Monthly Archives: December 2010

Lions and Togas and Beers, Oh My!

8.11am, Friday 24th December, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley

Mmm, beer.

Yes folks it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s very, very, quiet at Yalumba this morning. Most folks finished up their year yesterday after the big  Christmas lunch on the winery side lawn, and there’s only a skeleton staff in today – the last day of the 2010 Yalumba working year. But we saw out 2010 well yesterday: Here’s our Tasting Room and Events manager – Steve Lindner – organising the beer for lunch! Steve is the man who often writes the blog when I’m off on holidays or crook – thanks. Whilst we’re talking about the blog, Tony does all the headlines and puts the photos in the right spots, but this morning is going to teach me how to do that myself – another massive technical breakthrough on the way.

Singapore Lion slings through the sidelawn

For the lunch yesterday, there was a dress up theme of ‘What’s New”, and a lot of the departments competed for the prestige and prizes. Our Negociants International entry was the dancing Singapore Lion – because one of the things that is new for us is a joint wine merchant venture in Singapore with Monopole. Caroline and Peta were in charge of the many after-hours arts and crafts sessions involved, and I thought they looked pretty good. That’s our computer-design whiz Ryan up front with the head.

The Cloud

I’ve put in a few random shots of other entries – the Information Services team were ‘The Cloud’, which apparently is some new whiz bang thing that is tied up with the internet. Here they are having their department photo being taken – that’s Graham Baker in the middle!

The Viticulture and Winemaking team came along as some version of the Life Of Brian – but we all reckon they just like the toga party thing! Here’s Walshy & Robin Nettlebeck helping out in the kitchen, Murph – would you put your winery in this man’s hands?, and Ash ‘channelling Russel Crowe in Gladiator’ Radcliff with Freddy “Oxford Landing’s going good” Strachan.

Brian and Robin


Ashley and Fred

Mmmm, ham

There was the presentation of the Wyndham Hill Smith Award (for continuous effort behind the scenes above and beyond the norm) to Brian Linke – in charge of all grounds and gardens over the complete Yalumba estate – and Lawrie Doecke – who has done everything from drive forklifts in despatch to being the Safety Officer. Well done, and enjoy choosing your artwork from Sam’s shop – Hill Smith Fine Art. Then there was the lunch of baked ham, roast beef & turkey from Vintner’s Bar & Grill Peter Clarke – who has featured at various times in the blog this year – here’s the ham just finishing in the oven.

Finally – the stirring Xmas message from Robert – our fearless leader – to keep us chugging away on the rails safely ploughing on through the clouds of doom and gloom around the world’s wine markets. Big day had by all, and everyone safely home.

So today it’s a matter of tidying up, and settling in for the one last sleep before Santa brings all the kids that have been good this year – which is definitely us! – what they’d like for Christmas. Not sure how Santa is going to be able to get Hugh Grant down my chimney … but I live in hope!

So Happy Festive Season, I hope that the New Year is good to you, and I’ll see you all when it’s 2011.

Christmas – the Italian Way

8.13am, Wednesday 22nd December, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley

Those are are the best ornaments: lollies!

I’ve been off the air the past few days – completely preoccupied with our family Christmas event. This year it was my turn to host everyone, so last Sunday it was the big Italian-style long table lunch. Pancetta chips (crisped in a slow oven), honey basted turkey roll, five different types of salami, pepperoni, mortadella, my new recipe frittata – you get the picture. Then there was the Christmas tree itself. This year I covered it with edible ornaments. Because I’ve spent so much time with my crook leg up, I’ve had lashings of time to run my own sheltered workshop – making hangers out of curling ribbon and sticking them on various flavour Freddo frogs, Bertie Beetles, popping candy chocolate Elves, mini Crunchies, Cherry Ripes, Snickers etc – basically anything I could stick a hanger on to! It’s not a great photo, but you can see the end result. It was a big hit on the day with both the little and the big kids!

The nephews

Also, Lego is the popular present this year for boys and girls, so I got that right too. Here are the lads with their stuff: obviously thrilled! Now it’s all downhill for me into the Christmas and New Year week, and I get to play freeloading guest – the best. But I do turn up with at least three bottles of wine – so it always works out.

The locusts have arrived

Now, after surviving the recent storms, yesterday was the first real descent onto Angaston of the clouds of locusts that have been working their way south-southwest. They’ve got to the Barossa and not been able to believe their big goggly eyes! Endless green food whichever way they fly. They don’t like the cold at all, so as soon as the sun came out yesterday, they were everywhere. So it was down to the hardware store after work for me. I’ve got 2 metres of flyscreen that I’ll be fitting to the front of the ute today to stop the thing being clogged with the little critters. Here are a few that I pulled out of the radiator last night – gives you an idea of the size of the things – and there’s thousands of them in clouds everywhere.

They weren’t up and about this morning though, as we had a really chilly start to the day. Last night it was a fabulous big fat full moon, and it was lit up like a silver and grey dollar coin in a clear sky – not a cloud anywhere. So after a cold night and colder morning, I suspect the locusts are having a sleep in – but they’ll be back!

Three more sleeps until Christmas day, and tomorrow it’s our end-of-year party at the winery. There’s been a competition announced where departments have to come up with costumes based on the “What’s New” theme. The Yalumba Christmas Party costume comp has always been taken very seriously, and some great sights have been seen over the years. Who can forget Ash Presser as a mermaid! So there’s been lots of hustle and secret activity over the past week, and I’ll make sure I get some photos in for you. It’s a top day, and it’s when the watches for 21 years service are given out, and the Signatory on the back of the next Signature Cabernet Shiraz blend to be released – the 2008 – will be announced. So a big day on our calendar every year – not to mention Robert’s Christmas message and a chance to catch up with everyone from across the winery and vineyards. Looking forward to it.

Congrats to Declan and Sandra!

2.06pm, Thursday 16th December, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, South Australia
Now folks, I might not be a cricket fan, but seeing as most of this nation is – I’ve just tuned in to the BBC website’s live twitter on the Third Ashes Test under way now on Day 1 over in Perth, Western Australia. And my one question after an hour’s play with Australia batting and the score at 3 for 33 is this: “Who is the last person in Australia that you’d want to change places with right now?” Yep – easy – Ricky Ponting, Australia’s captain, out for 12 himself. As you could imagine, everything vaguely English in Australia is now getting all revved up as the possibility of retaining the Ashes becomes more of a probability the longer the two teams play.

So – on to a much brighter subject!

I’ve just had a text message from the chilly wilds of Galway on the West Coast of Ireland. In that part of the world, Yalumba is well looked after by the Owens family. Declan and Sandra Owens also have the best wine shop in the city – Thomas Woodberry’s Wine Merchant in the Old Town. As of this morning, they’re also the proud parents of baby number 1, a little girl weighing in at 8 lb 7 oz. That’s pretty healthy, considering Dec is only about 90 pounds himself, wringing wet! It’s great, great news. Congratulations Dec & Sandra from everyone over here, and I shall enjoy going out shopping for Wineshop Barbie and similar toys before my next trip to Ireland!

Oh, hang on a minute … back at the Ashes – another one’s out, and Australia is 4 for 46. If they continue this way, the English are going to be insufferable. Hopefully they’ll have forgotten by the time I get back over there in September 2011!

Ssh. Don’t Tell Anyone, But Jane Doesn’t Like Cricket

3.21pm, Tuesday 14th December, The Clocktower, Yalumba, Angaston, South Australia
Folks, I have a confession to make. I know it’s unAustralian, but I really don’t like the game of cricket. I like the classic and colourful characters that have stepped into our popular folklore over the years, but the game … nope.

I went to one game 20 years ago to see the 16-year-old Indian batting phenomenon Sachin Tendulkar, playing Australia in a one day match, at the home of cricket history – The Adelaide Oval. It was summer. Stinking hot. Had to park the cars miles away and cart eskys and picnic baskets halfway across the city. Got a (treasured) spot on ‘the hill’ under the scoreboard in the full on heat and settled in for the day. Tendulkar strode to the crease to much applause, with the crowd on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what the sensation might produce. The bowler took an extra long run up, hurled the ball down the pitch, and Tendulkar … was out. First ball. In cricket speak, not just a ‘duck’ – out for no runs – but a ‘golden duck’ – out for no runs off the first ball faced. I remember asking at the time, “Is that it? Can we go home now?” That’s the sum total of my involvement in cricket.

So you can understand why – when I was in England last year working on the new premium wine release and Australia lost The Ashes – even though I was everyone’s closest Australian and copped a lot of flak – and the whole English nation had a collective loss of memory about years of rubbish cricket – their barbs were wasted on me. Now we have folks from the English wine trade coming to the winery to visit, brimming with confidence because of the way the current English cricket team are ploughing through the Australian bowlers and batsmen on their quest to retain The Ashes – in hostile territory. Which brings me to yesterday’s visitor, and the subject for today’s blog.

Stuart George, wearing his Marylebone Cricket Club jumper

Have a look at the picture above – it’s freelance journo with the famous red and yellow stripes. Stuart is a bit of a comedian for an English bloke, and he was telling me that the Marylebone Cricket Club is THE proper MCC, not those pretenders, the ‘other’ MCC – known in this country as the Melbourne Cricket Club! (He can get away with that with me, but anywhere else in the country, they’d be fighting words!) Stuart’s MCC has its home pitch at Lord’s Cricket Ground in the London suburb of St John’s Wood – more famous, as far as I’m concerned, for the pedestrian zebra crossing just around the corner from the ground which The Beatles made famous on the front cover of their Abbey Road album – but that’s just me.

We were up at Pewsey Vale vineyard doing a comparative tasting between the 2010 Pewsey Vale and 2010 Heggies rieslings to show the differences in expression of aroma, flavour and texture in the wines with just 11 km between the two vineyards. Those are the wines set up on the tray of my new Hilux ute! The Pewsey is all lemon over lime at the moment in a big citrus fresh acid burst, and the Heggies is a bit more laid back with some perfume on the nose and a longer slippery palate. I wish I’d had a tupperware container of cold yabby tails and a bit of mayonnaise – would have been magic. And yep – it was a lovely day, a bit on the warm side. But that didn’t stop Stuart wearing his jumper! Just like the old saying goes – “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun”. Unless cricket is involved.

But thanks for coming by, Stuart, and I hope Santa has you on his list – only 12 sleeps now until he’ll be on his way! See you when it’s London, and with any luck – out of its big freeze.

Festive Season Kicks Off in Townsville

2.04pm, later the same Saturday 11th December, Brisbane Airport, Queensland, Australia
So, now to our 36 hours of adventures in Steamtown-ville. We have a top ambassador for Yalumba up there in Jason Smith, and for the last couple of years, Townsville has been included into the domestic Australian circuit that I work during the year. With Jason on the ground in town, we’ve really been able to build our business with the events we’ve done, and again it’s all about old school business out in the regional areas – once you do the right thing by the Far North Queenslanders and they like the wines – it’s harder than a divorce to break up the relationship!

Lovely stuff.

This trip we had a couple of jobs to do. First up was The Brothers Leagues Club Christmas Wine Dinner. Craig and Angela at Brothers Leagues (famous up this way for constantly winning the A Grade Rugby League comp for the region) had been keen on the wines and listed them in the dining room at the club. They came to the two lunches that we did this year and last year at A Touch of Salt on the river. We all got on like a house on fire, and they got me up to town to host the Christmas Wine Dinner on Thursday night in the new dining room – for about 100 people. They went all out with bon bons, candy canes and a requirement that I perform several of the charades that were on the jokes in the bon bons – the things you have to do on behalf of the company! I had no drama with ‘My Fair Lady’, but you try doing ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’!

The starters

Any rate, the evening started with canapes and either the 2009 Y Viognier or the Jansz NV sparkling. I took a photo of the three tastes with the Christmassy feel, then promptly got so tangled up in making sure I spoke to each table individually that I didn’t get to another photo of the rest of the courses! So, from left to right is the slow-cooked pork belly with star anise honey, the baby tomatoes filled with pesto and goats cheese, and the Coffin Bay oysters with soy mirin and salmon pearls.

What a night! I think it’s fair to say that folks have had a pretty tough year, and that this Festive Season they’re going to have a bit of a party! I gave a quick thumbnail sketch of each wine as it was served – just for the record, this was the rest of the menu:

2009 Y series Viognier & 2009 Hill Smith Estate Sauvignon Blanc with an entree of smoked Tasmanian ocean trout with pickled cucumber, coriander, enoki mushrooms (two nights in a row! – who said that regional Queensland didn’t use exotic produce?) with a wasabi and ponzu dressing.

Then the big guns came out: a solid red treble of the 2007 Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 Octavius Old Vine Shiraz & the 2005 Signature Cabernet Shiraz that was tailor made for the main course of grilled beef fillet with buttered leeks, an oxtail wild mushroom and parsnip tartlet, with a port wine jus.

Interestingly, the 2005 Signature was the popular choice as the stellar wine with the beef on this night. A big rap for the great Australian blend yet again.

Finally, we finished with the Jansz NV Rose sparkling and the chilled to frosty 2009 FSW8B Botrytis Viognier, which was served with the dessert – vanilla bean panacotta with fresh raspberries. Being on a diet at this point in time, I only had the raspberries, which were velvety sweet and sensational with that chilled shot of Botrytis Viognier honey apricot. My fruit finish for the night. But folks the panacotta were spot on. When you jiggle the plate, they’re supposed to sit and ‘shiver’ without splitting … and I can report mission accomplished – the Brothers Leagues chefs know exactly what they’re doing.

So we got around to every table, answered a stack of questions on the Barossa, Yalumba, the usual suspects of stelvin cap vs corks, how the Australian wines are going overseas, how the drought affected the vines, now how the rain is working out for us, as well as quite a few new topics. I caught up again with Marty from The Sun Hotel, which is another staunch Yalumba house, and had to pretend we had other things to do Friday lunchtime instead of attending his birthday lunch at their dining room. Which we did on Friday, and presented him with not only a bottle of the 2004 Signature, but a copy of the new book just released on the First Families of Australian Wine. Happy Birthday Marty – and thanks for the support. With all the silver and red balloons around, it was no time at all before everyone had a personalised one – that’s why I always carry a texta pen with me – and I reckon it is safe to say that a good night was had by all. There’s a rumour that it may very well become an annual event, so I’d better get immune to the steamy weather this time of the year, as I wouldn’t miss the Brothers Xmas Wine Dinner for anything. So thanks Craig Thomas, Angela Burling, the board members (you know who you are on table 1!), Barrett and the harem of fangirls, all the floor and bar staff, the kitchen, Angela with the walking frame – thanks for the lend, it made it easy getting to all the tables, Yvonne and Ray for all the advice, Andy the Weatherman for just being there – watch out for Mel from Defence!, the folks from The Butcher on Bundock for supplying all the meat, the folks from Simon George for supplying all the fruit & veg (top raspberries), Cheeks and Marty and the gals who keep them on the straight and narrow, and not forgetting Jason, who makes these great things happen for us. Happy Festive Season to you all, and I’ll see you when it’s 2011.

Old School: A Nice Way to Do Business Toowoomba

9.55am, Townsville Airport, Far North Queensland where it’s extremely humid today, Australia
Picture this, you walk outiside into a wall of heat that smacks you like an invisible fist, and you’re breathing warm water. You’re in Far North Queensland, it’s 9am this morning, and this is the sort of weather that the locals say for as long as it lasts into January or February – they leave their air conditioners going 24 hours a day. Besides allowing them to sleep of a night time, it stops the mould growing inside! I take my hat off to people for just being able to make it through the day – let alone do anything else. But I can’t complain, I’m on my way for the trek home ‘down south’ today, and it’s clear and 21 degrees at home. I’ll be able to get started on the big cleanup after last Tuesday night’s incredible storm front that ripped through the Barossa, dumping 100 mm in 36 hours on an already soggy Valley. I’ll be getting the bulldozer up to re-make the road up my hill – lucky I’ve got a 4-wheel drive in the meantime!

But before I get to that, I want to finish up what we did up here in Queensland. I was a bit flat out the last couple of days, and Thursday morning before we came down the mountain from Toowoomba, we arranged to have breakfast with the Coorey clan – tremendous Yalumba supporters – who own The Spotted Cow pub (est1842) and have a pretty smart wine store as well. Phil couldn’t make it to our dinner because he dislocated his knee in an accident trying to juggle a case of champagne, so being in total knee pain sympathy with the big man – even if he is a Boston Red Sox baseball nutjob – we made a date with the whole family for brekky at another Yalumba outpost in town – Lyn’s Pink Peppercorn.


Because Phil has an egg & sausage spicy tortilla thing he invented on their menu, and I like their scrambled eggs. The Cooreys have extended the dining room at The Cow, and next trip we’ll be doing the new 2006 Rare & Fine Signature and Octavius release up there, and it will be a big night out in town. It’s nice to be able to rotate through our big three homes in Toowoomba – The Cow, The Downs Club and Fibber Magees – and folks go to each other’s events. It’s very ‘old school’, a nice way to do business, and I like it. So once again – thanks Toowoomba and we’ll see you when it’s 2011.

I’m off to Brisbane to wait for my plane to Adelaide, and will catch up what we did in Townsville there.

Top Tastes in Toowoomba

11.22pm, Wednesday 8th December, Toowoomba Motor Inn Room 10, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Back on the road folks, and with 17 sleeps until Father Christmas brings presents to all of us who have been good kids this year. I’ve just been dropped back to the motel after another one night stand – with an amazing dinner – in Toowoomba, jewel of the Great Dividing Range. With our all-conquering rep for this area – Steele Retchless – we continue to win hearts and palates with our Rare & Fine wines, and tonight was no exception. The chefs at Fitzy’s on Church – the new dining room at the Fibber Magee’s pub in the middle of town – went right out on the edge with what would have been an ambitious wine and food exercise anywhere. And they really got it right!

Mark, Chris and Matt

Left to right – Mark (Kennedy), Chris (1st year apprentice) and Matt (Radke) stood around in the cold room a couple of weeks ago and literally tossed food ideas into the pot to come up with something a little bit special to feature with our Rare & Fine big gun wines, and truly christen the new private dining room at Fitzy’s. On paper it looked like a long list of ingredients – but on the plate they went together like Fred and Ginger on a polished dance floor! (For the younger folk – like Usher and a too tight pair of leather pants!)

Jansz and triple cream - great pairing

Couldn’t pick a highlight, so I’ll put all four courses up and send photos through to Tony for him to slot into the words. And yep – by early next year I will have learned how to do that myself, tech kids – just proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. (Editor’s note: woo hoo!)

First up, on arrival, folks were met with a glass of the new Vintage 2005 Jansz sparkling and some discs of French triple cream brie topped with strawberries ripe enough that you could smell them before you saw them – definitely means summer is just about here! – topped with just enough cracked black pepper. Definitely no chance of stopping at one of those.

Bug tail never looked so good

Now the first plate was on the menu as “Roast Garlic & Parmesan Custard with Crustacean Consomme, Braised Lettuce, Asparagus Tip & Radish Finished with Baked Long Tail Bug” Now in the bowl, this materialised as Chris’s supremely fluffy custard – not too much garlic that it was hot or bitter – surrounded by a moat of the light crustacean broth, with fresh crispy radish and asparagus tips floating about, and with a shelled bug tail on top. But somehow the boys in the kitchen managed to get that roast flavour and firm outside on the tail – with the flesh all cramy inside. Yum! is about the best description. How lucky are we to have fresh produce like this, and the lads to morph it into such magic flavours and textures! Up in Toowoomba folks – and people ask me why I go up there! The whole thing worked a treat with the 2008 Yalumba Virgilius, which was chilled and settled down nicely to cut through the bug and custard. After a start like that, you could be forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t get any better. Wrong.

Second plate was a “Crown Roast of Duck, Slow Cooked Pork, Pistachio Puree, Fig & Date Loaf , and Grapefruit Jelly.” I had a yarn with Mark (head chef) Kennedy before dinner and asked the question about what a “crown roast of duck” is. Apparently you trim the whole duck until there’s just the breast left on the ‘cage’ and roast that – the benefit being that the meat retains a bit more moisture and cooks a touch sweeter. Then the lads have removed the breast meat, and popped it on the pistachio puree – made with orange and garlic and strained to a mustard consistency – add to that the pork slow cooked for 7 hours then pressed down to chill and set in the fat, cut to sections and cooked a second time , with chunks of the compressed sweet gritty fig loaf topped with the cold sour grapefruit jelly alongside. Ta da! Again it all worked in together and we chose the 2007 Yalumba Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet to go with the dish – purely on the strength of the bright blackcurrant fruit and the way the Cabernet cut through the richness of both meats.

Tournedos of Beef, Beetroot Puree & Mushroom Ravioli bathed in Mushroom Broth completed with Parmesan Tuille

On a roll, we go to the Third Plate: “Tournedos of Beef, Beetroot Puree & Mushroom Ravioli bathed in Mushroom Broth completed with Parmesan Tuille”. Here we go with an eye fillet from one of the great beef regions of Australia – the Darling Downs, right on Toowoomba’s doorstep – with beetroot puree (definitely one of the unsung vegetable heroes that just goes so well with red meat) and an individual ravioli stuffed with shitake and porcini mushroom paste, topped with inoki mushrooms just for good measure, with the whole thing sitting in some mushroom broth. Not just any mushroom broth though – a big pot of homemade vegetable stock that the boys dumped a whole box of mushrooms into, then concentrated down twice into a lovely sticky earthy soup. And with this, we featured our two best Cabernet Shiraz blends of the moment – the 2005 Signature and the 2004 Reserve (which for the unititiated is a parcel of barrels from prize vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that were destined for the 2004 Signature blend. We hold them in oak for an extra six months, bottle age the wine for four years, then release it as an aged red that will last in the bottle for an extended period). Yes! It was a memorable food and wine moment … a lovely way to finish up the travelling Rare & Fine Roadshow year.

So to Mark, Matt, Chris and everyone in the kitchen, to Fitzy, his wife, and his mum & dad who have Fibbers, and to Anita and Big Pete serving the wines – thanks a heap for having Yalumba in your house – and whenever you want to do it all again, we’re free that day! To Clint, the Skin Man, the Bankers, the Financial Whiz, all the girls, and our fans who came up from Brisbane – thanks for coming along and supporting the night – Happy Festives to you, and we’ll either see you in Toowoomba or The Barossa – we’ll be ready either way. To the lads starting GPO, the new hot cocktail bar and food spot in Toowoomba – good luck but I suspect you’ll get by on talent! Look forward to seeing that all happen. In short – Toowoomba, you’re very good to us, and I can sleep easy tonight amongst friends. (In my own bed folks – no funny business up here in Toowoomba!)