As the river….

October 24, 2008

Most German wine regions (not all) take their name from the river which runs through the territory planted with grape vines. This is true for the Mosel, Saar, Ruwer, Rhine, and Nahe to name but a few. Vine growing in my native Germany is intrinsically linked to rivers and river systems which is partly due to the availability of steep slopes catching the last beams of sun.

The village of Schoden at the Saar river, in the background, the location Ayler Kupp (photo taken from the location “Herrenberg”)

Recently my writing style has been characterized as “meandering” (by David Harden, thanks David) and meandering I do. In fact the purpose of my whole blog is meandering. Meandering between the old and the new world and its wines, meandering between my actual live in a big Asian metropolitan city and my desired live in a rural place in Victoria, Australia, meandering between the many identities I have acquired over the years working in Asia and my future as an Australian vintner and wine maker.

Wuerzburg at the Main river and its vineyards

The second part of the title sentence goes as follows: “…so the wine”. This is certainly true for Germany. I have to find a similar “alliteration” for Glenburn and the Upper Goulburn Wine Region.


Portugal – Quinta da Aveleda

October 18, 2008

The first bottle of vinho verde I bought in my life came from a small local supermarket in S. Martinho de Recesinhos near Penafiel about 40 km east of Porto. We had just put up at Quinta de Gatao and went to shop for some groceries. I browsed the shelves of the wine section and bought a selection of local wines from EURO 1.50 to 5.50. And the bottle in the picture above was one of them. Quinta da Aveleda said the label. It did not mean anything to me.

I also bought cheese produced by Quinta da Aveleda (picture above). There were two varieties of it on offer. Only much later would we learn that Quinta da Aveleda is a rather big wine and cheese producing enterprise nearby in Penafiel (in fact one of the biggest in Portugal). By the way both cheeses, the soft and the hard one, are delicious and we should eat many more of them during our week long stay.

One afternoon, we went to visit the place and check it out. We came just at the right time for the last guided tour. We were shown the bottling plant, and a kind of museum before settling for the tasting which was held on a large veranda on the backside of one of the buildings. We did not visit the enormous park and the gardens.

The family enterprise has a long history going back to 1671. But it can be assumed that the place is much older. In the Celtic tradition of Lusitania, the women who predicted the future, were sacrificed and called “Velledas”. That’s most probably were the name comes from. The place and the family business has a long and winding history and experienced all the ups and downs typical for the wine industry, from phylloxera to international wine awards, from expansion to contraction everything can be found.

The cellar door and gift shop offers not only wine and cheese but various kinds of local produce from the Minho and Douro wine regions.

A newly planted vineyard can be seen from the tasting terrace.

Vinho verde is being offered in various variations, but together with the self-produced cheese and some bread. The wine is fruity and fresh, young and bubbly, ideal for hot summer days. Alcohol is about 9-10%.

This is the light vinho verde (branded as Casal Garcia) mainly produced for the US market (even lower in alcohol, about 8%) where Quinta da Aveleda sells millions bottles. I forgot the exact figure, but the number is mind blowing for a small vintner like me who produces just a couple of thousand bottles a year. I found the winery tour interesting (tough I prefer visiting smaller establishments), the staff was friendly and accommodating. Take your time, and explore the gardens.

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Wine TV – Polt’s way

October 16, 2008

You all might know about Gary Vaynerchuk and his Wine Library TV. You might also know the German match to Gary, Marlene Duffy at “bottleplot“.

Both are doing a good job in promoting wine and wine knowledge. Do not get me wrong. However, for me personally, Gary’s video pieces are just too long (15-20 minutes is just not what I am willing to watch), and Marlene’s shorter pieces (6-7 minutes) I find often just too nerve racking.
There are others out there, of course. Though most of them are not as good (informative and lively) as Gary and Marlene. Just search on Youtube or google them.

But long before any of the wine geeks started to talk about wine on the air, Gerhard Polt, a German (and my favourite) commedian (from Bavaria), had done a beautiful persiflage about wine, wine tasting and wine connoisseurs.

Unfortunately, the video clip is in German only but you might guess the message just by looking. Basically, the bottle gives it away. The price is given in DM, an indication of the age of the clip. Today, you can buy such wines for EURO 1.49. Polt was very handsome at that time. Enjoy.


Dorfprozelten – at the fringes of the Franconian wine region

October 13, 2008

The first part of our family reunion last July brought us to the village where my mother grew up: Dorfprozelten, a small hamlet at the banks of the Main river in Lower Franconia as the region is called. The village is situated between the small towns of Miltenberg and Wertheim.

Dorfprozelten in the morning (photo taken from the meadows at the river banks). In the back one can see the location ‘Predigtstuhl’ where vines are cultivated.

I spent most of my childhood summer vacations in Dorfprozelten, lodged at my maternal great-grandmothers house in the middle of the village. Since my family could hardly afford to go on holidays as we do today, we spent our time with relatives and explored the beautiful surroundings between Spessart and Odenwald, two hilly, forested regions sanwiching the Main river.

Many of the village inhabitants were fishermen; many others were barge owners transporting goods from port to port in the inland river and canal systems which link many German lands with its neighbours. My uncle owned and operated a 1,000 tonne ship (river barge) together with two of his sons. My father often joined them during his holidays as a kind of occasional sailor.

In July this year, we arrived on a Friday two days before the fishermen would celebrate their annual local fishing festival. We should miss it all together since we stayed only for one day and one night. But on a rainy Saturday morning walk, I took the picture of this poster stuck to a tree near the river.

The billboard introduced the various fish varieties which call the river Main their home. Their numbers are on the increase ever since river pollution was reduced by the introduction of waste water treatment plants in the 1970s and 1980.

When on holidays we swam in the river as little kids until it was forbidden because of the rising pollution. My father used to swim out into the stream to greet barges, at times go on board and jump back into the rapid river waters. He was a very good swimmer. Today, swimming is again allowed because of the improved water quality.

The wine produced in Dorfprozelten does not come from “premier cru” terroir but rather belongs to the “Landwein” category (table wine or ‘vin de pays’). Among others Bacchus vines are cultivated. I am personally not a lover of Bacchus grapes and wines, but I drink “local” as much as I can.

Franconian wines are often filled in traditional bottles, called “Bocksbeutel” with a rounded, big belly shape. Sylvaner is the dominant grape variety, much liked by the locals and of outstanding quality only in this part of Germany. Apart from Riesling, Sylvaner is my most preferred variety of the German white wines.

We stayed in a typical country inn, named “Gasthaus Krone”.

Country inns in Germany offer home style cooking and local German cuisine which is not easy to find these days. Most Germans eat home style dishes at home and when they go out, they are looking for some more exotic cuisines. Moreover, these days many Germans try to avoid the restaurant business because of the long working hours. Therefore, today many country inns are operated by non-Germans offering everything from Turkish, Chinese, Thai, Italian Greek and other foods. But not so in Dorfprozelten.

The rooms were furnished in a typical Southern German country style. They were clean and spacious. Ideal for two families with children. The breakfast was a delight, offering many local cheeses, eggs cold cuts, sausages, and other meats.

The menu was a typical ‘country inn’s menu with a lot of local dishes. I loved the richly decorated hard cover in thick leather.

The wine list, here the section with local white wines only, was dominated by local wines from Franconia. Unfortunately, we could not taste them all. I guess we have to come back for some more sampling.

Sauerbraten with Knoedel, a hearty German country meal.

If you plan to visit Lower Franconia, I recommend you stay in this village of my ancestors for a night or two. It’s worth it, I promise.


Portugal – Quinta de Gatão

October 10, 2008

This summer we spent a wonderful week on Quinta de Gatão (www.quintagatao.com), near Penafiel, about 40 km east of Porto. “Quinta” is either translated as “Farm/Vineyard/Winery” or “Manor house”.

Quinta de Gatão is owned and managed by Mr. Jorge Coelho da Silva, a very lovely man who’s day job is being a professor at a teachers college in Porto. The property has been with the family since four generations. Five peasant families used to live and work there. Today, the vineyards are only cultivated every other year to produce vinho verde., a bottle of which waited for us in the fridge. In the mornings, fresh bread is delivred and you can find it hanging on the door. What a treat! The horse stable and the riding school were the main attractions for our daughters. The old folks were equally attracted by the vineyard feature.

The Quinta de Gatão consists of a manor house with a chapel surrounded by various farm buildings. Some of these were converted into cottage type accommodation. We had rented one of them. Because of its elevation one has a magnificent view of the area which is quite densely populated. In comparison to the rural Australia we are used to around Glenburn, the housing sprawl in Penafiel is a bit too much. However, it does not seem fair to compare quasi empty rural Australia to the vicinity of a bustling port city such as Porto.

The Manor house from the backside

The entrance to our cottage

We loved our cottage. With its rustic rural charm it put a spell on all of us. The walls consisted of big granite stone blocks. It has a fire place in the kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom with a loft (just as our home in Australia).

This is the place where we prepared delicious country meals

The vines are providing shade, originally to produce vegetables and other crops underneath.

A typical snack in the afternoon consisted of Vinho Verde (here ni rose), country cheese, some sausages, olives and bread.

An Australian vintner in a Portugeuse vineyard

The swimming pool with a great view of the surroundings

Apart from the riding stable and the riding arena, Quinta de Gatão has other facilities to offer its visitors. Among them is the beautiful swimming pool, a tennis court, and a large field to play all kinds of ball games; indoor entertainment such as kicker etc. and billyard is also available. One can have long walks in the vineyards and the surrounding forests.

The entrance to the chapel

We had a great time there and I can only highly recommend the place. Actually, we plan to return next year and spend some more time in this region. We had juts not sufficient time to explore the region. There is so much to see. The Douro is close by. Porto less an an hour away. But it is the hospitality of Mr. da Silva and his family which will draw us back. There are no words to describe the welcome we received on Quinta de Gatão.

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Quinta de Gatão


Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery

October 8, 2008

In December 2007 I wrote about the Niagara Wine region in Ontario, Canada. Lorie from “Lorie loves wines” named some of her favourite wineries in this region (thanks Lorie). One of them was Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery.

According to Lorie, Henry of Pelham make the best hybrid wines, Baco Noir in Niagara. They also make a great Gewurztraminer. Daniel Speck, one of the proprietors of Henry of Pelham Family Estate, wrote to us and introduced some of his wines.

When I surfed on youtube the other day, I found a video clip about the winery. In fact it seems that many wineries in the Niagara wine region put videos about their vineyards and wineries on to the net. Without having been to the place, I can now check it out (which I did) and when I will visit Ontario next time, I might go and taste their wines. Have a look. You will find many more video clips about Henry of Pelham on the net.


Life in the City – Bangkok

October 5, 2008

Well, it’s a month now that the family has been living in Bangkok. From a spacious house with a grand garden (I had one rose apple, two mango and five rambutan trees) in suburban Jakarta into a serviced apartment on the 11th floor in Bangkok, that’s quite a change.

The view from Centre Point Thong Lo in the evening

Both cities are mega cities in Asia with millions of inhabitants, and in fact we lived most of our 20 years in Asia in these kinds of cities (Beijing, New Delhi were the others, the only exception was maybe Singapore which was small in comparison, with only 3.5 million inhabitants). But in Jakarta we lived as if we were in one of the millions of villages on Java island, with roosters crowing in the mornings, goats bleating, a motorcycle passing, the call of the chatib from the local mosque, these were the sounds we were used to. The garden was green, which had a calming down effect on me. My tropical garden was where I could forget where I was.

Much less traffic in the morning

Without the double glazing here on the 11th floor, we would be engulfed in motorcar noise. Thong Lo is the name of the neighbourhood and it’s a lovely place with many small shops and restaurants. Most of the people living here seem to be Thai, interspersed with the odd foreigner here and there. There a quite a few wine shops and wine bars in the vicinity. I will have to explore them and report to you. Soon you will hear more about fine wines in Bangkok.