On Australia – fires and wine

Bush trained vines at Lowe Wine in Mudgee Australia

First things first. Many of the wineries and vineyards in Australia have been severely affected by the drought and the bush fires. The best way to help? Get out and drink Australian wine. Some of these vineyards may not have a vintage this year, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have wine. Most have their cellar doors open. If you are in Australia, go see them! If you are not…well head to your local wine shop, where ever you are on the globe and ask for Australian wine. Search for smaller producers that could really use your help. Yes, it might be difficult to find. Keep asking, drive up the demand.

It was October and we found ourselves in Australia’s New South Wales for the Wine Media Conference, that was held in the Hunter Valley. At the time, this seasons bush fires had only recently begun. Most of these were happening north of where we were in Queensland and our friends who were touring the Granite Belt wine region brought us stories of the fires there. Small fires were popping up. You could see the worry when you spoke with people. But at this point, the concern was mostly about the drought.

Drought after drought

There was a significant drought from 2003 to 2012. After a few years, that were a bit more normal, drought hit again in 2017, this time the impact was more severe. We spoke with people who had family farms that were suffering as available water levels dropped to a point where they could no longer irrigate. We also spoke with winemakers who were concerned about the future of their vineyards.

The drive from Hunter Valley to Mudgee

We traveled through several regions in New South Wales, but our drive to and from Mudgee illustrated the difficulties of the drought most starkly.

We drove into Mudgee from the Hunter Valley. The Hunter, at this point in the spring, was pretty lush and green. From the Hunter we headed inland through the Goulburn National Forest. This is considered “the bush” in Australia. The “bush” is an area that is undeveloped and filled with indigenous flora and fauna. Think of it as backwoods or hinterland, it’s really just a mostly untouched natural region. These regions cover a large portion of Australia.

The drive to Mudgee from the Hunter Valley
The drive to Mudgee from the Hunter Valley

As we drove the road became smaller. The population is lower in the inland regions. Most of Australia’s population forms a ring around the country on the coast. With smaller population come smaller roads and we went from 4 lane to 2 lane to a road with no center stripe, and even a section of gravel and dirt, as we crossed through the forest to Mudgee.

The impact of the drought on wildlife

We saw our fair share of kangaroos and wombats, sadly none were living. People asked when we returned if it was like dear on the East Coast of the US. No…it was a dead animal every 50 yards for a great portion of the trip. Much of this comes from the drought. We were told by a winemaker that the roos come to the green strip of grass on the sides of the road to feed, because there is so little for them to feed on otherwise. At dusk and dawn, drivers are hard pressed to miss them.

They do care deeply about their wildlife. We saw signs, like the one below, along all the roads with numbers to call if you hit or see injured animals.

WildLife Injuries Hotline in Australia
WildLife Injuries Hotline in Australia

The fires increase

It was not long after our return to the states that the fires spread. In early December a friend was visiting Sydney and took a photo in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Standing in a spot close to where I had been just a month and a half prior, she took a photo of the Lewis Wolfe Levy fountain, a statue of the goddess Diana, with a background of a brown and orange glow of a sky filled with smoke. I had been following the fires as they encroached on Sydney, but this picture brought home the severity of the fires, showing me the stark contrast to the city I had visited.

The 2020 Harvest

Wineries and vineyards now look to what to do this harvest. While, the wineries and vineyards we visited have not been directly impacted by the fires there are those indirect impacts, greater lack of available water, smoke taint, lack of access for visitors and impacts on their employees, many of whom may travel in from areas more affected by the fires.

We have seen wineries, like Tyrrell’s, one of the oldest and largest wineries in the Hunter Valley, publicly state that they will not pull in a harvest this year. Read more from the Guardian here They do not want to compromise the quality of their wine and do not feel comfortable with the amount of smoke taint that their vineyards may have encountered. Depending on the location of the vineyard and the winds, some may be impacted, while others are not.

2020 in the Mudgee Region

I reached out to Cara George with Mudgee Region Tourism to see how the Mudgee Region had been affected this year by the fires and the drought. Cara provided me with a statement from Mudgee Wine

The 2020 grape growing and wine making vintage has been a particularly tough one for growers throughout Australia including the Mudgee Wine Region. 

We have all felt the effect of the prolonged drought, extreme heat and continued bush fires and subsequent smoke. Firstly we want to express our sympathy to those who have lost vineyards, wineries and stock in various wine regions in Australia. We also sympathize with those regions that may be dealing with the effects of smoke in grapes in the upcoming harvest.

Secondly, it is important that we acknowledge that 2020 is not the ideal vintage for everyone in the Mudgee Wine Region. As a region we pride ourselves on making top quality wines that consistently win awards across the country. With our commitment to the very high standard of wines that drinkers have come to expect from Mudgee, and the effects of the drought and smoke across the region we are expecting to see a much smaller than average harvest in 2020. 

Mudgee Wine Association along with many individual members have been and continue to conduct testing with the Australian Wine Research Institute in relation to effects of smoke in the grapes. Given the results of these tests along with some small batch ferments conducted in wineries, it is likely that many brands will choose not to harvest in 2020. Those who do choose to harvest will be doing so with confidence that the quality of the wine will remain at the high standard expected of the Mudgee Wine Region.

Despite the harsh realities of the 2020 vintage, our region is full of beautiful vineyards, cellar doors, accommodation and restaurants that continue to be open for business and ready for visitors. Our various Mudgee wine brands currently have fantastic vintages available from 2016, through to 2019 for tasting and purchase. In fact, there couldn’t be a better time to visit and support these small growers and winemakers in our beautiful region. 

Mudgee Wine Association January 28th, 2020

What is smoke taint

Smoke taint. Okay, I heard a bit about this issue with the fires in Sonoma in 2017. The difference was that those fires happened in October, and harvest was well underway. Many vineyards were not affected at all. In the case of Australia, the fires were beginning in the spring. Late January into March is harvest here in Australia, and the risk smoke taint increases after verasion (when the grapes change color).

The chemicals in smoke that cause smoke taint are volatile phenols and glycosides. These are found in fresh smoke and in lignin from burnt wood. They dissipate in 1 to 2 hours typically, so vineyards that are close to fresh smoke will be affected. At longer distances (and keep in mind smoke can travel long distances), you mostly just see suspended carbon particulates that are less likely to affect the grapes.

bushfire in grassland with trees in australia
bushfire in grassland with trees in Australia

Affects of Smoke Taint

Smoke taint in wine is aromatic and tactile. In small quantities it can present like Brett, with dulled fruit and a strange dryness in the mouth that is similar to oak. In higher concentrations this becomes magnified and decidedly off putting (think burnt garbage).

So…how to determine if your grapes are at the level that they will have off putting smoke taint? Well, the compounds can be detected on grapes by gas chronography, but this is an expensive process. Keep in mind we are trying to detect in parts per million. For most winemakers, the solution is to do a sample pre-harvest and do a sample ferment. Volatile phenols release during fermentation. The levels in fermented grapes are 5 to 10 times higher in fermented grapes compared to fresh grapes. In fermented grapes these volatile phenols can be detected, by smell or taste.

The New South Wales Government is providing grape growers with funding for smoke test kits. Labs that do the detailed work are working overtime and expect to be busy into March. The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Australia is also pretty advanced with technology in vineyards and a piece by Wine Australia gives some details on new spectrometry techniques for diagnosing smoke taint.

A word from David Lowe in Mudgee

We spent time in Mudgee before the conference visiting for an afternoon with David Lowe of Lowe Wines where he is growing bio-dynamically and making some superb Zinfandel. Yes…I said Zinfandel, yes…in Australia. David was kind enough to send us a few words on how they were coping.

The drought has proved challenging and we know we will have about ½ normal yield.

Additional challenges re the dust storms and constant smoke, which we are working through on an ongoing basis.

It’s a national problem and the fires close to houses and vineyards like California means we are sharing experiences that are tough on everybody.

Fred Peterson made contact with me recently it seems the whole world knows about our problems and there is great camaraderie offers of help and sympathy. The wine industry is a close one.

Immediate impacts are tourism and visitation, which are such a part of the experience we are offering.

Our solution is to increase our range of hospitality experiences, increase local visitation and keep the farm watered and viable particularly so we can maintain our ecosystem.

David Lowe, Lowe Wines January 30th, 2020

From Mudgee back to the Hunter via the Golden Highway

On the return trip, we headed to the Golden Highway to the north of the region. Here roads were wider and the landscape went on forever over dry brown hills dotted with trees, that didn’t look so good. The dry brown grass, sometimes gave way to burned patches and often to dark brown expanses where there was not enough water for even the grass to grow. There were cattle farms here with cattle bunched together with little to eat. Mind you, this was spring, when you should see some green somewhere. It was desolate and eerily beautiful, in a post apocalyptic way. Some cattle were lying on their sides…as we weren’t close, I decided to believe that they were still breathing.

Cattle and sheep farmers are struggling. Deny climate change if you will, but these folks are witnessing it first hand.

Now come the rains

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service announced that the fires were contained on February 12th, 2020. We will hope that this continues. But now we are on to the rains. These rains assisted with putting out many of the fires. I’m sure there is gratitude for the rain, but being from California where we have our annual fire season, followed by our annual mudslide season, I am well aware of the devastation that torrential rains cause on areas already devastated by fire. The ground cover is gone and there is little to hold the soil down as creeks become rivers rushing downhill.

The region along the Golden Highway that were so dry? Well hopefully this rain will be helpful. For other regions like the Shoalhaven Coast, this could cause difficulties with roads for visitors to arrive and depending on where they are with harvest, they could have additional complications. We will continue to follow these regions.

The takeaway

Australians are nothing if not resilient. They will rebuild and find a better way to do things. For many this means the loss of a harvest. That is extremely difficult, watching an entire year of work disappear. The cellar doors are still open, they still have wine. Much of the reds from last years harvest are still waiting to be bottled and whites just bottled this spring are ready to be poured. Support the industry and these people. Visit if you are able and if not search out their wines.

For more…

You can read more on our visit to Australia and our #ouraussiewineadventure here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

You can also find out more about Mudgee, New South Wales and Australian Wine regions in general at these sites.

You can look forward to more in depth pieces on with winemakers we spoke with as well as our visit to the Orange & Hunter Valley Regions of New South Wales.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Exploring New South Wales – Mudgee #ouraussiewineadventure

Vinifera Vineyard Sunrise Mudgee NSW Australia

During #ouraussiewineadventure in October we traveled to the Mudgee Region of New South Wales to spend a day exploring the town and the wineries that surround it.

Mudgee, through the fires and the drought, is still open for business!

From the beginning, I want to acknowledge that they are having a tough year, as is all of Australian wine country. Mudgee, like most regions has been impacted by the drought and the bush fires. While the fires are not directly in the vineyards, they must deal with the smoke, the increased lack of water, the slowing of tourism during the fires and on a more personal level, many employees and their families may be directly affected by the fires.

The thing is, they are still open for business and you can support them by getting out to visit. What? You are not in Australia you say? Well get yourself to a wine store and buy some Australian wine. Ask for wines from wineries other than Yellow Tail! Increase the demand for these wines. Drink them and talk about them. That’s what we plan to do. Wine is a product that takes months to years to be ready for sale, so you will find these wineries have white wines available that were bottled this spring and reds that may be anywhere from the 2013 to the 2018 harvest, not to mention older bottles of sparkling or sweet wines. There is plenty of wine that they have ready for you to enjoy.

#Feelthelove

Cara George CEO of Mudgee Region Tourism, told us that they are doing a campaign in February around Valentine’s Day called “Feel the Love in the Mudgee Region”.

We are waiting with open arms to welcome visitors. #feelthelove

Cara George, CEO Mudgee Region Tourism, January 29th, 2020

We will use this post to tell you about this region, to fill you in on it’s beauty, it’s people, it’s wines. But you can expect that we will be following up with details on the struggles that they are facing and how they are dealing with it.

Mudgee

Mudgee is a wine region in New South Wales. It sits inland from the Blue Mountains and on the West side of the Great Dividing Range. The city is the 2nd oldest settlement West of the Blue Mountains, established in 1838.

In the 1870’s two gold rushes swelled the areas population. The downtown area is picturesque with plenty of heritage listed buildings. It is a great place to stroll and enjoy the shops and food, but don’t miss getting out of town to the surrounding vineyards.

Wine in Mudgee

The name Mudgee means “nest in the hills” in the aboriginal tongue. The name comes from the perimeter of hills that create a “nest”. Grapevines were first planted here back in 1858 by German settlers. Most vineyards are found on the gentle slopes, where you get beautiful vistas. This nest does have it’s downfalls as it can have frost prone pockets.

We drove through the Great Dividing Range from the Hunter Valley to get here and the climate here is very different. There is no maritime influence and bud burst is later here due to the cold nights.

Rainfall is lower here. If you are aware of the bush fires and the current severe drought being felt across New South Wales, you realize how much of an issue that is. Irrigation is essential here, and with the drought they are running low on water to irrigate with.

Harvest here will run a full month behind harvest in the Hunter Valley to the east. It’s warm in summer and autumn. They are at 32 degrees south here and prime wine growing regions sit between 30 and 50 degrees, so they are the warmer edge. Luckily, they sit at about 1476 feet, which helps moderate the heat.

You will find a little more than 40 cellar doors in the area and a wide range of wines, from rieslings to zinfandel.

Lowe Wines

  • David Lowe of Lowe Winery in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Zinfandel Vines bush trained
  • Zinfandel Vines with leaves just coming out at Lowe Wines Tinja vineyard in Mudgee Australia
  • Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia Cellar Door

Our first stop as we drove into Mudgee, was a visit with David Lowe at Lowe Wines. David is growing bio-dynamically and is a proponent of Slow wine. We had a fascinating conversation with him in his beautiful and busy tasting room. After wondering the property with the map they provide in tasting room to see the orchard, the compost, the gardens etc…we left with a bottle of Zin. Yep…he is well known for his Zinfandel. You can see some of our interview with David:

The Parkview Hotel, Mudgee

We headed back into town to check into our lodging. We were guided on our choice by the suggested accommodations for the Post Wine Media Conference Tour that we were unable to join. (3 tours…we couldn’t do them all, so we came early!)

We found the Parkview Hotel, just off of the main area of town overlooking a quiet park. This historic building, originally built in the 1870’s, had recently reopened after extensive renovations. It retains it’s historic charm while adding modern conveniences. They have a cafe, which sadly was not open when we were there mid week. Our suite was easily accessible on the main floor, a boon as we needed to do some repacking! There is a lovely wrap around veranda on the 2nd floor, which they made us aware of upon check in and encouraged us to enjoy. We did. With a bit of time before our sunset meeting, we sat and enjoyed the quiet of the park, with blossoms dropping from the trees and scattering and drifting across the floor of the veranda. It’s was the perfect peaceful break in the afternoon.

First Ridge Wines

  • First Ridge Wines in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The drive to the cellar door at First Ridge Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Sipping First Ridge Prosecco with Col in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The last rays of sunset from First Ridge in Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunset found us at First Ridge, taking in the amazing views over Prosecco with Col Millott. Here they focus on Italian varieties; fiano, vermentino, pinot grigio, sangiovese and barbera. Col, the viticulturist, met us as their cellar door on the vineyard. It was after hours, being at sunset and he kindly drove back to the property and opened up their modern cellar door, that is made from 2 shipping containers.

They are located South East of the city of Mudgee and from their location you can truly see the “nest” that this valley is. Michael set up cameras to catch the views and Col opened up the walls of the cellar door and poured some Prosecco for us to sip while we chatted.

You will have to watch for our interview with Col that will be coming out later.

The sun set, and as the light began to fade, we gathered up the equipment and let Col get home for the day.

Dinner at the Red Heifer

We had planned a spot for dinner, but Col suggested the Red Heifer at the Lawson Park Hotel. It was a beautiful evening and the walk felt good.

The town of Mudgee is really a bit enchanting. By the time you get here, you have driven through quite a bit of bush and for me at least, it was a relief to see civilization. As we pulled into Church Street the town oozed charm. In the mid day sun, the parking spots along the streets were full and the town hummed with people making their way from shop to shop. Now in the evening it was quieter. The streets were mostly empty and the dark sky was pierced by the light of the clock tower. We strolled, taking it all in, until hunger pushed us to move a bit faster.

We arrived at Lawson’s and found the Red Heifer. The bar and restaurant are separate, so we grabbed a glass of local wine from the bar and, too tired to grill our own, (which is what the place is known for) we went simple with some fish and chips. It was seat yourself, casual and comfortable with the wall painted to show you all the best cuts of beef.

Full and happy, we strolled, a little more slowly now, back to the hotel.

Sunrise at Vinifera

  • Sunrise in Mudgee over the vines at Vinifera
  • Sunrise at Vinifera in Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Vinifera
  • New green on the vines at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The winery at Vinifera Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Vinifera's award winning Cabernet Sauvignon Mudgee NSW Australia
  • The Giant Corkscrew in front of Vinifera that matches their logo Mudgee NSW Australia

Sunrise was out at Vinifera Vineyards, which is near Lowe Wines and across from the airport. We shivered in the cool morning, arriving early as always to catch the first rays over the vineyard. It was cloudy, so we caught bits as it broke through the clouds. Some of the vines were just hitting bud break here. We ventured back later in the day to do a tasting with Sam, daughter of Tony and Debbie McKendry who planted the vineyard in 1994 and still run it today. She has stepped in as the second generation here at the vineyards. But first…there was breakfast to be had.

Alby + Esthers

The Wine Media Conference would return here with a group after the conference. We could not join them, but we did grab their itinerary as a guide. They would be breakfasting at Alby + Esthers so we figured we would give it a try.

The entrance is a brick archway down an alley between shops. You feel like you are sneaking into a spot others might miss. The space opens to a courtyard between the buildings with small seating areas next to an open door into the cafe proper. There are a few seats inside, but why on earth would we not want to enjoy this enchanting garden. Words, don’t do the place justice. You’ll have to settle for some photos.

In addition to being a great spot for breakfast, they are open as a wine bar in the evening. With the lights strung over this cozy courtyard garden, I image that would be pretty amazing.

Now it was time to try to fit in another tasting or two, before heading back to the Hunter Valley.

Robert Stein – Riesling

We headed north out of the city to Robert Stein. It was still early and we were likely to be the first people in the tasting room. We pulled up out in front of the rustic looking cellar door, and took in the cloud filled sky, then strolled down to visit the vines.

Robert Stein is known for Riesling. I know, when you think of Australian Riesling, you might think of the Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia, but you will find some award winning riesling from this Mudgee winery. The Stein family brought the first cuttings of Rhine Riesling to Australia, that actually survived, back in 1838, planting them south west of Sydney.

In 1976 the Stein family took up wine again, establishing Robert Stein vineyard here in Mudgee. The vineyard grew with the help of their son Andrew and now the 40 year old vines continue to thrive with their grandson Jacob Stein at the helm as chief winemaker.

  • The Robert Stein Cellar Door under a beautiful sky Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Riesling vine at Robert Stein Vineyard Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Stein's Wines cellar door entrance at Robert Stein Mudgee NSW Australia
  • Inside the Cellar door at Robert Stein
  • So many varieties and styles at Robert Stein
  • Robert Stein's award winning dry riesling. Mudgee NSW Australia

Stuart in the tasting room took us through a wide range of their wines, which include styles for every palate in varieties including: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay, semillon, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, riesling, sparkling wines, dessert and fortified wines. Their dry Riesling is the star, with multiple awards and medals.

They also have a motor cycle museum and the Pipeclay Pumphouse Restaurant, which we sadly did not have time to visit. We packed a couple of bottles (sadly the suitcase is only so big), and got ready for another drive.

More information on Mudgee

Our drive then would take us back to the Hunter Valley for the Wine Media Conference, where we had an opportunity to speak with Cara George, the CEO of the Mudgee Region Tourism. We look forward to sharing with you our interview with her, where she gives us an overview of the Mudgee Region. For more information visit:

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

How to measure a year – 2019, specifically..

Calendar

Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.

I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.

Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!

The Quiet Time

My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.

Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.

The Scenic Route

We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.

Studying

Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…

#OurAussieWineAdventure

Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.

So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.

12 Days of Wine

Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.

Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.

Want more details on some of these great spots?

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Speed dating for wine – Red Wine Social at the Wine Media Conference

Live Wine Social Red at #wmc19 in Hunter Valley Australia

Red Wine Social. It’s organized chaos. Go ahead, look at the video first and see what we are up against! 10 wineries, 5 minutes each. For them: 5 minutes to give us the elevator schpiel on their winery and wine and pour for a table of 5 to 10 people. For us: 5 minutes to get photos, details, hashtags, taste and post on social media! Are you friggin’ kidding me! Watch the vid…

Did you have time to read the descriptions? Nope? Well I barely had time to write them!!!! (Yes, my voice was raised a bit on that last sentence). I did my posting on Instagram under #wmc19 (at least I think I got them all in!)

Okay…now time to give those wineries and winemakers there due. Here is the breakdown with more details than 5 minutes will allow.

First Creek

First you get the actual post.

“Greg from First Creek wines poured2017 winemakers shiraz! They deal with 300 tons of fruit a year. Of course they do around 300,000 in contracted fruit for others. @huntervalley @visitnsw”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
First Creek Winemaker's Reserve 2017 Shiraz Hunter Valley Red Wine Social
First Creek Winemaker’s Reserve 2017 Shiraz Hunter Valley

Ok…let’s break this down. “Greg” is Greg Silkman. He oversees all of First Creek’s business. Greg was honored in 2019 with the Hunter Valley Wine Legend award (you will hear more about the Legends). He and a business partner bought Tambulaine winery back in 1986 and turned the place around. He then established First Creek Wines.

First Creek Wines is family owned and operated (go to the about us page on their site and you will notice many members of the team are Silkmans). They do around 300 tons of fruit each year to make their own wines, like the Winemaker’s Reserve Shiraz we were tasting. They are also a custom crush facility First Creek Winemaking Services, and it is there that they handle around 300,000 tons of contracted fruit for other wineries.

First Creek 2017 Winemaker’s Reserve Shiraz Hunter Valley

This wine is aged in French oak for 8-12 months. It sits at 13% abv and has potential to age for 10-15 years. SRP $60 au

de iuliis

I barely got a note out for this wine poured by winemaker Mike De Iuliis from de iuliis wines

“The Touriga adds floral notes “the gewurtraminer of reds” 70 30 blend” @visitnsw @huntervalley

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
Mike De Iuliis of de iuliis wines Red Wine Social
Mike De Iuliis of de iuliis wines

What?! Okay, here’s the translation of that criptic IG post.

So Mike De Iuliis made this Shiraz and was experimenting to create a bit of elegance. This is 80% Shiraz with 20% Touriga National which adds complexity and lifts the aromas of the wine. He said that aromatically he finds Touriga to be the “gerwurztraminer of reds” (gerwürztraminer is a German white wine well known for it’s aromatics).

We were lucky enough to get to know Mike a little better on the Dinner excursion on Friday night as he took our bus all terraining into a vineyard under threat of rain to meet a bunch of winemakers with their semillons and oysters. You’ll get more on that later.

de iuliis 2018 LDR Vineyard Shiraz Touriga Hunter Valley

de iuliis 2018 Shiraz Touriga LDR Vineyard Red Wine Social
de iuliis 2018 Shiraz Touriga LDR Vineyard

LDR? That is the Lovedale Road Vineyard where they have 3.5 acres of Shiraz and 1.5 acres of Touriga National planted. You get cherry, and blackfruit with spice on the nose and plum, blackberry with soft tannins on the palate. This wine drinks well now, and will age for at least another 5 years. The wine sits at 14% abv and SRP is $40 au. (James Halliday gave it 95 pts)

Audrey Wilkinson

My note on this was

“One of the most beautiful views in the country! This shiraz was beautiful! #wmc19 @huntervalley @visitnsw”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
  • Audrey Wilkinson 2017 "The Lake" Shiraz Red Wine Social
  • Audrey Wilkinson's 2017 "The Lake" Shiraz Awards Red Wine Social
  • Giving us the details on "The Lake" from Audrey Wilkinson Red Wine Social

Well I had a chance to chat with Daniel Byrom from Audrey Wilkinson the night before and learn all about their amphitheater shaped vineyard and the varied soils. We also got out to get some sunrise shots. They really are well known for their views. Locals tell us that even if they can’t go for a tasting, they always take friends and visitors for the view.

Audrey Wilkinson The Lake 2017 Shiraz

This wine is an award winner “97 points, again….” says their brochure. This wine takes it’s name for the large spring fed dam on the property. 2017 they recorded the hottest year on record (we’ve talked about climate change right?). In the Hunter Valley this was a great vintage. This wine has a nose with florals (violets?) and fruit with a bit of spice. It sits at 14.9% abv (holy crap!) sees a bit of French oak and will set you back $120 au a bottle. This is a definitely a reserve wine for this winery.

Briar Ridge

“Alex one of the winemakers at Briar Ridge #wmc19 @huntervalley”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10

Oops! Didn’t get much out with that one. But I did get a bottle shot and a photo of Alex.

  • 2018 Briar Ridge Dairy Hill Shiraz Red Wine Social
  • Alex from Briar Ridge Red Wine Social

We did however have a few minutes afterwards to speak with Alex about Briar Ridge. You will have to wait until later for that.

The winery is located in Mount View in the Southern part of the Hunter Valley and they are the largest vineyard holder in this area. Soils here are red limestone. They keep yields low (1 to 2.5 tons per acre).

Dairy Hill Shiraz Hunter Valley 2018

This wine is single vineyard on a SE facing slope with a warm maritime influence. It was 20% whole cluster with the remainder crushed and destemmed. It ages in 500liter large format barrels for 12-14 months with a couple rack and returns. Then they hold it 3 years before release. We were tasting the 2018. If you go to their website, the current release is 2014 (which recieved 96 points from James Halliday).

1813

“Double oaked Shiraz. The governor from @1813huntervalley @visitnsw @huntervalley #wbc19”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
  • The Governor Shiraz from 1813 Red Wine Social
  • Pouring and giving us the details on the 1813 "The Governor" Red Wine Social

Okay, I was typing fast, I harkened back to the previous conference name (wine bloggers conference wbc). But let’s get on with the details on this winery. 1813? What does that mean?

1813 was the year the first coin was created in Australia. It was called the “Holey dollar” because it was a Spanish coin with a hole in the center. The owner of the winery has a finance background.

2017 The Governor Hunter Single Vineyard from 1813

This wine is double oaked (French and American). What does that mean? During fermentation it is rolled into oak, then after malolactic fermentation it is rolled into oak again. It is only released in the best years. This is all estate fruit and they only made 1500 bottles (not cases, bottles). This is their flagship reserve. SRP $68.00 au

Wombat Crossing

“This wine won a trophy for the best shiraz in the Hunter Valley. This is a 2009! @huntervalley @visitnsw #wmc19”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
  • Wombat Crossing 2009 Shiraz Red Wine Social
  • Ian Owner of Wombat Crossing pouring the 2009 Shiraz Red Wine Social

Okay…Wombat Crossing? You know right off that they are an Australian Winery right? Click through to their page…go ahead…now you know that they are also Beatles fans! LOL!

Ian Napier is the vineyard owner. He came from a successful career in Sydney and post career decided to open a winery. Their first vintage was 2005. They are the smallest vineyard and winery in the Hunter Valley and plan to keep it that way.

The winery shows it’s support for the Cedar Creek Wombat Rescue & Hospital. Driving rural inland roads we saw many dead kangaroos and wombats. This rescue helps orphaned joey wombats and gives medical attention to adult wombats who have been injured. The roadsides have signs to call if you hit wildlife. Wombats are declining due to road hazards, loss of habitat and disease. Roz Holme founded the rescue and treats animals that might otherwise have been euthanised.

Wombat Crossing Vineyard Hermit’s Block Individual Vineyard Hunter Valley 2009 Shiraz

Ian brought us a 10 year old Shiraz to taste and see how well the wine ages. The 2009 vintage from Wombat Crossing one the trophy for the best Shiraz in the Hunter Valley. they have just 8 cases left (7 now!) They believe in cellaring and holding back wine. He told us that the current release was their 2014.

Whispering Brook

“A touriga shiraz blend from Whispering Brook. From Susan Frazier @huntervalley @visitnsw #wmc19”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
Whispering Brook at #wmc19 in Hunter Valley Australia
Whispering Brook at #wmc19 in Hunter Valley Australia

Okay…this is not the photo that was on IG, but there is a link below so you can see that.

Our video as posted on IG

This is another blend of Touriga and Shiraz (like Mike de Iuliis). Great minds thinking alike. We did have a chance to speak with Susan after the event…again…you get that later!

Whispering Brook is located in Broke on the West side of the Hunter Valley. The property is bordered on one end by the Wollombi Brook and it is from this that the winery takes it’s name. They make Sparkling wines in addition to their Shiraz, Chardonnay and Touriga National as well as olive oil.

2017 Whispering Brook Shiraz

This wine received 97 points from James Halliday. There is a bit of a story to this wine. In 2008 they grafted over 1 block of their Shiraz to Touriga National. In 2017, they had just pressed the Touriga, when the Shiraz came in. The Touriga skins looked great, so they tossed them in with the Shiraz. They did a wild yeast ferment, which is not normal for them (well, she did say that there was probably still cultured yeast on the Touriga Skins). This wine ages in 30% new french oak for 16 months.

Tyrrell’s

“Lovely shiraz from Tyrrell’s #wmc19 @huntervalley @visitnsw”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
  • Tyrrell's 2017 Hunter Valley Shiraz Red Wine Social
  • Pouring wine and sharing the story of Tyrrell's vineyard Red Wine Social
  • Red soils from Tyrrell's Vineyard Red Wine Social

Well that didn’t say much! Guess I was getting tired by then. (this was exhausting, trying to do so much so fast!)

Tyrrell’s is a 5th generation winery that can trace it’s roots back to Walter Tyrrell who arrived in England with William the Conqueror! Last year in 2018 they celebrated the 160th Anniversary of the founding of Tyrrell’s Wines!

We had an opportunity to get out to the winery and taste and will share more on that with you later!

Tyrrell’s 2017 Hunter Valley Shiraz

2017 was a good year in the Hunter Valley. This wine is in their “Hunter Valley Range” an affordable range at $25 au per bottle. Vines here average at about 50 years old and the wine is aged in large format Foudres (2,700 litre). They did bring a jar of soil so we could see the red soils from the vineyard.

Tulloch

“Matt from Tulloch poured the 2017 Pokolbin dry red shiraz! Only available in the tasting room #wmc19 @visitnsw @huntervalley”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
  • Tulloch 2017 Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz Red Wine Social
  • The quick version of the Tulloch Wine history Red Wine Social

Tulloch Wines is one of the early wineries with 122 years and 4 generations of winemaking experience. Tulloch went through a bit of time where the vineyard was owned by other companies, and even a short bit (8 years or so) without a member of the family being part of the operation. In 2003 the family bought the brand back from Rosemount and is now again family run.

2017 Polkolbin Dry Red Shiraz

This wine is part of their Heritage Range. It sits at 13.5% abv SRP $30.00 au.

Tintilla Estate

“The 1st vineyard in the Hunter Valley to plant Sangiovese 25 years ago! Bob and James Lusby poured it for us! #WMC19 @huntervalley @visitnsw”

crushedgrapechron IG post October 10
  • Tintilla Estates 2017 Saphira Sangiovese Red Wine Social
  • Bob & James Lusby telling us the story of the Saphira Sangiovese

Tintilla. The name is an Old World term for red wine. Bob Lusby sat down next to me while his son James poured. It was their last table, and our last winemaker. So yes, Tintilla was the first vineyard in the Hunter Valley to plant Sangiovese 25 years ago. They pulled in the Davis clones.

While we were talking Bob mentioned the idea that more phenolics in the grapes keep pests away. I was fascinated by this and he suggested that I read some of the work by Dr. Richard Smart, including his book “Sunlight into Wine – A handbook for winegrape canopy management”. Looks like I have more fascinating geeky wine reading to do!

Tintilla Estate Saphira Sangiovese 2017

The Saphira Sangiovese gives you plums and cherries with a bit of earth. It runs $35.00 au.

Harvested in the early morning, the cool grapes were destemmed and passed through the crusher The resultant must was cold soaked, fermentation followed in open vats, the temperature controlled to about 22 degrees C. Hand plunge of the cap ensured good mixing of the skins with the juice. The wine was aged in 20% new & old 300L French oak barrels for 12 months.

https://www.tintilla.com.au/shop/saphira-sangiovese/

More to come!

Oh yeah. We did a white/rosé tasting like this also. You’ll get that later.

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Exploring New South Wales – Shoalhaven Coast & Southern Highlands #ouraussiewineadventure

Cambewarra Mountain lookout

Australia…it’s the other side of the world and a day away. Far from our normal life. A place where they drive on the other side of the road and sit on the other side of the car to drive. Where the signs on the road tell you to watch for kangaroos and wombats. But…the language is the same, well, mostly. The slang can be a bit of a hang up to translate.

In October, we got on a plane for the short (that’s sarcasm) flight to Sydney. Our destination was the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley which is north of Sydney, but we flew in early to visit a bit more. Mind you Australia is a large country, almost as large as the US, so we focused on the region of New South Wales which surrounds Sydney and of course, primarily, we were looking at the wines of this region.

If you’ve followed our trips before, you will know that we are not afraid of a little bit of driving. That held true on this trip, as you can see by the map below. It allowed us to take in quite a bit of New South Wales, but not all of it. This region has quite a bit to explore.

Map of our travels in New South Wales
Our Aussie Wine Adventure

New South Wales

New South Wales is the region surrounding Sydney.  Good ole’ Captain James Cook discovered and named this region.  Okay…we will amend this.  He didn’t “discover” it.  It was there and inhabited by aboriginal peoples.  But none the less, he donned it with the name “New South Wales” and soon the Brits were sending Convict Ships this way. (The American Revolution meant they couldn’t send their convicts there any longer).

The first fleet of six ships included the Scarborough (that name will come up again later).  They landed in what is now Sydney. In this region you find the Gadigal people.  Future settlements moved up and down the coast and inland and provided the infrastructure for much of the region as it is known today.

Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government New South Wales
Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government

We visited 5 of the 14 wine regions in New South Wales: Shoalhaven Coast, Southern Highlands, Mudgee, Hunter Valley and Orange. These are the regions closest to Sydney. A little further north on the coast takes you to Hastings River, then even further north and inland you find New England. Inland to the West of Sydney (and mostly to the south) you find the regions of Cowra, Hilltops, Gundagai, Canberra District, Tumbarumba, the tiny Perricoota and the really large Riverina. We would have needed far more than 2 weeks to explore all these regions.

Sydney

(don’t worry we will come back)

Our visit started and ended in Sydney which sits on the coast of New South Wales. It sits only a little closer to the southern border with Victoria, than the Northern border of Queensland along the 2137 miles of coastline.

Royal National Gardens & the Sea Cliff Bridge

The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge New South Wales Australia
The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge

We drove south from Sydney on what was (unbeknownst to us) a holiday weekend and into the Royal National Gardens. Sadly we had no time to hike and explore (the Figure 8 pools sound amazing, but that was a 2.5-4 hr hike!). Instead we took in the scenery (and met a stick bug, who dropped in our window landing on my shoulder and sadly lumbered away before I could get a photo) as we drove through. The coast is beautiful and we drove across the Sea Cliff Bridge as we made our way south, stopping for lunch and a view in Gerrigong.

Shoalhaven Coast

The Shoalhaven Coast is about 2 hrs south of Sydney. This is a popular weekend getaway for people living in Sydney and the area has embraced tourism. Gerrigong, where we enjoyed lunch was a cute town with small shops and restaurants, the perfect beach town with a view. Our lunch at The Hill, set us up with high expectations for the food we would encounter in New South Wales.

The vineyards here often have a view of the ocean, so the maritime influence is a major factor in the vineyard. The primary concern here is summer rainfall, which can create issues for ripening as well as problems with disease and molds. We also heard that birds can be a huge problem, sneaky birds that get under the netting during harvest and can gobble up and entire crop.

Coolangatta Estate

  • Coolangatta Estate Originally opened in 1822, renovated and reopened in 1972. Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Mt. Coolangatta in the morning mist. New South Wales
  • Lush greenery at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Our suite in the Servant's Quarters at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Historic Homestead Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales Australia
  • The view to the lower vineyard next to the stable building Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • The old brick main building at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Estate photo 1914 Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We arrived at Coolangatta Estate to meet with owner/vigneron Greg Bishop. The Estate is a renovated historic convict built estate where we stayed in the servants quarters.

This historic property of a convict built estate, and was the first European settlement on the South Coast.  The name derives from “Collungatta” which was the Aboriginal word for “fine view”  The Estate sits at the foot of Mt. Coolangatta from which this “fine view” can be enjoyed.  The Estate fell into disrepair in the first part of the 1900’s.

In 1947 Colin Bishop acquired land here for farming.  He and his wife (Greg’s parents) then began to restore the property and turn it into a historic resort. 

  • The lower vineyards at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Coolangatta Estate in the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Rolling vineyard in the shadow of Mt. Coolangatta, Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • White wines at Coolangatta Estate New South Wales Australia
  • The 2018 Winsome Riesling just won the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, Scoring 95 points Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

Greg planted the vineyard here in the 1980’s and they are producing a wide variety of wines including: Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Verdelho, Savagnin, Chambourcin, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and surprisingly a Tannat.

After our conversation with Greg, it was time for a bit of a nap before enjoying dinner at their restaurant Alexander’s paired with Coolangatta wines.

Two Figs

  • Two Figs Winery on the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • View of the Shoalhaven River from Two Figs Winery Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We did stop by Two Figs to take in the views, and tried to do a tasting, while we were in the area. But remember I mentioned it was a holiday weekend? Two Figs does tastings by reservation and we had not pre-booked. The place was packed and hoppin’. The views had to suffice.

Southern Highlands

The next morning we awoke early to head inland to Southern Highlands. Our drive took us through Nowra, where we picked up a quick (and delicious) breakfast at a gas station. (Really the food here…it’s like getting every meal from Whole Foods!). We then drove into the mountains in the Budderoo National Park, through Kangaroo Valley, past Fitzroy Falls and finally into Mittagong.

The region, on a plateau, was a place for the colonial squires to escape Sydney’s summer heat (think Hamptons). The villages are picturesque, the streets wide and tree lined and the region sees all four seasons. It was most definitely spring when we arrived with flowers blooming everywhere.

As to growing vines here? It’s altitude and cool climate make it perfect for crafting beautiful white and sparkling wines. You will also find Merlot, Shiraz and some Pinot Noir grown here also. The region has 12 wineries around 6 towns: Berrima, Bowral, Exeter, Mittagong, Moss Vale and Sutton Forest.

Tertini

  • The Tertini entrance sign, unpretentiously nestled in the trees Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Tertini Cellar Door near Mittagong in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The elegant Tertini Tasting Room Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Patio at Tertini Wines in Australia's Southern Highlands, New South Wales
  • Panorama of the Tertini Winery in Australia's Southern Highlands in New South Wales.

Our destination in Southern Highlands was Tertini Wines near Mittagong, to visit with winemaker Jonathan Holgate. Jonathan spoke with us about the region and his wine making style before taking us out to see the winery and then to visit their Yaraandoo Vineyard. We returned to the cellar door for a tasting, and I look forward to telling you later about his spectacular wines, which include a decidedly unique Arneis.

  • Spring Vines in Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in the Spring  Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia

Jonathan’s Private Cellar Collection Arneis is made from fruit from their Yaraandoo Vineyard which is partially fermented in French Oak. This is unlike any other Arneis you will taste.

We left as the tasting room filled up with booked seated tastings, some of them scheduled specifically with Jonathan.

Artemis

We made one more quick stop for a tasting at Artemis Wines. This winery is set up to host. Views of the vineyard right around the tasting room, with a patio that was set up for wood fired pizza. This is a gathering place, and it was crowded when we arrived. We did a pretty hasty tasting of their wines with a very knowledgeable (and busy) staff member. They also do tastings of ciders and beers.

Camberwarra Mountain Lookout

On the way back to Coolangatta we took in the views from Camberwarra Mountain Lookout. You can see Mt. Coolangatta out toward the coast as well as the Shoalhaven river that runs out to the coast. The lookout has a tea room, so it’s a lovely spot to take in the views and a cup.

Australia Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales-
Australia Shoalhaven Coast, NSW- The view from Cambewarra

Newcastle

After enjoying another evening soaking up the great atmosphere at Coolangatta Estate, we drove North, swinging wide around Sydney and up the coast to Newcastle.

This port city north of Sydney is Australia’s second-oldest city and 7th largest.  It is known for shipping coal.  Mind you the Aussie’s are environmentally minded and don’t use much coal.  They do however mine it and ship it out for other countries to use. 

As an important side note here, every vineyard owner and winemaker I spoke with in Australia acknowledged the affects that climate change was directly having on their vineyards.  In addition (or as a result), the bush fires have increased in the northern part of New South Wales and in Queensland.  They are in a drought, the second in a dozen years.  The sad cycle of lack of water due to climate change, causes agricultural businesses to struggle, and I can’t help but feel that this leads back to exporting coal to support the economy, that same coal that leads to further pollution and climate change.

This city is on the coast of the Hunter region.  We soaked in a bit of beach, had dinner wharf and enjoyed an artsy stroll through the downtown district back to our hotel.  The arts college is here and walls are covered in murals, music on this October long weekend (a holiday weekend that we didn’t realize we were in the midst of) poured out of doorways with pubs and cocktail bars.  The town was busy and full of people enjoying the holiday weekend.

Places to stay…

Here I will do a shout out to our hotel.  In the states, most Holiday Inn Expresses are mid to low range hotels.  We find them in the smaller sections of wine country and they are always reliable.  Here we were staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle, a relatively new hotel.  It was pretty spectacular, much more like the Hotel Indigo’s at home, but larger.  The design was beautiful, the staff friendly and helpful and the included breakfast…?  I’m ruined for breakfast ever again.  It was fresh and beautifully laid out.  I felt so elegant eating so healthy.  It was the perfect meal to send us off for our drive into Mudgee, where we will continue Our Aussie Wine Adventure.

For more information on these regions:

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