Firing at Both Ends

I have a confession….With around 6,000 cuttings in the nursery, all the sore hands and aching backs it took to collect them were nothing to the hours of worry and angst brought about waiting for them to callous and throw some roots. To be on the safe side, we ran controls of every kind: different soil mixtures, different temperatures; inside/outside; and so, when ABSOLUTELY NOTHING happened, your’s truly could be seen pacing the floor, tearing his hair out like a nervous expectant stock-broker.  Advice and reassurance were sought across the state, (thanks Fred, Shane and AP) with plenty of the former and not enough of the latter.  We agonized over whether they were warm enough, cold enough, if they had enough sand in the mix, if there was too much sand in the mix, if poppy meal had been a bad idea after all, if they were too wet, too dry, or whether we’d taken them too early,…

vine floral buds (640x480)In the end, Lee rolled out the heat mats and rotated the potted cuttings in batches, with the result that most are taking around a week to go from stick to rootling…in fact, any longer and the size of the root ball is going to make it tricky to get them into the planting trays.

Of course, in the meantime, the rain has finally eased, the frosts have (almost) ceased and we have even had a few days of beautiful Spring sunshine.  In response, the cuttings are now firing at both ends and have not only sprung into leaf, but some, (yes, I’m talking about YOU pinot blanc,) have even thrown flower spikes, as you can see in the picture.  At this rate, we may be the first vineyard to take in a crop BEFORE the vines are actually planted.  (Terry Pratchett fans may call to mind the existence of wine made from REANNUAL grapes planted the following year. The snag was that you got the hangover the morning before and had to drink a lot to get over it.)

Does “doing the right thing” mean paying too much?

For the record, I am a strong believer in community, including shopping locally whenever possible.  Sometimes I know I pay a little extra but then I often save on the time and fuel it takes to travel for the sake of a small saving in price.  Perhaps because my family ran a village store when I was little, (which eventually succumbed to the power of big supermarkets,) the “use it or lose it” mantra is one I spout to all and sundry when it comes to supporting local business.  But how far am I supposed to go?

For example: the other day, I dropped into my local hardware store in Exeter to inquire on the price of trellis wire.  I had done some homework on-line as I will need a total of around 30 km to complete the job and, needless to say, every cent counts.  The best price I could find trawling the internet was easily matched by this awesome local business, justifying my suspicion that, in many cases, we only think we get a better deal from the larger suppliers.

As I have said in an earlier blog, (see A dog, a compass and a measuring wheel,) my posts are being supplied by the terrific guys at Woodshield.  While a QLD based outfit, they support our local industry by being associate members of the Tamar Valley Wine Route and, of course, are the only suppliers of these particular chemical-free posts which I was anxious to use.  No problem so far.

Earth Anchor dimensions0001Now for the rub.  For various reasons, I have decided to use earth anchors to brace the trellis, rather than the alternative box assembly which uses more posts and therefore should be more costly.  I was horrified to be quoted around $37 a piece, plus delivery, by the nearby branch of a nationwide rural supplies group, and that for something that was barely sufficient for the purpose.  In addition, they wanted to charge me $13 each for a strainer kit (length of wire rope and a gripple)  meaning the cost of the anchors would have exceeded all the other trellis costs put together. I seriously considered a change in strategy but thought I would give it one more go and look further afield.

MUCH further afield.  To cut a long story short, I have purchased an over-engineered anchor of the same design and material from a manufacturer in Qing Dao, China.  The total price, including freight to the vineyard, is …  well let’s just say that the total cost of my end assemblies; posts, strainers, wire, gripples, the lot, is now cheaper than the price quoted me for just the anchor.  I think I just found my limits.

Swings and Roundabouts

SWINGS – In the words of the incomparable Spike Milligan, “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz,” which serves to remind me both that time is marching on and that it has been a little while since my last post.

ROUNDABOUTS – Despite the blossom up and down the valley and budburst imminent, Liawenee on the Great Lake had the lowest ever recorded temperature in TAS last night and apparently, this morning in Hobart was the coldest since 1959, with Mt Wellington summit closed due to snow.

SWINGS – Thankfully the Tamar Valley is proving a little less extreme.  In fact, two days last week taking cuttings from the equally incomparable, (albeit for different reasons,) Dr Andrew Pirie’s vineyard saw me almost down to shirt-sleeves, despite Andrew and his partner Liz looking all set for a trip to Mawson Station.  The result was that around 600 cuttings each of Pinot Meunier and Fromenteau Gris, (the Champagne synonym for Pinot Gris,) have now taken their place in the callousing boxes, in addition to a few hundred Chardonnay clone 277 on advice from Andrew.  This should have meant that we have collected 6 of the 7 permitted Champagne varieties, leaving only the elusive Arbane for later.

Planting PlanROUNDABOUTS – However, there has been some disappointing news from Eden Valley that there were not as many viable Petit Meslier cuttings as we thought.  While we still hold out hope of a small number being available, it will unfortunately mean a change to the current planting plan.

SWINGS – While Meslier may not feature prominently in the vineyard this year, it has certainly improved it’s standing in the cellar, with a case of “homework” turning up in the mail from the very splendid Jim Irvine.  I will certainly make study a priority this Summer.

Through others’ eyes

Batman BridgeI thought that, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this amazing place in which I have chosen to live my dream, it was appropriate to show you what others see when they come here; in this case Winsor Dobbin, an excellent wine and travel writer.  Follow the link and see what he thinks.


A Taste of Things to Come

Meslier base wineAs many of you will have read in previous posts, Petit Meslier is one of the varieties I will be planting this year and I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the only known grower of this variety in Australia, James Irvine.  He recently sent me a bottle of his 2013 Meslier base wine which I have now finally had the opportunity to give some attention to, so I thought I should share my tasting note with you while it is still fresh in my mind.

Petit MeslierThis variety is a cross between Savagnin and Gouais Blanc.  The latter has been the mother for almost as many better known varieties as it has synonyms, (and believe me, there are plenty,) including Chardonnay and Riesling, so it is hard to pinpoint any particular inherited attributes.  Perhaps the more citrusy elements may come from this side, and on the nose at least, the wine shows some similarities with Riesling, with aromas that include wild flower and orange blossom.  The faint but noticeable spice and rose petal notes are more easily traced to it’s Savagnin parentage, (one of the Traminer family,) as might be the marked yellow colouration.

Unusually for a young base wine, (which can often strip the lining from your throat on the way down,) the palate has some sappy, almost fatty textures on entry, which soon give way to searing green apple and lime flavours.  I am genuinely impressed with this wine and it will be intriguing to see if Tasmania produces the same combination of acidity, texture and primary aromatics.  Once again, a thousand thanks Jim.

A dog, a compass and a measuring wheel…

Measuring up 3
…two of which at least were useful as we set off to make a survey of the block so that an order for the trellis posts can be placed next week.  This represents the biggest investment since buying the land and I have thought long and hard over the right way to go, not only in terms of the training choices, height, end assemblies etc (of which their will be much more in future posts,) but about what materials I would use.

The standard choice is CCA (copper, chromium, arsenic,) treated pine.  It lasts well, although it tends to brittleness, and is relatively inexpensive.  While there have been few issues with chemical leaching, I have encountered the occasional whisper that, in areas of intensive planting, the arsenic residues in the soils are building to levels that might become a concern in the future.

As everything involved in building a vineyard must be done with an eye to the future, I have settled on a new product from the wonderful Ashley Davidson at Woodshield comprising an untreated machined pine post sheathed in a recycled 6mm plastic outer.  These posts have higher breaking strains than treated pine and are suitable for organic viticulture.  While admittedly there are higher initial costs, hopefully they will be offset by long-term savings and minimal environmental impact.  And I feel that I am doing the right thing.
WoodShield brochure

Funding paradox

Some of you might raise an eyebrow at the subject of this post, but after all, the idea is to provide a real-time diary of the highs and lows of establishing a small vineyard and winery.  It is in no way intended as a whinge or criticism; just an observation on one of the many obstacles along the way.

In Australia, as in many other places, an aging population compounded by earlier retirement has led to the likely prospect of governments being unable to support pension payments for the elderly before too much longer.  Therefore, and very sensibly, increasing onus is being placed on individuals to manage their own financial security in their declining years, including federal encouragement for responsibly self-managed superannuation funds.  All well and good.

So being a responsibly minded citizen (allegedly) with an eye to the future, the land for this project was purchased, at no inconsiderable expense, with the assistance of my super fund.  As many businesses do, I then required some extra finance in order to responsibly grow my investment, not forgetting that we live and work in a lending based economy.  Unfortunately, none of the lending institutions feel they can supply the very modest level of gearing needed, primarily because, as the main asset is protected under federal superannuation laws, the banks cannot include the value in their risk assessment.

While logical, I feel that there is a chasm between the stated intent of government and the ability of private industry to deliver.  I am sure that many of you have had similar experiences, but for those that have better access to government than I, perhaps you might like to point out the apparent paradox and suggest the need for some much needed attention to the matter.  One solution that springs to mind might be a loan insurance scheme underwritten by treasury which, to my mind at least, would appear to satisfymoney the needs of all parties concerned.

All this aside, everything else is continuing smoothly.  The cuttings are callousing nicely and I am eagerly waiting for the arrival of the Petit Meslier cuttings.  This week’s duty is to accurately measure out the proposed blocks and to place an order for some very special trellis posts.  More news very soon.

Cheers, Anthony