First Christmas pick-nick at Two Hills

December 23, 2011

Dramatic clouds over the land

It was a glorious day on the farm in Glenburn. Just the right day for a first pick-nick near our second dam (the one we use to irrigate the vines).

We had bought some inexpensive bubbly (below 7 A$), a ‘Sacred Hill Sparkling Brut’ (non vintage) by De Bortoli, from the Riverina in New South Wales.

Christmas makes me wozie

It was the perfect drink for a hot summers pick-nick, just days before Christmas. I liked the crisp acidity and the strawberry nose.

We thought that a bottle of ‘Sacred Hill’ would just be the right stuff to be drunk at Two Hills Vineyard.

Another day in paradise came to a marvelous end.

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The Australian Wine Industry: oh boy!

January 7, 2010

The new year has started slow for me as a wine blogger. I have a couple of pieces in the making, for instance on my winery tour in Thailand where we visited three wineries and tasted their produce. But reading through the mail on the internet does not lend itself to optimism if you are an Australian vintner like me.

Here are some of the facts, suggestions and ideas for 2010 and beyond:

– rip out 35,000 ha of vineyards to restore a balance between demand and supply

– overproduction of 20-40 million cases of wine equivalent to 300,00 to 500,000 tonnes of fruit, ergo the need to rip out between 20,00 and 40,000 ha

– “clean skin” bottled wine available for A$ 1.99 or “two buck chuck”

– wine surplus being sold for 50 cent a litre

– grape prices of around A$ 150-200 per tonne of fruit

– in only seven years, I guess from 1995 to 2002, Australians planted 75,000 ha which was meant to be planted over a 25 year period

– estimated financial losses in the Australian wine industry of about A$ 124 million in 2009

-medium-sized producers such as De Bortoli Wines (our neighbour in the Yarra Valley) posted a loss of A$ 1.6 million in 2008-2009

– vineyards are unsellable, Cockatoo Ridge Wine, for instance, could not sell its Monash Winery (valued at $14.3 million) in Riverland

– more than 300 grape-grower contracts cancelled in the Murray

– Murray Valley Winegrowers removed about 2,000 ha of vineyards.

I could continue this list of bad news (for instance mentioning the strong Australian dollar) but do not want to depress you further. However, there is good news too. Consumers can finally enjoy good quality wines at much more affordable prices. I can feel this even in my Bangkok supermarket where Australian wines sell cheaper than last year.

I personally think that Australian wine prices were too high in the past. In my native Germany, many family wineries survived on much lower producer prices for many years. In my hometonw Trier you can get an excellent Riesling wine bought from the producer directly for about 5-8 EURO/bottle (A$ 8-12). These are Riesling wines from ultra steep cliffs, and everything is done by hand. On an aggregate, of course, German farmers and vintners are supported by various government subsidy schemes which we (alas) do not have in Australia.

Peolpe who say, that “the Australian wine industry did not know where to stop” are of course mistaken in their analysis. In a market economy the “overshooting” is punished by declning prices and unsold produce which in turn will lead to the reduction in production capacity. But since wine is an agricultural good which relies on a three to four year growing period before you can have additional grapes, the delay in decision-making can be costly.

The “irrational excuberance” was in fact the result of rational decision-making. Investors wanted to make a profit. That some of it was tax-fuelled is proof of irrational government interference by providing wrong incentives (tax credits). The second group party blamed for the glut is “lifestyle winemakers and vintners” to which I also belong. I still hope that my long-term view will “save” me and that I can indulge in grape growing and wine making after my retirement for a couple of more years. Since there is no succession plan, our enterprise might be short lived but such is life.

Cheers folk, after such heavy stuff I need a drink. Maybe, as Jancis Robinson suggest in her latest column, a German Riesling. How about a Forster Ungeheuer from the Pfalz or a Van Volxem Riesling from the Saar?

2007 Forster Ungeheuer, Grosses Gewaechs


News from Glenburn, Victoria

February 4, 2008

I usually do not hide my liking of globalization. While strolling through my hometown Trier in fall last year, I discovered on one of my long walks around town an Australian restaurant. Greetings from ‘down under’ in this 2000-year-old town of Trier. Isn’t it wonderful? Emperor Constantine would have been very pleased.

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The Emu restaurant in Trier

I also found a cafe just next to the Karl Marx house (the birthplace of the great philosopher) opposite one of my favourite wine bars, the ‘Das Weinhaus’, where you could enjoy the smoke of a shisha (or water pipe). If Karl would have known, he would have been delighted, I hope.

Michael my brother-in-law, who lives in Healesville, a beautiful little country town in Victoria about 3/4 of an hour northeast of Melbourne, used to buy Bitburger Beer for me. He knows that I love this brew from my home region. During his recent wedding I could enjoy some more of it. Great feeling to be so far from my birthplace, and to be able to drink the same beer thousands of kilometers away, far south on the other side of the earth. Goodness me.

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Country folks need a drink from time to time, and vintners do not always drink wine!

Another product from my home region has found its way to Australia, Gerolsteiner mineral water. The name ‘Gerolsteiner’ was made famous in sport enthusiastic Australia through the sponsorship of the cycling team with the same name. But now you can buy this wonderful drink (good after a hangover or in case of gastroenteritis).

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The sparkling water from Germany

Let me follow this up with some ‘news’ or observations of what has changed since we last visited Glenburn and its surroundings.

● The Yarra Glen Grand Hotel had been finally sold by John Lithgow and we found the pub full of people enjoying the new atmosphere created by the new owners.

● The old Henkel Vineyards (descendents of the German sparkling producers) cellar door was sold and is now called Mandala Wines which is owned by the Smedly family (www.mandalawines.com.au). Henkel is erecting its signpost a couple of kilometers further north of the old place near Dixon’s Creek.

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Mandala Wines, the new cellar door in the making

● The Wine Hub at the Yarra Valley Dairy (www.yvd.com.au) has gone out of business and with it we lost one of our retail outlets.

● Cheese Freaks in Yarra Glen is gone and has become a nice little restaurant.

● David left the local Healesville band the “Heartstarters”.

Giant Steps Winery (www.giants-steps.com.au) in Healesville, owned by Phil Sexton and his family, is in full operation (bar, coffee house, restaurant, bakery, winery, etc.) and has been also adopted by the locals who patronize it in great numbers.

Steve Webber of ‘De Bortoli Wines’ in Dixon’s Creek (www.debortoli.com.au) was awarded the very prestigious “Winemaker of the Year” by the wine magazine ‘Gourmet Traveller’ (www.gourmettravellerwine.com.au). Congratulations!

Michael and Helen got married of course. Congratulations again. Cheers.

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There are of course more news to report, but the above is what jumped into my eye while touring the beautiful Victorian countryside. Needless to say, we sampled quite a few local wines from the Upper Goulburn and the Yarra Valley.