Monthly Archives: September 2009

Speaking with Hands, Wine and Bread

6.22pm, Old Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Francois, Kath and the Saints

Francois, Kath and the Saints

Bonjour folks! Comment ca va? I’m fine thanks, but working overtime to make sure that I get our story across when everyone else is working in their second language. The weirdest thing happens when I’m working in Montreal. Because I don’t have any French at all, I concentrate on using the precise and classic terms for things, instead of branching off into colourful and colloquial language that the folks with French as a first language would have trouble following. (Sometimes folks with English as a first language have trouble following Aussie-isms!) Also, my hands take on a life of their own. They turn into descriptive units, as if waving them about can create “pictures in the air” to help illustrate my point! As I said – weird! However, I think we’ve done really well.

Quebec is out a bit on its own in Canada, as apparently the powers that be basically said “No, we’re not having a recession in this province”. And they already enjoy a European lifestyle where wine is an integral part of their world. It seems that to, a large extent, things have just kept on keeping on here in Montreal.

So we have been out and about to the SAQ stores to see the wine consultants, we’ve had several consultants attend a master class at Le Gourmand restaurant out at Pointe Claire in the West Island part of town last night, and today we hosted media people for lunch at Da Emma - the best kept secret restaurant in Montreal. Proper Italian food – old school stuff that I really like – that even the superstars chase down when they’re in town. I can’t believe that two of my absolute favourites – Richard Gere and George Clooney, a couple of lovely, lovely blokes – have both come by to taste Emma’s excellent home cooking.

I have taken photos to show you some of the dishes that really rang bells with the wines we had on show, but honestly in this town you’d have to make a big effort to find ordinary food!

Out at Le Gourmand, they’ve set up the restaurant in a beautiful old stone building. Would you believe it was built between 1847 and 1849, and we opened our doors at the winery in 1849? Spooky! We were lucky enough that the chef/owner Michael Oliphant came out to join us for dessert and Muscat at the end of the evening. But then, it’s never really difficult to talk a chef into having a drink after work, is it!

Le Gourmand Linguine

Le Gourmand Linguine

The pick of the dishes here was a linguine loaded with three local mushrooms and topped with duck confit. I couldn’t decide between the bright and lush fruit of the 2006 Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier, or the star anise, blackcurrant lift and sweeping Shiraz undercarriage of the 2004 Signature with this one. Oh, and I have copped a bit of teasing today, as last night I was talking about our Jansz sparkling to the wine consultants, and spied a triangular piece of crusty bread in the basket, used that as Tasmania, the Jansz cork to be the winery and I popped that on the bread where the vineyard is located, then stood another spiky piece of bread behind the cork to show how the vineyard is modified by the maritime and mountain climates – making it unique for sparkling wine production, and Francois (who owns Elixirs - our Quebec distributor) and Kath (our gal who runs the Canadian market for us) laughed at me! I thought I did a really creative job in getting the message home!

Then just when you think things can’t get any better, today at Da Emma over lunch with the media folk – I had Emma’s agnelotti – homemade oval ravioli stuffed with veal, in a fresh tomato, garlic laced bolognaise sauce to die for. Same question! Shiraz Viognier or Signature? Actually, it doesn’t matter. They both fly because they’ve both got magic fruit, and no aggression in the oak crossover and support of the fruit. (Thank’s Broady – head cooper, Yalumba - for seasoning that timber well, and giving us some barrels to work with that make sure everything is pretty jolly smooooth in those reds!)

The tomato at Da Emma

The tomato at Da Emma

I’ve also put in a photo of Johnny and Bill (both journos with us for the morning ) and Emma’s famous whole tomato and bufalo mozzarella.Yes girls, it’s a tough job having lunch with such nice blokes on a regular basis! And Bill even likes country music. And bone dry Riesling. Doesn’t get much better than this.

Alors! I will now go and get ready to meet up with Francois as we’re off to a Greek restaurant this evening that has just put some of our wines on the list. Then I’d better get packed, as it’s off to Ottawa for the day tomorrow for me. As they say in the song folks “the road goes on forever …”

Touched Down in Montreal

7.57pm, rue Saint-Jaques Ouest, Vieux Montreal (Old Town), Quebec, Canada
We’ve just come in from the airport and grabbed a bowl of minestrone, and I’m going to be hitting the sack early tonight. This is only my second time in Montreal, and it’s a bit like jumping continents and ending up in Europe, with French being the first language locally. Here in old Montreal, there are cobbled streets, lanterns everywhere, and the buildings are stone with arches and shutters – as I said – all very European.

We’re represented by some folks called Elixir in this part of the world, and we have two days of events with them across the press and trade so I’m looking forward to catching up. Also, the weather is really mild right now, compared to being in the height of winter the other time I was here – which I kind of liked, because it was like working inside a Xmas snow globe! Any rate, we’re here in one piece, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Still in Vancouver for a Bit

7.37am, still in Vancouver for a bit
Hi folks, just before I head for the airport, some updates from home. I was talking to Freddy up in Oxford Landing, and they’ve been busy! Sauvignon Blanc has burst, and Chardonnay has got 15 cm green shoots, so the season officially starts again. Also, they’ve just finished planting 10 hectares of Vermentino up there, so in three years time – guaranteed we’ll have some crisp spicy cold OL V to go with our bagful of yabbies/prawns/garfish.

Also, there’s a whole series of wine shows across Australia, but it’s always a bit special to win some gongs in your own back yard, so the Barossa Wine Show always has big classes. I’m pleased to report that four of the winemakers and all of the cellar and vineyard folk get big gold stars for turning out some stellar results at last week’s Barossa Wine Show Presentation Dinner. Here are the big winners:

Kev Glastonbury pulled off Most Outstanding Barossa Table Wine (Premium) with the 2006 The Reserve Cabernet Shiraz (several barrels of the Cabernet and Shiraz barrels destined for Signature that show up as red hot in a great vintage year, and are held back longer in oak in reserve, then bottled and released as a 7 or 8 year old wine).

The comment from the show was that the Cabernet Shiraz blend certainly turned heads, triumphing over the straight shiraz wines of the Barossa that normally take best red of the show – a sentiment shared by the judges who noted praise for the Barossa’s commitment to this great Australian blend which has produced some of the most outstanding wines seen in the show. Looks like we just might be in the right place at the right time with these Signature, Scribbler and Reserve wines. Good O!

Louisa Rose took out Best Dry White Wine (other variety or blend) with the 2008 Virgilius

David Zimmerman waved the flag for liquid history by winning Best Museum White Fortified wine with the Old Show Amontillado.

Pete Gambetta – king of the individual vineyards – took out Best Dry White Chardonnay with the Heggies 2007, took Most Outstanding Single Vineyard Table wine with the Heggies 2009 Riesling, and the Best Sweet Table Wine with the Heggies Botrytis Riesling 2007.

OK – back to packing now.

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.