Monthly Archives: October 2010

Riesling Through the Decades

3.46am, Thursday 28th October, Tank 11, The Clocktower, Yalumba, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia
I’ve just finished working with a group of visiting sommeliers who are in our piece of the world for the day, as part of a whistle stop tour of Australian wine regions. They’ve been with us this morning and for lunch and are out with the Henschkes for the afternoon. Louisa Rose did a masterclass for the group that featured Pewsey Vale Riesling, a ‘horizontal’ of various vintages of our Cabernet Shiraz blends, a vertical of five vintages of Signature, and a comparison of the Single Site Shirazes 2005 and 2006.

What I want to talk about though is the set of three Eden Valley Riesling wines:

1971 Pewsey, 2005 Pewsey Contours, 2010 Pewsey

All three wines were finished with stelvin closure screw caps, but the 1971 Pewsey has the unique distinction of having been closed with a standard cork as well! It was a time when ‘screw caps’ were seen as only being used on inferior wines by most folk, but we knew we were ahead of the game, and that they were the shape of things to come – so that 1971 vintage of Pewsey got both. Everyone was happy! In the photo, you can see the complete change in bottle shape from 1971 to 2010, as well as the change in labelling. Years ago, we used to use the term “Rhine Riesling”, but now it’s just the variety “Riesling” and the area of production – Eden Valley, from the individual vineyard confines of Pewsey Vale. (But bear in mind that we can trace the older vines at Pewsey Vale back clonally to the original James Busby 1832 import, from Geisenheim.)

Here are my tasting notes for the three wines:

1971 Pewsey Vale Riesling: The colour shows the development and age of the wine straight away, as it’s a golden slightly brown, which follows to the slightly less than fresh oxidation showing on the nose. However, there’s still some fading citrus fruit evident, which carries through the palate – and is a good example of how well Riesling can weather 40 years in the bottle. She’s tired but hanging in there.

2005 Pewsey Vale Contours: Lots of lifted primary citrus fruit – more lime than lemon floating about, with acid snap on the palate. The fruit just seems to be softening and carrying the lime through. Marmalade, lemon zest and toast there as well, and this thing is in great shape.

2010 Pewsey Vale Riesling: Lashings of solid fragrant perfumed lemon lift is the first thing I got – chased by more lemon than lime fruit flavours around a granuley acid skeleton. Nice fruit length and screaming for some seafood!

Our Tank 11 masterclass today with Louisa Rose and the sommeliers

It was a pretty accomplished group of sommeliers with us today in Tank 11 – the underground tasting room that we were using – and as you can see, there’s still tartrate and wax on the walls from over 100 vintages.

Dave Cross from Estbek House

By the way – here’s David (from Estbek House – one of our Yalumba ‘fortresses’ on the east coast of England – up in the hamlet of Sandsend, south of Whitby actually) and I, holding those walls up after the whole tasting and lunch was done.

And speaking of lunch – thanks go to Scott from Vintners bar & Grill. He poached some local Barossa Chook and put it into caramelised onion tarts with a reduction using Louisa’s Eden Valley Viognier, and added asparagus, Haloumi cheese and baby lettuce. Spot on with the new 2009 vintage of Virgilius, Eden Valley Viognier and the 2005 Tricentenary Grenache.

Barossa chook and a Viognier reduction

We’ll be catching up later with the crew out at Henschke for a BBQ dinner, so it will be interesting to see how their day in the Barossa washed up. See ya when it’s Friday and I’ll be off to the airport to pick up one of our new colleagues from ‘The London Office’ and introduce them to the mother ship!

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Big White

10.46am, Monday October 25th, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia
It’s a warm day out there folks, and we’ve had several in a row, so this time of the year it means one more thing we have to start thinking about … snakes! With the cool spell earlier this month, I reckon the local snakes – especially the Browns – have all had a bit longer sleep in hibernation this year. But now that there’s a bit of warmth in the morning air, they’ll be waking up and wanting to move. With all the water and lush grass around, there’s going to be lots of frogs and other delicacies about for them to feast on, so it’s time to keep your eyes down if you’re tramping about vineyards or the scrub!

Big Sudsy White

Now the other thing I wanted to mention this morning is that one of the most stable and long-term relationships in my life is about to end. I’m very lucky that with my job comes a company-owned motor car, and I have had a lovely time with Big White, my Toyota Hi Lux Dual Cab ute, for the past five years. But he’s being retired this Friday, and I’m already getting separation anxiety as we’ve had a brilliant run, and he’s one of the most solid and reliable blokes in my world – not to mention the long hours we’ve spent crisscrossing the countryside together! The perfect unit really – comfortable with a stack of get up and go – what more could you ask for? So I took him for a proper tub over the weekend – here he is covered in soapsuds white – and right now he’s getting around the Barossa as “Big Shiny Bright White” before going back to the dealer on Friday. We’ve shown a lot of visitors a big chunk of the Yalumba world, and with any luck the next truck will pick up where Big White left off.

Budburst, Bees, and Water: Now It’s Spring!

3.39pm, Heggies Vineyard Office, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia
Just taking some folks up through the hills today, and I thought I’d show you what I was talking about yesterday.

First up – let’s talk budburst. Photo number 1 is old Riesling on the Contours block at Pewsey Vale, and Photo number 2 is old Riesling across at Heggies. As you can see, Pewsey is a bit ahead of Heggies at the minute, but both look good.

#1: Contours budburst

#2: Heggies budburst

 Now to the dams. These are the two dams up at Heggies vineyard, both running over as we speak, and supporting healthy numbers of wild ducks! The smaller or ‘back dam’ has this island in the middle, and the main dam has this massive old landmark dead river red gum that’s featured in a lot of Heggies Vineyard PR shots – only the water is never that far up the trunk!

Heggies back dam

Heggies main dam

 Lastly, when we were at Pewsey Vale, at the base of the Contours block terraces, there’s an old stone hut that used to be a shelter from the nasty weather during pruning. Someone’s thrown away an apple core at lunch time – and it’s grown! The blossoms have all just popped together, and the tree is literally buzzing with bees laden down with legs full of pollen. I managed to get these photos without getting stung – which is always a good thing!

Blooming at Pewsey

Legs full of pollen

 Definite proof that it’s spring.

Around the Grounds: It’s Finally Spring

9.01am, Wednesday 20th October, The Clocktower, Yalumba, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia
It’s bright as a button out there in the Barossa today, none of the cloud or drizzle of the last couple of days, and there’s a bit of warmth in that sun. Good day to put the washing out – it’s like the first proper day of Spring has landed. So I thought a quick trip ‘around the grounds ‘ – or vineyards in our case – was in order, just to see where we’re at.

Fred at Oxford Landing (during winter pruning)

First stop – OXFORD LANDING up in the Riverland and a chat with Freddy the vineyard manager. “The vineyards look good – best it’s looked in years. Crops are small, which is not a bad thing, but we’ve had excellent rains, decent rains, rain that we can actually do something with” How’s that for starters. What the ‘decent rains’ means in real terms is that this year instead of having the run of winter ‘showers’ of 2-3mm at a time, this year we’ve seen steady downpours of 30mm each month – but in one solid drop. This loads up the subsoil and means that the vines are actually getting irrigated, unlike with the showers, where the topsoil barely gets wet. The crops that set are probably going to remain low for one or two seasons, as the vines will take at least 18 months to ‘recover’ from being in drought mode, now that these rains have ‘broken’ the cycle. In real terms, this sort of rainfall means that Oxford Landing has not had to irrigate at all as yet – which is five ‘waters’ that haven’t had to be done. This means that for this stage of the season, we’re well ahead of the game.

Chardonnay and Cabernet have burst fully and are away – looking the best they have in years, with Sauvignon Blanc about to go. So it’s very early days, but everything is moving in the best way that it can.

**The Murray River is 6 feet up on its normal level due to rains in Victoria, so the water’s moving very quickly – and whilst that means that the fishing is rubbish – in about two months it will be time to shake out the yabby nets and get amongst what should be a bumper season. I will be up there late November for the fig harvest and mid December for the yabby run – and let you know how we go.

Second stop – THE LIMESTONE COAST – WRATTONBULLY & COONAWARRA – and a catch up with our tech officer down there where it’s a good deal cooler all year – Daniel. “I’m looking out of the office window at a beautiful day down here in Wrattonbully, and it’s the evenness that’s outstanding right now. Most things are through budburst, but everything is growing really evenly at the moment which is unusual. Normally there’s a block or variety that’s up and down, but this year it’s a better start to the season than we’ve seen for years.” That’s pretty good too, even though again it’s very early days. The even growth at Wrattonbully has come about because there was a warm start early that got things going, a cold spell that stalled things, then another warm spell to open everything else – hence now the vines are all moving pretty well together. Evenness is a bonus across a vineyard, because if all things stay equal – even budburst leads to even flowering and fruit set, which leads to an even ripening crop – it gives the winemaker every chance to do well with that block of fruit.

COONAWARRA is also moving well, and unusually it is ahead of Wrattonbully. This early budburst for Coonawarra is a result of higher-than-normal soil and night time temperatures and could lead to an extended season – which means every chance for increased flavour and aromatic development. However it’s early days, and the big drama with Coonawarra is always the frosts. These will knock the vines out if they’re severe, so everyone lives with their fingers and toes crossed for luck until late November – sometimes early December – until the spectre of late season frosts is gone. (Bear in mind, as Daniel said, the nasty frosts of the 2006-07 season happened at Christmas, so nothing is impossible). But we couldn’t have asked for more as far as winter rainfall is concerned’ there’s been 15-20mm each week of late as ‘top up’ rains which just keep everything moving nicely. Without putting a hex on anything, there’s a good feeling about the start to this season down south, with the days around 20 degrees, and the nights down to around 10 degrees – or when it gets really cold around 3 degrees, not 0.

The Eden Valley dams are full!

Third stop : THE BAROSSA – EDEN VALLEY & BAROSSA FLOOR – this is where I get to chat with Darrell, our vineyard manager who’s based up at Heggies in the EDEN VALLEY. “This is the first year in 10 years that all three of our dams up in Eden Valley have overflowed, and Pewsey and Heggies are still trickling over after last weekend’s rain. With budburst, we’re about two week’s behind where we’ve been the last few years, but with the cold weather and really wet soils, we’re back to where ‘normal’ would have been – pre the drought years.”

The good news continues.

So folks, we’ve had great winter rainfall, the ground is really wet – the soil profile and dams are full. The Cahrdonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are burst, and even though it’s very early yet, the crops look small – which is good for quality. With the cold spell we’ve just had – last Friday it only reached 9 degrees up at Heggies – we now need sunshine to move things along. That means today and the next couple – sitting at 20-24 degrees – are just what the doctor ordered. Between the rows up in our Eden Valley vineyards, – the stands of grasses are high, but we’re waiting till they go well to seed for next year before we start to mow. The gullies up behind Heggies are lush and should hold until Christmas – which is what things were like in the ‘old days’ – something we haven’t seen up that way for 10 years. So NO FROSTS is the order of the day, and we won’t be out of the woods until late November early December. But looking good so far.

**In the off season, during Autumn, the vineyard folk have been busy and planted 2500 native trees up at Pewsey and Heggies, and that is just going to keep things going in the right direction with respect to improving the health of those vineyards and surrounding areas.

Down on the BAROSSA FLOOR, pretty much everything has burst, and is moving along nicely. We have a heap of Grenache along that central line of the Barossa, from Vine Vale to the Moppa, and we’ve just finished planting about 6 acres of bush vines (ie free standing with no trellis) out on that hard biscay ground of the Moppa block itself. The wood for these rootlings was taken from the 1889 planted heritage vines at The Nursery, so should give us some stunning fruit starting about 4 or 5 years from now. Nothing good happens in a hurry, so we’ll just be patient and wait!

So folks, after that quick ‘around the grounds’ – without inviting disaster – there’s a bit of confidence about the start to our season. It’s very early days yet – and frost is our big drama to watch out for – but the winter rains have delivered, and things are moving well. So keep your fingers crossed, and I’ll give you another update once we’re through flowering.

***It might be worthwhile having a look at what’s happening in our local general farming community as well. There’s a fair bit of confidence out there, on the land, and with respect to fat lambs, wool and cereal crops, a lot of people are saying “best for 20 years”. According to one of our local agricultural machinery businesses that works from the Barossa through the Mid North to Burra and across the Yorke pPninsula to Ardrossan – a lot of folk reckon they’re the best grain crops they’ve seen in living memory. All they have to do now is avoid the massive number of locusts that are on the move in the northern parts of South Australia. So keep your fingers crossed for them as well folks, it’s about time the tide turned a bit our way.

Meanwhile … Kara’s Cupcakes Still Rule!

Is that coconut in front?

3.18pm, Monday 18th October, Still in the Clocktower, Yalumba

Now folks, here’s one to show you what a caring and sharing company you are dealing with when it comes to us. One of our top beanies (numbers man – in charge of important budgets and things), Wayne, was travelling to our USA office near San Francisco, and they welcomed him with the best local goodies they could – a selection of Kara’s Cupcakes! They know that I am absolutely in love with those things, so they sent me this photo attached to an email that said, “Have a look at this”. My immediate reply was “oh oh – that looks like a fluffy new cocnutty new flavour in the front there?” And our gal in the office Suzanne, in charge of getting things to where they have to go, sent me this really helpful reply:

“It’s actually a vanilla … wait a minute, I’ll have a bite and tell you …”

And that was it. She probably ploughed her way through several – I would have!

For the record, the new flavour is COCONUT: ‘a vanilla cupcake with coconut cream cheese frosting’. And it does look very fluffy. Yum. Definitely need a Kara’s to open in the Barossa. I might write to them and see what they think – stranger things have happened!

Yalumba Visits Drovers’ Run (think: McLeod’s Daughters)

10.47am, Monday 18th October, The Clocktower, Yalumba, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia

Drovers' Run

There’s definitely still a bit of winter hanging around the Barossa today. It’s still raining this morning, and rained on and off all weekend. We were nice and dry on Saturday though, in the shearing shed at the Drovers’ Run property south west of Tanunda, where they used to film the “McLeod’s Daughters” TV show. Here’s the main building – just as the film crew left it when they walked out.

We were over there to do a tasting for a group of folks on a McLeod’s Daughters-themed weekend – complete with sheep mustering on horseback, quad bike riding lessons, whip cracking demos – and a fantastic video and presentation by the “inventor” of the show – Posie Graeme Evans. She also previwed her new novel, “The Dressmaker”, which definitely looks like another fabulous yarn.

Chef Peter Clarke and the pig on the spit "before"

Pig on the spit "after"

We did our tasting after her presentation, and before dinner – which was spit-roasted pork done by the chef and part owner of Vintner’s Bar & Grill right here in Angaston – Peter Clarke. Here’s Clarkey at 11am in the morning wiring the pig up before going on the spit, and here’s dinner – 7 hours later – about to be carved up.

yFrom our tasting I’d say it was a toss up between the 2008 Bush Vine Grenache and the 2008 Scribbler Cabernet Shiraz for best match with the meat. No disputes at all about what was best in the chilly conditions later on around the big bonfire – the Antique Tawny without a doubt.

You can never tell where we’ll be showing our wines these days, and it was nice to be in our own back yard reliving some of the great moments at Drovers’ Run.

Seismologists Can Cook Too!

2.10pm, Wednesday 13th October, The Clocktower, Yalumba, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia
Howdy again folks. I just got an interesting email from my favourite seismologist Hrvoje (pronounced Herr-voy for those like me that don’t speak Croatian), who happens to be a member of one of our staunchest supporters – The Canberra Food & Wine Club. He’s just had a dinner to mark the special date 10/10/10 and sent me photos of his food. I really like the creative stuff, so want to show you his “Baked Figs with Jamon Serrano, Queso Iberico & Truffle Oil” – baked figs in very smart ham baskets! See what you think. At last year’s Yalumba lunch with the club (see the blog post for May 15th 2009 – “Birthday Cake in Canberra“) Hrvoje was responsible for the starter – an Adriatic Octopus Salad – so for a scientist, this boy is doing some fun foodie stuff, definitely worth encouraging.

Hrvoje's creation