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Friday, January 31, 2014

Sauvignon Blanc, Lists

Part of being dedicated to making good wine is putting up with the inconvenience of having to perform tasks at odd hours of the day. The Sav Blanc was in the basket press slowly dribbling out the last of its juice when I went to bed. For some reason I woke at 1.30 am and thought “I don't want to get out of bed” but then I thought it would only take a minute or two to crank the press a few notches more to continue the extraction.

And that is what I did except while the juice was dripping out the Chardonnay caught my eye. In the glass demijohns the gross lees were quite thick in some. I'd been reading this week about gross and fine lees and how the gross lees can impart unpleasant attributes if they remain. Well why not rack them now while the pressing continues. And that is what happened next. It is possible to get a lot more juice out of a press if it is undone and the grape Marc stirred around. May as well do that while I'm awake.

Then there is a slow cranking to build up pressure again requiring some waiting time. This was the ideal time to unpack the dishwasher and do some tidying up in the kitchen.

Eventually at 3.30 am with the Chardonnay nicely racked and topped up, the Sav Blanc having released another 4 litres of juice and now under pressure dripping slowly it was time for bed.

Jean's alarm went off at 6 am. Might as well get up and go to the pool to clear the head and start the day with some exercise.

Lists are curious things. They can be a comprehensive bullet pointed array of jobs that need doing – just so they are not forgotten. Sometimes items are completed and crossed off, other times nothing happens. Something intervenes and the list is forgotten. Of course after a time the list has to be re-drafted and re-ordered. More delays.

Then there is the temptation to concentrate on the easy tasks, crossing them off rapidly but never ever getting to those big jobs. The full day or more types. Even when these are started and nearly finished they remain annoyingly on the list until full completion.

Nature, seasons, weather etc overshadow lists. They may force another task that is time critical to take priority.

And every now and then with great enthusiasm and determination a big task is started and finished and a line goes through its entry and the thought transit the skull “that wasn't too bad, why didn't I do that earlier”.

By the way nothing big happened today but we did put away the 150 kg of chook feed purchased a week ago, The yeast was rehydrated for all the Sav Blanc batches, the shallots drying in front of the cave were topped and tailed and put away, Another Havarti was knocked out, the grassed edges of the veg beds got a trim, The vineyard managers were contacted and a booking made to pick Shiraz tomorrow, a few hours of paid work was completed over the river and we harvested the biggest watermelon a Klondyke at perfect ripeness. Another quiet day at HHF.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sauvignon Blanc

Up at the “crack of dawn” isn't quite right. At 3.30 am there is no crack but as I drove off at 5 am there was a hint of light in the east. But only a hint.

Today was Sauvignon Blanc day. A long chat with the vineyard manager about what was happening with the vintage and the vineyard and at home then off to pick. Only took an hour as SB bunches are really good to pick. Sometimes coming off with just a light tug.
Sav Blanc on the right

Brix 21.2 (perfect) pH 3.24 (pretty good and no adjustment made) weighed in at 55KG (good)
Some people just do the same thing every year because it works, no adventurism or risk taking.

Neatly pruned and tucked in SB

But not here on HHF we love to sail close to the wind and seek new frontiers. No not bungy jumping or parachuting or other adrenaline rushes. Our risk taking is to try the untried in wine making. At least untried by us.

Perfect little bunches

Firstly the decision was to press full bunches i.e. stems and all – no de-stemming. Why? A couple of reasons. Firstly the stems act as coarse matting to help the juice run out. Secondly, because there few shattered berries there is less pulpy material. And thirdly it means you don't have to stand out in the afternoon sun with the crusher/de-stemmer putting through grapes. Then of course there is no cleaning up afterwards. Beautiful.

The next adventure is to make three types of SB. S1 is the purest free run juice. S2 is pressed juice and has a little skin contact. S3 will be the heavy pressing, lots of skin contact and just to make it even more interesting some French oak dust will be added to simulate barrel fermentation.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Life Project - Wrap up

Our real estate agent emailed to us the results of his calculations in valuing the property. The range confirmed our own estimates.

If we were to purchase the property that we viewed up north it would mean contributing money about 30%) out of our savings in order to built a simple house that took advantage of the spectacular view. And that would be if the vendors were prepared to sell at our valuation of their property.

The building of a new house would mean that the illegal original house could be rented out providing a small income to justify the expenditure on a second house. But this does not overcome the problem of having a very large and useful shed located no where near either house. There is little doubt this would drive us mad after a short period.

The decision then is to (for the moment) stay where we are. The likelihood of another property coming on the market with the attributes we desire and in the price range we could afford is small.

That then brings us to Plan B i.e. the improvements to HHF we documented earlier. Most of these revolve around reducing the amount of work performing tasks which regular and needed. The first item to tackle is watering.

Since the agent examined HHF we have been taking things a bit easy spending more time reading. This has been a way of getting away from the regular demands of HHF. Now after a period of rest and confirmation that a move was not imminent  we got back into the tasks.

We had moved away from the automatic watering of the fruit trees with the system installed when the trees were planted. initially to reduce the volume of water required at each watering as well as encourage the trees to dig deeper for water. This has worked well for the last few years as we only applied water to a tree when it showed distinct stress over a period of days.

This last 6 months has been a an exception with the prolonged dry spell putting most of the trees under severe stress resulting in us watering almost every tree. There are some exceptions such as the olives and macadamias.

The first item on the Plan B list was to fix and test the old watering system in the orchard. That has taken most of the day. Some better spray nozzles have been utilised and any trees not requiring regular watering have been turned off but left in the system in case. There were lots of breaks to be repaired where trees had grown and damaged the pipe. Some of these underground breaks required a lot of digging to find and repair. By the end of the day the system was working well.

All that needs to be finished is to bury the new sections installed to replace damaged pipes. The system tested extremely well with the modifications, very good pressure to all the nominated trees and a good fine spray pattern.

Plan B consists of quite a few more irrigation jobs but the orchard was by far the biggest single item.

A sense of achievement at the end of a long hot day.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Indian Runner Ducks

This post could be titled any number of ways:

Wacky Leaves Home
Un-Wacking the Wack Pack
Wack Free Zone
Wack Off
Wackless HHF

Wacky got her name because she was born with a slight problem i.e. throwing her head back in a fit. This occurred very often. Our guide book said feed her a little sugar and water very often. The problem being a shortage of glucose to the brain. It may take days but should fix the problem. Well eventually she came good. And she grew into the most beautiful duck. Jean could pick her up and she would rub her bill against Jean's cheek.  She also showed the others how to do things. First to use the baby pool, first to show how to eat Cucumber etc.

As with all these things there was a problem. She was a duck with four brothers. At 21-26 weeks they would become sexually mature and some very nasty things would happen.

There were a number of solutions:
  1. Freeze 3 drakes
  2. Freeze Wacky
  3. Give 3 drakes away
  4. Give Wacky away.
And so the nice lady who gave us the eggs agreed to adopt Wacky who would join her drake and three ducks.

There was a sad afternoon when Jean picked up Wacky and cuddled her. Wacky billed her cheek with affection and then went into the box and I was tasked with delivery. Jean went off to cry.

Wacky is the 2nd on the right with the delicate brown neck, obvious as she is the prettiest.
The best news ever was that she was accepted into the group almost immediately as you can see from the photograph above.

Jean emails Wacky most days with news from HHF and Wacky responds with news of her adventures.

Last email from Wacky:

Hi First Mum,
Just had to tell you how my first day at big pool went - I swam & swam & swam.These kids don't stop for morning or afternoon naps, I'm sooo tied.I've been put to bed (a little early I thought ) with the big kids tonight,I hope they don't snore as they said we have to swim all day tomorrow too?
Love Wacky
I have figured out why they hassled me this morning - it's because I'm younger & prettier than them.

Response from Jean:

Dearest Wacky,

You are such a clever girl! The Smith kids are known as the best swimmers in the district; you have gone to a wonderful family and home. I hope you don’t complain too much. Your new Mum will do nothing but look after you, so you must do as she says, when she says it. Just think of those wonderful days on that fabulous dam – just meant for ducks, even Runner ducks.

Love always,

First Mum

PS You and I Wacky may think that you are prettier, but the Smith kids are lovely too. In fact, you wouldn’t be the girl you are without them.

PPS Your brothers said to say a big hello. They also wondered if you could send over, by courier wild duck, some instructions on how to get into the pond here, how to get into the house at night, how to get through the open gate into the orchard and... they’ll send a full list via that courier wild duck.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Vintage Update and Cider - Bottling

There is an expectation that life may become hectic in the next couple of weeks as various grapes ripen and reach optimum maturity for picking.

We still have our Tannat grapes to pick. Not many as the vines are young. We are eating the Isabella table grapes each night. They are quite ripe but being left on the vine is the best storage method. Because of the dry weather this has been our most successful year for grapes.

In our list of bought grapes Sauvignon Blanc will be ready this week. On Friday we should find out on the progress of Shiraz. The Tempranillo may be a way off as it was still a bit green two weeks ago. And the bought Tannat could be any time.

With the oncoming busy schedule it was time clean up any loose ends in the cave. Just a tad over 30 litres of Apple cider to be bottled in 375 ml bottles. This will free up two large demijohns and other assorted containers and some bench space.

This involved priming 90+ bottles with a half teaspoon of sugar and then filling them. Followed by capping with a crown seal and then penning a code on the cap for identity.

Gradually through the day it was all done and that includes lots and lots of cleaning afterwards.

I can see we are going to have a hell of a lot of Cider and Perry this year. The Pear trees are loaded and they won't be ready until February/March. Probably February this year with the heat. Jean will be pleased to be self sufficient in Cider/Perry for once.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bee Club Meeting

Just some bits and pieces from the last bee club meeting:

  • Bees can fly one mile in 4 minutes i.e. 24 MPH

  • Reports from various members on the increased activity from Small Hive Beetle.

  • A member reported on replacing his queens. In one hive the new queen disappeared. A second new queen went in and she was found dead. Observed in the hive were eggs laid all over the place and not in the cells. They dumped the hive contents on the ground outside the hive. The bees commenced  migrating  back into the hive. They spotted a tennis ball sized mass of bees which they squashed. And then inserted a new queen who is ok. The problem was a rogue queen i.e. a normal bee taking over as queen. These only lay drone eggs.

  • Bees only take 24 hours to clean a sticky, repair the wax and relocate the excess honey

  • Stickies can be reused many times if they are not seriously damaged - up to six years

  • There is a big demand for wax although the price stays at $2 per kilogram. Much is being used for both candle making and for various medicinal  creams. Hyssop for warts, Calendula or Chickweed for eczema

Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Life Project - Pricing your own property

Our real estate agent popped in for coffee this morning and we walked around the house and the 25 acres looking at what was potentially for sale. He had done some homework and had a list of properties that had sold in our area over the last few years.

He will perform three assessments before getting back to us with a suggested sale value. The first obviously is the comparative value of the other properties that have sold with some adjustment for the rising or falling market. The second is adding up the value of all the structures including fencing and dams and the land. The third method is the price paid for the original property plus expenditure on improvements.

This is not an exact science but generally it is pretty accurate.

This will provide us with a budget for any future purchase - should we then choose to keep looking.

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chambourcin - update

The Chardonnay is out of the chilling units. Once the Brix got down to below 15 i.e. it was a third of the way through the sugar it was time to let it come back to the ambient temperature and ensure a robust ferment finished of the sugars.

This didn't take long and when the airlock slowed to an intermittent gurgle it was racked into clean demijohns fully filled to eliminate any air. It will now rest until bottling in a few months.

Chardonnay - various test batches

This was an opportunity to perform an early tasting. All the now four batches have slightly different characteristics and nothing unpleasant. A very pleasing progress report.

The Pinot Noir had its chilling unit turned off and in the morning the yeast was rehydrated. A  Specific Gravity (SG) test showed a potential alcohol level of a touch above 16%. I couldn't bring myself to adulterate the must with water. I'll take a chance all will be well. The BDX yeast is rated to 16%. An interesting test.

Pinot Noir with the cap of skins formed

Pinot Noir after plunging, the fermentation very active
The Chambourcin slowly increased in temperature peaking at 31 C briefly. Because we were going away for a day a header board was inserted so as to negate the need to plunge. This worked well and it was removed the next day. The temperature commenced dropping but the Brix level was still high. Rather than risk a stuck ferment a little yeast nutrient was stirred in to feed the yeast cells. This worked a treat and 12 hours later the ferment was vigorous but not foaming any longer and the temperature rose.

Chambourcin, note the deeper colour and less vigorous activity as it moves past the half way in fermentation

Friday, January 24, 2014

New Life Project – Decision Time

On the two and a half hour return journey from viewing our potentially new property we talked about what we had seen and our impressions of its suitability.

The location was excellent. Only a short section of dirt road to manoeuvre, a social rural community, Access to plenty of facilities in nearby towns and villages as well as an active community hall.

The soil on the property was something we dream about. The access to one of the finest creeks ensuring limitless water. It looked pretty good after an extended dry spell.

The house was liveable although we would be silly to place any value on it when compiling a property value. Not having council approval for construction carries many repercussions. When it was constructed more than 20 years ago the compliance requirements were fewer than now. Every year new issues are raised and the standards altered. The rabbit warren design would create many irritations but as with all things time will force adaptation. Storage space was in shortage which would result in some pruning of possessions within arms reach. There were a lot of minor problems (such as the laundry on the veranda) but nothing that couldn't be addressed in time.

The workshop, a very large shed with full facilities including a composting toilet was very handy. The fact that it was a couple of hundred metres from the house a major inconvenience. Especially since the only vehicle access required leaving the property driving up the public road and re-entering the property. I'm sure this would drive us mad after a while. The agent mentions the building cost. It is very high as it was constructed as a commercial building not a farm workshop. The value to any new owner is far less.

The most serious problem is the existence of the spectacular vista from the unused building site another couple of hundred meters from the large workshop and even further from the house. We felt that we could live there without wanting to build a house on that site. This is the part of property searching that is intangible. The gut feel you get when standing in a place that makes you feel good. This was the what we were looking for in a property.

So we slept on it and discussed the dilemma many times over the next 24 hours. More comparisons to HHF and its short comings and strategies to rectify those.

One final question was would we be able to afford to buy and then within a couple of years build a small dwelling on the preferred site and possibly rent out the old house as a source of income.

Our real estate agent (and friend) comes tomorrow to perform an appraisal.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Life Project - Inspection Report

We were both excited about inspecting the property. I was up at 4 am to work on the wine making and set everything up for our extended absence. Pumping up water and giving the gardens a light soaking then across the river to move the cows and calves and set up both irrigators for new runs.

The joint decision was an early departure in order to spend some time looking at the area around the proposed new property. The nearest towns and their services. What we were trying to compare was what we do now and how we interact with our community and adjacent villages and towns with how all these activities would change if we moved. Being a list type person there were pages of lists for consideration.

Spending a couple of hours walking around the townships looking comparing services and facilities was a good investment. We talked constantly. It wasn't a straight comparison exercise but more about how would we fit in to this place and the way it functions.

In the end our needs were simple. We want easy access to a community pool for regular swims and exercise. Jean is keen on Zumba as well and classes were available in the local community hall. So that is pretty much it as everything else is doable irrespective of which town you look at. Not a demanding list.

Then onto the property. It was two properties.

The first was dismissed immediately. Too difficult to access, a very badly built home, no view and badly overgrown with everything let go.  Not even attractive if you were in your twenties and starting out.

The second property the one that really had our attention had some attractions. Access was fine. A little bit of dirt road but at least council maintained. The house was an illegal construction but interesting. A Hobbity house as Jean named it. Lots of rooms upstairs and downstairs. But you could live with it. Not much of a garden so that's good a clean slate. A few citrus trees established but needing attention. Various garages and sheds and close to a very good water supply in the nearby creek. Native trees crowded the house. Pretty much the house was in a gulley reducing the effects of any breezes.

Then there was the big shed. This was my interest. Very well constructed, huge with toilet, shower and a large upstairs office space. A dream for the handyman. Two ways to get to it from the house. Go out onto the public road and drive the couple of hundred metres to it or take a walk through the bush via a steep gulley. Not just a bit inconvenient but nothing dismissed yet.

Of course the agent (a word to describe cunning) then blew us away. We drove up from the big shed another couple of hundred metres to a large clearing. A track had been slashed through the thickly growing Sataria. Pretty exceptional growth for mid Summer with almost no rain. And we turned to see the view. North and north west was a massive vista stretching forever. It was as if you were up in the sky looking down on the world. What a spot. The HHF view but with the soils we desire.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Life Project - First Property Inspection

Today we will drive two and a half hours north to meet the real estate agent and inspect the two properties. Only one property has our real interest now. The telephone discussion with the agent yielded a lot of information. Namely both properties are cheap because both have illegal houses i.e. no council approval. The property of least (no) interest has a house that is very badly built with structural timbers well under minimum standards as well as second hand roofing iron with nail holes un-patched. The property of interest although not council approved at least has been build a lot better.

Neither of these house could be brought to council compliance levels without a substantial and unknown investment.

Hence their value in a property sale is nil? But do the vendors accept this reality.

We have been actively thinking and talking about this project and writing down our thoughts. In particular making notes about the alternative of not moving. If we don't move to a clean slate property we have discussed some radical modifications to the garden to make it more readily maintained.

When you are faced with a radical change in life many radical ideas come to mind about your existing situation. The idea of a relocation has a large amount of pain involved and so staying where you are allows you to accept a greater level of pain. This project has opened many options previously not entertained as worth the effort.

These changes include eliminating one permanent bed to provide some space to build an enclosure for protection against birds etc. The concrete blocks from that bed would be used to increase the height of the existing beds and provide deeper soil. We would modify the remaining beds substantially some would be lengthened to make four beds of equal size and because they are long beds they would be broken into two sections to facilitate movement between beds. These are major infrastructure changes should make a huge difference to the operation.

There are a number of other changes which include extending the irrigation to parts of the garden that are now hand watered - including pots. The elimination of some pots or at least their relocation to reduce the obstacle course which is our yard. Replace the leaking concrete pond with a fibreglass base - a major landscaping job. And potentially eliminate a long concrete block bed on the south side and use that area to congregate the large pots we use for Artichokes, Eggplant and Capsicums in Summer. At the moment these are spread through the yard and create a slalom for the mower. 

There you are we have two options for the future. Will we fall in love with the new property and find it meets all our needs?

Pint Noir, Chardonnay, Chambourcin Update

The Pinot Noir is resting in a freezer at 4 C and is now just entering its 4th day. Tomorrow Friday it will be time to let it regain its warmth and introduce it to some yeast. I'm still undecided what to do about the high Brix reading of 26. First up, tomorrow I'll perform a Specific Gravity test to confirm the reading. The previous readings were with a Refractometer which may not be completely accurate. 26 Brix converts to 15.6 % alcohol which is at the upper limit tolerance of the BDX yeast I'd like to use. If the yeast fails to convert all the sugar the wine may end with too much residual sugar. Not what was being planned. The options open to me are do nothing or add water to dilute the sugars. I've been trying to keep this batch of wine as natural as possible. The fruit is perfect and any interference can only lead to potential disaster - well maybe not just a lesser quality than would be possible.

The Chardonnay (in demijohns) is still fermenting in various cooling units (freezers) at 15 C. There are three batches B1 is pure fresh juice, B2 is juice soaked on skins for 16 hours, B3 is juice soaked on skins for 26 hours and there is a B4 which is a few litres that continued to be pressed out over 24 hours. I just wanted to see how much fluid would extract if the skins were loosened and pressed a second time.

The Chambourcin is fermenting nicely. The temperature has been rising at a steady rate. Ideally I would like not to exceed 30 C and it is just below that now. As it is fermenting the skins rise to form a cap. This cap prevents the heat from escaping. By plunging the skins back below the juice the heat is released. During the day the plunging is performed every couple of hours or pretty much whenever I walk past. Today we are both away for 8-9 hours and I'm worried that the temperature may shoot up. I could use the last spare freezer to help dissipate some heat. Decisions.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Chambourcin - Post Cold Soaking

The Chambourcin has been sitting for 3 days in the freezer at 2 C . It was turned off on Sunday night and early Monday morning the door opened. After returning from picking Pinot Noir the Chambourcin in its fermentation container was put out in the sun for a few hours. The yeast rehydration process commenced while the Pinot Noir was run through the crusher/de-stemmer.

BDX yeast produced such a good result last year that it was an easy choice this year.

The American Oak chips were passed over a coarse sieve and the dust separated. Some years ago we stopped adding Oak dust to the fermentation as it was not available. It dawned on me recently when reading an article on adding Oak that sieving the chips might provide the necessary material. I've always felt that some Oak dust in the fermentation would impart some interesting tones to the wine.

The American Oak dust went in at 3 grams/litre. The litre calculation is based on a 60% yield from the 70 odd KG of fruit.

By bedtime the Chambourcin had started fermenting gently at about 22 C. The goal is to get it up to 30 C.

Pinot Noir

Another 4 am start today. The Pinot Noir was ready for harvest at our second suppliers vineyard. They were going to harvest tonight and with the predicted hot day an early start made sense.

A pretty vineyard
Pinot Noir - lots and lots of small bunches

Pinot has very small berries and bunches but at least it has stems you can see unlike Chardonnay.

Tiny bunches of Pinot

Picking didn't start until close to 7 am but it was relatively quick and over with by 8.30 am.

The numbers: 59.7 KG, Brix 26 and pH 3.8. A little Tartaric Acid was added to move the pH closer to 3.5. After de-stemming the barrel went into the freezer. Used 25% whole bunches. 50ppm Potassium Metabisulphite was added.

New Life Project - First Steps i.e. Looking at alternative properties

The first steps towards change occurred today. Being a Sunday they were very much baby steps.

We left a voice mail message with the real estate agent in Wingham expressing interest in the two properties at Bobin. The best timing for an inspection was the coming Wednesday. Another long day driving north and back again. Just to make sure everything stays on schedule we also confirmed with an email to the same person.

One way of confirming mentally whether something is just a romantic ideal or truly a desire for change is to document or make some lists.

Things to Assess: This is a long list in our case about 25 items at the moment. It contains all the things that need to be examined in the target properties. Such things as water sources, soil, heating and cooling, buildings, fences trees, views, waste disposal and lots more. The point of this is not so much to compare current against future but to incorporate everything that may be an additional cost should it not exist and need to be added, purchased, built or lived without.

Services: Another long list of items that need thought. Postal, Library, Dental, Medical, Milk, Motor Vehicle Repair, Animal Feed etc. All just little things that in themselves are not deal breakers but important to be thought about in advance. This is a no surprises project.

Capital Works Budgets:  The beginnings of an itemised spread sheet that will contain all the key projects that may need investment And which will be key in assessing the change over cost.

Our Sale Price  minus Purchase Price plus Cost of Improvements to equal Zero
Pros and Cons:  The fully documented thought about and discussed decision making document including an examination of emotional reasons. We also discussed and documented one very important point i.e. What is the worst thing that can happen? Answering this question is the most important. It converts a challenging and frightening future to either a "relax and forget because it isn't going to happen" or an "adventure" or the deal breaking "It is just too risky".

If Moving:
A checklist of jobs that will need to be completed to be able to show HHF to potential buyers as well as all the tasks and their sequence that will make the transition a trouble free relocation.

If Not Moving
What are we going to do to improve around HHF. What were the reasons for us considering a move and what can be done to address those reasons without changing properties.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts of a new life


Every now and then we talk about moving from HHF to somewhere else. In the past the talk has been about moving to a property which has rich deep soil not the rock pile that is HHF. Another attraction of moving is to have a blank (or semi blank) slate with which we could incorporate many of the ideas that seem impossible to do at HHF. Hot weather always gets Jean talking about a better climate i.e. Tasmania or NZ. Its not just the recent bout of hot weather but every Summer raises this issue.

There are some positive attractions about moving:
  • Choosing a property with better attributes now that we have clearly established our requirements
  • A chance to create an environment and layout that better suits our interests and needs
  • The excitement of a new beginning
  • Take the time to plan and develop unlike what happened at HHF
The downside:
  • Going into the unknown
  • Leaving behind many things
  • The pain of moving all our stuff
  • The first year will be turmoil as we observe, plan and interact
  • The challenge of establishing in a new community
There are many other things to consider but that's a good start.

Now the Good/Bad News

Yesterday we took a day off to visit some old friends a couple of hours drive north in a valley next to the one where we had owned a property 20 years ago. This valley for what ever reason has lusher soils than our previous property and always seems perpetually green.

We try to see these  friends at least once each year or so. As part of our catch-up we inquire about friends and neighbours in their area whom we may have had some contact. Once such couple resided next door. To our surprise their property was on the market for what seemed a very attractive price. It had many of the attributes that we sought and so suddenly our interest sparked. We talked briefly about the property and the local community with our friends and then moved on to other topics.

So now we have a problem. Having talked about moving suddenly we have an opportunity. On the trip home we talked at length about the pros and cons of moving, discussed things we would miss, things that would have to be done, opportunities that would arise and some pretty drastic changes to the way we live.

After arriving home at 10.30 at night we immediately looked up the property. The price was more than what had been mentioned which dampened our excitement a little but still possibly quite achievable. The shock was that there was a second almost identical property only a kilometre away but with a far more attractive price.

A dilemma. We both in our different ways and for different reasons are attracted to moving. Out of the blue we are presented with two unique properties.

Well at least we have a plan:
  1.  Organise a property inspection on both and establish whether either or both have the attributes we want and if they feel right
  2. Have our own property valued to see if we can make the changeover
  3. Prepare a detailed list of positives and negatives and rate each to see if there are any overwhelming issues
  4. Prepare a detailed financial budget - if we move we have to give up our part time work and fully retire
  5. Buy the property and sell ours
Pretty simple. Each step must be resolved before the next is undertaken. No resolution to a step and the decision is made.

Any words of advice?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chardonnay and Chambourcin

Somehow I woke at 1.30 am.

The lounge room in dark

Going into the cave

The passion was there. Fed the cat (Lucinda) on the way to the cave and started the process of pressing Batch 3 (B3) which had soaked on skins for 36 hours. The hope is that it does not turn out to be fantastic otherwise this early morning pressing will have to become the norm.

B2 had started fermenting well and was despatched to the freezer to idle along at 15 C.

The pressing went on all day as a background task.

The vet called to say Belle (the cat) was making a good recovery. we will collect her on Sunday.

Nets up on the Chambourcin

The last row of Chambourcin was picked and the entire 71.2 KG went through the crusher/de-stemmer with a goodly lot of whole bunches kept. This time I didn't weigh the whole bunches so can't record percentage. It truly was a gut feel occasion. This is regrettable in hindsight.

Add caption

The sugar came in at 24 Brix which for what was trying to be achieved  was absolutely perfect. Now wait for it ... the pH was 3.5 the exact mid range of what is recommended. How satisfying. The pressure is on now. The fruit is perfect and only the wine maker can stuff it up.

temperature control

The goal is to let it soak at 5 C for 2-3 days. A little sulphur has been added just 50 ppm. A plastic wrap has been place over the container with the temperature probes poking through. A little CO2 would be just the ideal protection while the soaking process occurs. Some ingenuity here. Using the newly acquired soda stream with a plastic tube to provide a dosage of CO2. Rather than buy bottles of soda water we now make our own and avoid the disposal issues associated with buying the stuff.

The mighty Sodastream
The SodaStream gadget is impressive. 2-3 presses on a bottle of water and you have a refreshing bubbly drink. And in this weather - what can you say. The CO2 bottles can be exchanged at both Big W and Kmart at a reasonable price making it very easy to maintain. The bottles are of a special type but spares are cheap and we also purchase a spare CO2 cylinder for convenience.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wine Making with Chardonnay

Most of today was spent working on the three batches of Chardonnay.

Batch 1 (B1) was pretty straightforward. It was all juice and the only job this morning after leaving overnight to chill down to below 10 C was to run it through another finer sieve. There was a lot of sediment in the bottom of the demijohn which was added to B2. I didn't bother filtering it as B1 was at the 10 litre mark and it didn't need any more volume.

B3 was still in the freezer at 10 C it will be 2 am tomorrow morning before it reaches 36 hours on skins. Having worked out that it meant getting out of bed there was some thought about doing it later today and making the test closer to 24 hours or leaving it until normal wake up time and making it 40 + hours. We will see what happens.

B2 needed pressing in the basket press. As there were other jobs to do elsewhere it was an ideal opportunity to do the right kind of pressing i.e. very slow. This slow method means less of the bitter parts of the skin are released. So all day it was just a few clicks on the handle of the press using just finger tip pressure.

As the juice came out and the pressure relieved it was onto the other tasks. Measuring out the yeast getting it ready to rehydrate. A sample of juice s raised to between 35 and 38 C and the yeast added. Once it has started bubbling the temperature is lowered with cold juice a little at a time and the yeast allowed to bubble again. Never more than a 10 C change in any one step. Once the yeast is working at a temperature within 10 degrees of the pressed juice it is added. The slow pressing meant the pressed juice was gradually rising in temperature and it need to be at or above the planned fermentation temperature of 15 C.

Also tested was the pH which came in at 3.55. The ideal pH is between 3 and 3.5. Aim was taken at the midpoint t3.25. To get there Tartaric Acid the largest acid type in grapes needed adding. There is a simple formula to achieve the desired result. After checking and double checking the calculations the acid was stirred into the demijohn. The calculation is a little tricky for B2 as the grapes are still being pressed and the final volume is only an estimate based on previous years yields. But by choosing a mid point there is some wiggle room.

When B1 started fermenting comfortably it went into the freezer at 15 C. B2 because of the much larger volume will not see much activity until the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Measuring out the yeast required

pH meter

Getting some juice at the correct temperature to rehydrate the yeast

Pressing Chardonnay B2

While waiting between applications of more pressure other jobs got some attention including a few trips across the river to setup and then fix an irrigator that was playing up. And which continued to play up. At least one patch of ground got a very good watering.

And the baby Roquefort needed the final application of salt.

Weigh each cheese and calculate the 2% salt and pour on top

Five little Roquefort altogether

Just after lunch confirmation was received that the Pinot Noir would be ready for picking on Monday next. This meant tomorrow (Friday) was free - well sort of.

 Our Chambourcin was close to picking. A couple of rows had readings of 21 Brix but lower down the slope the readings went much higher varying between 23 and 25. The aim was to get a final Brix of 23 to 24 if possible.

With the windfall spare day it was decided to pick at least the ripest rows and chill the fruit. Jean reminded me that our thermometer was showing 42 C. Much higher than the forecast.

Slow and steady picking and lots of water and breaks resulted in all but one row being harvested. The volume is greater than last year by about 20%. We can put that down to two factors. The first is the near absence of bird damage. The lack of bird damage was also mentioned when the Chardonnay was picked. This seems a valley wide phenomena this vintage.

The second factor is just a perfect season. Steady sunshine, good flowering and fruit set and a little added water at the appropriate times. Some vines had lovely full bunches. Something we don't often get at HHF on our rocky outcrop.

One last increase of pressure on the ongoing B2 and off to bed. Lets see whether passion for wine making will see a 2 am rising.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chardonnay Day

The Vineyard at 5.50 am
Well it took a little more than an hour to get to the vineyard but still I was there talking to the early morning crew by 5.40 am. Then off to pick.

The Chardonnay fruit has a very short stem making snipping really hard. On top of that part of the row had some bird damage which needed cutting off to ensure the purity of the fruit. It took closer to three hours to get the required quantity. Then there was the stop for fuel on the way home. Back by 10.30 am.

To find ...

One cat taken to the vet with what seems to be paralysis tick symptoms. The quoted $3-500 was added to the cost of ownership spread sheet. First entry for her as she was a free to good home from same vet. Must inquire about warranty or any evidence of a pre-existing illness before she was taken home by us? Just kidding. Belle is a valued member of our family and although an outside cat she does check on us every morning and every evening. If she finds we are ok she will accept a little food as a courtesy then head out for more ratting. Has been guilty of bringing the odd snake into the bedroom. Most of the day you will find this small tuxedo laid out in a quiet spot recuperating from the nightly patrols. Poor Belle will not like being cooped up for a month needed for a full recovery.

Weaners over the river have broken out and found their way into a paddock that was greening up nicely after some heavy irrigation. Oh well they might as well stay there it was for them after all. The break out was because the boss had turned off the electric fence and forgot to switch it on again. Reminder to self to test fences each Monday.

The pipe into the irrigation pump had burst out of its fittings. Not a serious problem. Used multigrips to really tighten the fittings. They are a brand that I'm not fussed on because if you don't fit them just so they fail. The competing brand has a design that works even if you just think about tightening.

Now back to the grapes.

Crusher de-stemmer out on the grass as the crush pad is drying Onions

De-stemmed Chardonnay in the chiller

Batch B2 is soaking on skins for 16 hours

Batch B1 is juice only and being chilled while batch B3 below it is being soaked on skins for 36 hours maybe

And while all that was going on we knocked out a 9 small rounds of Camembert. And did some paid work. Busy day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Vintage Begins

I'm sitting here at the computer with a big milky latte on my left. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen is the time – 3.25 am.


It is grape picking day. By getting up at 3 am and leaving at 4 am I should be at the vineyard 70 Km away just after 5 am and start picking by first light. I'm allowing a couple of hours for picking. This is being generous after all Chardonnay is not worst grape to pick not like say Malbec or Traminer. The bunches are easier to access but still not all that large. I'm only after about 60 KG. I'll make about 12 litres of pure juice wine from the crushing with almost no skin contact. This will be the purest of flavours, a lighter style of Chardonnay for enjoying on a Summers day as an aperitif. The bulk of the grapes will sit overnight to get about 16 to 20 hours skin contact which is what has been done in previous vintages and with success. And then another 12 litres or so will be kept on skins for another 16 or so hours. Just to see what happens to the flavour. It doesn't hurt to try some different methods each year. There is always something to learn from the experience.

Yesterday I made the another set of telephone calls to the vineyard managers. At one the Pinot Noir is not quite ready, telephone again midday in two days time. The second call was for the Chardonnay. Yes the premium block has already been picked. The later ripening block will be done at 3 am on Thursday morning. “I'm going to be there Wednesday morning early” I say and the response from the manager “I'm there from 5 am, There is some Semillon and Verdelho if you want it as well”

I resist the temptation to change our vintage plan.

So it has all started. While the coffee machine was heating up I started two freezers. These will chill the grapes as soon as they pass through the destemmer. The car is already packed and fuelled. I'll make a small sandwich to keep me awake on the way back.
There is a certain excitement about commencing a new vintage. I don't know why maybe it is the challenge of creating something. Who knows.
Yesterday went quickly. Jean clipped the irrigation riser in one paddock with the harrows and it exploded. The galvanised riser was more than 20 years old so it didn't take much for the paper thin metal to give way. It took and hour and a bit to repair. At least the ground was soft and digging down to the joint took minutes. The hard bit was cobbling togehther the parts for fixing. There was a spare riser. A bit old but would do except it had some other hardware attached which took time to remove. The remaining bit in the ground took a bit of effort to unscrew. And then of course there was no spare working cutoff valves. The two I tried were cracked. A quick trip to the hardwatre store and all was well.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dragon Fruit

The Dragon Fruit put on a spectacular display this morning. Yesterday's green little balls turned into amazingly beautiful and complex flowers which attracted a large quantity of bees. Just hoping this all converts into delicious fruit.

And the bees like it

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Creamed Honey and Seed Saving

Having extracted the honey yesterday the next step was to cream it. Such a surplus means it will be ages before we get through it or give enough away and rather than let it crystallise with age we crystallise it ourselves but into fine crystals that taste terrific. We kept one jar of the previous creamed honey as the seeding material.

A few small jars of natural honey is bottled for gifts and as a comparison to the creamed product. The rest is mixed with the contents of the seed material jar for an hour on the pedestal drill with a squirrel mixer and then bottled predominately into small jam jars kept from when we ate jam.
Natural honey kept as samples

We don't eat jam any more preferring to have the fruit and fibre fresh or if desperate for a sweet flavouring either honey or dextrose (in moderation).

The previous batch of creamed honey now out of the fridge

By the time the mixing and filling and cleaning is completed another half day went by.
Creamed on the left and natural on the right

This time rather than use the cheese fridge to keep the honey cool while the crystals form we activated the bar fridge someone gave us that has an adjustable thermostat allowing us to keep the honey at 14 C for two weeks.
In the refrigerator for setting

While I was fiddling around with honey Jean got stuck into seed saving. Samples of various tomatoes we grow have been soaking for a few days and now she washed and sieved and lay the seeds out onto paper to dry.
One batch of seeds drying with the oyster opening gear in front

The rest of the seeds drying with a sprouting carrot top and some Avocado seeds
We also went through our tomato planting plan for next year over morning tea. Too many varieties are being grown. Some were eliminated on taste and others because they didn't do well. Usually we give them a couple of attempts before dropping them but today we were having an aggressive clean out. And still next July when we look at the issue again we may add some back or come across yet another one to try.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Too much honey

We robbed the hive again. Things were getting a bit crowded in the hive and they were part way through capping the last two frames. The process of robbing is quite quick.

The slowest part is getting the smoker working just right. In the end it received  good clean out and some different burning material. In the past the easiest material has been hessian. Old hessian bags that were frayed and useless for anything else. They burnt slowly and no problems were experienced. Then of late it would stop smoking just at the critical moment. As it turns out it was just one of the bags which for some reason had different properties. Going onto another bag solved the problem.

The fast method for me (with one hive) is a wheel barrow with some newspaper on the bottom and an empty hive box in the barrow. Calm everyone down with a little smoke and let them get preoccupied with taking aboard some honey in case the hive needs to be abandoned. They are very quiet girls anyway so there isn't much fuss.

Out with each frame and a quick couple of shakes in front of the hive to fling the bulk off the residents onto the ground. Then with the soft long bristled bee brush the last few come off and the frame goes into the box in the barrow. Repeat seven more times and then back to the cave. Surprisingly very few bees stay with me. At the cave each frame is inspected and any last bees brushed off before the frame is transferred into a plastic container which is then relocated into the cave.

A reasonable haul

A close up
The capping knives in hot water

The honey extracted and being filtered a second time via a fine mesh

The mess to be cleaned

Removing the caps is getting easier - practice makes perfect. It all goes well  although at one point the plug in the extractor popped out and some honey flowed onto the floor. But not too serious an amount and easily cleaned away. The yield is less than last time but more than we want. The clean up starts. First putting the stickies back into the hive (gently). The four that went in an hour ago are already looking transformed. In go the last four and the girls have some housekeeping to do and more space.

This is a brood frame that was moved into the honey super hence the brown stain. The wax ix stained but not the now extracted honey

An extracted frame which has not served in the brood chamber

Our clean up starts. The extractor fits (just) into the largest sink we could find. This is in our cave. It is a recycled laundry tub. The clean up is really just hot water to melt the honey and any wax bits. The drain pipe goes into the Orchard to feed some happy trees. Then the comb knives and the knife holder. Then all the work surfaces and any empty used containers. This is the golden rule. Cleaning takes more time than anything else.

The capping's after draining
The capping's are melted down with some water. A process repeated a couple of times as the molten material is filtered to get out the gross material and honey until finally a nice plug of clean wax results.

Tomorrow the next step starts. Making creamed honey.

Nothing to do with honey extraction but we managed to knock out a sourdough brick while all else was in progress