Monthly Archives: August 2010

Squelching Through the Barossa

8.12am, Saturday 28th August, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, South Australia
Squelch, squelch, squelch, squelch, squelch, squelch.

That’s me walking across the soggy front lawn this morning to the Clocktower. The ground around here is saturated folks, and it’s a lovely thing to see. Thursday night and Friday morning were a good time to go for a drive around the Barossa and see creeks running that have been bone dry for years. The creek at Bethany was over the road at the ford, and across at Light Pass where the Para crosses a fairly deep ford, the water level was at 1.2m on the marker board. It must have caught a couple of locals out, because there were a two cars sitting down from the ford in the creek yesterday morning, waiting to get pulled out of the mud. The creek behind Angaston’s main street was boiling away just above its banks Thursday evening, and some of the old timers reckon this was like winter was – all season long – back in the old Barossa days. Officially, it’s the wettest winter in South Australia for 11 years, so lets hope it sets us up well for a decent run at 2011.

Why am I in at work this morning on a Saturday?

Because I was on the phone to our PR whiz kid from the London branch – Val – last night about our first big tasting over there in two weeks time, and the tasting list will be sliding off through the atmo in about half an hour when I finish it – landing in London. We’ll be landing this time next week in Dublin for a week of events in that city and Galway, then through to England, Wales and Scotland for five weeks all told. It will be an all points tour, with equal amounts of time inside the M25 London metro area – and out in the countryside. We’ll be in Portsmouth, Dartmouth, Swansea and Devon in the south – through Manchester and the ‘Grim North’ (I love it!) – up to five days in Edinburgh, so I’ll make sure we post the culinary and tourist highlights along the way.

After I finish this, it will be off to Adelaide for the last footy game of the season, with my boys – the St Kilda Saints – over here to play the local heroes the Adelaide Crows. Four of the Crows blokes are retiring today, so I have no doubt they will want to go out with a bang, so expect they will have a big game from the starting bounce. But with any luck our boys will get up, and finish the season in a strong third place on the ladder – ready for a big run into the finals. Well, that’s the dream plan anyway!

Talk to Bruce at the William Creek Hotel

3.23pm, Thursday 26th August,Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, South Australia

Talk to Bruce!

Just read yesterday’s Adelaide paper folks, and there in the foodie section of The Advertiser is an old mate of ours – Bruce Ross – the new publican at The William Creek Hotel. All those people not living in South Australia will have to get the atlas out to see where the ‘in the middle of nowhere’ hamlet of William Creek is. You’ll find it on the famous road called Oodnadatta Track on from the old Ghan railway town of Marree. It’s also east from the main highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, if you turn off at  the opal mining centre of Coober Pedy. Any which way, you’ll be up in the far north of South Australia. In fact, it’s not uncommon for local station (for those of you in the USA, ‘station’ means a ranch measured in square miles, not acres) folk to fly in to town and land on the road near the hotel.

Any rate, one of our accountants – Glenys – was on a big round Australia trip earlier this year – up through the Kimberleys and back down through the Northern Territory via William Creek at one stage. They stopped in at The William Creek Hotel, met the new publican Bruce, and when he found out that Glenys worked at Yalumba, he pulled out the magnum of 1996 Yalumba Barossa Shiraz in this photo – which I gave Bruce years ago – when I first met him at The Parachilna Hotel. This is a legendary watering hole at the Flinders Ranges township of Parachilna – population 7 – and has been the command central for folks making some pretty legendary movies up that way. Most notable probably would be ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’. The director on that movie was Australian bloke Phillip Noyce, who is getting a lot of press right now for his new release ‘Salt’ with Angelina Jolie. I remember at the time that the crew on ‘Rabbit Proof fence’ took our Signature Cabernet Shiraz on as a favourite, and at least one mercy dash of a five hour drive each way to Parachilna from The Barossa was done to replenish stock!

Any rate, Bruce still has the 1996 Barossa Shiraz – I told him it was a goodie, but never thought he’d keep it – and with any luck he’ll find a good opportunity to open it in the not too distant future and drink it with someone he likes!

If you’re up that way, you should drop in and catch up with Bruce.

First of all – there’s nothing much for miles, and he holds a pretty good conversation – ask him about when he worked on ‘Stingers’ and all those TV cop shows in Melbourne as a car wrangler. Or about the time we drove half way across the country to go see Slim Dusty play in Shepparton because we thought it was a good idea at the time!

Second, it looks like Bruce has got some pretty special steaks happening at the pub – 300g porterhouse steaks hand cut by the man himself.

So if you do drop in, don’t forget to  ask him “what about opening that 1996 shiraz”. Tell him we reckon it would be perfect with one of those steaks!

Bubbles for Brekkie with Boys from Toronto

7.42am, Thursday 26th August, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden valley, South Australia
Rain, rain and more rain! It’s a very soggy valley right now, but a lovely thing to see. We’ve had 48mm or nearly two inches of rain from 7am yesterday to 7am today – and given that our average rainfall for the area is  only 18 inches annually – that’s a huge result! I only wish I had half a dozen more rainwatertanks hooked up to the house – this year they would all be overflowing! Probably not great weather if you’re trying to get that last bit of pruning finished – but otherwise, let it keep coming down!

PS I wouldn’t mind if it stopped for about four hours on Saturday afternoon, as my football team – St Kilda – is coming over from Melbourne to play the last game of the season against the Adelaide Crows, and it would be nice not to get soaked while we watch!

Back to the winery, though, and I’ve talked about our Jansz ‘methode Tasmanoise’  sparkling wine world before – where the Hill Smith family has a passion for all things champagne in style, and where in the top right hand corner of Tasmania – Australia’s ice bucket – we have Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards planted that seem ideally suited to making our version of that style. 

Yesterday we did an early morning brunch tasting of the Jansz Non Vintage, Jansz Non Vintage Rose, and Jansz Vintage 2004 wines with poached fruits to offset the flavours, aromatics and texture of each.

Just by good fortune, there had been a back vintage tasting of Signature Cabernet Shiraz for a journalist the day before, and the bottles were still set up, so we were able to contrast the 1966 Signature with the unreleased next Signature due out – the 2006. It’s very rare that we get to see a 40 year split for any wine, and the 1966 is still in shape through the palate although showing a touch of flattening dusty oxidation on the nose. The 2006 is a big blue purple bruise of a thing with lashings of dark fruit in the aromatics, with a wall of solid but elegant oak and fruit combined settling down into the palate. It will be good to see that one go out into the world sometime early next year. Carnivores prepare your favourite dishes!

The Toronto boys and Robert

And here’s our Toronto restaurant rock star visitors ‘in the tasting tank’ – an underground tank beneath the Clocktower  that used to be used years ago for fermenting out fortified wines – with Robert Hil Smith. From left to right: Kevin (was at the St Andrews Golf Hotel and is the resident haggis expert) is from Spice Route, Anton (yep – very tall 6′ 3″ and it’s his birthday today) is from Niagara Street Cafe, Dave (who has the Barry White voice!) is from The Harbord Room, Howard distributes the best of Barossa wine in Toronto, and Dean has a whole raft of places under his hand, including the excellent Reds where we’ve done several trade lunches. Catching up with the troops in their various places of wine and food business next year come May will definitely be something to look forward to.

Single Vineyard Tours in the Rain and Wind

7.52am, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, South Australia
Wow, how easy it is to fall in a screaming heap when you get back from a trip, and bam it’s six days since I put anything on the blog! Not that we’ve been idle, trust me. Right now we are going through a really cold twist in winter’s tail. I made it safely through the sleet and chill of New Zealand’s South Island, just to get back to the Barossa and have it colder and wetter again!

Not that we’re complaining about the water bucketing down from the sky – you can never have too much of that during our winters – and right now we’re seeing the phenomenon of ‘runoff’. That’s where the ground is actually saturated and the excess water runs off to the lowest point – be it a dam, the creek, or wherever.

It’s a long while since we’ve seen that. But it’s the bitterly cold nights and mornings, and the belting winds that go with it. I’m getting a cold, so it was probably not my smartest move to be out at Pewsey Vale and Heggies vineyards up in the hills yesterday – showing some rockstar restaurant folk from Toronto how ‘terroir’ actually applies to our world – using the individual Riesling vineyards of Pewsey, Heggies and Mesh to illustrate my point. Keeping one eye on the weather so that we were out and about when the storms threatened and were inside when they exploded.

We also headed down to the valley floor to do much the same exercise, but with single vineyard Grenache from Vine Vale and the Moppa areas. Grafting was in full swing at our Nursery which is right in the middle of 42 acres of mostly old Grenache – and where the 1949 single vineyard Vine Vale Grenache block that we were tasting comes from – and we popped our heads in to show the boys how that all works. On the day, the current job  was Cabernet Sauvignon being grafted on to Paulsen rootstocks – which are a good option for vineyard areas where where drought and salt tolerance  are required.

Now this morning I’ll grab a photo of these restaurant boys and pop it in, as we’re about to go and do one of our breakfast tastings – and they are a particularly interesting group of lads.  They are travelling with the Toronto wine world legend Howard Wasserman, who distributes some of our individual vineyard wines throughout that arena, and they are having a top first visit to The Barossa – as besides seeing us for a couple of days, they spent yesterday morning with Stephen Henschke,  will see Robert O’Callaghan at Rockford today, and tonight we’ll be having a BBQ at the winery with John Duval – Mr Barossa Red Wine! So when they go home, they will not only have a good idea of the lie of the Barossa land, but they will have soaked up a lot of the local personality as well. Good but brisk and windy stuff!

The New Zealand Trip Finishes Strong in Auckland

1.12pm, still at Auckland Airport, North Island, New Zealand
Just grabbed some lunch and back to finish off the New Zealand block of work with the two jobs from yesterday – a trade lunch and consumer dinner.

Our trade lunch was set up by the Auckland-based team at Negociants NZ , and we had 60 of the city’s trade and press turn up to Cibo for a very edgy four-course food adventure that chef Desma had put together with our wines. All the little brothers and sisters from the Y Series and the Barossa Edens were out in the courtyard for folks to try, and we held the big guns back for the sit down session. 

The tuna with Vognier at Cibo

Now I’m not much of a one for rare tuna, but I polished off every sliver of the opening dish – black sesame crusted tuna with watermelon plank, crispy duck salad and palm sugar dressing – that was sent out with the 2008 Virgilius Viognier. I need to have a rave here to go with my picture, as this was one of those “sometimes the wine and food just slide in and out, and you don’t notice where one starts and the other finishes ” moments. The soft creamy texture of the tuna and the fresh juice from the watermelon with the zippy coriander and the sweet duck chips were just the ticket for the viscosity and similar aromatics in the Viognier.

Go to Cibo and ask for the dish!

The other thing that Desma put together – to go with the 2005 Octavius Shiraz – was Roquefort with spiced sausage. It was a wedge of the cheese at just the right temperature, but the ‘sausage’ was actually made from  dried figs and pistachios. Of course the combination worked with the smoky forward fruit and coffee mocha of the Octavius. Another win. It’s always a bit daunting for a restaurant to host the rest of the trade from any given city for one of our tastings, but Cibo ploughed through it all beautifully – both the front of house boys and the kitchen team outdoing themselves. Even the coffee was memorable! Thanks for a great day NNZ – Dale you chose well – and Cibo, and the Auckland on and off trade.

L to r: Noriyo from The Village Winery, Gee Ling from the Soul Bar, Roi from The Westin, Me, Tina from Negociants NZ

PS Just to prove folks had a good time, here’s (left to right): Noriyo from The Village Winery at Mt Eden, Gee Ling from the Soul Bar (where we did our last trade lunch), Roi from The Westin Hotel, me, and Tinna from NNZ

***Just for the pop music fans, remember David Bowie’s film clip for “China Girl”?? It was filmed in New Zealand, and Gee Ling in the photo right there, was the china girl on the beach with Bowie!! How cool’s that!!

Dida's (l to r): Tony, chef Vincent Marshall and Mereana

Then on to the last job of the NZ tour – the folks at Glengarry’s have put a deli wine bar, Dida’s, into their HQ downtown Auckland store, and they have a purpose built events room along side for tastings and dinners. It’s flat out for the month of August, but we were lucky enough to get a run last night with a room full of interested folks – with the food done by in-house chef Vincent Marshall. That’s him in the picture in between offsiders Tony and Mereana, once everything was under way.

Gorgonzola dolce with Octavius

I have to say that once again we were staggered by how well the food matched up with the wines, and my picks were the pancetta wrapped prawns with pickled vegetable salad paired with the 2007 Eden Valley Viognier and the very surprising Parma ham wrapped gorgonzola dolce with PX reduction and poached pear alongside the 2005 Octavius. With a small dinner group of 30 people, we were able to spend a fair time talking to everyone, and on this occasion I think one bloke – lets call him the BBQ King – got in absolutely his 20 questions!! But it’s a good thing as it means folks were really interested.

Yalumba feature at Glengarry's

Thanks Regan and all at Glengarry’s – we have a feature there right now out in the store as well – and we’d love to do it all again next time we’re in town.

So at the end of 11 days, I think it’s fair to say that we at Yalumba are still firmly involved in a mutual love afair with wine folk – both trade and consumers – from both islands of New Zealand. We have a lot to look forward to next year when we come back – learning to fly fish, the World Rugby Cup, bringing the 2006 vintage big reds to town – which will be a treat in itself – and eating our body weight all over again in the local sweets Perky Nanas (choc flake covered chewy banana fudge!) and  raspberry chocolate fish and the best kept lollie secret in the country – RJs choc filled licorice logs. Why wouldn’t we all be lining up now!

So “me haere atu au” to everyone we’ve seen this trip …. which apparently is ‘Gotta Go’ in Maori … be safe, and we’ll see you when it’s 2011, or when you’re in the Barossa.  Over and out and I’ll see ya when I’m back in the Big Brown Sunburnt Country next door.

From Internet TV to First Glass in Auckland

11.56am, Wednesday 18th August, Auckland Airport, North Island, New Zealand
I’ve made sure that I got out to the airport with lots of time spare – the flight to Melbourne doesn’t go until 3 this afternoon – so I could catch up the last couple of days events here in the City Of Sails – which have all been huge. So I’ll start with Monday.

Jason Bryant at The Wine Vault

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not thrilled to bits about doing stuff on video, but I’ve known Jason Bryant at The Wine Vault over in Westmere for a while. He’s a great supporter of ours and has taken to the internet airwaves like a duck to water. So when he wanted to do a Yalumba tasting session on his “WINE VAULT TV” thingy, I’ve turned up first thing Monday morning in one of my best shirts, with three wines in tow that pretty much sum up how we’re travelling at the minute – 2008 Virgilius Viognier, 2008 The Cigar Coonawarra Cabernet, and the hero of the hour 2008 Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz. I think these sessions are usually 5 minutes at a time, so Jason will have a heap of stuff to work with, seeing as we put roughly and hour and a bit on tape in one take.

Did I mention he’s a lovely bloke to talk to ? About wine , Elvis, pre European phlloxera clones of Shiraz, paleo shorelines that made the Coonawarra Terra Rossa Cigar, The Flying Tiger hawker style cafe in Vancouver and their sable fish 7 Viognier combo, Graceland, how spanner crabs move through the water and go really well with Vermentino – I could go on … and I think I did a bit. But he seemed to be happy with it all, and is a great champion of  what we’re doing out of the Barossa – and if you’d like to have a look at our chat – go to Jason’s website at, then click on the picture of the old fashioned TV screen that says “Wine vault TV” and it should all work ! (EDITOR’S NOTE: It took two episodes. Find them here.)

Vivace's basil & cream cheese stuffed piquillo peppers with herb oil

Then we zipped into the city to drop in at Vivace upstairs on High Street – long-time supporters and champions of the small share plate menu – just to see what was new and interesting. Mandy and Geno have been using our wines for this style of food forever, but always seem to come up with something new – check the photo of the basil & cream cheese stuffed piquillo peppers – a good example, as was the sticky oregano ribs! Also, they’ve started a new spot – Ragu – watch out for that one over at Pt Chevalier.

Then early evening over to see Chris at the lovely dark hole in the wall businessman’s hideout at O’Connells – another stronghouse for our big reds. Just to say thanks a heap and grab a quick bite of freshly whipped goat cheese blinis and some rocket and we were away to the North Side of the city to one of the big consumer tastings we do in Auckland – Kingsley Wood’s First Glass Wines & Spirits at Takapuna.

First Glass Wine & Spirits tasting ...

On the night we had 90 people turn up to work their way through 12 wines – a big list but a strong one. I think this makes eight tastings that I’ve done with Kingsley, and I was well aware that our chief winemaker and Viognier queen, Louisa Rose, did the one last year, so I had to make sure that the ratio of hard fact information to my travel and food story waffle … had to be through the roof!

She sets the bar high!

... couldn't get all the 90 attendees in one picture

Pleased to report that all the attendees were in no hurry at all to leave. In fact we went well over time, because of the high octane content and questions, plus a lot of folks stayed back to ask more – always a good sign. And I only did one story (although according to the troops it’s a very good one) about crossing paths with one of the jewels in New Zealand’s crown – the incredibly charismatic actor Sam Neill – at the Vancouver Wine Fair earlier this year.We even had some folks connected to the Aust & NZ Society of Cardiologists event two Saturdays ago in Adelaide turn up – nice to see. So my Auckland partner in wine from Negociants NZ  – Andrew  “The World Palate ” Parkinson  and I trekked back to the city around 10.30 pm tired but thrilled to bits with the response to the wines. 

Thanks Kingsley for the staunch support – hope you like your In & Out Burger genuine imported California T-shirt – and we’ll see ya next year.

Elvis or Work? Hmm …

10.32am, Tuesday 17th August, Upper Queen Street, Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
It’s a beautiful morning in Auckland, the sun’s shining through the odd storm cloud, and I’m watching Elvis in “Kissin Cousins” on the telly as I write this. I’ve just come in from a hike along Upper Queen Street and  over the freeway – in search of a little hole in the wall that we found when we were last in Auckland a couple of years ago.

The Little Cake Kitchen is run by Maggie Mowbray, who started baking pies and cakes at home and moved the whole thing into a shop, along with an ancient old coffee machine, and it’s just tops. This morning I went with the red velvet cupcake and one of the freshly made ‘finger sandwiches’ with egg lettuce and ham. Now the bread is that fluffy and soft, and the fillings so fresh that it’s just taken me 30 years back to my school lunch box! Drop in and try the sausage rolls – this morning it’s a choice of lamb and harissa or pork and fennel in flaky butter pastry. This is old-fashioned stuff that tastes great, and it’s definitely worth tracking down. Watch out for the bright pink sandwich board on the street that says “probably the best red velvet cake in the world”. That means you’ve found it.

So I’ve got about 13 minutes before the Big Kahuna Boss Woman over here for us in New Zealand – Janey “It was my birthday yesterday” Jackson – picks me up so I’d better get cracking. Promise I’ll catch up yesterday – big time in Auckland left right and centre – and today’s trade lunch this afternoon before hitting the Glengarry’s consumer dinner.

Oh oh. “Kissin Cousins” is finished and now it’s the doco “Elvis on Tour 1972”. Wonder if I could get away with ringing in sick? Probably not!