Connoisseurs delight: a wine tasting in Berlin of a special kind

January 15, 2009

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While in Berlin an old friend of mine, Gerhard Schlaudraff, had invited me spontaneously to join and celebrate his birthday in his new home near Warschauer Platz. Since Gerhard is not only a wine lover but a real wine expert, the feast promised to be something special. And indeed, it turned out to be a wine tasting of a special kind.

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I was about an hour late and many wines had been already swallowed up by gay drinkers. I came just in time for the two reds, the ‘1995 Corton Grand Cru Domaine Bonneau du Martray and the ‘1996 Grand Vin Château Beychevelle Saint-Julien’.

We all agreed that the two wines should have been drunk some time ago, they had, unfortunately, already passed their prime. That’s why we moved on swiftly without loosing too much time.

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The ‘2003 Kuenstler Reichestal Spaetburgunder’ from the Rheingau was a ripper of a wine. It can hold itself against the best Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. The wine was well balanced despite the “horror” announcement of 15% alcohol on the label. So forget about France and Burgundy and explore this wonderful drop from the Rheingau. More and more Germany is showing itself as a Pinot Noir producer of high distinction. My tip: get a bottle of this wine now and enjoy it, preferably over a good meal, with family and friends.

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After that we moved on to sweet wines for dessert. We started with a ‘1999 Deidesheimer Grainhübel Riesling Auslese’ from Weingut Dr. Deinhard, Pfalz. This wine was “heaven on a stick”, a dessert Riesling which you want to try. Our eyes rolled in their sockets with delight and our taste buds were exposed to an opulence and richness from which mere human palates are often excluded.

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The last wine came from my adopted home, Victoria, Australia. It was a Muscat from Rutherglen, a wine region about three hours north from our own place in Glenburn.

The ‘Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Grand Muscat’ was the highlight of the evening. Chambers produces outstanding Muscat wines of superior quality. The average age of its Grand cuveés is about 70 years.

The Chicago Wine Company gives the wine 98 out of a 100 and has given up to describe the wine, because tasting notes would read the same year after year.

For me this wine was the perfect ending to an utterly enjoyable wine and birthday celebration. From here on only spirits with a much higher alcohol content could be taken. I left the diners to it when I made my way home on the subway.


Go, Went, Gone

January 11, 2009

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When you read this, I am on my way back to Bangkok. Gone like the swallows, but as much as them, they return every year, I will also return to Glenburn (actually sooner than that). What a happy situation.

The four weeks on the vineyard went in a heartbeat. And as you know, life on a farm is very busy. To say it with Calvin and Hobbes: “The days were just packed” (see below)

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Last supper

January 10, 2009

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The Merlot went very well with the pizza

I am not much of a cook but I can ‘heat things up’. My last dinner on the vineyard was very enjoyable. I sat on the terrace and watched the sun go down. With some sambal olek the pizza margherita was spiced up ( I did not use the tomato sauce).

Our ‘2001 Two Hills Merlot’ though already quite “aged” is holding well. My friend Timo Mayer (winemaker of Gembrook Hills) called this vintage an “umpf” wine, meaning that it is high in alcohol and shows strong tannins. The 2004 vintage in contrast produced a rather elegant Merlot. I am still pleasantly surprised that this wine aged so well and is still a very enjoyable drink.

The evenings on the vineyard are so peaceful. After the birds are gone to sleep, there is no sound. I love the quiet of the Australian country side.


Bubbly, bubbly, bubbly…

January 9, 2009

“Bubbly” that’s what the Australians call all sparkling wines including sparkling from Champagne. The first day of the year is of course full of sparkling, wine included.

I started the New Year with feeding the parrots, to be precise, the King Parrots. They come to Helen’s and Michael’s terrace. The picture encapsulates my encounter with a very gentle king parrot, a very good omen for 2009, I hope.

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After a long, or better, short night (behind me Mt. St. Leonard to the left)

We had some sparkling, starting with sparkling Shiraz, but went on to French sparkling and quickly changed to Australian fizz.

Below the various bottles which were consumed by us.

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I loved the ‘2005 Seppelt Fleur de Lys’, but also the Taltarni was very delectable. Though the grapes came from three different regions (Pyrenees, Yarra Valley and Tasmania), the blend was just superb. I suggest you try them out.

Cheers 2009, keep on drinking, life is too short to drink bad wine (especially if you are above 50).


Phylloxera in the Yarra Valley

January 8, 2009

On December 23 another outbreak of phylloxera in the Yarra Valley was confirmed. This is the third infection since 1. December 2006. Phylloxera is a small aphid that lives on the roots of grape vines. Despite almost a century of research no remedy has been found so far. An infection will inevitable lead to the death of the vine. Grape growers, vintners, wine makers and winery owners are concerned that the spread of the disease cannot be contained.

A new “Phylloxera Infested Zone” called the Maroondah PIZ has been declared around the known infested sites, with the boundary set at a minimum of 5km from all known phylloxera affected properties, and taking into account physical features including roads and rivers.

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The Maroondah PIZ

One can see the affected vineyard from St Hubert’s road, near Punt Road Winery. It has obviously been treated. The dead vines are without any leaves.

The four photos below show some of the symptoms we look out for. All four photos come from a brochure called “Inspecting Vineyards for Phylloxera” on vine desease from South Australia.

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Early signs of phylloxera

We at Two Hills Vineyard are very concerned too. Our wine is made in a winery in the Yarra Valley (Yering Farm Wines) and some of our contractors and vineyard workers are also working on vineyards there.

In order to not contract the vine disease we are attempting a certification with a protocol in place which will prevent our vines from being affected sometime in the future. It’s quite fortunate that we have no visitors in the vineyard and do not participate in the wine tourist trade. However, all people working in the vineyard and their equipment need to take proper precautions. We hope it will work.


“Greek dinner” at the vineyard

January 6, 2009

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Australian olives and olive oil and Two Hills Merlot, what a treat !

From the outset, I apologize to all Greek people, Greece and Greek culture and so on. I did not in the least want to offend anybody or humiliate the great Greek culture.

What you see in this picture is of course not a Greek dinner, but just a modest dish of olives, Australian olives to be precise. They are coming from an olive groove in Tallarook. Juergen grew them and Michael cured them, and needless to say: they are delicious.

I am of course not known for being a (great) cook or a cook at all. Moreover, I am alone in the vineyard at Glenburn. However, before another session of fruit wire lifting in the evening, I made myself this little dish. The olive oil is also local coming from ‘down the road’. The bread comes from Giant Steps in Healesville and can match any rural bread from Europe.

I am almost done with the wire lifting, only the Pinot Noir is left. Hurrah!!!!

The evenings here are magic. You have to come and see for yourself one day.


Geoff Achison at the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel

January 5, 2009

I will have to jump a bit regarding the time line. There is so much to write about. Some of it happened in 2008 but I still want so let you know. The live music with Geoff Achison took place on December 18th I think.

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Fortunately, it did not rain. We had been unloading containers the whole day and furniture and other stuff was all over the place. It was hard work and we were very much looking forward to the evening.

It was just my second evening in Australia. It should become a memorable event. Michael, my brother-in-law, had booked a table for a dinner with a music performance by Geoff Achison, a famous blues guitar player, at the Grand Hotel in Yarra Glen.

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The girls had a bottle of ‘2005 Yering Station Cabernet Sauvignon’, a very nice wine from the oldest vineyard in Victoria (founded in 1838 ) which is just around the corner from Yarra Glen.

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When I went to the bar, I discovered that they had a German beer on tap and could not resist (I was also the driver) to order a Beck’s. The food was solid and we enjoyed the atmosphere.

The Grand was packed with people, young and old to listen to the “legend”: Geoff Achison. He did not disappoint us.

Geoff had to give a few encores before the crowd allowed him to take a rest. Before departing I bought two of his CD’s and had a nice chat with him.

Michael had introduced me to his music years ago but so far there was no opportunity to see him live. His voice, is the voice of a black man and his virtuosity on the guitar is just amazing. Check out his webpage: www.geoffachison.com but Geoff is also on facebook and has a fan website. I love his music, especially the old blues pieces.

This pleasurable evening should be an auspicious start to my holidays in Australia, I thought. Thank you Geoff and cheers folks to four eventful weeks in the country.


Sunday on the vineyard

January 4, 2009

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Two Hills Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc

The flapping of birds wings against the window woke me up this morning. I helped the young swallows out of our shed by opening the back window. It was about a quarter to seven and I had to hurry because I had promised my daughter Charlotte to take her on a morning walk through the vineyards. She was already waiting for me. It was the last morning on the farm for my three women before they had to return to Bangkok.

It was a glorious morning. The sun was up and bathed the rolling green hills in its tender light. We did not have to walk long before we bumped into a Kangaroo family. The mother and joey jumped through the rows of our Pinot Noir, downhill to get away from us. We saw the two two more times. We walked over the second hill down to Katy’s creek and back to the shed. ‘Father and daughter talk’ all the way.

After breakfast, we packed the suitcases into our new pick-up truck and off we went to Melbourne airport. The girls were very sad leaving the vineyard behind but there was no way of extending the stay in Australia. I am the lucky one, having another week in Australia to do some more work in the vineyard and around the shed.

We had lunch at the airport, then came the time to say good bye (intense as always). The three went through the passport control and I turned around and went back to the farm. I love driving through the Victorian countryside but first I had to get out of town. Endless suburbs with houses on quarter acres blocks, industrial estates, junk yards, and other disturbing urban land use had to be traversed. But I knew the open countryside was waiting for me just after Diamond Creek.

I listened to Country (and Western) music, opened the window, arm out and felt like a real Australian country bloke. Samson Hill Winery was the first vineyard I passed, then came Christmas Hills and in no time I reached Yarra Glen. I did some shopping in the local supermarket.

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The old gum tree and the Chardonnay block

After I reached the vineyard, I took a rest during the hot hours of the day. It was the hottest day since a long long time. After it had cooled down, I worked a bit in the garden, then lifted fruit wires for about two hours in the Merlot, witnessed a glorious sunset, prepared dinner, drank a bottle of ‘2001 Two Hills Merlot’ and went to bed. It was the warmest evening so far. The quiet country atmosphere brought back the necessary peace of mind.

PS: I wrote this blog from my terrace overlooking the vineyard. We are connected, hurrah!


Upper Goulburn Wines Shine

January 3, 2009

In the summer edition of the ‘Upper Goulburn Food and Wine Cultural News’ newsletter also the wines from this rather new wine region (our wine region!) are mentioned.

One of the “popes” of the wine industry, James Halliday, has included wines from the Upper Goulburn Wine Region in his 2009 edition of the Wine Companion.

The following summary rates some of the regions wines:

2006 Barwite Upper Goulburn Riesling (87)

2006 Buller View Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot (88 )

2006 Cheviot Bridge Yea Valley Shiraz (94)

2006 Delatite Polly Sparkling Gewuerztraminer (88 )

2006 Growlers Gully Shiraz (90)

2005 Jean Paul’s Vineyard Shiraz (94)
2005 Jean Paul’s Bold Colonial Red Cab/Sav (88 )

2005 Kinloch Wines Mary Friend (90)
2007 Kinloch Sauvignon Blanc (87)

2005 Lost Valley Thousand Hills Shiraz (89)
2007 Lost Valley Cortese (88 )

2004 Mount Cathedral Reserve Merlot (94)
2005 Mount Cathedral Reserve Merlot (90)
2005 Mount Cathedral Chardonnay (89)

2006 Mount Samaria Tempranillo (88 )

2006 Murrindindi Don’t tell your Dad Shiraz (89)
2006 Murrindindi Chardonnay (88 )
2005 Murrindindi Family Reserve Cabernet (88 )

2005 Myrtlevale Vineyard Cab/Sav (88 )

2006 Rubicon Lorna’s Vintage Chardonnay (88 )

2006 Sedona Estate Yea Valley Shiraz (90)

2005 Snobs Creek VSP Shiraz (89)
2006 Snobs Creek Dolcetto Syrah (88 )
2005 Snobs Creek Wooded Chardonnay (87)

2005 Tallarook Chardonnay (92)
2005 Tallarook Marsanne (90)
2006 Tallarook Rousanne (90)

The rating demonstrates once again that the wines from the Upper Goulburn Wine Region are of superior quality. Amzing is also the wide range of varieties and wine styles. It’s a pity that our wines were not included in the tasting. But we have been slack with wine marketing in Australia during the last 12 months.

While celebrating Christmas we tried for the first time a wine from Will de Castella, a ‘2006 Jean Paul’s Vineyard Shiraz’ (the following vintage of the above ’94 point wine’). What a fabulous wine this was. Intensive aromas of plum and blackberry filled our mouths. Our only regret was that we had only one bottle. I bought the wine in the Yea Supermarket (about 20 A$).

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PS: By the way, our wine growers association has upgraded its website. Please check it out, its much better than before: www.uppergoulburnwine.org.au


Welcome 2009

January 1, 2009

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Clouds over the hills around Healesville with mount St. Leonard (1028 m) to the left

As customary, we spent Christmas and New Years Eve with Michael, my brother in law, and his lovely wife Helen in their cosy family home in Healesville, Victoria. Boy did we have a great time. The time went by just too fast for the six of us.

The year 2008 is gone and with it the anxiety, the joy, the disappointments, the chagrin and the happiness. We deplore the losses, and welcome the changes.

The past year brought great changes to our family. We moved from Jakarta/Indonesia to Bangkok/Thailand, experienced a new job, a new school, a new environment, a new culture to get acquainted with and it will take us some more time to adjust, to understand, to appreciate, and to feel at home.

For 2009 our expectations are high. Our ambitions at Two Hills Vineyard are to continue to produce first grade fruit for excellent wines. Despite the loss of about 50% of our Pinot Noir grapes due to a severe frost at the end of October, we are very optimistic about the coming vintage. The Sauvignon Blanc fruit look very good, and our Merlot is in a good condition. The Chadonnay vines, now one year old, prosper and we have very few losses.

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Tasting the 2008 Two Hills Merlot with Alan Johns, owner and winemaker of Yering Farm Wines

Our 2008 Merlot also showed promising first results. At Yering Farm, we tasted the young wine from various barrels. The wine was fruity, had good structure for a medium bodied wine, and the tannins were just right. We hope it will mature nicely so that we can present our customers with another excellent vintage of our flagship red wine from Two Hills Vineyard.

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Two Hills Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc (left) and Chardonnay (right)

Temperatures are low for this time of the year but we had some rains which helped to make everything looking very green. A little digging, however, shows that the soil is still very dry and that we urgently need more rains. The general drought has bot been broken as yet.

A new year means new opportunities. Also in 2009 grapes will be grown, wines will be made, and we will get ample material to apply our taste buds to. Sampling fine wines and enjoy them with good food, either within the family or with our friends, will be our prime pastime in the 12 months to come. Hope you can join us. Cheers and a happy New Year to you all.

PS: I write this new blog entry from our vineyard. Yes, we installed a broadband internet connection on the last day of 2008. From now on, I do not have to hurry to a wireless spot (35 km from here) or any other place with an internet connection. Blogging will take a new dimension. Hurray!