In one corner of the world last night folks, the Saints were definitely marching in! Australian Rules Football in this country is a huge thing, and here we are at the start of a new season. The playing field level, no one has any points and the debate over who has recruited, bought and sold players the best during the ‘off season’ has been done to death. Now the games begin!
Now you make your choice and decide on your team, and then you stick with them through thick and thin. If you’re lucky, you win some and you lose some, and if you’re really lucky – you get to see your team make the finals, then even the Grand Final. If the gods are with you, you can even have the thrill of winning it all, the whole box and dice – the flag – the premiership for the whole season! But if you follow my team – St Kilda FC – it’s been a long time between drinks. The team was established in 1873 and the last (and only!) time we won a grand final was 1966. Even then we were the underdogs and only scraped home by one point against Collingwood. But it’s a new season, anything is possible, and last night we started well with a win – a grafting comeback win against the Sydney Swans.
So confidence is high people, confidence is high. This could be our year!
8.04am, Barossa Farmers Market, Stockwell Road near Angaston
What a morning! When the kookaburras and magpies started their combined choir just before dawn, I knew it was going to be a top day! Now I just have to drop in to the Barossa Farmers Market to catch up with Skep, a good mate of mine since high school who is the cheesemaker for Ballycroft.
Skep and her sister and brother-in-law Sue & Joe have a small cheese, wine and market garden operation over the western side of the Barossa in Greenock. And yes – I had to ask as well. Ballycroft? It comes from combining two old gaelic words: ‘baile’ meaning village or small town, and ‘croft’ meaning small piece of arable land or farm.
Skep’s put aside a bit of cheese for a local produce platter that I’m putting together for a small tasting at the winery this afternoon. Oftentimes we get to do something special, and today it’s for some corporate folks who have been long-term supporters of our wines. The cheeses that I’ll be using today are the Fresh and the Anwin. Made only on Monday from cows milk, Fresh is simply drained and dry-salted before being packed. The Anwin, made from Jersey and Holstein milk, is pressed into a 1 kg wheel, rubbed with salt, then placed into a curing room where it is regularly coated with shiraz lees over a two-month period. (Again, I had to ask – Annwn is a word sourced from a 9th century Welsh poem on the Arthurian grail quest, and is the name given to the ‘otherworld’. Maybe it has something to do with the appearance that the skin of the cheese takes on once these lees start to soak in. Oh – and the shiraz lees come from Joe’s ‘ Ballycroft Small Berry Shiraz’.)
Also on the platter will be Kurianda dukkah (dry spice dip), Yalumba’s own olive oil, and some Apex bakery crusty bread. Local pickled olives, quince paste and a couple of Saskia Beer’s chorizos will finish it off nicely.
I’m featuring a couple of back vintages in the tasting: a magnum of 2001 Signature Cabernet Shiraz and a magnum of 1997 Octavius Old Vine Shiraz. I’m hoping the cheese, quince, spice and chorizo flavours will dance nicely with those wines, as well as show these folks what we’re talking about when we say that the Barossa has a genuine regional food and wine culture.
Carpenter’s Shop, Yalumba, Angaston 7.49am
Whilst Vintage 2009 burbles away in tanks and barrels, there’s another hive of activity hiding away in the back corner of the winery – in the Carpenter’s Shop. We’re a bit like a small village here, in that we have our own engineers, electricians and electronics wizards – and our own carpenters, Rolf & Yo. Rolf has been here for 21 years (got the watch at last year’s Christmas party where all those milestones are recognised), and Yo has been his offsider for the last 10. Besides all the timberwork across the property – some of it over a hundred years old – the boys also get ‘special projects’ to work on. As this is a Barossa Vintage Festival year, that means they will again be responsible for building the Yalumba Winery float for the parade.
Yalumba's award-winning float, 2007
The big street parade marks the end of the week-long celebrations. It’s not just a street parade really, as you have 100-150 floats representing the towns, wineries, businesses and community groups of the region travelling the 6 km from Nuriootpa to Tanunda. Crowds pack both sides of the road from start to finish. As folks reserve their spot the night before, or start fairly early for the 10am parade, it must be one of the world’s longest continuous BBQ picnics. It might not be the Mardi Gras in Rio, but it’s a pretty memorable day out.
The floats compete for awards in various categories, and there is a huge amount of kudos that goes with winning Best Winery Float. Over the past 20 years – or 10 Festivals – Penfolds have won it twice, Peter Lehmanns once, and we have the rest! This longstanding rivalry will be back on this year.
All the competitors keep their float themes top secret until parade day, but this morning I went up to the Carpenter’s Shop to see how things are progressing. All I can divulge is that there is a large number of strange ‘things’ being built and painted. Mind you, we do celebrate our 160th birthday this year, so there’s a major clue.
Parade day is Saturday 18th April, and I’ll try to post some video – then you can decide who has the best float!
Stockwell Road, Barossa Valley 6.27am
The moon is still up, although it’s barely a crescent sliver left. In fact, it looks like the skinny rind left from last night’s watermelon feast – a cheap night out, but a goodie! Don’t know why but the watermelon and the corn have both been really sweet this year – probably something to do with the continuing drought. It’s going to be a lovely clear day, and we’re in the home stretch as far as chardonnay goes this vintage.
I caught up with Teresa Heuzenroeder (genuinely local 4 syllable name, that one!) this morning. She makes all the top-end chardonnay from the Burgundian clones we specially imported for their stellar flavour and aroma profiles. There are only two blocks left to come in now, and both of these vineyards are up near Picadilly in the shadow of Mt Lofty, part of the Adelaide Hills – an area which is legendary for pears, apples, blackberries and strawberries. One is coming in before Friday, the other early next week. Everything will be handled with kid gloves, hand picked, bag pressed and allowed to ferment away gently by the wild yeasts from those vineyards and whatever resides here at the winery.
Teresa will be keeping sections of these vineyards separate to see how they come up, and going on how the fruit looks right now – she’s quietly confident! – the wine will be destined for the ‘super chard’ FDW 7C. This is an old winemakers code from the ’70s that we’ve resurrected, which stands for Fine Dry White, and was used in those days to mark the best dry white of the cellar. Nowadays, the best chardonnay parcels from the Adelaide Hills fruit are selected out, blended up, and bottled under FDW 7C – first release was 2005 and the current vintage is 2007. If you’re partial to chardonnay – and a lot more folks are than would care to admit – and you’re NOT interested in chewing on the oak of the old over-wooded styles, track down some of this – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And you’ll keep Teresa in a job and out of trouble!