Monthly Archives: February 2009

120-year-old vines

Barossa Valley Floor, 11am

An old bush vine

An old bush vine

Today folks from the Fine Wine store in Redmond, near Seattle, are visiting, so I thought we’d look at Grenache this morning – starting at our oldest vineyard, planted in 1889 on a vein of river sand 9 feet deep smack bang in the middle of the Valley floor. We’ve called this the Tricentenary Vineyard, seeing as it was planted in the 19th century, made it through the 20th, and safely into the 21st! It’s a two-acre block of old bush vines, where some of them look like small trees, with the trunk still intact – and others are almost lying comatose on the ground and look like a wishbone that’s been almost split apart.

These 120-year-old vines still carry about 2–3 tons per acre of fruit, though, and are in really good shape considering the recent heatwave they’ve survived. They have nice solid bunches and pretty good canopy coverage, so fingers crossed we may very well see some good stuff come off this patch this year.

With our Fine Wine folks, we go into the vineyard and try the fruit and the 2005 Tricentenary Grenache (100%), and they get a chance to see where some of the wine flavours come from as the fruit is starting to soften and ripen. Grenache is a tremendous workhorse variety. It gives you a lovely raspberry fruit over rosemary sort of herbal savoury undertones. It’s unashamedly middle weight and perfectly built for the mezes, antipasto, tapas, and Middle Eastern flavours we see across Australia.

More from Oxford Landing

Sunrise and sultanas

24 hr Blanchetown Roadhouse, 4.48am
Breakfast of champions! We left the winery just after 4am this morning so we’d get to the Oxford Landing vineyard  up on the Murray River near Waikerie to film a couple of segments –  on the vineyard and our 1,500 acre revegetation project next door – using the sunrise as a backdrop. On the way, it’s a definite stop for breakfast at the Blanchetown Roadhouse for toasted Vegemite (see Glossary) and cheese sandwiches, the best way to start the day.

We’re two-thirds of the way through picking at Oxford Landing, and we’re seeing some really smart Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay coming off at the moment. It’s a brisk cool morning, and we get lucky with a beautiful red gold sunrise and a choir of uninvited magpies (see Glossary) in the background – check out the video for the unscripted action.

We have one row of sultana table grapes left at the vineyard, so we load up before leaving. Visitors to the winery for the rest of the day will have cold bunches of fresh grapes at the tasting cellar. And we check the crop on the row of 35-year-old verdale olive trees that sit on the northern fence line of Oxford Landing to see where they’re at. It’s a good complementary combination having grapes and olives, as grapes ripen in the summer and olives ripen in the winter. They’re green right now, but we’ve got a nice solid even crop, and once they start turning “on the flame” ie half-red half-green, we’ll start picking (May/June)  to press them out for oil under its Oxford Landing extra virgin  label.

Back to the Barossa

The Shores Function Centre, Adelaide, 11.15pm
Have to head back to the Barossa tonight, but the show was a huge hit. They raised a heap of money, everyone had a great time, and it looks like it’s going to fly as an annual event. We help Helen and Diabetes Counselling Online to stay online, which means some nice folks had a win tonight. And for the record, if I’m MC next year, it will be two years in a row that I get a date on Valentine’s Day. Wonders never cease!

Wine for a good cause

The Shores Function Centre, Adelaide, 5.45pm
Valentines Day! Normally I’d be sitting home desperate and dateless watching Hugh Grant movies with blocks of Cadbury Fruit & Nut chocolate for company, but not this year. Yalumba is sponsoring the first annual Sweet Talk dinner in Adelaide,  which is to raise money for the Adelaide-based Diabetes Counselling Online website – a support service for people with diabetes and their families across Australia. It was started by the main counsellor, Helen Edwards, a person living with type 1 diabetes since 1979, and is an excellent opportunity for us to use our wines to get behind folks doing a great job. Because our wines are involved, they’ve asked me to be the MC for the evening – so this is the first time in absolute ages that I’ve been asked out on Valentine’s Day. Yay!

Welcome the Irish

Today we break out the shamrocks and prepare to drink Guinness. We have some staunch supporters from Ireland coming to visit, and I get to show them around our world for two days – the winery, the vineyards and the Barossa region in general. As a special treat, we’re going to take them up to the Cleland National Park in the Adelaide Hills and have them do the Koala Closeup where they get to hold the bear and get their photo taken – proof positive to everyone back on the Emerald Isle that they did the whole Australian thing.


Cyril and Joe are from Superquinn supermarkets in Dublin, and these stores have some pretty smart wine sections where we get to be on the shelves. I met these folks last year when we did a training seminar over dinner with about 20 of the Superquinn wine store managers, which ended up with a group participation session at a local karaoke bar – Howl at the Moon! For the record, young Elvis lookalike Gary and I did an extremely memorable duet version of “Burning Love” – extraordinary blend of broad Australian and even broader Irish vocals. It’s just magic the way they do business in that town. So huge thanks to all the Superquinn folks for their support, and I’m already in training for our next seminar and Karaoke championship, which looks like it will be in Dublin again – in July this year.

Back to normal

Another cool day! We have a ‘fruit salad’ of ferments going on today, featuring tempranillo from the Angaston foothills, Eden Valley pinot gris and viognier from the Barossa floor. Everything’s ticking along nicely, and with any luck we’ll have a few cool nights in a row that will help the vines recover from the hammering they received from the recent heatwave. Once they’re back on an even keel with the leaves producing all the flavour goodies and pushing them into the berries, ripening should settle down, and we’ll be back to relatively normal. With any luck, the weather will have the same effect on us!

Crushing organic

Crusher Bays, Yalumba Winery, Angaston, 5.58am
Still loving the cool change – heading for 25 C (77 F) today, but the best thing is the plummeting overnight temperatures (13 C / 55F) which are so good for us to get a decent night’s sleep, and for the vines to have a chance to develop some flavour depth as they ripen. It’s lovely on the way to work this morning, with even a few misty clouds drifting across a full moon that’s just starting to set – it would almost be romantic if I wasn’t still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes!.


And today is organic day. Last night, Matt (who runs the white wine cellar) and the crew completely cleaned and sanitized everything – receival bin, crusher, press, juice lines – that will go anywhere near the organic viognier and chardonnay fruit that is going through first thing this morning. We take this fruit from the Barich family vineyard at Loxton in South Australia’s Riverland grapegrowing region – about 90 minutes drive north east of the winery.


In actual fact, the Barich vineyard is certified organic, but they are well on their way to biodynamic. It’s a great story. By incorporating these practices, the Bariches have been able to produce slightly fewer tons off their block, but with more fruit intensity and longer flavours, and they use only a third of the water that they used to. Not sure if it’s the positively charged volcanic dirt that was trucked in from Mt Gambier to spread in the vine rows, or the foliar sprays of molasses that make the difference, but something is really going right with the fruit here. Good stuff all round.

Hope this day doesn’t come again

Angaston, Barossa Valley, 8.30am
This morning we start to see the reports of the devastating bushfires sweeping through various Victorian towns on a huge front. After two weeks of 35 (95 F ) – 45 (113F) degree and more temperatures, it’s a disaster set to happen – the bush is tinder dry and set to not just burn but explode. With very high hot winds pushing things along, a day of extreme fire danger turns into the worst thing imagineable where  fire runs like water, turns around corners, and jumps roads and creeks – razing pretty much everything in its path. Every summer we live with the threat that somewhere in Australia will be hit with bushfires, but this level of heartbreaking loss of life is something yet again.


South Australia sends our bushfire fighting crane, fire crews, burns doctors and kicks in a million dollars to help the people who are left hurt and homeless. Folks all over the country do whatever they can – send money, clothing, food, equipment and manpower to help out as much as possible – and we line up to give blood. This summer is barely under way, and a large number of Victorian towns have been literally burnt off the map. Collectively a shocked nation takes care of its own, takes a deep breath and hopes this day doesn’t come again.

The cool change

Angaston, Barossa Valley, 8.42pm
There’s only one word for a day like today – nasty!


It got to 48 C (118F), pushed along by stinking hot and dusty 90 km per hour winds, before the cool change came through, dropping the temperature nearly 15 degrees in an hour. It’s the sort of day where you keep the house as cool and dark as possible, play cave dweller, and pour as much water into yourself as you can stand! Huge sigh of relief could be heard right across the state of South Australia late tonight as everyone opened up their windows to let the cool air blow two weeks of heatwave away.


Seeing as it’s still early days in the  vintage – the crushers were quiet today – back on deck Monday.