The Many Wines

June 28, 2007

One of my favourite poets is Rumi, also know under his full name of Mawlānā Jalāl-ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: مولانا جلال الدین محمد رومی, Turkish: Mevlânâ Celâleddin Mehmed Rumi, Arabic: جلال الدين الرومي, shortened to إبن الرومي). a 13th century Muslim jurist and theologian from Persia.

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Rumi (from wikipedia)

For us modern, 21st century vintners and wine lovers the following excerpts from one of his poems on wine are of interest:

The Many Wines

God has given us a dark wine so potent that,
drinking it, we leave the two worlds.

There are thousands of wines
That can take over your minds.

Be a connoisseur,
And taste with caution.

Any wine will get you high.
Judge like a king, and choose the purest,

The ones unadulterated with fear,
or some urgency about “what’s needed”.

Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when it’s been untied,
and is just ambling about.

(Source: cited from: “The Essential Rumi”, translated by Coleman Barks, with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry and Reynold Nicholson, Castle Books, 1997, page 6 and 7)

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Boutique Vineyards

June 27, 2007

Where Two Hills Vineyard is located, among the beautiful rolling hills between Yarra Glen and Yea at the Southern edge of what is commonly known as the Upper Goulburn Wine Region (www.uppergoulburnwine.org.au), there are many more small and very small vineyards and wineries out there.

Definitions of what a boutique vineyard and/or winery are vary. Some think the total tonnage for the wine label should be below a certain limit (for instance a maximum of 250 tonnes crushed per year). Others see the limitation of yields as crucial (for instance less than 3-4 tonnes per acre). Specialised organisations of producers and wine merchants support the Boutique vineyard sector (for instance www.boutiquewineries.com.au) and cater to their needs. The size differential is usually compensated by outstanding product quality. Hand crafted, artisan wines from Boutique vineyards and wineries can certainly compete with mass-produced, industrial products.

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Two Hills Vineyard in Glenburn

What they all have in common is the limitation of overall quantity for the sake of quality.This is exactly what we at Two Hills are attempting to do. Less is more for us. Our philosophy is that only excellence is worth being produced. This is also our economic niche which hopefully allows us to survive in this very competitive market. Fortunately, wine drinkers always want to try something new, they want to explore new opportunities, find new challenges. We attempt to serve this urge. And since every year’s grapes are different also the wines we make out of these grapes are different. We only use high quality fruit. In order to get to the 3 tonnes yield per acre we have to drop a lot of fruit in order to ripen the remaining one to the highest standard. Steve Sadlier of Vineadvice, our viticulturist, makes sure that the standards are high and consistently maintained.

Another aspect of Two Hills Vineyard is that it is a single site (in German: Lagenwein). Therefore the “terroir” matters to us more than to others. Our wines are made in the vineyard. There is no blending going on. What we get at harvest time, is what we process. We do not buy grapes from other locations. This is why we devote all our times and effort to the production of clean and healthy, top quality fruit. The wines we produce are witness to this philosophy. Alan Johns, our winemaker at Yering Farm (www.yeringfarm.com.au), has the passion and devotion to producing top wines. The Merlot 2006 which we are going to release soon will prove this. Unfortunately we have only a couple of thousand bottles of this treasure.


Freedom from protectionism – the EU wine market in the 21st century

June 22, 2007

It sounds strange to the ears of an Australian vintner that the wine industry (because of its complexities) would need the protection of the government. I think we in the Australian wine industry enjoy a maximum of freedom from government intervention. European vintners are not that lucky. But is seems that finally they might be getting some more freedom, if the European Commission carries through with its proposal to reform the heavily subsidised and regulated wine market.

However, if one expected a hearty welcome and praise for this effort, one would be utterly mistaken. There is some fierce criticism from some of the EU member countries which object to this “too much” of freedom. Doomsday scenarios are then usually invoked to scare reform minded policy makers. “The end is near”, “our culture and traditions are dying” and other similar slogans are shouted out by lobbyist of various persuasion. Of course consumers would ultimately benefit from deregulation and liberalisation. In the non-wine producing countries, there seems to be no problems but in the wine belts of the EU a storm is being stirred.

According to the Economist of June 16th, 2007, the EU wine budget amounts to € 1.3 billion a year. Some wine is produced more or less exclusively for destruction. The reform plan includes the pulling of about 200,000 ha of vines (about 6% of the total area) and transfer payments to vintners who cannot sell their produce so that they can leave the sector and find some new employment. The restrictions on new planting are scheduled to be lifted from 2014 onwards so that successful wineries can expand. Especially French and Luxembourgian officials oppose these moves and invoke the fears of inundation by cheap, mass-produced, “industrial technique” dominated wines from the new world. Both countries are rather successful in making money from wine production. Their vintners earn more than others in Europe, says the Economist. Ever since the debate of the Corn Laws in Britain in the House of Commons in 1813 and the enactment of the importation act in 1815, mercantilism has raised its ugly head from time to time, always with the ever same line of argumentation (foreign grown products would be dangerous to rely on, prices and wages would be diminished and producers and manufacturers would lose out). Empirical evidence is overwhelmingly just to the contrary. Europe would not be that prosperous without free trade and the healthy competition it bring with it.

On a more personal note, I believe there is another aspect usually overlooked: the dignity of a producer who can survive in the market without government handouts. Isn’t it a beautiful feeling if your wine flies out of the farm into shelves of supermarkets and grocery stores, and you don’t have to beg government officials for charity? I hardly make any money with Two Hills Vineyard at the moment, but so far I survived as a free but responsible man. If I should be forced to pack up and sell, I can say that I at least tried. No government to blame, I have only myself to blame which is neat.

I wish my European colleagues well in their efforts to become more independent and sucessful.


The vintners knife

June 18, 2007

Some years ago my wife surprised me with the most marvellous birthday gift: a vintners knife which she had ordered from Italy. She kept all the transactions secret from me. I only notices some e-mail going back and forth from our PC in Jakarta to Italy in Italian. But I did not look at them thinking it must be old acquaintances from the good old days when we were living in Rome. I was really chuffed. It is a traditional Italian knife used by vintners even for pruning of vines which I carry with me every day when on the farm.

The producers are two Italian brothers, Luigi and Enrico Consigli who opened their forge about 50 years ago in Scarperia a small town in Tuscany. The settlement traces its roots back to 1306 when it was created at the foot of the Giogo Pass linking Florence to Bologna. The city of Florence soon established a castle (Castel San Barnaba) their in order to control the most important road crossing Italy. “Scarpa” means “shoe” in Italian and “ria” (in Tuscan) means “steep”, the two words were combined and so the name Scarperia was born. The town has since the 1980s a very interesting “cutting irons” museum and till today, it is a world renown centre for the ancient art of knife making.

Back to the two Consigli brothers. Today, Luigi is retired and the family business is carried on by Enrico and his children Elena and Pietro. It is a typical Italian business venture moulding tradition. Modern tecyhnique with elegance and refinement. The company does not only produce traditional workmen’s knives (for vintners, fishermen, shepherds, olive growers, etc.) but also kitchen cutlery. The family business website (www.conaz.com) is also in English. It introduces the visitor to the history of the region, the company, the trade (how a knife is made) and provides a wonderful catalogue with various regional, and historic knives as well as table and kitchen cutlery.

Below, a photo of my traditional “vintners knife”. A couple of years ago it was still produced in different sizes. When I screened the catalogue on the website, however, I could not find it any more. It must be out of production. The more I am happy to own such a treasure which is of great help in my little vineyard at Two Hills near Glenburn in the New World, far away from Italy and its traditions. But when I cut away at my vines, Italy is on my mind, and the forge of the Consigli brothers who made all this pleasure possible. While browsing the catalogue I had already singled out some very elegant models for future birthdays.

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My vintners knife, Consigli brothers, Scarperia


The top 100 Wineries in Germany

June 14, 2007

Today, I visited the website of the winery Adolf Schick (Jugenheim/Rheinhessen) which I had visited with a group of Indonesian politicians some years ago. The visit and the tasting was a great adventure, because Mr. Schick was so enthusiastic about his wines and his family business with a tradition of winemaking going back to 1590!

Our Indonesian guests were very impressed and so was I. Well, as an Australian boutique vineyard vintner I find a family business going back to 1590 very remarkable. At that time kangaroos were hopping through the forests where today, Two Hills Vineyard is located, I guess.

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Weingut Adolf Schick in the heart of Jugenheim

The winery is located in the village of Jugenheim, a very charming place, which I know from own experience. The family does not only produce high quality wines, it also owns the Hotel Weedenhof. The hotel’s restaurant is very good too. We had lunch there. The vineyard consists of 9.8 ha planted with the Burgundy varieties, Chardonnay, Rieling, Kerner, Portugieser and Dornfelder. Needless to mention that the wines won many local and national awards. The wines are very reasonably priced and you will find a wide range of different products including grape juice. All my Indonesian friends all bought some bottles of it.

As in previous years, the Weingut Adolf Schick (www.weingutschickjugenheim.de) was also in 2006 ranked (by the DLG, the German Agricultural Society) among the 100 best wineries in Germany (rank 47). Only 12 wineries from Rheinhessen can be found in the top 100. From my home region, the Mosel, 11 wineries made it into the list (www.wein.de), and only one of them came from Trier (Weingut Deutschherrenhof). I loaded down the list to plan my next excursion to German wineries when I will be visiting again in September. Happy tastings ahead of me, I guess.


Wine Mythology II

June 8, 2007

You might remember my entry about the Celtic god of wine and the vintners in the Mosel river valley, Sucellus (the good striker: the prefix “Su” meaning “good”, and the Celtic word “cellus/cellos” meaning “striker”). In Jakarta we have very talented stone masons. They usually work with soft white stones. Well, I showed them my picture of Sucellus (from Kinsheim) and they produced a replica. Unfortunately, I did not explain to them who Sucellus was. I did not explain to them how powerful he was and how he was loved by the Celts and how he was worshipped in the Southern and the Eastern parts of Gaul. – Traces of him are found from Geneva to Lausanne, from the Mosel river to places in Alsace and even in York in England. He was also part of Lusitanian mythology which was heavily influenced by it’s Celtic and Roman invaders.

My beardless Sucellus

So instead of a middle-aged man with a curly beard, I got back a handsome young Sucellus without these insignia of the Celtic forest god. Fortunately, the long-handled hammer (or mallet) was depicted rightly. He also holds grapes as in the original. The only un-bearded Sucellus in this world is now in my possession and I will put him up in my small winery on Two Hills vineyard to remind me of my Celtic heritage and all the many people before me who enjoyed growing grapes and making wines.

I try to imagine 10.000 years from now when to some archaeologists’ surprise, a statue of the Celtic god is found far from Europe in the rolling hills of Two Hills vineyard near Glenburn, Victoria. Then finally also Australia will be on the map of the Celtic god searchers of the universe.


Grape production in China: Turfan – Oasis in the far West

June 7, 2007

Today I want to take my readers on a long trip to the Far East. China is our destination. That wine is produced in China, is “no news”. When we were living in Beijing in the early 1990s, we were very pleased to find Qingdao Huaguan Chardonnay, Great Wall and the Dragonseal reds. Today, shops in the big cities are well stoked with wines from all over the world. Wine consumption is increasing. The internet is full of news and analysis about Chinese wines and wines in China (www.wines-info.com). I found on the net a lovely 200 pages book manuscript of the late Pieter Eijkloff with the title: “Wine in China – Its history and contemporary development”. There is so much to read about wines in China, incredible.

In 2005 my wife Margit and I, visited the most Western part of China and we stayed a couple of days in Turfan. The main motive was sightseeing and to get to know this part of China which we had never visited before despite the fact that we resided almost six years there. Turfan is a very fertile oasis in the middle of the dessert along the Silk Road. it is located in a depression about 30 m below sea level and the Turfan basin extend to about 50,000 sqkm.

A mosque in Turfan

The pictures below give you an idea under what condition grapes are produced in this region with an extreme climate, very short, but hot summers (up to + 40 Celsius) and very long and ice cold winters (up to -20 Celsius). There is only minimal precipitation, on average about 20 mm per year. When we were there it “rained”. That’s what the local guide told us, otherwise we would not have notices. It was just a bit humid.

A typical vineyard near Turfan in spring

During the winter months the canes are buried in the ground to keep them alive. In spring they dug out and “hung” over various kinds of racks. Because wood is so scarce, we find all kinds of material where the vines are hung up. According to our guide there are many hundreds of different varieties. Unfortunately, our guide was not a grape expert.

Vines in the two-row system

Vines in the one-row system

However, we visited a family and could buy some of their produce. Traditionally they produce raisin not wine. Most Uigurs are Muslim therefore they do not drink alcohol. The grapes are dried in open barns.

A drying barn

Margit buying raisin in the market

In the local supermarkets of Turfan we could get a good overview on what wines were on offer. The sales prices drive tears into the eyes of an Australian primary producer. My vintners heart almost broke. What a pittance of a price for the producer will be left when all the costs of the agents are deducted!

The vines are irrigated with an age old irrigations system, called the Karez system. The water from the surrounding mountains, mostly from melting snow, is brought to Turfan through a sophisticated system of wells and deep channels dug by hand and lined with sheep skins. Thousands of kilometres of underground water channels can be found. From this precious resource mostly vegetables and fruit are grown.

Vines coming from a “central point and hung in squares”

Most meals we had included of some kind of mutton dish. We enjoyed the rustique but delicious cuisine of the Uigurs. After many beers and some “schnaps”, we also tried some of the reds. I do not remember the brands but we loved the drop. Traditional dances were presented and in one location the local invited us to dance to their music to which we joyful obliged. It was a very memorable visit to this most Western part of China and its friendly people in the bubbling markets. Needless to say that I brought back some of the traditional head gear and an lute like instrument.