and I’m still battling! Plus when you work In Las Vegas – everything looks small and toytown from the air – but getting from one casino to another is a battle, then inside a casino, to get from one part to another – you’re literally hiking miles! So with my four minutes left:

I read the article in Time magazine about the collapse of the Vegas property market, and was expecting the worst, but folks here are tapped into the ‘next roll of the dice is the winner’ thinking, which is probably going to carry them into the recovery quicker than anything else and we did pretty well all things considered.

Oh – out of time – I’ll be back!

Surfing the Saints Wave

5.03pm Grant Ave, Denver, Colorado, USA
Hey Sportsfans! The Sainters got up over Colingwood by 28 points. Thanks for the text messages, Hods & Skep, as soon as the final siren went!Now we get the week off before playing either the Western Bulldogs or Brisbane Lions in the first Preliminary Final. It’s the “good to be here” end of the season, and I am loving that every long-suffering Saints supporter and ex-player will be surfing the wave for at least two more weeks. Go Saints!

Colorado Food and Aussie Wine

6.23pm, A Taste of Colorado, Civic Centre Park, Denver, Colorado, USA
I’m right in the thick of Colorado culture. It’s the Labor Day holiday weekend, and I’m trundling about the food stalls, trying really interesting things. I’m sending a heap of photos home to Tony so you can see what I’m talking about. Then I’ll double back and catch up the last couple of days where we’ve been crisscrossing Boulder and Denver, plus visiting Colorado Springs for the first time. So here we go.

Taste of Colorado
This Taste of Colorado is a great four-day festival, with several music stages going at the same time. On the main stage across the weekend is Grand Funk Railroad, The Robert Cray Band, Poco and the Spinners. Not bad at all! I spent a bit of time at the country stage watching the Trailer Park Playboys and Buckstein – shades of the Tamworth country music festival at home! But it’s the food that is the big magnet, and you can have a taste or a serve of different things – which gives you a chance to try stuff without it costing a fortune – especially if you don’t like it.

Shrimp on the barbie?

Shrimp on the barbie?

I started with my first-ever char grilled jalapeno chilli stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon – from the Trail Dust Steakhouse. They’re hot! And spicy! But the cheese and bacon tone it down. I might have to plant some at home and do these for the troops, stuffed with my cheesemaker mate Skep’s soft Gruth or Fresh! Then on to the crazy folks at the Golden Toad, home of the original shrimp bomb! Now these translated I think are what they had on the char grills – big shrimp (aka prawns) and spicy sausage chunks skewered and basted with a chipotle BBQ finishing sauce. Too good! We don’t do chipotle anything at home, and we might have to look at importing a few (hundred) gallons of this outstanding condiment.

American classic

American classic

Then I thought … vegetables! Let me tell you about these fresh ears of sweet corn, still in the husk, that I watched being loaded into these gas-fired baking ovens. The corn travels a zig zag course through the oven for 20 minutes, and comes out slightly charred, the husk is peeled back, the corn dipped whole into buckets of melted butter, and you plow through it hot using the husk as the protection for your hand from the dribbly butter. Sensational and good for you – pretty much!

Chocolate and bacon!

Chocolate and bacon!

Then into uncharted waters. My first experience with milk chocolate dipped bacon strips. Famous Dave’s BBQ gave me a choice of milk chocolate or jalapeno dark chocolate – I went with milk. And I have to say – it was pretty darn good. I have a mate who owns a winery – Pete Barry from Jim Barry Wines in Clare – and he has his own pigs, and makes his own bacon, ham and proscuitto – and I think I have a whole new line for him to get into! They also do the “pulled pork shooter”, a small cup of tender, shredded, slow-cooked pork shoulder swimming in their “rich and sassy” sauce. (I’d love to meet a bloke like that!) Then because it’s such a hot day – good idea to finish with some shaved ice – with lemon lime, watermelon, and peach flavouring. Yep – Taste of Colorado – we can tick that box. Lucky for me, as you never know what’s going to be on where you have your days off. Thank you Denver!

Good day in Boulder
Now – to catch up the last couple of days – because we have good things to report. I want to start with Boulder, as it’s always been pretty good to us.

Before I go any further, though, I should explain that when an area is “good to us” and supports our wines, it usually reflects how well our distributor in a certain region has placed our wines across the retail stores and restaurants, and in Colorado we’re with a family-owned fine wine house called Classic Wines, which continues to do this well. We go back a long way with these folks, and they do make the difference!

Now on our latest visit to Boulder, we had a great day with some really nice folks. First up with Jordan at The Black Cat, a very cool bistro with a hot bar and the “Arabian Nights curtain booths”. It concentrates on food and wine pairing. We had a solid bag of wines:

Go Buffs!

Go Buffs!

After a great chat at The Black Cat, we moved on to Dolan’s Restaurant for lunch. I had a very healthy shrimp stirf ry (no rice, no pasta) and showed our wines to Mike Dolan himself, and Jed his barman – who is worth going to visit on his own! Looks like we might have been fortunate enough to have landed a couple of wines by the glass, which is a tremendous result as this spot is the die hard, support central for the Boulder-based university football team: University of Colorado Buffaloes. Mike’s got the signed helmet mounted pride of place above the centre of the main bar, and tomorrow is the season-opener local derby with Colorado State University. So it’s Buffaloes v Rams – go the Buffs!

From Dolan’s we went and visited the boys at Bailey’s Wine & Spirits, and besides working through the wines, we covered pretty much everything else – including world peace! Go see Matt at Baileys for not just good wines and local beers but also a decent conversation (albeit in pieces because there’s good traffic through the store that requires their attention) about life, travel and the important stuff. Nice.

Australia’s First Families of Wine
We headed back to Denver eventually to get together with the city team for Classic (our distributor) and had a nice long yarn about what’s been going on at Yalumba, in the Barossa, and in Australia in general. I was able to let the folks know about the launch in Sydney last Monday of Australia’s First Families of Wine. This group of 12 iconic and respected family winemakers are collaborating on a joint marketing initiative that aims to make a serious ongoing committment to the future of the Australian wine industry.

“Naturally the initiative is just the first step. What we do and how we do it will be the litmus test in giving voice, personality, and energy to our regional fine wine sector. The goodwill is evident on all sides for the moment, but I do hope we can be seen in the future as a go-to wine group who deliver on their promises, give value to the promo partners, retail/press/whatever, and have a good time.” — Robert Hill Smith, Yalumba

Just for the record, here are the folks who are getting involved:

Go Saints

Go Saints

So I’ve gone off on a tangent a bit. Now it’s time to settle in front of the telly and watch the local baseball team. The Colorado Rockies  are playing the Arizona Diamondbacks, so it should be a good game. Then late tonight about 10.30pm, I’ll be chasing the scores from the big footy game at home. I got a photo of a local cowboy with my Saints scarf, so hopefully the Sainters will be able to “outgun” Collingwood in the qualifying final. Fingers crossed.

I’ll get to Colorado Springs tomorrow, as we made some good friends down there, and we’ll be back! See ya later.

Rocketing Around the Mile High City

7.51pm, Grant St, Downtown Denver – “The Mile High City” – Colorado, USA

Ailla Avery

Ailla Avery

Just a quick catch up for now. I’ll fill in the detail in the morning. We buzzed around Boulder yesterday with our rocket scientist wine rep for Colorado and Arizona – Ailla. Hey I’m not joking. We’re talking applied physics and engineering here. We’re just lucky she loves us and wine and has made it her profession. We had a few wins, and I’ve found another favourite sports bar, and because of it I might have to split my allegiance between Colorado University Buffalos and the Ohio State Buckeyes in the college football. At least they’re in different conferences – Big Twelve and Big Ten respectively – so that’ll work! More good news about Boulder and our distributor Classic tomorrow.

Today we pretty much stuck to the Denver retail, and tomorrow will see us stay around the downtown area with two of our red hot Classic managers, before heading for Colorado Springs on Thursday. It’s the weirdest thing as it takes a couple of days to get used to the altitude here – you seem to be really dragging your feet, then everything becomes easier – strange. So I promise the detail will come tomorrow morning.

**Hey Sportsfans – just to catch up with where the Saints are – we won the last game of the season against Melbourne 114 points to 67, and now we go straight into the Finals series. We face our nemesis Collingwood – we beat them by 1 point in 1966 to win our one and only Premiership Flag in 137 years – on this Sunday afternoon September 6th at the MCG in Melbourne. This will be happening at 10.40pm on Saturday, September 5th local Denver time – so I’ll have to see if there are any sportsbars broadcasting the game. Pity it’s not in New York City – I could watch the first half at Eight Mile Creek in Little Italy, then run up to The Australian in Midtown to watch the rest! Good times!