Backyard vintner

April 20, 2010

Pips Paddock, Springvale, Yarra Glen

The current overproduction of wine grapes is a great worry for many of the small, medium as well as large producers. Especially for fruit growers the outlook is bleak. Nobody wants to buy your grapes if the slightest deviation from “perfect” is detectable. They just walk away from you and let you sit on the fruit. It’s a buyers market.

However, there are options. One is to make your own wine. Not much equipment is required and space is usually available, even if it is on the back porch of the house.

The new stainless steel tanks on the back porch

My friend Gayle Jewson from Springvale, Yarra Glen did exactly that. The grapes were hand picked and sorted, pressed, destemmed and dumped in new stainless steel vats for fermentation.

When we arrived I tasted the “brew” for the first time. Two weeks later I had a second tasting opportunity. What a difference two weeks can make? Amazing. I think Gayle’s Pinot Noir is on the right track and her Chardonnay is just lovely. Lock out for Pips Paddock Pinot and Chardonnay this year. There is only very limited supply. Visit Gayle on her farm and/or order by phone.

Tasting if fun

The backyard vintner in action

Getting ready for the 2010 vintage

February 22, 2010

Two Hills Pinot Noir shortly before the nets went on

The nets are on now, and we are expecting a good harvest at Two Hills Vineyard for 2010. After the total loss of last year the prospects are not too bad.

Estimates are:

– Sauvignon Blanc: about 8 tonnes of fruit, and already sold
– Pinot Noir: about 5 tonnes of fruit and still looking for a home

The Merlot grapes look good too, but we are not making any wine this year. This will make the bird in the vicinity very happy, what a feast. That’s the price we have to pay for the grape glut. It’s sad but cannot be helped at this point in time.

Our new tractor will come into action for the vintage. This will make things easier, I hope.
Let us hope no unexpected disaster occurs before the grapes are in safely.

The plan for 2011 is to mothball the vineyard for a couple of years and see if the market recovers.

Wine of the day: 2008 Yering Chardonnay

February 18, 2010

After a hot day in the tropics nothing is better than a nice glass of white wine. We selected a ‘2008 Yering Station Chardonnay’ from the Yarra Valley. Yering Station is the oldest vineyard in Victoria. The winery is a must visit if you are touring the Yarra Valley. It’s located just outside Yarra Glen.

Only very recently had this wine arrived in our supermarket in Thonglor, Bangkok. It’s moderately priced for Thai conditions (less than 10 EURO or A$ 15) and a very lovely drink.

Wine on the terrace: 2008 Yering Station Chardonnay

Yering Station has still ‘grape growers with contracts’ and our friend Steve Sadlier is one of them. If we want to drink wine from his grapes, Yering Station is the winery to buy it from. Steve produces excellent cool climate fruit in the Yarra Valley.

We were a bit homesick and needed a reminder that Australia can be very near. Cheers folks

Australia day 2010

January 26, 2010

I started the day with a lemington, a sponge cake and one of the two Australian national desserts (the other one is Pavlowa). It’s Australia’s national day again.

On 26 January 1788 the so called first fleet landed at Sydney Cove and today Australians are commemorating this event. Also we did celebrate, though muted. It was a normal school day for the children and a normal working day for the parents.

Morton Premium Brut

But we cracked a bottle of sparkling tonight which we had with the celery risotto. The sparkling came from New Zealand, which was given to us by our former neighbors Alain and Keiko. It was a ‘Morton Premium Brut’ (Methode Traditionnelle, no vintage), made of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, a blend from Hawkes Bay and Marlborough grapes. It’s a very creamy bubbly with buttery yeast aromas, easy to drink (12% Vol.). The wines won a couple of silver medals in 2008, 2007 and 2006. It also gained some recognition in a few wine buyers guides (for instance Michael Coopers Buyers Guide).

Celery risotto

It was an enjoyable family meal, an evening like many others for us here in Bangkok. But we raised the glass and toasted to our beloved “island down under”. Cheers

Seat of the gods

January 20, 2010

When flying from Tokyo to Beijing, I thought of the many blog entries which I would create over the weekend in the Chinese capitals. When visiting China in mid December last year, wordpress (to my surprise) could be accessed and I produced some pieces for The Man from Mosel River. But not so this time. The censors barred any access and I could not update you on any development.

You might have notices that my stories are heavily dependent on the photos which I take. In fact it is all about the photos, and I weave my stories around them. I always take my little but now old Olympus digital camera with me. Sometimes the shots are not worth being used and I always take more pics than I might use for any story.

Well to cut a long story short. The flight was only half full. I leaned back and contemplated about the week’s program in Tokyo and the many interesting discussions and exchanges we had had. Then very of a sudden I realised: we are flying past Mount Fuji. I rushed to get my camera and took a couple of shots of the majestic sacred mountain.

The seat of the gods: Mt. Fuji

All Nippon Airlines was generous with food and drink. I had quite a few bottles of French Chardonnay, the best you could get in economy class on that flight. I toasted the gods on the mountaintop, utterly content.

French Chardonnay

Champage: Larmandier-Bernier

December 5, 2009

Champagne by Larmandier-Bernier

We were so lucky. When Timo visited us a couple of weeks ago, he brought with him a bottle of ‘Blanc de Blancs, Premier Cru, Extra-Brut’ by Larmandier-Bernier, Champage/France. We do not drink much champagne these days, just too expensive in Thailand. I was more than happy to fetch the champagne glasses when Timo produced the bottle from his luggage. I admit that I had never heard about this producer but since I do not know much about champagne that did not bother me.

Timo Meyer pouring the champagne

But this drop deserves a special mention. It was the perfect wine to celebrate a reunion. Larmandier-Bernier is a small champagne house. Pierre and Sophie Larmandier’s basic philosophy is to make a natural wine starting in the vineyard right through to wine-making. They go for small yields, old vines, and hand picking. They practice biodynamic viticulture. The motto is balance in diversity.

The ‘Blanc de Blancs’ is mainly made of the 2006 Chardonnay vintage with reserve wines from 2004 and 2005 of about 40%. It is an elegant champagne, mineral, floral notes can be detected, a sparkling wine with a beautiful finish.

Champagne producers are hard hit by the decline in demand partly caused by the impact of the global financial crisis. In the USA sales of champagne shrank by about 43% in 2009. In Britain and France the decline was lower, 33% and 7% respectively. In contrast lower-price sparkling from other sources, mostly cheaper wines from Italy and Spain are up this year. I just hope that especially the small champagne houses can weather this crisis. It would be a shame to lose them.

Sunday at the Yarra Glen Hotel

November 6, 2009

One of the great things to do on a weekend in the Yarra Valley is to attend one of the many life music events. I especially love the music on a Sunday afternoon at the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel. First of all the food is quite good and second the venue is very suitable for the occasion provided there is not too much wind rattling the tent in which the bands perform.

Moreover, the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel is a beautiful historic building, a landmark in Yarra Glen, with it’s tower which is visible from many parts of the valley, it really stands out.

We had lunch and eagerly awaited the Bob Starkie Band which was to play in the afternoon. Bob Starkie is well known in Melbourne. He used to be one of the members of the legendary Skyhooks in the 1970s, a cult band in Melbourne. One of their top hits was “Women in Uniform”.

But first came the food.



The food was hearty and very tasty, as the two pictures above show. The wines we had with it were excellent examples of the local wine culture.

We had a bottle of ‘2006 Mandala Chardonnay’ from the Yarra Valley and a bottle of ‘2005 Dal Zotto Barbera’ from Whitefield in the King Valley, a neighboring wine region with very good cool climate wines.

Both wines were excellent and very enjoyable. The 2003 vintage of the Dal Zotto Barbera was given 90 points. The Dal Zotto family with a proud Italian heritage is well known for their quality wines. Their Italian varietal wines made from Barbera, Arneis and Sangiovese grapes have won high acclaim. Also their prosecco is commendable. The high altitude of the King Valley and its cool climate seems to be very suitable for those Italian varietals.

Owned by the Smedly family, Mandala Wines is located just a few kilometers up the highway, north of Yarra Glen. The cellar door and restaurant (open for lunch Thursday to Sunday and dinner on Saturday evenings) used to be “Henkel Vineyard” but has been redone completely. I love the design of the label, a huge mandala, which changes colour on the website, and expresses the philosophy of the owner on life and wine-making.


Mandala Chardonnay


Dal Zotto Barbera

And then the music started. The Bob Starkie Band promised exciting entertainment. They did not disappoint playing many of the classical Skyhooks songs. It did not take long and the dance floor was crowded with rural folks moving and shaking. There is nothing better then a dance on a Sunday afternoon. It also makes sure that one is clear headed on a Monday morning. We had great fun. I can only highly recommend it to the accidental traveler. If in the Yarra Valley look out for live music events



Bob Starkie

Yarra Valley GRAND Hotel
Bell Street, Yarra Glen, VIC. 3775
Tel.: 03-9730 1230
int: +61 3 9730 2434
fax: 03 9730 2434

1568 Melba Highway Dixons Creek Yarra Valley Victoria 3775
Tel. +61 3 5965 2016
Fax: +61 3 5965 2589

Dal Zotto Wines
Main Rd, Whitfield,
King Valley, Vic 3733 Australia
Tel.: +61-3-57 298 321
Fax +61-3 57 298 490

Climate change and grape varieties

November 2, 2009


Riesling grapes in Schoden, Saar, shortly before vintage 2009

Uff, I am reading in todays “Your Daily Wine News” newsletter that some of Australia’s top wine experts think that over the next 20 years climate change will be responsible for the decline of Shiraz and Chardonnay and the rise of varieties such as Vermentino, Arneis, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio and Viognier (some call them “alternative varieties”).

This is bad news for me and my own small vineyard. At Two Hills Vineyard we have concentrated on some of the traditional French varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay (first vintage in 2011 or 2012). Our fruit ripens usually well (if we do not suffer severe frosts) and shows a superior quality. But will that persist under the conditions of climate change?

I still remember vividly how I pulled out the 2 1/2 acres of Cabernet. it was hard work, wrapping a chain around every single vine and lifting the hydraulic of the tractor. I should have left them in, I guess. If temperatures rise in Glenburn, the drought persits, and/or we’ll have less percipitation in the future, Cabernet could have been the ideal variety for our spot. I ripped the vines out because the grapes would not fully ripen. At the moment we have sufficient water, our two dams are overflowing after years of drought but that might change quickly again.

Another issue is age, my age. At 55 I might still have a chance to enjoy some of the coming Chardonnay vintages but replanting would “cost” me many years of waiting. I could contemplate to plant on our second hill where we still have another 5-6 acres of space. Well, let us see what is going to come.

At least there is no politician who tells me what to do and chances are small that an elector such as Clemens Wenzeslaus of Saxonia, who changed the Mosel by instructing vintners to ripp out their red varieties and replant with Riesling, would appear on the Australian scene. However, danger is looming from the anti-alcohol lobby in Canberra which is working day and night to convince law-makers that the purchase of alcoholic beaverages needs to be made more costly for the consumer and profitable for the taxmen.

A Sunday at Bloody Hill

September 21, 2009


Great Yarra Valley views from the Mayer Vineyard (left to the dam)

On a beautiful Sunday in early August, we were in for a surprise visit to the Mayer’s. We bought some “nibblies” (Australian for cold meats, sausages, cheeses, condiments, etc.) and some wine in Healesville and drove up the steep drive to Bloody Hill on top of which their beautiful house (rammed earth) is situated. Alas, they were in and happy to welcome their unannounced intruders.


The vineyard at the crest of the hill is very neat


Some of the wines on “offer” (f.l.t.r.: a Silvaner from Franconia, Dr. Buerklin-Wolf, a Riesling from the Pfalz and a Dr. Mayer Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley)

We came at the right time. A shipment of Riesling wine (about 60 cases) which Timo had made on a visit to Germany last year had just arrived and was ready for tasting. Moreover, as a member of the South Pack, Timo was in the preparation of a wine tasting tour to three Australian cities (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane). The South Pack is a group of eight innovative young Australian wine-makers who have raised the bar for the selling of premium and super-premium wines in sluggish markets.


The German Brotzeit

A quick “Brotzeit” was thrown up and the wine tasting could start. We did not drink in any kind of order but rather according to gusto and enthusiasm. First cap of the rank was the German Riesling Timo had made, Dr. Mayer Riesling of which I have no picture which speaks for itself. This was not a time for tasting notes but for joy and nourishment of body and soul, for Australian and Swabian story telling and song.


Bloody Hill Pinot Noir

Timo is a native of a small hamlet, called “Grossheppach” (about 4,500 inhabitants), today part of the small town called Weinstadt (translated: wine city) in the Rems valley (the Rems is a small river), Wuerttemberg, about 15 km east of Stuttgart. As everything in Germany, Grossheppach has a long history.


Coat of arms of Grossheppach showing the river Rems and four grapes on a vine

Furthermore, the village has a long tradition of vine cultivation and wine making. Timo comes from a family of small vintners (and farmers).

In 1279 a historical deed is the earliest written testament of the flourishing wine production in Grossheppach. Magister Rudolf, a local doctor, had bequeathed his house in Esslingen and three vineyards in Grossheppach to the Abbey of Bebenhausen which was witnessed by knight ‘Fridericus miles de Heggebach’.

Timo showed as a historical chronicle of Grossheppach with black and white photos which also depicted his family in the 18th and 19th century. Here we are, thousands of kilometres away from the old land and talking grape production, wine traditions and wine styles. To cut a long story short, Timo had made his first ever Riesling wine in Grossheppach and shipped it for sale to Australia.

It was not the time for tasting notes, I guess. We opened one bottle after the next. First the Riesling wines, then Chardonnay and finally Pinot Noir and Shiraz, all Mayer Vineyard wines and Timo Mayer creations.


Mayer and Dr. Mayer Pinot Noir and a traditional German wine label with the coat of arms of Grossheppach

The Mayer Vineyard is only a small operation (2.5 ha under vines). All wines are hand crafted and from a single vineyard. Timo believes that wine is made in the vineyard, therefore there is minimal interference. The reds are unfined and unfiltered. Timo makes wines with a difference, with great character and individuality. As he says “he wants to bring back the funk”, and funky these drops are. James Halliday, “the wine pope of Australia”, has awarded his highest rating, a 5 stars, to the Mayer Vineyard.

The Dr. Mayer Pinot Noir is one of the newest creations from the masters hands; a great wine, elegant, whole bunch fermented if I am not mistaken. Timo assumed that all of it would be sold during the South Pack promotion tour together with the Riesling. By now there should be nothing left, I guess.

Needless to say that the day extended to the night and ended with a pasta feast for 9 hungry mouths.


The pasta sauce in the making



The magician at work, this time in the kitchen and not in the wine cellar

We had a great time. The children played all afternoon. We walked the vineyard and Timo showed me where he shot a deer. Then we went to get some of that venison for us to take home. The “Brotzeit” led to dinner and then it was time to drive home to our own vineyard in Glenburn. Good news is that Timo is planning to make Riesling again in 2009 and maybe the following years.

For sales and enquiries contact:

The following wines are for sale:
Bloody Hill Chardonnay
Bloody Hill Pinot Noir
Big Betty Shiraz
Mayer Close Planted Pinot Noir (also as the Dr. Mayer Pinot Noir)

Impressions from Two Hills Road, Glenburn

January 28, 2009


Road sign at the turn-off from the Melba Highway

This week a blistering heat wave is going through Victoria, the worst in the last 100 years. Temperatures will be as high as 40 to 42 degrees Celsius. The grapes are at risk to shrivel and loose bunch weight, and many of the vines will suffer, but hopefully we will not loose the fruit.


Vineyard with the two hills in the background

Just two weeks ago, the grass in some paddocks was still green and we experienced one of the coldest Christmas in the last five years.


The Chardonnay block needs slashing but the vines look good.


The one year old Chardonnay vines look very healthy


Beautiful hay

Our neighbour Hilary at the end of Two Hills Road had the best hay ever and harvested 600 bales.

The native plants around the house flowered beyond belief.




And the people were merry and in a celebratory mood.


Tables are set for food and drink


Lucy, Michael, Helen, Charlotte and Margit

Hope you join us one day. Cheers