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Talking Pictures

You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Well for this blog I thought we would let the pictures do the talking. We have been in Australia since the 1st of January. During that time we spent a week in Sydney, three days in Adelaide for an orientation with our visa sponsor Bibber, and we are now in the Barossa Valley where we have been working/playing for the past 2 weeks.

There is a strong sense of community in the Barossa and the wine and food culture here is fantastic. Other than a few bouts of intense heat and adjusting to driving on the left (left, LEFT, LEFT!!!), we really have no complaints. We are living in the heart of the Barossa, surrounded by wineries and cellar doors, a.k.a. tasting rooms.  It has provided us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in winemaking styles and tastes that are much different than what we previously experienced in Europe and South America.

That’s enough from me, time for some pictures. I hope you enjoy them. Cheers!

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Here are the places and spaces we enjoyed:

The Barossa Cheese Co. – Stop by for a cheese tasting. You won’t be disappointed. We are told the owner of this cute cheese shop used to be a winemaker. Sounds pretty genius to me.

The Lyndoch Lavender Farm and Cafe – Try the lavender ice cream and learn about the distillation process to extract lavender oil. Pretty interesting.

Artisan’s of Barossa – tasting room, they have a different small production winemaker pouring every weekend. We enjoyed Schwarz wines and the winemaker is a great dude too!

Taste Eden Valley – Stop here to try some of the wines from the Barossa’s higher elevation/cooler climate valley

Bethany Wines – So we might be a little biased, but the winery is located in an old quarry and the Schrapel family has been growing grapes here for over 150 years!

Casacarboni Italian cooking school & enoteca in Angaston – stop here for a glass of organic Italian or French wine, a small plate and a cooking class. The owners Fiona (Australian) and Matteo (Italian) are so friendly and amazing cooks! Everything is made from scratch!

Rockford Wines – Great little place to taste! Try the Rosè that’s not really a Rosè, Alicante Bouchet

Barossa Farmer’s Market – experience the best of the fresh, local bounty!

Cleland Wildlife Park – Can’t get much closer to the locals than this! Pet and feed animals unique to Australia. Awesome!

Sydney Opera House – Even the bad seats aren’t that bad. This is a bucket list addition for sure.

And We’re Back!

Well, we certainly have a lot of catching up to do! Internet at our winery in France was a bit “complicated” to say the least, so our blog was, for all intensive purposes, non-existent at the end of 2012.  Bordeaux was a great experience and it was really interesting to be able to contrast the masculinity of the Italian wines we had just helped to make, to the elegance of the French wines.  The highlight of our time in Bordeaux was most likely sitting in on a tasting with Michel Rolland and his winemakers while he sampled this year’s Le Bon Pasteur and Chateau Fontenil. What an impressive palate and talented spitter!

While in Bordeaux, we went with our friend and co-worker Dean, to a few bottle shops in St. Emillion where he taught us about Second Labels, a more economical way to taste wine produced by some of the better known Chateaux in France. The great thing about these Second Labels is that French Chateaux grow all of their fruit with the intention that it will be turned into wine for their First Label. They don’t have specific vineyards designated as inferior and therefore dedicated to a less expensive wine. So in some vintages you can purchase some pretty outstanding Second Labels if you know what you are looking for. In New World winemaking there are some wineries that also operate under this principle but for hundreds of years, Second Labels did not exist in France. Particular vintages and labels that are worth searching for include 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010 and Croix de Beaucaillou, Carruades de Lafite, Lynch Bages Echo, Comtesse de Lalande, Les Forts de Latour, Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild, or Le Clarence de Haut-Brion to name a few.

The wine shops in St. Emillion are like wine nerd heaven. They stock labels as far back as the 1800’s in layers of caverns under their store. These caverns, some of which date back to the 800’s, were old quarries whose white limestone was used to build the picturesque town. Now these quarries have been repurposed to serve as naturally climate controlled cellars. The owner of the bottle shop we visited was extremely knowledgeable about all of his wines and excited to give us a tour of his cellar. It takes a wine nerd to know one.

After Bordeaux we traveled through Paris, back to Italy to see two of our favorites, Summer and Fabrizio at Cascina Iuli, then to Switzerland, Slovenia and finally Greece. One thing all these places had in common was, not surprisingly, wine. Each of these countries had something to offer. A good Swiss wine with fondue is heavenly.  The Swiss have great wine, cheese and chocolate, what’s not to like? Slovenian wines are becoming more common in European and US wine shops and for good reason. The price/quality ratio of these unique wines is tough to beat. Check out some of the labels that Summer carries if you are curious, for the price you really can’t go wrong: www.indiewineries.com.

In Greece you have to search a little harder for a nice local bottle, but they do exist. While the “mom and pop” restaurants are out of this world when it comes to cuisine, in our experience, the wine list consists largely of boxed wines that are past their prime, if you can really even classify a boxed wine as having a prime. At the more mainstream restaurants you’ll find wait staff that can point you in the direction of a great local producer. We had a nice bottle for about 12 Euro with dinner. If you like wine, my best advice to you while traveling would be to try a local wine with local cuisine. It always pairs well.

Two weeks at home for the holidays and then we were back on the road. We were so eager to get started in Australia that we shaved a day off of 2012, literally, crossed the international dateline, and landed “Down Unda” on January 1. We have our Visa’s in hand and will be starting at family-owned, Bethany Wines next week. We’re excited to see what Australia has in store for us!

Cheers!

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Goodbye Italy, Hello France!

Meghan and I were both more than a little sad to say goodbye to Iuli winery; our new friends, Summer & Fabrizio; and Italy in general but we were also very excited to work a harvest in Bordeaux, France. Though other regions may claim comparable quality, no other wine region has the same worldwide name recognition as Bordeaux. The region is famously divided into the Left Bank and the Right Bank. Our positions with the Rolland Collection, brought us to the merlot-heavy, Left Bank – specifically to Pomerol’s Le Bon Pasteur and Fronsac’s Fontenil wineries. And despite the studying that we did before we left for Europe, we seemed to have forgotten all of our French. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve re-learned a lot of the basics and we are making slow, but steady progress. Sometimes our Spanish and limited Italian come in handy, other times it all gets mixed up and makes us revert to sign language. Progess at the winery is proceeding more quickly than our language skills; over the last two weeks all the grapes came in from the fields and are now resting comfortably in stainless steel tanks, oak tanks, and barrels. The rest of our season will be spent managing the vinification at Fontenil. Conveniently, we’re also living in a charming guest house on the Fontenil property, just steps from our work.

We’ve befriended other young winemakers from around the world (Argentina, Spain, United States, India, and of course – France) who are working the season with the Rolland Collection. If/when the schedule lightens up, we hope to visit some other chateaux. Like the wines from Piedmont and Bordeaux, our experiences in each country will be different – but we couldn’t have asked for two better opportunities to learn!

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Our first real bottling

Bottling was relatively simple in our home winemaking days. Our friends saved their old bottles for us, we soaked them, scraped off the labels, cleaned, sanitized, filled, corked, and then slapped a computer-printed label them. It took a couple hours and we ended up with 10-12 cases of our very own moonshine wine.

When it comes to bottling on a commercial scale, even at a smaller production winery such as Iuli, it’s a whole ‘nuther ball game. The mobile bottling truck is scheduled, then boxes of tape, shrink-wrap, labels, foil, and corks are pre-ordered. Pallets and pallets of bottles stacked 7 high arrive, thousands of boxes are pre-made & marked according to expected production, and game faces are readied. After some test bottles, tweaking the machine, and roles are assigned, the madness begins with bottles flying through the truck as fast as (or faster than) we can keep up with them. At Iuli, this craziness lasted for three glorious days.

The machine itself is just plain fun to see in action with all its gears and belts and other thing-a-ma-jigs, but more than that, it was great to be a part of the process of taking the wines from their large tanks and put them into the bottles that will be opened at homes, restaurants, and gatherings around the world.

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Harvesting

Working at Iuli is our second “harvest” experience, but our first experience actually harvesting grapes –  i.e.. the clipping and picking of fruit.  The labor was intensive, the heat oppressive, and the work – incredibly rewarding. Meghan and I agreed that this would count as our workout for the day. We started around 10AM, after the dew had dried from the vines and worked in the vineyards until around 4PM. It doesn’t sound like much from that description, but out in the sun, bent over at weird angles, hauling heavy baskets up; down; & across steep slopes, the hours add up quick. After bringing the Pinot Noir grapes in from the vines, we put the clusters through the crusher/destemmer and into tanks in the comfort and cool of the Iuli Cellar.

I can understand why wineries would choose to harvest with machinery rather than by hand, but I for one am glad that Iuli still does it the old fashioned way. It’s certainly better for the grapes, soil, vines, and wine, but also – for some primitive reason, as long as my body allows, I’ll always take a certain amount of pleasure from a hard day’s work.

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Mendoza

Three days of wine tasting in Mendoza was a pleasant way to relax after wrapping up our first harvest. Of course, over the last decade Mendoza has exploded onto the international wine scene with it’s first class Malbecs. Originally used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, Malbec has found it’s home in Mendoza. This grape can produce excellent bottles by itself or when used as the principal varietal in blends that typically incorporate small percentages of other grapes such as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and/or Cabernet Franc. Overall, we were very pleased with the quality of the wine, the variety of the styles, and the hospitality of the many people we met.

Before we left for Mendoza, we booked a hotel (which did NOT look like the picture online once you got past the lobby), rental car and set up appointments with 3 wineries per day. Most of Mendoza’s wineries are located within 30-45 minutes of the city in sub regions known as Maipu, Lujan de Cuyo, and Vistalba. To get our bearings straight we setup our first two days worth of appointments in these areas including Alta Vista, Nieto Senetiner, Catena Zapata, Weinert, Tapiz, and VistAlba. On the third day we decided to venture out a little further to the Uco Valley, in which more and more of Mendoza’s premium wines are being produced each year. In the Uco Valley we toured and tasted at Andeluna, Bodega La Azul, Salentein, and Clos de los Siete.

Our absolute favorite tours and tastings were at Catena Zapata, Vistalba, and Clos de los Siete. The premium wines from Catena Zapata are very impressive, along with some of the wines that they only sell in South America. Vistalba, though a relatively young winery, proved able to stand up to Mendoza’s best. And Clos de los Siete, a project between multiple wineries, with Michel Rolland as both part owner and winemaker, delivers an incredible blend at a great price – about $20 US dollars.

Combining a great wine list and delicious Argentinean cuisine, Ocho Cepas was our favorite restaurant of the weekend. Although the restaurant at Bodega La Azul was a close second with it’s amazing view of the Andes, relaxed atmosphere and classic rock music.  An unexpected find right across the street from Salentein, the chef there performed a small miracle by turning instant coffee into a culinary masterpiece.  We’re still not sure if he was lying to us when he said he was out of espresso.

One thing to remember is that if you rent a car in Mendoza, you have to leave your headlights on all day. The police will stop you if you don’t, we know from experience. Despite our brief run in with the fuzz, we still agree that a trip to Mendoza should be on any wine adventurer’s short list.

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