James Viognier 2011

Despite the fact it’s going to be a Rugby World Cup weekend, and we’ll probably have to buy a new couch when this tournament is over, judging by the treatment CCQC is dishing out to the existing one, with his leaping up and down, we do have to bottle the 2011 Viognier tomorrow. This year’s Viognier is shaping up to be amazing – apricots, white peaches, and (I don’t know where this is coming from) – hints of sandalwood scents. Viognier seems to have a flush of beauty about this time after vintage (five to six months) so we’ll bottle it, label it, then get it out there in the market. Unlike most New Zealand Viognier producers, we put our Viognier in Grande Burgundy bottles, with corks. I know I’m a fusspot, but I’m prejudiced against screwcaps. I’m getting to the stage where if someone even opens a bottle of red wine with a screwcap my mouth starts to pucker up.

Nah, it’s just not the same.

And our 2010 Syrah – even the 2011 Syrah, which we were worried would run out of hot sun – are both coming along nicely too. They’ll stay in the barrel a while.

So tomorrow Simon Groves will turn up with the mobile bottling plant, which does around six bottles at once. The bottles are already sterilised, as are the corks (which are printed with ‘James’ – good quality Portugese corks). We rinse the bottles of dust, then place them on the rack which fills them up with lovely wine. Then you take them off and pass them to CCQC who places them on the cork machine and he rams the cork into them. The capsules go on later, in at Martinborough Wine Makers, when the labels are wrapped on the bottles, and they’re packed in boxes of six.

It’s a nice way to spend a morning.

All else is well at Redbank. Spring has warmed up the garden. The fruit trees have blossomed. We’ve had the first meal of globe artichokes, and the broccoli is keeping us in vitamins. The bantams kept laying all through winter, and after Christmas I’ll restock with more hens, and piglets. Meanwhile, there’s just Kete and Scaredy Kat.

Kete was once, as a special treat, allowed inside to catch mice, so she hid herself and tried the surprise element.

And over the road at Te Muna’s the cows are breeding.

And if you’re feeling like visiting Martinborough, why not buy a ticket to our Home and Garden tour? It’s on again, this time on Saturday 12 November, 10am to 5pm, eight totally different houses from last year, with a gourmet picnic lunch at Parehua Country Estate, and we have two country markets, plus three leading Wairarapa artists exhibiting. All proceeds go to the St Andrews Anglican Church Hall, which is used by the whole community for many activities, including breakfast club for the school children.

Here is just one of the houses you’ll be privileged to wander through – it was 2010 House of the Year and it is unbelievably dazzling. Oh – tickets are $70, include lunch, email temuna@xtra.co.nz.

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Changes at the Vineyard

I’ve been shamed into blogging more regularly by Richard Riddiford, aka The Riddler, or Rangatira Richard, boss of Palliser Estate, who boasted to me yesterday that he has been blogging more than me . Which isn’t strictly true, because he has a bevy of authors (and as I pointed out to him, somewhat churlishly, he can blog as much as he likes, it still won’t make his grammar correct).

But spring has sprung at last (even though we still have bitterly cold winds) and with it new babies. Rowan Hoskins, our vineyard manager, and his fiance Brooke, have a new daughter, born last week. Her name is Indigo Marie and Rowan said today she’s very cute.

Jane Cooper, our winemaker, and her partner Lesley, one week before Rowan, also had a wee girl, and they’ve named her Vita Florence. Jane is over the moon, calling her daughter a “little angel”. I bet she won’t want to get back to winemaking so quickly now she has a beautiful little time waster to cuddle all day.

I doubt these brand new parents would like to be in the same blog as animal producers, but we are down on the farm, and there are lambs everywhere. Mike and Nikki were house-sitting again in August and September and Mike took these fabulous shots of Redbank.

The ducks are hiding their eggs, though I do manage to find more than enough to make cakes to keep the local fund-raisers happy. I made six cakes for the St Andrews Church fair, plus a large batch of muffins, and sold duck, hen and bantam eggs as well. Now I’m making cakes and freezing them for the rose show, where the Wharekaka Ladies’ Auxiliary (of which I’m a member) have a stall, on November 6th. When we went to America for two weeks, we came home and found a duck’s nest with 45 eggs in it. Amazingly, most of them were still okay. But now one of the ducks is laying eggs with no shell, just a tough, but bendy, membrane. And, curses, they keep laying eggs in their pond. Water-births.

Meanwhile, the bantams are laying like crazy. Pip and her two children Mikki and Nikki (whose little eggs can be hard-boiled and served up as quail eggs and your guests will never know the difference) give me three eggs a day.

While Squeak (not his real name) continues to strut his stuff, beautiful bantam rooster that he is.

Smitty and Lily came through the winter a bit thin, but now they’ve been wormed, and are on some nice supplementary feed (called KoolAid), they’re looking sharper. This photo was taken a couple of months ago when they still had their covers on, but this morning when I went out with the buckets, they both galloped down the slopes and up through the trees to greet me.

And ending on a sad note, Ki, the lovely retired beardie huntaway I was given by Farmer Pete, had to be put down. She had a bleeding nose which wouldn’t get better and it turned out she had a brain tumour. Her breathing over the weeks got more and more laboured and we thought she might have a barley grass stuck in her sinuses. But then one day it was obvious (I won’t go into the gory detail) that she was badly ill. I took her into the vet, fearing the worst. In the waiting room, she rested her head on my lap, as if to say, “I know this is harder for you than for me,” and she wagged her tail and looked up at me. So brave. The vet said it’s time. So now I have two little boxes of ashes on my hall table – Taja’s and Ki’s. RIP Ki, you were a very good friend.

Death Notice

One baby duckling died. Sad, but not as bad as I expected. On Saturday Pip became more and more moribund as the day wore on. We could tell she was trying to coax the ducklings out of the kennel, so we built a little ramp so they’d be able to get in and out, and I noticed she was very quiet when we were working around her. Too quiet. When I picked her up and examined her, she’d lost a huge patch of feathers from her breast. Then I examined my hands – mites all over me! Mites look like moving pinpricks on your hands and once you spot them, you start scratching all over. Luckily I still had some mite powder from Smitty’s ‘ride from hell’ down in the horse truck from Auckland, so Colin gave her a good dusting and we put her back with the ducklings. But a few hours later she was still not good. I noticed her drinking copious amounts of water and breathing really heavily, then not long before it was dark she’d gathered the ducklings under her and gone  to sleep with her face slumped down in her food. I didn’t think she’d live through the night, and worried how I’d raise three baby ducklings.

But, next morning she was perky as ever, but with only two live ducklings. One was pushed out into the cold, and dead. Maybe she did this on purpose. Maybe she calculated that one duckling had to be sacrificed to save herself and the two other ducklings, otherwise they would all perish. Animals do this. We were so delighted to see our beautiful Pip alive and well we got her out of that kennel into the sunshine and on to the grass. She loved that, and relished being free again after patiently sitting on those eggs for four long weeks. Now she’s in a new run, with a wooden wine box for a house, covered and protected by Smitty’s winter cover, and really mothering her two ducklings. Pip & babies 003

Meanwhile, I trekked up to see the two equine members who are shedding their winter coats, and Smitty as usual looks like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. His old coat gets a bit tangled but I don’t comb it off because it offers some warmth as we creep into spring, and yet the weather is too hot for him to wear his heavy winter cover (and, being the gentleman he is, he’s loaned it to Pip).spring 008

The horses are as fat as butter, up there in Farmer John’s hill paddock, all 110 acres of it, because the clover’s growing faster than Smitty, Lily or the ewes and lambs can eat it. Most of Farmer John’s lambs are Dorset Down cross, hence the smudgy-black markings. spring 006Note how big this lamb is, and it hasn’t even been weaned yet. You hear so-called gourmet “experts’ moaning about how New Zealand lamb is not really lamb because it’s too big to be lamb. Well, what would they have us do? Rip lambs from their mothers’ breasts and send them to slaughter?

I love the way the ewes and lambs watch Taja and me so suspiciously as we walk up over the brow of the hill:spring 003

Then scarper when we get too close for comfort.spring 005

As if dear old Taja would hurt them anyway. I can trust her with anything – I bet she’d pick up one of the ducklings in her gentle mouth without harming it.

Desperately Seeking Friends

Pip and Squeak (not their real names) are reproducing. Pip went clucky and because I’d been taking all her eggs, she was sitting on air. Then my friend Jacquie gave me some ducks’ eggs – three – so now Pip is patiently trying to hatch out three Peking ducklings.nesting 004

Which has left Squeak very lonely. At first he tried to single out one of the hens but Winston didn’t like that at all. There was no way he was going to give up one of his harem to a mere – ahem – pip squeak bantam rooster like Squeak (which of course isn’t his real name at all anyway) and they had some massive fights. Actually, Winston came off second best even though he is bigger. For all his preening and showing off, the bantam rooster is tougher. It was fascinating watching them fight. CCQC couldn’t stand it one morning when we woke up, and streaked across the front lawn, stark naked, bare-footed, trying to break them up, (sorry – the photo was all blurry) but all he achieved was two feet full of thistles which I had to dig out.

Anyway, they soon grew tired of fighting, and when even the chooks repelled Squeak’s advances, he took to hanging around Taja and because she is the most patient, the kindest dog in the world, she tolerates him. Mind you, I overheard her telling him the relationship is strictly platonic. In the morning, we see Squeak accompanying Taja on her rounds, then he sits out front with her, waiting for me to feed her.nesting 001

He hangs around while she’s eating, eyeing those cat biscuits (yes, it’s a treat for the old dog to have cat chow for brekky), hoping she won’t notice if he pokes his beak in and sneaks a few.nesting 002

But her tolerance definitely does not extend to sharing her breakfast, and despite the fact she’s 16 years old, she still knows how to scare a bantam rooster away from her dinner bowl.nesting 003

I just can’t wait to see Squeak’s ego deflate when three ducklings are waddling along behind him calling out “Dad! Dad! Dad!”

Pigs or Archaeologists?

Pigs are known to be smart but these two Wessex Saddlebacks of ours, Bratwurst and Crackling, purchased from Rose in the enchanting little town of Eketahuna, are trying to convince me that their destiny in life is not to be bacon and pork, but to be archaeologists. Some weeks back, Builder Bruce and his lovely daughter Charlotte helped me put wire rings in the pigs’ noses so they wouldn’t root up the ground. What a performance! Pigs squeal when you just pick them up, let along poke a sharpened piece of wire through their snouts. I won’t say it doesn’t hurt them, because it does, but no more than oh, if you’re a man over the age of 40 reading this, than when you were circumcised, and can you remember that? No. And I bet you squealed like billyo. The pigs lay down in the shade for an hour or so, and looked at me balefully, but soon they were up and about, their tails curly once more, especially when I went back down there with a bucket full of nicely cooked barley. But it hasn’t really stopped them rooting:piggies-001

So far they have uncovered a muesli bar wrapper (bet they were brassed off to find nothing inside it), an empty potato chip bag, masses of rocks and stones but no heart-shaped ones, plastic wire and some polystyrene chips. There’s a tale behind the polystyrene chips. This site is extremely windy. In August 2006 when Holmes Construction began building our house, they brought out a Port-o-Com, which is a portable office made like a shipping container, and wired it in site, and also a big pile of polystyrene slabs for the foundations. Next day they returned to find the wind had picked up the Port-a-Com and dumped it five rows into the vineyard, whilst the polystyrene had been broken into millions of small pieces and scattered over about five hectares of vines.

Sorry pigs, nice try, but you are not put on this earth to be noted archaeologists. Don’t be offended. There is nothing wrong with ending up a nicely roasted midloin, with crisp crackling and apple sauce made from Mum’s braeburns. And what sweet pork it will be, now that I’ve got them to eat their peas. The first day I dished up peas for them, they went for me! Pigs are meant to eat anything, but they turned their noses up, snuffled around in the bucket and when they found peas was all there was for breakfast they chased after me and bit me on the backs of my jeans. I had to swing around and lash out with my gumboots, wag my finger and warn them the bacon man would be coming sooner rather than later if this behaviour continued. That’s all there is on the menu, I said. By end of day, they had, disconsolately, eaten their peas. Sigh. It’s like having children all over again, except we don’t eat our children do we.piggies-002

Holy Cow

Farmer John received the biggest April Fool’s joke of all on Wednesday morning. He was bringing his cows in off the hill for pregnancy testing and one of them was very reluctant to shift. She alone knew she didn’t need testing, in fact, she gave birth that morning:calf-001

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was coming home from singing practice. I saw this lone cow in the holding paddock, screetched to a halt, and there was this little calf tottering around beside her. calf-002Is it an early calf, or a late calf? That is the question we are all asking. And it doesn’t pay to inquire about the sire – possibly a very close relative. Hopefully the rest of the girls won’t produce until July, but it looks like this mother will have a relatively easy winter from now on, as it doesn’t pay to let a bull calf like this run rampant through a herd.

And on another bad news, sad news note, Farmer Pete’s huntaway bitch had her puppies but they all died soon after they were born. Despite rushing mother and puppies to the vet, none survived. Such a shame, as we were so excited about the thought of a new arrival here at Redbank. We’ve put the word out, though, that we’re on the hunt for a good pup. It’s dog trials in Martinborough this weekend so we’ll see what turns up.

As Farmer John chuckled, at the moment his farm seems to produce live offspring when they’re not wanted, and dead offspring when they’re very much wanted. That’s farming.calf-003