Monthly Archives: August 2011

Still lurking around the still house!

11.05am, Tuesday 30th August, Yalumba Still House, Eden Valley Road, Angaston, The Barossa

I’ve just come down from the mezzanine level inside the still house to write this outside the flags, as my iPad could be an ignition source. We ‘re dealing with high-strength spirit folks, so taking no chances at all!

Why the mezzanine level? Because that’s where the spirit ‘safe’ is – where the spirit comes off the reflux column and ‘starts to run’.

Right now the charge being distilled is some of Louisa’s 2009 Eden Valley Riesling. Nothing but the best goes through our pot still. 1931 this old girl was put into the still house and she’s traveling beautifully. The spirit’s been drip drip dripping through the safe for a while now, has had a bit of a bloop bloop false start, and is now running some nice flow – and it is a touch ‘terpineaceous’ in the background aromas. I made that word up – terpines are those fab aromas that identify Riesling as Riesling, and there’s some of that laced through the spirit. Earlier there was none of that at all.

Standing next to the spirit safe it was just like breathing in those magic whisky-laced Irish fruitcakes! No wonder distillers love their job, and why Zimmy is never far away when the spirit is running. That’s when he has to decide to cut the heads and tails away anyway – the tricky stuff that makes great spirit blokes – like our Zimminator – great. I better get back upstairs or they’ll send out a search party! Because if I had my way, I’d just prop in the still house all day, breathing deeply!

Good fog means no frost

4.35pm, Monday 29th August, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, The Barossa, 5353, South Australia

We had a foggy old start to the day this morning, but that’s a good thing really. Where there’s fog, there’s no frost. Driving around the valley floor yesterday, there were so many vines that had shoots on them – some out to 4 or 5 cm long already. The quince tree at the end of the street has well and truly shot, so I reckon it’s safe to call ‘bud burst’ for the early varieties on the Barossa Floor.

Ready to capture the clean heart of the still run

As far as my technical mastery of the iPad and uploading the video I took at the still house Saturday morning goes – total failure and back to the drawing board we go! I’ll have a go at walking first and putting up a photo of the still house set to go with the cans ready for the heads, heart and tails cuts – those sections that make up a distillation ‘run’. The heads are the spiky first bits that come across in the run, and the tails are the heavy oily bits that come across last.What you want is a nice clean, character-filled ‘heart’ of the run that will then go on to become 7-year -old, aged-in-barrel Smiths Whisky.

The still runs again…

8.33am,Saturday 27th August, The Stillhouse, Yalumba,Angaston,Barossa, SA

I am sitting on the garden wall outside the still house, and it is a frosty morning as the boys clear the pot still of one spent charge that was distiller overnight, and get ready to pump the next one in.Each charge is 8500 liters of fermented malted grain from Coopers the beer people down in Adelaide.

This is my first attempt at putting a post up on the blog from the I pad, and I am going for gold and will try and attach a photo and a video!! Here goes!!

We’re sneezing so it must be Spring!

2.46pm, Friday 26th August, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, The Barossa, South Australia

Sign of spring

Folks, it’s official – spring has arrived in the Barossa. The almonds have popped a couple of weeks early – here’s the bees getting stuck in to the first pollen of the season – and there are a few chardonnay vines already shooting on the Valley floor.

Rumour has it that mataro has burst in McLaren Vale also early – and around Yalumba, a lot of the rosemary bushes are covered in tiny violet flowers. We’re starting to sneeze, the sound of lawn mowers on Saturday morning are suddenly quite common, and we’ve had several clear sky days in a row – so that pretty much means that the change of season is here. However, the spectre of frost remains! Clear nights and a sting in the tail end of winter could mean the sort of frost that burns shoots in their tracks, so fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. We won’t know for sure that we’ve made it safely through frost season until we’ve finished September, so you wouldn’t really want to be a winegrower if you didn’t have nerves of steel!

Now I have a confession folks.

I’ve become a techy!

That’s a person who’s right into current technology – and I have to admit that I now have an iPad! I don’t even have an iPhone, so this is all very new stuff for me. The last two days I’ve been doing sessions on how to use it, and interestingly enough, I had no trouble on how to set it up so that I can live stream the whole remainder of the USA Major League Baseball season! Also with the ‘swing around and take photos of yourself’ camera’, I can see how so many of those boys have been in the news lately – it’s so easy to do! There’s just so much you can do with it, and it’s so light! I’ve discovered what Skype really is, so here come the cheap and free phone calls – it’s like having your own video cam phone thingy – which used to be Get Smart-style secret agent fantasy stuff! Not anymore people. We’re harnessing major techy things and using them … right here … right now!

I’m also hoping that the quality of the blog should improve at a rate of knots, as I’ll be able to take videos on the road and slot those in as well – so the first one will be from Ireland in late September. So I’ll see ya for now – I have more ‘apps’ to check out.

I wonder if there’s something useful like a “Cupcake Finder”?

Rain in the Riverland – time to plant trees

4.05pm, Tuesday 23rd August, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, The Barossa, South Australia

The trees planted in 2007

Last week we had some of our US team at the winery, and they saw the lot! One day was put aside to explore the Oxford Landing vineyard and the 1500 acre revegetation project next door. I was up there about 12 months ago, so here’s the update. The trees planted in 2007 have taken off and are really well established.

Olivia plants away

Freddy and Marty have been waiting for the rain to set in to get stuck into the planting this season, so from the weekend before last it’s been flat out! Here’s our Oxford Landing brand manager Olivia doing the job – planting Eucalyptus Gracilis – a multi-trunk mallee tree that will grow to at least 6m.

The wee little plants

Here’s what the seedlings look like planted, which gives you an idea of how well the 2007 block has done.

The crew

Here’s our intrepid USA team players with the boys that run Oxford Landing – left to right – David (looks after California for us), Deirdre (the office engineroom who schedules all the incoming winemaker visits), Marty (the hands on vineyard man), Ailla (new mum and looks after Colorado), Diana (has put Oakland Heights on the map and looks after Flemings steakhouses and Whole Foods – to name 2), and Fred (OL vineyard manager)

Fashionable, eh?

And showing off the latest in Yalumba rain jackets, here’s Ailla, Deirdre and Michel – one of the top reps for our Chicago distributors Heritage – the day before at Menglers Hill lookout in The Barossa.

Lunch in Canberra, all hands to the wheel

9.33am, Tuesday 23rd August, Yalumba clocktower, Angaston, The Barossa, South Australia

Wow the sun’s bright sitting up there in the sky this morning with a backdrop of nothing but baby blue. I’m up to my ears in schedules – off to Ireland and England in four weeks with a return trip to my adopted second home, Far North Queensland, when I get back in November.

But let’s go back a couple of weeks to one of my favourite jobs of the year – the Yalumba Rare & Fine Annual lunch with the Canberra Wine & Food Club.

They’re having major works done at the moment – doubling the cellar space downstairs and incorporating a spiral staircase from the dining room to the cellar. All good thinking and with any luck will be completed for summer this year. Now one of the things I never get tired of with my job is finding hidden gems on my work travels, and this is certainly one of the best kept secrets in the nation’s capital. Here’s a club where everything is voluntary – no paid staff at all – and they have monthly wine tastings, regular cooking schools, and a commercial kitchen set up to cater easily for a hundred people. All in an unassuming clubhouse in suburban Manuka. I love it – and not just because of the (now retired) cellarmaster Albert with the good as new VW kombi van. No – it’s that lovely cameraderie you find in a group of folks from all walks, who just happen to love wine and food – and see them as being inseparable!

So here’s how it works.

The team of members attending divides all the chores for a 60 person luncheon with seven wines and assigns groups of apron clad blokes to the kitchen, folks to set tables and organise the wine service – whilst I open all the bottles and catch up on the local political / government / seismology of the world gossip. Then the team proceeds to serve and clear the three-course meal and wines with military efficiency, and I do the wine backstories and catch the group up on the touring highlights of the previous year.

Roller Derby!

This trip it was all about Sydney – firstly the Roller Derby – I’d been out to Homebush to watch the Beauty School Knockouts v the Screaming Air Sirens the Saturday night before. Top stuff, and there was even a live rockabilly band during the intervals!

Secondly it was the day I’d spent checking out most of the locations from my favourite TV show of the moment “Rake” (set in Sydney) where I’d pretty much done the Cleaver Green (our hopeless case anti hero barrister featured in the show) tour of the dodgy and otherwise legal eagle hangout bars in the city including the Civic and Crown (The Judgement bar) hotels, starting at Cleave’s ‘apartment’ which is above the Piccolo Bar in Roslyn Street, Kings Cross. I ran into some pretty interesting characters on the tour, so it made for a good story.

The boys in the kitchen

So here are the boys sweating over the stoves in the kitchen, putting together the entree, which was a chicken and leek ‘pie’ to go with our 2009 Virgilius and 2008 FDW 7C Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.

Chicken and leek pie

The hot pot

And here’s the very appropriate winter style hot pot of beans, bacon hocks and Italian sausage – spot on with the 2006 Signature.

This was followed up with lashings of Manchego cheese and the 2006 Octavius and more stories. If we didn’t have to head off to a wine dinner in the evening, I have no doubt that we’d still be in the dining room till late. Very late. I can’t thank the folks at the Club enough. It’s always a fun day, and it’s quite special to see the old school ‘all hands to the wheel’ approach still flourishing in this quiet wine and foodie corner of the world. And with any luck it will just keep keeping on.

Thanks for having us, and we’ll see you when it’s 2012, and the work’s finished and we can whip down to the cellar via the circular staircase!

Needless to say.

Look what’s at the bottom of the garden!

1.42pm, still Monday 22nd August, Yalumba Clocktower, Eden Valley Road, Angaston, The Barossa, South Australia

There’s always something interesting going on at the winery, and this morning it was a crane dropping a boiler into the herb garden behind the stillhouse. That can only mean one thing. Yep! It means they’re going to be firing up the pot still in the not-too-distant future. This happens only once every blue moon (translated: very rarely), and right now down in the white fermentation cellar, there’s four mashes provided by the Coopers beer family that are happily fermenting away – becoming the charges for the still that Zimmy will craft into double distilled Australian style Smith’s Whisky down the track. And just for something completely different, Louisa is going to send a riesling charge through the pot still as well. Why? To make a clean as a whistle grappa/eau ed vie style spiritous liquid with Eden Valley Riesling resdiual aromatics. That’ll be nice!