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.


Chicago the Spectacular

After my initial success with WiFi there have been disappointments so I’ve saved everything – the Herald column, the blog, the bill payments, the emails – for one day. The day before we left San Francisco the sun came out and we took a walk up Nob Hill and around Chinatown. It was Sunday, so crowded with dawdling tourists which always drives me crazy, but a fountain donated by Mrs James Flood on Nob Hill, which features three dancing cherubs, captivated me because of their darling faces turned to the sun:san fran wine tasting & nob hill 025

Then before we departed, I insisted on being photographed outside the San Francisco Press Club. press club 001

And I took a photo of the wines you can taste at the Press Club. If you look carefully at this photo you can see me taking a photo of me:press club 002

Then it was off to O’Hare, Chicago airport, where we arrived at around midnight. Must say, domestic first class United Airlines is only the equivalent of economy Air New Zealand, just with a little more space. We should be proud of our national airline. The Krsuls – John and Justine – our friends whom we met last year at the ABA (American Bar Association)meeting in New York when they were assigned to host us and who live in Bridgman, Michigan State, collected us next morning from our airport hotel and drove us to their place. First we went to Mount Baldy, Indiana State Park,  in a somewhat roundabout way. Not deliberately, we went through Gary, Indiana, one of the poorest towns in the USA. This is where the Jackson Five were born. I was pleased we drove through here, it’s tragic and sad. It once was a thriving steel worker town but no longer. To cut a long story short we did end up at Mount Baldy, a huge sand dune on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, had our picnic lunch, then drove to the Krsul’s daughter and son-in-law’s property, Longacres, on the lake, where we had a lovely traditional American beach family barbecue (grill) complete with swim, fireflies, chit-chat, children, organic beef burgers, Michigan wines, beautiful salads and just good old American hospitality. Americans, I swear, are the most hospitable nation on the earth. These are some shots of that lovely family:Krsuls2 010Krsuls2 009

Krsuls2 011Krsuls2 013Next day we went for a walk through the woods by John & Justine’s house, Krsuls2 014

down to and along the beach.Krsuls2 017

This area of America is so beautiful, it’s like stepping back in time. Everywhere we went, they never locked the car. On our third and last day, we went to visit some wineries and vineyards and it was interesting to see the different viticulture from ours, much more relaxed. No netting was required because there is no bird problem. There are no strong poles required for trellising like ours. The canopy is not trimmed like ours, but much more relaxed and allowed to grow longer, as you can see by this photo. Krsuls2 027One of the wineries, Round Barn (with this delightful old barn where they hold wine tastings) also makes beer and vodka.Krsuls2 028 And here we are outside the Krsul’s cool car.Krsuls2 029

Then it was packing bags again and driving to Chicago for the ABA meeting – a fantastic time with great speakers in that architecturally spectacular city. You can read about one of the highlights for me, a speech by retired Justice David Souter in the Herald on Sunday, next Sunday in my column, and later I hope to write about another high, when we listened to the American Attorney General talk about solutions to crime (not three strikes policy which isn’t working here) and we sat just in front of Bill Gates’ family when Bill Gates senior received the ABA medal. Last night was the black tie dinner and we sadly  farewelled the Krsuls who were driving home to Bridgman.chicago black tie 004

One more day, then tomorrow we leave for London.

Extolling the praises of Littl’ Juey

Yes, I know I’ve raved about Littl’ Juey before, but this New Zealand invention is so damned good it deserves to take another bow. It was recommended to me by Farmer Stu, who lives up the road and got married recently to the lovely Rosie (bad photo, but you get the picture). That’s Farmer Stu with the buttonhole, and not sure who his bride’s talking to, obviously someone who wishes he was marrying her.rosie-stuart-0011

Farmer Stu teases me a bit, but we put up with it because he’s a nice man.

Back to Littl’ Juey. Unlike other line trimmers, or weed eaters, this one doesn’t have a spool of nylon which constantly breaks and has you stopping what you’re doing, which is sweating away at cutting the grass, and unwinding the spool then trying to get it all back into the blimmin’ thing without it all coming unwound again. And without me coming unwound. I tell you, it tries the temper.

Littl’ Juey has one piece of nylon. I’ve shown two here, so you can see them. little-juey-001

You thread them through a hole in the centre piece, tighten it up with a little metal spike, then away you go.little-juey-002

The shaft looks like this:little-juey-003

And you can take this:little-juey-004

And turn it into this:little-juey-005

So get on down to your friendly Mitre 10 and get a Littl’ Juey (“Kicks Grass!”) or visit www.littljuey.com





Voice of the Vine – Washington State University

Raining today – 29 mm so far. Chooks sulking, Kete miserable, horses under the dripping trees and Taja curled up in her basket, but a good chance for me to catch up on baking and reading.

I subscribe to Voice of the Vine, an email newsletter from Washington State University – go to http://wine.wsu.edu – which has really interesting information about the latest research. The grammar in the newsletter is sometimes a bit awry, but the passion behind the writing is something I do enjoy. Today’s newsletter has an especially nice snippet which reflects the community of wine growers and makers, and I reproduce it here. Perhaps it is a programme the New Zealand wine community might like to consider:

Community and Collaborates in Support of WSU V&E    
  When Seattle’s renowned “Chef in the Hat” was approached by Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery about participating in a program to raise funds for WSU’s viticulture and enology program he not only agreed, he offered to make his own contribution. Chef Thierry Rautureau, owner of the highly acclaimed Rover’s Restaurant, says he contributed out of a sense of community.

Last fall, Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville launched a program dedicating a portion of their wines sales to the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program. A total of 123 restaurants joined the effort, raising $40,000 to fund scholarships, research and equipment.

The program is the brainchild of Ste. Michelle’s director of global accounts N.W. region Joe Aschbacher (WSU Class of ’87, School of Hospitality). Aschbacher says when he approached Ste. Michelle Wine Estates president and CEO Ted Baseler (’76, Communications) with the idea, “he really sank his teeth into it.”

The concept is simple. Ste. Michelle provided marketing materials and information to generate awareness of the WSU program that trains the next generation of grape growers and winemakers and fuels research in support of the industry. The winery offered training and materials for participating restaurants and donated a portion of the sale of each bottle or glass of their wines to the V & E program.

For Rover’s owner and chef, Thierry Rautureau, joining the effort was a no-brainer.

“When I heard about it, I felt it was an easy one for us as well,” Rautureau says. “They offered me a discount on their premium wine, Col Solare, so I decided to discount it for my customers and donate $5 a bottle from my proceeds. They gave me a deal, and I simply passed it on. It was a win-win.”

When asked about his motivation, the internationally acclaimed chef simply replied, “community.”

“I feel very much a part of the wine equation in Washington state,” says Rautureau. “It’s a circle. Someone in eastern Washington grows the grapes. Someone buys them and makes wine. Someone distributes it, and I sell it. We’re all involved in the community.”

Top: The “chef in the hat,” Thierry Rautureau. Bottom: Joe Aschbacher, Ste. Michelle’s director of global accounts N.W. region
For more information on viticulture and enology at WSU, please visit:



Suddenly it’s all go in the vineyard. We’ve had an enormously hot summer – when we were away the temperature in the vineyard reached 35.6C , and even though it’s only mid-to-late January, veraison is upon us. Veraison, as defined by Jancis Robinson, is “when the grapes begin to soften and change colour, those on the outside of the bunch first. Immediately after veraison, six to seven weeks after the completion of flowering, the grape ripening process goes into top gear, especially in warm, sunny, dry weather…At the same time the shoots start to turn from green and springy to brown and hard. The vine is starting to store energy for the winter and the following year.”

Yesterday Rowan was doing the last grape spray, and tooting the tractor as he went up and down the rows. I was coming back from feeding the horses, saw hares scattering from the path of the tractor like peasants before the wheels of a dictator’s limousine, and thought he was chasing them away from the irrigation pipes. When they get thirsty, instead of going down to the creek, they bite through the pipes and suck like babies. But the birds, he said, were already into the vines, not eating grapes yet, just getting themselves prepared for a feast. The varmints.

So today all the guys are here, putting on the nets. As we drove through Martinborough, the same is happening all over the area – nets are out and everyone’s working like trojans. It’s an exciting time of the year, as the vineyards swing into overdrive.

Looks like here at Redbank we will have a good vintage, touch wood. We received a very heartwarming report from Nick Hoskins of Vine Managers, which opened with the lines:

“I am very pleased with how the vineyard is looking, particularly the more even shoot growth – a combination of pruning shoot thinning at fertigation. Rowan has been doing a great job of getting the details right. Jane [Cooper, wine maker] is also very pleased with the shoot positioning.”

When you receive something like this, and you know it to be true as opposed to someone telling you what they think you want to hear, it makes all the hard work, which goes into earning enough money to pay the bills, not so bad after all.

More on Science or Art

Further to my last post about research at Auckland University, I’ve had my attention drawn to research being undertaken by scientists in China. They believe they can turn “plonk” into good wine by passing the wine through an electronic field to soften and age it.

According to New Scientist magazine, chemists at South China University of Technology have discovered that a few minutes of exposure to an electric field “can soften harsh red wine and produce the hallmarks of ageing – a more mature nose, better balance and greater complexity”.

And in our local newspaper covering this story, Auckland University wine scientist Paul Kilmartin states he’s been doing similar work for a while, but putting carbon electrodes and low electrical charges into barrels of wine for 12 weeks to accelerate the maturing of the wine. However, Kilmartin sounded a warning about putting in too much oxygen “or something where things change too rapidly” because of the risk of imparting to the wine an “off” flavour.

The article concludes with reports of an Australian doctor who claims he’s creating “the world’s healthiest wine” by putting one hundred times more veratrol into each bottle. This, he says, makes the wine a “pipe cleaner”, clearing the arteries and blood vessels, and lowering the risk of heart attacks.

After my last post, on “dial a sauvignon”, I received a great email from Brian Clark, editor of Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Science newsletter, called “Voice of the Vine“, in which he defends the role of science in filling the gaps in our knowledge. You can read his comment, which I approved to the post, and any more contributions to this debate are gratefully received.

I suppose, in one way, the Chinese scientists research could make wine less expensive to buy, and therefore turn on more drinkers to good wine, rather than wasting their money on rubbish which makes them ill and puts them off red wine altogether. Maybe it’s the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber effect – critics call their compositions “opera for the masses” but I say, at least it introduces people to the joy of musicals.

Science or Art?

Here’s a topic for debate. In Colin’s latest issue of the University of Auckland Alumni magazine, ‘Ingenio’, there’s an article about research into New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Six million dollars is being spent on “a project to find out what makes New Zealand sauvignon blanc so distinctive on the global market”. In what could reasonably be described as hyperbole, the article predicts that soon, winemakers may be able to “dial a sauvignon” so every sauvignon produced for the world market can be more-or-less the same.

Is this what we want? Is this what winemaking has come down to, scientists analysing wine compounds so they can, as project leader Professor Richard Gardner (Biological Sciences) says, “control them”?

I’m not questioning the need to consistently strive for the best wine in the world, but there is much debate about how we achieve this. I personally adhere to the view – held by top winemakers – that the best wine is made in the vineyard. On the other hand, these scientists are using government money to prove that yeast is one of the most important keys to producing a good wine, ergo good winemaking starts after harvest.

The team’s research has taken them to Kumeu River Wines, owned and run by the wonderful Michael Brajkovich MW, and his siblings Milan, Paul, and Marijana, to look at the use of natural yeasts as opposed to commercial yeasts. (The Coddington Chardonnay produced by Kumeu River comes from my brother’s vineyard near Huapai, Auckland, and in 1994 I helped Tim and Angela Coddington plant these vines). At Kumeu River the researchers have discovered – surprise, surprise – “numerous different yeasts growing naturally on the grapes and vines”. Tell us something we don’t know.

I’m not sure about this direction in winemaking. Sure, the science of winemaking is indisputable, but the art of winemaking is often – and foolishly – overlooked. I think of the analogy of baking, something very dear to my heart. I could get scientists to analyse to the extent of paralysis the ingredients of a good cake – lightness, moistness, flavour – but in the end good cooking comes down to what’s going on inside the cook. If you make food for people with love in your heart, the food will turn out to be magnificent. If you don’t believe me, read “Like Water For Chocolate” and weep at the wedding scene.

I know I’m prejudiced and sexist, but I favour female winemakers, or at least those male winemakers who are in touch with their feminine side. Jane Cooper, our winemaker, knows all the science of winemaking inside out and back to front, but she’s more impressive, in my opinion, when she just leads from the heart (and the nose). Just like I was impressed, about a decade ago, when I first met Claire Allan of Huia in Marlborough, who used to make unbelieveably good Gewurztraminer (haven’t had any for a while).

And another thing – just because the world loves New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc right now, does that guarantee a future for our particular style? Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that the international taste for wines will never change? We only have to look at how the New Zealand palate has developed – from sweet wines and sherry to the sophistication of today.

I will watch this “Dial a sauvignon” project with interest.